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A chance encounter with a foreigner and a desire to bring a change was what motivated 66-year-old Harekala Hajabba, an orange vendor from Karnataka's Mangaluru, to open a school in his village Harekala-Newpadpu with his earnings of 150 per day.

For this achievement of his, Hajabba, who sells oranges at Mangaluru bus depot since 1977, was conferred the Padma Shri Award on Monday by the President of India in the national capital.

Hajabba said that the idea to build the school came to his mind in 1978 when a foreigner asked him the cost of orange.

"I only know Kannada, not English or Hindi. As I could not communicate with the foreigner, I felt bad and decided to build a school in the village," the Padma Awardee was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

However, his dream was realised only after two decades.

The Akshara Santa (Letter Saint), a title that he earned through his philanthropic work, approached former MLA late UT Fareed, who sanctioned the construction of the school in the year 2000.

Although circumstances led him to remain illiterate, a total of 175 underprivileged students from his village are now attaining education till class 10 in the institution that materialised solely due to his efforts. 

Now, Hajabba wants to invest the prize money that he has received after winning various awards in these many years in the construction of more schools in his village.

When asked what his next target is, the 66-year-old man said: "My target is to build more schools and colleges in my village. Many people have donated money and I have accumulated prize money for purchasing the land for the construction of schools and colleges."

"I have requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to construct a pre-university college (for Class 11 and 12 students) in my village," he added.

He also thanked President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, MP Nalin Kumar Kateel, district in-charge minister Kota Srinivasa Poojary and MLA UT Khadar for recognising his philanthropic work.

The Central government had announced the names of Padma Awardees in January 2020. But due to Covid-19 protocols, the award was distributed on Monday.  

With inputs from agencies. 

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