Like a proud father, Dr Achyuta Samanta describes a welcome dinner for his Indian aboriginal students after they amazed many by winning the 2007 Under-14 International School Rugby Championship in Britain. 'In 10 days over there, they had not just beaten the world. They had also learned to eat with forks and knives without making a sound on their plates,' recounts Samanta. 'That's what children can do when given an opportunity.' Opportunity is the key word at Samanta's Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, an enormous free school for marginalised indigenous children in India. With 15,000 students, the residential institute in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, is about to get a whole lot bigger. For the tenacious Samanta, a kind of guru/Horatio Alger, no goal seems unattainable. Samanta recently announced that he would open 20 smaller branches of his institute in remote tribal areas. He aims to educate 200,000 children from indigenous tribes before the end of this decade. 'Everything is possible with enthusiasm and willpower,' says Samanta, a former chemistry teacher, who was raised in poverty himself. 'And I am happiest working with the poorest of the poor.' Government schools in aboriginal areas of Orissa, a poor coastal state where 25 per cent of the populace come from 68 tribes, are plagued with dropout rates of up to 80 per cent as a result of child marriage and labour practices. Some children are lured from their studies by the Naxalite movement, in which Maoist armies swell their ranks by attracting the most desperate. And people here are that: government experts acknowledge that only five out of 50 tribal villages even have electricity. Yet students don't seem to drop out of Kalinga. Everyone completes their studies, and a small portion go on to Samanta's larger, money-making Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology. The private university's impressive campus covers the southern end of Bhubaneswar. Tuition at the technological institute, fuelled by the general boom in private education across India, helps support Samanta's humanitarian projects. For example, indigenous students bring numerous diseases into the city, and the hospital at the technological institute checks for and treats them. Without those students, the survival of the free Kalinga Institute would be much more difficult. The Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences started in 1993 with just 125 students. It now has a waiting list of 50,000 who want to take advantage of the free board and classes. It caters to children from kindergarten to graduate school. The dormitories are packed, and the food is basic. But the classes seem rigorous and thoroughly up to date. The US embassy even sponsors an English-readiness programme here. Once the school is granted full university status, a standardised state syllabus will be replaced by one geared to the needs of the aboriginal community. 'We want to breed change agents,' says Samanta, who is well-versed in the jargon of NGOs. 'One could not treat one's own children better than we treat them.' In what seems like a family of 15,000 people, disciplinary problems would be expected. But teachers here say drug use, sexual misbehaviour and any sort of rule-breaking is virtually non-existent. Motivation is so high and alternatives so few for these eager learners that they behave themselves. A few have gone on to medical school. Courses in chemistry and engineering are hardly dumbed down. The students also excel at sports. Inspired by Fijian and Maori rugby stars, teachers started rugby lessons in the evenings, and the students became enthusiastic players. It's no wonder they made it to the world championship in Britain. Archery is another strong suit, in part because the children come from traditional hunting cultures. The school has accomplished a lot, and it is the founder's rags-to-riches saga that generates donations. 'I started all this with US$100,' Samanta, 46, recounts. 'Having been raised in poverty myself, I had to collect funds door to door on my bicycle. At one point, I was so in debt, I was going to commit suicide.' Now, Samanta says: 'I have sanctified my life to this cause.' He is aware of local critics, who say that his style is more about quantity than quality and that he overpromotes his humble lifestyle. But he calls them jealous. 'I have no more than 10 plastic chairs in my house and my office,' he says. 'My staff drive luxury cars, but I still sleep in the bed I had when I was a student. God has blessed me in other ways.' But the money the venture has earned is put to work. Samanta has funded a magazine and a full-length feature film on a super-cyclone hitting Orissa. For one day every year, 30,000 parents come to visit, and the school pays for it. If the founder does take personal gain from his enterprise, it seems to be the relish with which he shows off a procession of government ministers who have made the pilgrimage here to praise him and encourage his charges. At Kalinga, science and computer skills are key subjects, but music and culture are not neglected. Students take part in native arts and crafts and sell their drawings and carvings. Some send home as much as US$25 each month. In the summer, they return to their villages. After the students have been to school in the city, few return to their villages to work. Alumni sometimes get jobs in computing, nursing and engineering. It takes 'just one generation to be brought into the mainstream' for things to change, says Samanta. The power of learning is the one true faith preached at Kalinga. A quotation from Samanta is plastered around the campus: 'Poverty creates illiteracy; literacy eradicates poverty.' Apparently, it's good at creating rugby champions, too.