education At a small centre in Ukkadam, some underprivileged children dare to dream big. Akila Kannadasan reports
“I'll catch all the rowdies and lock them up in jail,” says M. Ashok Kumar. He wants to become a police officer. “I'll give free treatment to those who cannot afford it,” says M. Jeeva Jothi who aspires to be a doctor. “I'll make learning easier for students as a teacher,” grins M. Devi…Kesavan, Rahul, Agalya, Gobinath…They all know what they would like to be when they grow up. Most of them are children of daily-wage labourers, and they are all students at the Dr. Ambedkar Library and Tuition Centre.
Every day, after school, they head to the Centre to study and do their homework with the help of Sumathi, who teaches in a school in Ukkadam. They enjoy individual attention here. The centre is furnished with comfortable desks and benches, and a cupboard full of books. It is located at LG Thottam housing unit.
It all began four years ago when a team of eight like-minded people came together to do something for the children in their locality. “Most kids here didn't know the importance of education. Their parents, uneducated themselves, weren't keen on educating their children either. We wanted to change that,” says R. Krishnan who sells betel-leaves at the Ukkadam market and who is a member of the team.
A dream start
The team members, made up of farm-hands, corporation-workers and daily-wage labourers, went door-to-door, collecting money to build a tuition centre. They collected Rs. 60,000 — just enough to build their dream classroom. They got Vignesh, a college student from Ukkadam, to take classes from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day. “On our first day, we had only four students,” says Krishnan. “But within four months, there were 40.” The Centre soon became well-known in the area — a sub-inspector donated a set of 250 books to them. “We set up a library here with the books,” says Krishnan. The library grew in size with donations from World Vision India, an NGO. “Today, we have about 2,000 titles,” he says. World Vision also donated desks and benches. Volunteers such as Padmavathi and Arivoli ensured that classes were regular.
When Don Bosco Anbu Illam came to know of the Centre, they extended their support to form a community-based organisation. “Don Bosco provides a sum of Rs. 500 a month, with which we buy stationery,” explains Krishnan. According to D. Jacqueline, the coordinator for the Caring Community Project at Don Bosco, the children are taught life-skills. “We've formed a children's Parliament in the area — this is to enable the kids to identify the problems they face and find solutions to them. For instance, they wrote to the Government about drainage problems in the area and even received a reply with budget allocation,” she says. The kids also identify school drop-outs and advise their parents to send them to school, she adds.
Members of Don Bosco visit the tuition centre every month. The children are briefed on issues such as child sexual abuse. “We also give motivational talks and keep an eye on their progress,” says Jacqueline. The children were taken to Don Bosco for training in animation, she adds.
More help would be nice
Krishnan maintains an attendance register with the names of all the 31 students. “I talk to their parents regularly. If a student doesn't turn up for class one day, I immediately inform the parents,” he says. But Krishnan is not strict all the time — the kids adore him; he is ‘periappa' to all of them. “I wish we could keep the library open all day — but we don't have a full-time volunteer. I hope the government helps us with one.” Krishnan hopes that his children become doctors, engineers and IAS officers. “You know, one of our students scored above 450 on 500 in her tenth standard public exams. With a little help, I'm sure each of them can score such marks,” he says. “We have a lot of talent here. C.G. Madhavan, the sports minister in our parliament is extremely good in carom. Bhavani is a good singer…”
As I leave, the little ones extend their notebooks for my phone number. “I will call you,” promises Devi. My phone rings an hour later. “Hello miss, I'm Devi calling from LG Thottam. How are you? Have you had dinner?” she asks. “When are you coming to our Centre again? Will you take classes for us when you do?”
Dr. Ambedkar Library and Tuition Centre can be contacted at 93607-93211.