An eight-year-old boy wanted to become a football player like Lionel Messi; another aspired to become a bird watcher, and a 10-year-old girl’s dream was to become a Bharatnatyam dancer. No ordinary aspirations these. And, those who aspired did not do so merely by watching soccer or dance on television. They just wanted to take up as profession what they enjoyed doing now in school.
Those children, who shared their aspirations with Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal, belonged to the Irula tribe. They are first-generation learners at Vidya Vanam in Anaikatti. The school provides holistic education to the nearly 200 tribal and 50 underprivileged children of 22 hamlets in Anaikatti, where arts, craft, dance, sports, and music, are not extra-curricular activities but are part of the curriculum.
Mr. Gandhi appreciated the exposure the school gave them, which had led them to think differently in terms of a profession. The children did not fail to impress him with their language skills in a debate, their talent in music when they rendered songs in Tamil and English on the theme, and when they danced to showcase the various uses of a river, at the school’s Project Day on the theme ‘Rivers’ on Thursday.
For his share, Mr. Gandhi taught the children a small poem in Hindi about the “Rail gaadi”. His appreciation continued unabated as he went from exhibit to exhibit displayed under the science, English, mathematics, Tamil, social studies, and art, zones.
Prema Rangachary, who started the school under the aegis of the Bhuvana Foundation, in 2007, believes in providing education that helps the tribal children become self-learners in an environment that is stress-free and supportive.
“We have a special curriculum under the National Open School Programme that incorporates the sciences, humanities, arts and skills. Seeing the performance of our children no one can say that the ignorance of the tribals is because of their weak intellect, but a result of them not being exposed to the right opportunities,” Ms. Rangachary said.
Children of parents, who work in the brick kilns for meagre earnings, they are happy to learn in an environment that betters even a private school for a mere Rs. 150 a month. The fee, which is a day’s income of the earning member of the family, is set aside for the child’s education. The Foundation and donors support the functioning of the school.
And, the grateful parents were all gathered to see their children perform and also appreciate the exhibits that they had made for the Project Day.
As a remembrance of his visit to the school, Mr. Gandhi planted a jamun sapling that was taken from the tree planted by his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to Coimbatore in the 1930s.