1997-2007: the first phase

Straddling the 20th and 21st centuries, these years represent the initial phase, which was marked by construction works. The main focus of this 10-year period was the construction of schools and apprenticeship centres in slums and rural areas, first on behalf of local NGOs in West Bengal and later in our own name.

Ecoles de la Terre initially built the schools as a response to the calls of the many families who asked or indeed begged for their children to be able to attend school.

In 1998, the first schools were opened. In collaboration with two Bengali organisations, Children Rights Development Service and Swyambhar Nari, we began working in West Bengal, first in Calcutta and then in the Sundarbans archipelago. During this period, we built and financed schools under the aegis of these two NGOs. These included six slum schools in Calcutta and three village schools in rural Bengal.

After this, we decided to strike out on our own by opening new schools under the Ecoles de la Terre banner and expanding into various Indian states.

During this phase, we stepped up our visits to different parts of India, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, the Capital Territory of Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. We then gained a foothold in two particularly disadvantaged regions: Bihar in 2000 and Rajasthan in 2005.

We wanted to develop a permanent structure and manage the schools ourselves. In the following years, four rural schools were built in the Gaya district of Bihar and three in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan; then Ecoles de la Terre expanded into three federal states – Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan. All that remained was for us to show our commitment to becoming a national structure that would be recognised throughout India. This become the challenge for the following 10 years and led to a positive outcome. Ecoles de la Terre was registered on 31 May 2007 in the Companies Register of the Federal Department of Home Affairs in Delhi, under the name Ecoles de la Terre Welfare Society Schools and with the number S/58804/2007

2008-2018: the second phase

The next phase was focused on shaping the structural format of the organisation as it functions today. Until May 2007, Ecoles de la Terre operated in India as decentralised units, in Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan.

As a legal form is required for any NGO working in India – a federal state – we had to register with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs of the Government of India. This allowed us to bring the Bengal, Bihar and Rajasthan units under one sole entity, which became the 'Ecoles de la Terre Welfare Society'. Authorisation according to India's Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) under the number 231661542R enabled us to get the go-ahead to receive funds from Switzerland, putting an end to lengthy administrative and legal procedures.

Our programmes for schools and apprenticeships, health and water treatment, and economic support and micro-credit were able to be streamlined and then developed throughout India.

While continuing to build and open new schools and apprenticeship centres, including seven in Bihar, four in the Sundarbans Islands of Bengal and three in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, we were able to combine our efforts to create a shared sense of partnership for all the Ecoles de la Terre Welfare Society units, despite their great geographical distance and profound cultural differences.

In 2008 we opened our central office for India in New Delhi. With the launch of two small schools located in the slums on the outskirts of the capital, our fourth operation was born.

During this second phase, no effort was spared in strengthening our organisation in India. One thing led to another with schools and apprenticeship centres proliferating and the establishment of education, health and micro-credit programmes. Today, we are seeking to streamline these entities and promoting their interconnectedness in order to make the most of their multiplier effect.