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Out here, tsunami-hit children haven't returned to school

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NEW LESSONS? Children helping out their parents selling vegetables at the tsunami-resettlement camp in Ernavoor in north Chennai. Photo: M. Vedhan
NEW LESSONS? Children helping out their parents selling vegetables at the tsunami-resettlement camp in Ernavoor in north Chennai. Photo: M. Vedhan

Sandhya Soman

Lack of transport disrupts education of 400 students in Ernavoor

CHENNAI: Schools have reopened but class IV student Zeenath Begum is staying at home looking after her mother's vegetable stall. Her friends Sukanya and Bhavani wade through puddles, fetch water or watch TV at the resettlement site in Ernavoor for the tsunami-affected.

Very few take a bus to their schools in and around Royapuram.

A lack of transport has disrupted the education of an estimated 400 children, displaced by the tsunami and resettled at Ernavoor.

Their problems have been compounded since November 2005 when even a private NGO's initiative to provide free bus services could not be continued.

"We have to spend Rs.10 daily to send our children to schools. Where is the money?" asks Zeenat's mother.

Zeenat and her friends say they used to take free buses provided by Karunalaya, a non-governmental organisation, till November 2005.

According to director Paul Sunder Singh, the NGO had hired three buses for ferrying more than 300 children from the first temporary settlement at Kargil Vetri Nagar in February 2005 to avoid disruption of education.

The services were renewed when the families moved to Ernavoor in October.

Mr. Paul says "we were unable to procure buses once the festival season set in and the demand peaked. The transport companies say buses will not be available till Pongal."

They were also unable to shift 120 students to the nearby Corporation primary school due to lack of infrastructure to accommodate them.

Moreover, most of the students like Bhavani attended the `new' school for 10 days and then discontinued, as their old schools declined to give transfer certificates in the middle of the academic year.

Meanwhile, the attendance level at old schools such as Pudumanaikuppam Middle School in Kasimedu has dropped.

"Nearly 130 students, displaced from Power Kuppam Pallapakuthi, Thideer Nagar and Singaravelar Nagar, were coming from Ernavoor.

Now only 30 come, for whom we were able to get free bus passes last month by taking special permission," says a school staffer. Unfortunately, by the time Karunalaya buses stopped the Metropolitan Transport Corporation had completed the process of issuing free student bus passes.

However, class IX students T. Devika and K. Malarvizhi daily goby 28B to reach Corporation Higher Secondary School on TH Road, despite rain and sometimes `forgetting' to bring money for buying tickets.

Karunalaya is now trying to get hold of buses while the district administration officials are planning to approach MTC for running special services or for providing free bus passes.

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