T. Nagar Downtown

Couple on a mission

Catherine Reddy (28) often drove around the Rutland Gate area and would be shocked at the contrast that two parks in the neighbourhood had to offer. On one side, stood a well-maintained park, flocked by the locals for a morning walk and right behind was another, which had been ignored and was used solely for dumping garbage. “Tired of the scene, I marched to the site with a broom. I was looked down upon and laughed at, but I was on a mission. While I was cleaning up, a few inquisitive kids, who lived in the housing board quarters nearby, hovered around me. Two of them joined me on the second day. On the third, my husband Sriram and 10 other kids came on board, ” says Catherine.

 Catherine made Chennai her home after getting married to Sriram Reddy. Residents of Spurtank Road, Chetpet, the couple now spend an hour daily cleaning up the park. “We visit the area regularly now. When we started cleaning the park, we often heard people saying ‘they are not going to let this happen,’ ‘they’ being the underprivileged people living in the area. When the kids started lending a helping hand, their mothers only encouraged them,” she says.

 The couple rewarded the kids with food and Sriram promised them the gift of a cricket bat to the one who worked the hardest. “We had to lead from the front. Kids do whatever they see us doing. And it’s not just about cleaning, but also instilling good habits. When they joined the mission, we made sure they had gloves and footwear. Apart from the breakfast and the goodies, we take them on car rides during weekends,” says Sriram.

 They are now in talks with the Corporation to make the park a better place and involve the locals in the project. “We are also in talks with private players, who are interested in offering help to overhaul the park. If things go well, we will have a sports-themed park where kids can play various sports,” says Sriram.

 As they interacted with the kids more, they realised how talented they were but lacked opportunities because of their financial background. It was around this time the couple were attending a workshop on RTE. They assessed their neighbourhood and decided to help the children get quality education. They spoke to the underprivileged families nearby and learnt that the parents also wanted quality education for their wards.

“We went around and gave fliers about RTE,” says Sriram, who was associated with Engineers Without Borders.

 Their first step was to go to every school on Harrington Road and ask them about their RTE policies. “We first went as parents and enquired about the admission procedures. The minute we got into the details of RTE, the authorities were uncomfortable. We faced a lot of resistance from these schools, where the principals and the school authorities had no proper answer. We also informed the parents about the Act and sent them to the private schools with proper attested documents, but they were treated badly. When the parents of the kids wanted to meet the principal, they were not allowed inside the premises. There were times when a school would ask them to leave,” says Catherine.

 They believe a lot of work has to be done in the area of RTE and wish every child in the neighbourhood gets quality education. 

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 1:47:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/downtown/couple-on-a-mission/article6069069.ece

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