Children travel from Nellore to Tiruvallur every day
While children travelling by bus or walking to school is common, here is a group that takes a boat from across the boundary.
Over 150 children of Irukkam, a coastal village of Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh, spend two hours every day travelling by boat across the Pulicat Lake to reach their schools in the Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu. Their families depend on fishing for a livelihood.
They study at government schools, panchayat union schools and a private school in the coastal villages of Sunnambukulam, Obasamudram and Arambakkam in the Gummidipoondi taluk of Tiruvallur.
“Our village has only Telugu-medium primary schools. A majority of the families in Irukkam village are Tamil-speaking and are not familiar with Telugu. We want to study in Tamil schools. That is why we come to schools in Tamil Nadu,” says S. Prakash, a class X student of Government Higher Secondary School, Sunnambukulam.
Prakash has been travelling by boat right from class II and wants to pursue computer science engineering in a college in Tamil Nadu. There are many like him, including girls, who do not mind the distance and mode of transport. The youngest is Charumathi, a LKG student.Risky ride
The boat ride comes with risks. Many children sit on the edges of the mechanised boat throughout the hour-long journey. They have to walk nearly 1.5 km to and from the shore, wading through ankle-deep water, even knee-deep water in certain places.
“We travel by boat for nearly seven km. Once we reach here, the children walk in water and it is sad to see their uniforms getting wet in the morning,” K. Sekar, boatman and resident of Irukkam, says. “There is 5 feet deep water throughout the travel. It becomes difficult when it rains midway.”
Everyday, the children’s journey begins at 7.30 a.m. from Irukkam, says Arun Kumar, a class VIII student. “We reach Sunnambukulam by 8.30 a.m. Our return journey starts at 5 p.m. We wait for all students to assemble before starting. We cannot come to school when it rains heavily.”
While students from class I to VIII pay Rs. 50 every month as boat charges, others pay Rs. 90.
Many students say they have got used to the boat ride. “We chat with friends, play games and also study on the way. It might be scary in the beginning, but we get accustomed to the routine within a few days,” G. Indhu, a class XI student adds.
Have they faced any dangerous situations? Yes, says Arun Kumar recounting how once they lost their direction due to fog and reached Maangodu, a nearby village. “Most of us know swimming,” he adds.
In order to understand the experiences of these students, teachers of the Government Higher Secondary School, Sunnambukulam, visited Irukkam on Republic Day this year. “Some boys, especially those in classes X and XII, stay in the school hostel,” a teacher said.