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Thiruvanmiyur Project Reflections

When Sunjeet first took me along to visit the Thiruvanmiyur project, then run by Karunakarya, I must confess, I was a little envious of the kids there. And why wouldn’t I be, they live right on the beach! A setting sun over a blue sea when we came in, and a beautiful moonlight reflecting off the waters, on our way out, nothing could stop one from falling in love with this place. This was definitely a project I was already looking forward to.

How it all started:

The Thiruvanmiyur project was initiated by Karunakarya Foundation, founded by a Indo-Swiss couple who had a great burden for the under-privileged kids and their educational needs that were barely being met by Government run welfare programs.

They had started the program as a “Back to school” initiative, helping drop outs get the basic education and encourage to rejoin the school program. They had also ensured that the families of such children are counselled and motivated to give importance to the child’s education.

This was a period of time in Tamil Nadu when Primary Education was made mandatory and the Government set up several government run schools. The teachers that were hired had a huge task at hand. They were entrusted with the additional responsibility of educating families in the community about basic healthcare, government welfare schemes and initiatives. Though the intentions seemed good on the surface, all this took a toll on the teachers. They were not able to spend enough time and effort into their primary objective, which was teaching. Also, most teachers that were hired were not well equipped themselves to carry out all these activities.

Students began to rejoin school, but very little improvement was observed in their overall development.

Karunakarya team took it upon themselves to provide free tuitions to such students, by creating their own modules for each grade and developing a wholesome technique of equipping the students with all the necessary knowledge required for advancement into the next grade.

After 8 years of tutoring, mentoring and coaching the kids, Karunakarya team has decided to move onto other areas with greater need. And before they left, they ensured that the project is handed over to someone they could trust with the responsibility of aiding and guiding the kids of Thiruvanmiyur – Kids.r.Ok.

The Community:

Largely a community of fishermen, the people of Thiruvanmiyur are simple people with uncomplicated dreams. They are content with what they have and wish for their kids to settle down soon. As idealistic as that may sound, the kids are the ones worst affected by the complacency of the parents when it comes to aspiring for growth. Because of this lack of seriousness among the parents, the kids do not feel the need to work hard and try to excel. Students here seem to be encouraged to drop out whenever they feel like the education system is getting too tough for them to proceed further.

Add to it the pathetic condition of the government school system that is not serious about education, the kids are not motivated to advance to higher classes. They are growing up in a community where they see a lot of young people lazing around, spending most of the time loitering and playing games on the beach and settling down for low paying part time jobs after assisting their parents in fishing during the morning.

This is not an environment that gives the students much to desire for.

Whatever I had previously mentioned for the Saidapet project regarding the school system, I regret to report, that it still holds true for the Thriuvanmiyur Project as well.

The KIDS:

Even while writing about these hyper-active, talented and one naughty bunch of kids, I can’t help but smile at their innocence and playfulness that is much like the sea they are surrounded by – unpredictable. I was impressed by their bubbling energy and amazed at their discipline. Their naughtiness comes out only when their teachers aren’t looking.

65 Kids, all unique and tremendously talented yet so modest and humble, they have impressed us with all that they are.

  1. To start with, the discipline that these kids have is way beyond what could be expected of any kid their age. They always clean up after themselves. One of the kids stays back after everyone leaves and cleans up the whole room in preparation for the next day.
  2. They are absolutely well behaved outdoors. We were awestruck when 65 kids fell in line the instant they hear their teacher’s call at a children’s play park!
  3. They always look out for each other. The older kids seem to have a quality that puts some faith back in humanity. They are always watching out for the younger kids whether they are related to them or not.
  4. They do not exhibit their circumstances as an excuse for not doing better at something. They are always aspiring to do better, and push the boundaries a little further if necessary.
  5. They are relentless. Be it their exams, sports or even entertaining guests. They are always game and will not give up at any point. They do not let failure influence their aspirations or efforts in achieving something too difficult.

It would not be an understatement if I say I am always so proud of them all. Secretly, I think I consider them as my own little star prodigies. If you are still wondering why, then here’s a few examples:

Independence Day:

That was the first time I had seen what this super talented bunch of kids can do. They danced like professionals, sang like professionals and acted like professionals. They did not seem like they even needed a choreographer to teach them. Every jump they made, every scale they touched, every dialogue they uttered made me an ardent fan! For once, I felt like one of those proud parents who just recognized their kids’ talent and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure they reach the top.

