Candidate presented by: Janine Geske, Distinguished Professor of Law
Only 56 percent of India’s population can read and write but if Rev. Trevor Miranda, S.J., has his way, the country will be 100 percent literate. It was only three years ago that the Indian government formally recognized education as a fundamental right, but Fr. Miranda has always known that schooling is the shortest route to empowerment. As a result, he founded and runs a system of 450 non-formal schools named the Reach Education Action Program (REAP). Located along India’s most populous and poverty-stricken transportation corridors, REAP enrolls children who have dropped out of school, teaches them to read, and ultimately returns them to the mainstream municipal school system. Since its inception in 1998, REAP has helped thousands of children get back to school or into equally useful vocational training programs.
India is so poverty-stricken that young boys and girls are routinely taken out of school and forced into jobs, many of them exploitative. Fr. Miranda believes there is no excuse for a young person to be working. Children, he says, need to be students, not rag pickers. So he and his colleagues go door-to-door, surveying households to find out-of-school children, and they try to convince parents to send their boys and girls back to school. It is rarely an easy sell. Once parents get a taste of their child’s paycheck, however meager it may be, they see no point in education.
It takes a special learning environment to win over these parents, which is why REAP endeavors “to give the best to the least,” as its credo states. The students who enroll in REAP discover an oasis of opportunity that stands in stark contrast to the bleak factories and garbage dumps in which they otherwise would forced to toil. REAP transforms the most dilapidated huts into vibrant classrooms where students, dressed in clean uniforms, not only learn how to read and write but have fun doing it. The teachers, many whom are former dropouts themselves, are dedicated and energetic, and turnover is virtually unheard of.
REAP is always innovating and, over time, has grown to include training programs for women to learn valuable professional and life skills and to develop the conviction to be agents of social change in their families and communities.
REAP never hesitates to go where the need is greatest. Fr. Miranda was once even asked to establish a learning center in what essentially was a garbage dump. At first, he and his staff wondered how they could get children to learn under such atrocious conditions. And yet, they knew they couldn’t say no and found a way to make it work. After all, REAP’s philosophy is that when it comes to serving the poor, no risk is too great.
When asked what role faith plays in his daily life, Fr. Miranda chuckles a bit as if the question may as well have been how important water is for a fish. For Fr. Miranda and his colleagues, every day is a leap of faith, but it’s a leap they never stop taking.
Because of his commitment to education for all children and his inspirational
work for human rights, Reverend President, I hereby recommend Rev. Trevor Miranda,
of the Society of Jesus, for the Marquette University degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.