R. Parvathavarthini has fought for the rights of marginalised children for 15 years now. Her dream is to ensure quality education for them, she tells T. Saravanan

Two life-threatening accidents and the tsunami did not divert T.R. Parvathavarthini from her path of creating a child-friendly society. In fact, they only served to further fuel her dream. “I was in coma for more than 20 days. When I came out of it, I realised that I might leave this world without having done anything for society,” she says. That realisation took the form of the Littles Trust - A centre for Children.

“It is close to my heart,” she says. “This is a place where I interact with children from rural backgrounds and from the most marginalised sections of the society.” The objective of the organisation is to ensure free, quality education to all children in this country with equal opportunities. The centre provides space for children to learn their daily lessons; gives them access to a children’s library and a place to play and participate in extra curricular activities such as street theatre, origami, creative writing and puppetry.

Though Littles Trust started as a charity-based organisation mobilising funds from local donors, it soon turned into a rights-based organisation. “We rescued and rehabilitated 23 trafficked children. Even today, we keep track of their development. We rescued a tribal boy at the age of 14, we provided him with an education and now he is a successful farmer in Thenmalai near Dindigul,” she says. With the support of Child Rights and You (CRY), she took up a project on understanding adolescent poverty. “Children between14 and18 are an invisible population. They neither come under RTE nor under the labour law. They exist only in Juvenile Justice Act. They are the worst exploited. They are employed as contract labourers, they work late night in highway motels in Namakkal and Salem. There is no data available about them. It has become our major concern. We want the Government to amend the constitution on the definition of age of children,” she says.

Parvathavarthini has also focussed attention on children with learning disabilities. “With the help of a special educator we educate these kids.” She has grouped socially committed college students to teach children in the evenings. In turn, she pays their college fees. This programme was started in 15 villages in Tirupparankundram taluk. “We organise workshops for the student facilitators once a month and provide them with special teaching kits. These student volunteers are now employed in different organisations and new set of facilitators have come,” she says. This cycle of facilitators becoming donors and beneficiaries becoming facilitators is very successful. “We have withdrawn our services from Meenakshipattinam as the youth in the village has taken up the mantle.”

When she began it was with the money she earned working with the NGOs that she helped children complete their studies. “One girl is now a Botany teacher in Gummidipoondi,” she says with pride. She also took up teaching. “I wanted to teach children as I wanted to relate my field experience with theory.”

Her involvement with the marginalised children began when she was studying social psychology at Lady Doak College. It was there that she came face to face with their plight. Her undergraduate dissertation was on “Aspiration Level of Table Cleaning Boys in Madurai restaurants” which focused on child labour. “Though family poverty is cited as the reason for increasing number of school dropouts, I found out that poverty alone is not the reason but there are several other push factors that force these children into employment.”

This politics of education became clear to her when she was member of “Thedal” a street theatre group in Madurai and was a theatre activist till 1994. She was also part of theatre groups such as “Suthesigal” and “Koothadigal”.