Their innocent yet true to soul patriotism touched every person that was present that day. While there are people out there debating nationalism vs. patriotism, these little kids showed me what it means to be grateful to have a country and be utterly proud of it.

Teacher’s Day:

For those of the readers who are not aware of this day celebrated in India as Teacher’s Day, here’s a small snippet to help you understand what it means to Indian students. Teacher’s Day is celebrated in honor of our teachers and on this day, students all over the country make it a point to ensure that their teachers know how grateful they are for all the efforts that they put in to teach them.  The rest, I am sure you could google and find out.

In our tuition center, the kids decorated their old Classroom boards with lots of lovely messages thanking their teachers. They had put up a nice little show to entertain their teachers. And I had the wonderful opportunity of teaching the kids some craft they could create and gift their teachers on the spot. The teachers felt loved and were truly surprised by all that the kids had done for them at the center that day.

Vardah:

But it is not always as beautiful and serene as that day when I first visited the project. Throughout the duration of the cyclone Vardah, watching huge trees getting tossed around in the wind and rains lashing violently against our windows, I was scared to even imagine the situation at Thiruvanmiyur where most of our kids lived in houses with thatched roofs. Just the night before, they were all evacuated to a nearby school that had a pucca building.

We prayed as much as we could that everyone would be safe. That night was not easy on anyone.

For two days, there was no access to phone or electricity.  The roads were blocked by fallen trees. When finally we did get there, we could not believe our eyes. Our tuition center was a chaos. The thatched roof collapsed and the side walls suffered severe damage. Repairs and reconstruction efforts were immediately commenced since the students had their exams coming up soon.

Irrespective of all this, the kids kept coming to the center on time every day without fail. The fact that nothing could dampen their spirit was inspiring us to follow suit.

The repairs are still going on but most of it has been restored to make sure that there is no hindrance in the running of the center every day.

Teachers:

The teachers of this tuition center have done an amazing job with the community and the kids.  They have not left a single stone unturned in ensuring the kids achieve far more than what they can imagine. Their dedication to a job like this is quite inspiring. They are also always reinventing the wheel when it comes to teaching regular subjects and are always working on improving their skills to teach the kids better.

Mohana Sundari, Mohana and Jaya are the 3 stalwarts who have time and again proved that they are not willing to give up on the kids even when things were not too easy for them.

There were a couple of instances when the parents of a few kids threatened the teachers for scolding their kids when they were not following certain instructions. Still, they soldier on, and have only doubled their commitment to the cause.

The center runs from 5.30pm to 7.30 pm every day and for 3 women travelling to far off places post 7.30, after having a hard day at their day jobs, I have never once heard them complain or give an excuse for anything. Sun or rain, they are there, present every day and managing 65 kids all by themselves.

The Centre:

Since the centre was already running on a strong foundation program, we did not want to disturb that and so continued the same program which runs as follows:

  1. Weekdays: tuitions will run every day from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm. Students are assigned to teachers according to their grade and are monitored, mentored and coached through their homework, tests and other events.
  2. Weekends: 3 out of 4 Saturdays are meant for the kids’ activities.

1st Saturday – Games/sports – Students are engaged with several indoor and outdoor games

2nd Saturday – House Visiting  – Teachers will visit families of students who are either falling behind or are absent for a few days during the week. This helps us get an understanding of the family atmosphere and also work with the family on understanding the kids’ needs and addressing them on time.

3rd Saturday –  holiday

4th Saturday – Crafts/games

  1. Excursions: outdoor engagement programs like visiting a zoo, or a museum or play parks in general to help induce an enthusiasm in the kids to explore and learn from surroundings.
  2. Events: We celebrate popular holidays along with the kids, giving them an avenue to showcase their many talents from time to time.

Need of the hour:

We are still on the lookout for a Project Co-ordinator since it is becoming difficult for both Sunjeet and me to constantly monitor the tuition center. A project co-ordinator would not  only monitor but alos ensure that all the other activities are executed as per plan and constantly communicates with the community and works on engaging the parents as well in the kids’ education to a great extent.

We would also need volunteers who are interested in teaching the kids some basic concepts in a fun way that will make it interesting for the kids to learn.

By

Swetha Sunjeet

Project Coordinator Chennai, India

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