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Casa Laxmi Foundation seeks to bridge the gap

  • Sonal Thomas, a proposed member of the governing council of the Casa Laxmi Foundation. BEN KANE PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Kiran Kulkarni is the visionary behind the Casa Laxmi Foundation.

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Aug 14, 2017

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The concept for a proposed elite private boarding school for students from kindergarten through grade 12 in The Bahamas is to develop great human beings – not just academic scholars, but students with respect for self, others and their surroundings and ways of life.

Through Casa Laxmi, a charitable foundation, which does not accept or seek donations, the goal of the Kulkarni family, of Canada, is to help people achieve their goals and empower them by providing tools, resources, mentoring and guidance to those who would not otherwise be able to further themselves.

The school’s concept will comprise a student body that is half fee-paying, from parents able to pay the $150,000 annual tuition and boarding fee, and half at risk children selected internationally from ages two to six. Class sizes are anticipated to be between 20 and 25 students, with a total of 240 to 300 enrolled when the school is fully operational.

The educational institute is anticipated to be constructed at a cost of $117 million, and fully funded by the Kulkarni family. It is expected to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum to an international student body.

All students will be required to take an entrance examination and/or testing. The aim is to bring together the youngest, most brilliant minds in the world, foster them through education and turn them into the world’s next greatest leaders.

“While half of the students will be tuition-paying students who come from wealthy families, the charitable component of our project is that the other half of the students will actually be orphaned or abandoned children that will be selected internationally,” says Sonal Thomas, a proposed member of the governing council of the Casa Laxmi Foundation.

The goal is to provide not only an exceptional education to students, but also a true understanding of privilege and citizenship. There is a tremendous number of vulnerable children in the world who are growing up in immense poverty, part of a marginalized class or so severely underprivileged that their prospects of obtaining an education and living a productive life are grave. Many of these children have the intelligence to become the world’s greatest thinkers, innovators and trailblazers, but are never given the opportunity to realize their full potential.


Bridging the gap

The foundation aims to bridge this gap by bringing the most underprivileged children together with the most privileged children and providing both with a stepping stone to achieve success.

“We believe that anyone placed in the right environment and given the right opportunity has the potential to achieve greatness. What we want to do is take that upper echelon of society, for the top one percent, put them together with that bottom one percent, give them all an equal footing, a world class education.”

It is hoped that the opportunity will afford the students the opportunity to learn from one another, to understand privilege, class and social responsibility, and to create bonds that will last a lifetime.

While there are many schools that offer scholarship positions to students, Thomas said Casa Laxmi’s uniqueness will be that half the student body will be fee-paying and the other half non-paying, for two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of socio-economic class.

The institution will accept all Bahamians who can afford the annual fees, but Thomas says one spot would be reserved for a Bahamian child among the 10 non-paying students annually.

When the school is fully operational, Thomas anticipates they will accept non-paying children as early as two years old, if they can, with the potential for 15 to 18 non-paying Bahamian students in the school when it’s fully operational.

Thomas said their mission, through Casa Laxmi, is that by providing hope and opportunities where none existed before, they might create the type of leaders that the world needs.

“We believe that by taking some of the most impoverished children and putting them on an equal footing with some of the most privileged children, giving them equal treatment and a world-class education, we can create the type of leaders that this world truly needs — ones with compassion, empathy and humility,” said Thomas.

The Casa Laxmi Foundation is seeking to acquire at least 300 acres of property with beachfront access on either Abaco or Grand Bahama, where it can construct the proposed school. Thomas said the foundation had been in talks with the government prior to the general election. Once given approval, Thomas said they would start the school’s master planning.

The proposed timeline showed a 2019 opening for grades four to seven; the addition of grade eight and kindergarten in 2020; ninth grade and grade one additions in 2021; grades 10 and two opening in 2022; the addition of grades 11 and three in 2023; and the addition of grade 12 in 2024, along with the completion of the project.

“The reason we're looking at Abaco and Grand Bahama specifically is that not only can we can get a large chunk of land, but more importantly, the geographical proximity to the United States (U.S.). We anticipate, first of all, that most of our paying student body will be coming from either the United States, the Caribbean or South America,” said Thomas.


On par with top elite schools in Europe

With schools of the caliber they’re proposing to construct mostly situated in the United Kingdom and Switzerland, Thomas said if they can provide parents with an educational institution option that is a little closer to them, but of the same quality that they could get in Europe, it would be a big sell.

“We’re talking about one of the most elite schools in the world, and schools of this caliber that charge this type of tuition, you don’t find them on this side of the world — they’re all in Europe,” she said.

Thomas said the advantage of the Bahamian school would be that they could make it more ocean-centric, whereas schools in Europe are more ski-centric.

They also plan for extra-curricular activities that include land, water and equestrian in the sports department; dance and theater in the arts and music department; and yoga and meditation in the mind and body department. There are also plans to build an organic farm on 30 to 50 acres of the campus.

“We talk about creating good human beings; part of that is teaching the kids about respect — and not just respect for self and respect for others, but respect for the environment. And a great way to do that is to have an organic farm on campus and teach students that food actually comes from the ground, and at the end of the day, the earth is what gives us our food.”

She said the school is also to have a 24-hour infirmary on campus in case of a medical emergency, as well as a fully stocked pharmacy. She said the geographical location is also important with respect to medical emergencies, such as if a student needs to be transported to the U.S. for any reason

Plans include the school being open year-round to accommodate many of the non-paying children who won’t have families to go home to over breaks. She said they are pursuing avenues to keep those students engaged and busy during school breaks.

“We’ve actually reached out to universities to see if they are interested in setting up summer camps and have their PhD students come for a month or two during the summer and come up with some marine biology camps for these children. And we would open that to the local community as well, but that was one of the ideas that we came up with to set ourselves apart from European schools.”

Casa Laxmi anticipates the school will be a great experience for all of its students.

Thomas said they’ve been speaking to families that can afford to send their children to the school, and they have also met with six of the world’s premiere schools in Switzerland a few months ago, and people have been receptive to the idea.


Where it started

The Casa Laxmi Foundation was started by Thomas’ family. Kiran Kulkarni, Thomas’ father, is the visionary behind the project.

“We are not educators at all. We are entrepreneurs in private equity. We have been very lucky because we’ve been very successful, and my father is now getting older and thinking about his legacy, and what he wants to leave on this earth when he leaves, and he came up with this idea about two years ago. Education has always been an important part of our lives, an important part of my father’s life growing up… his parents said ‘I don’t care what you do, but you’re going to go and get three, four university degrees’, so his whole notion of doing something good for people, and blending that with the idea that education is so important.”

Thomas said they’re looking toward the inaugural class to start in September 2019, which makes for an aggressive timeline.

“I am a lawyer by profession and handling the family’s legal interests for the past eight years, and I am now working on this project almost full-time. I would say 90 percent of my time is going into this project. I find that being a fairly new mother — my kids are four and two — this whole vision just spoke to me. You think about all the things that are going on this world today and all the problems we have, and if there is a chance that we could make that tiny bit of difference, why wouldn’t we do it? The focus here is on creating great human-beings so when that person grows up and goes out into this world, they’re actually going to make a difference.”


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