Anupriya Komeswaran, a Horlicks Wizkids South Asia 2013 finalist, talks about her initiative ‘Illuminate’ that helps children from the fisherfolk community

Not every fisherman’s child finishes school. A lot of boys take to fishing after their fathers, ignoring their studies. Girls do housework in place of homework. Won’t education give them a shot at a better future, asks 17-year-old Anupriya Komeswaran, who will represent Chennai in the finals of Horlicks Wizkids South Asia 2013. When she was given the task of doing a project that would impact society as part of the competition, she chose to help children from the fisherfolk community.

Anupriya started ‘Illuminate’, an initiative to provide the children opportunities that those from the city take for granted. She, along with volunteers and friends from St. John’s English School, Besant Nagar, has been teaching spoken English and Maths and giving lessons in sanitation to children from the Kottivakkam Kuppam from September 26 this year. A panchayat office was revamped where classes are conducted five days a week.

It started as a task that was mandatory to be part of the competition; but Anupriya hopes to continue teaching kids at the kuppam. “They have become a part of my life,” she says. Initially, there was resistance from the community. “Some days we got 50 students, on others, there would only be 20,” she says. She then realised that their parents had to be convinced. Once that was done, they gradually opened up to the volunteers. “We now teach 75 kids,” she says.

The children were also taught healthy habits such as keeping their nails clean, and washing their hands before and after eating. Some have learnt to frame complete sentences in English. “The kids need English once they leave the kuppam and Chennai,” feels Anupriya.

Over the month, they were exposed to various activities such as ‘The Green March’ along Elliot’s Beach to inspire them to keep their surroundings clean, a sports meet and a health camp. “Dr. Kavipriya of Chettinad Health City was a huge support,” adds Anupriya. On October 27, the volunteers organised ‘Melange’, a cultural festival that gave the children a stage to showcase what they had learnt.

Anupriya says that the children have shown tremendous progress. The activities have helped improve their self-confidence. “They are very bright. They ask a lot of questions and are quick on the uptake,” she says. The volunteers of Illuminate have given voices to their dreams. Anupriya speaks of how a little girl approached her and said ‘Akka, I want to live in an independent house in Bangalore’. “She told me she wants a wooden house and that she wants to become an IAS officer.”