Teaching them to dream

Gothrathalam, an alternate school in Ravi Nagar colony, near Kanjiramkulam, started by Mini M.R. and Sudhi S., imparts life lessons to children of the tribal community

September 11, 2015 03:34 pm | Updated 03:34 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Mini M.R. and Sudhi S. in front of GothrathalamPhoto: Aparna Nair

Mini M.R. and Sudhi S. in front of GothrathalamPhoto: Aparna Nair

Mini M.R. grew up in a Paniya tribal colony in Nadavayal in Wayanad, and went to a local school. Then one day, she dropped out, unable to take the snide remarks of classmates and teachers. She was in class four then. Had Kanavu (Dream), the alternate school founded by K.J. Baby, not come by, she would have borne the ‘drop-out’ tag all her life. At Kanavu, she learnt to use her talents and resolved that one day she too would help children who grow up in grim surroundings.

This is the story behind ‘Gothrathalam,’ an alternate school she found along with her husband, Sudhi S., in Ravi Nagar Colony at Chavadi near Kanjiramkulam, some 20 km from the city.

Ravi Nagar houses about 58 families belonging to the Vedar community, most of whom are daily wage earners. The colony may be better in terms of living conditions when compared to similar sites elsewhere in the city, but issues such as alcohol, drug abuse and domestic violence remain a norm here too. And, as is always the case, the ones who bore the brunt of it were the children. “Gothrathalam was begun to present the hope of a better future for these children,” says Sudhi.

The school was started three years ago in a shed in a corner of the eight cents of land that was allotted to Sudhi’s family decades ago. Parents were at first reluctant to send their children to the school but later agreed. “To send them for tuitions means a lot of money,” says Sindhu Sabu. Her daughter Gowri B.S. is a regular at Gothrathalam.

But help with school lessons was just an excuse. The couple’s aims were much bigger. For them, the school would play a part in moulding a generation to be sensitive to their surroundings, in facets of life such as art, music, and current affairs, and the debatable realm of rights and duties.

“We meet every Saturday and Sunday. Sessions are held where the children read out from newspapers and books and debate on the topics. They are also encouraged to pen or sketch their thoughts,” says Mini, pointing to the bars that support the roof of the shed, on which hang the best of such writings and art work.

“The module is so designed to help the children help themselves, so that even if we are not around, they can carry on,” explains Sudhi, who was earlier part of a performing arts group based on tribal culture.

Art and music get a lot of focus in the school’s activities. In every session, the students are taught tribal songs from across the country. Helping Sudhi and Mini in this is Sudhi’s brother Suni R.S., a student of film studies in University of Kerala. His friends, who are theatre artistes or enthusiasts, also take sessions for the students. Recently, on an outing to the city during Onam vacations, the children attended the Sunday programmes at Manaveeyam Veedi, and were also treated to sessions on theatre. Quite aware of how things work in the field, they now plan to put together a street play or a skit preferably on one of the issues in their vicinity.

“When the children came here, their knowledge of languages was so poor that even some 15-year-olds couldn’t manage to put together an error-free sentence in Malayalam. Their handwriting appeared juvenile for the class they studied in,” says Mini, showing the notebooks of a few students.

An essay by a student of class 10 read thus: “At school, we would be mocked at using our caste name. The teacher would not give us much attention, as we weren’t among the good students. So, naturally, the interest in studies waned.” Another student of class 10, Reshma, wrote thus: “At home, it used to be frequent quarrels between parents. It was also tough getting our space in school. But here, we feel free and can bring ourselves out.”

Reshma says she wants to be a journalist. Her friend Jishnu Suresh, who enjoys cooking, wants to be a chef. “For the girls here, the only option after Class 10 or 12 is marriage. But now, there are some who take a different and bold stance. Gothrathalam helps us to know what we want and express it too,” says Laxmi S., who dreams of a career as a Judo coach.

Gothrathalam now plans to make the children aware of the social issues in their surroundings and equip them to tackle it. “Alcohol and substance abuse is a growing concern among the youngsters here,” says Sudhi. Mini, meanwhile, plans to include women of the area in the project. “We are planning to set up a library and have schemes aimed to generate income among women, as they struggle most to take care of the children,” she says.

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