Twenty-five years ago, he was the ‘poor’ student, scoring just 109 out of 500 in his Class X board exams. That marked the end of his school education.
Today, the same N. Nithyanandam is back from the 12th Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on August 7, 8 and 9. He was the only invitee from India. “My life seems like a dream,” says Nithyanandam, 40, who completes 25 years of social service this year. “I boarded the flight in my chappals and white cotton shirt. But, what respect they gave me. I don’t even understand English very well. But, how well they understood me; they saw the person behind the appearance,” he says.
To understand why a 40-year-old man was called to address an assembly of teens and youths, it is important to understand what Nithyanandam does. The crusader works with 14 friends, and through his Dhiyana Podhusevai Maiyam, focusses on children’s education, afforestation and spreading awareness about HIV and AIDS. He has visited hundreds of villages across Tamil Nadu and spoken about the need for safe sex. He also plants saplings in poramboke land. By the thousands.
At the UN, Nithyanandam spoke for 20 minutes in Tamil. He spoke about the need to educate children and give them life skills-based education, the need to bring up global citizens and raise children who love Nature and their country.
“They appreciated it. Actually, they like most things Indian. They are in awe of our family system, and the caring and sharing,” he says.
Nithyanandam, a UN volunteer, also spoke to the students about the need to share knowledge of good things. “The solution for global peace is actually very simple. If everyone is happy and if all things are shared, where is the chance of conflict? We must improve, but we must also help our neighbours improve. If not, we become an unequal society, the root cause for all evil.”
Nithyanandam believes every person is born to do something special and leave a mark on the earth. “I don’t have money. I don’t have education, but I still managed to take up tasks that moved others to work,” he points out.
Recalling the shramdaan at the Ukkadam Periyakulam, Nithyanandam says people came by the thousands to be part of a noble cause. “What if we all worked like that, every week, for a common cause? Can you imagine the change?” He took along CDs of the shramdaan to show the Youth Assembly. “In fact, representatives from Canada and Ghana wanted to replicate the model,” he says.
What financial resources Nithyanandam lacks, he makes up with his enthusiasm. “My employer, Sanjay Jayavarthanavelu of LMW, has been paying me a regular salary since 2008 though I don’t work there any longer. He encourages me. I don’t have many needs. I told my wife that I would look after her well, but that I could not provide material comfort. Kavitha is like a rock in my life. So are our twins, Jagadeesh Kumar and Jagadeep Kumar. They understand that their father might not provide extravagantly for them, but is working to make their future and that of other children better. All I brought back for them from the U.S. were some chocolates. I can’t afford anything else,” he says. He has sold or pledged Kavitha’s jewels, dipped into the family’s savings and banked on his friends to keep his social service alive.
This was not Nithyanandam’s first trip abroad. Last year, he visited Washington for the International AIDS Conference. He was invited to share his experience of speaking to the residents of 440 villages about a topic they considered taboo.
“People tend to think that the villages are free of such new-age conditions. They are not. Ignorance coupled with fear has hit villages hard,” says Nithyanandam. Many villagers did not know what a condom was. Others were afraid of getting themselves tested. They would not put much faith in a foreigner talking to them about protecting themselves. And so, Nithyanandam brought out some CDs and pamphlets that explained what HIV and AIDS were all about. “What affected me most of all was the stigma that those with HIV faced in the rural belt. The plight of children orphaned by AIDS was worse. People have to be taught to handle them with humaneness,” he says. “We should have prevented HIV. Now that it is here, we must take steps to prevent it from spreading and learn to cope with it,” he says.
When he spoke about the importance of family at the UN, it struck a chord among many participants, he says. “We have adopted many practices, some good but mostly bad, from the West. But, they have adopted the best things about our culture. They are working towards strengthening the family structure,” he notes.
“I wish our children and adults would learn discipline from there. I wish we were more patriotic and respected our nation better. I wish we were pleasant and encouraging to others. Despite not speaking in their language, I got the respect that I probably will never get here!”
Nithyanandam plans to intensify his greening drive in 235 panchayats in Coimbatore district. “We need to identify 10 acres of poramboke land in every panchayat and raise saplings there. In four to five years, every panchayat will look different, and we will reap the benefits of additional lung space,” he says. His latest work was planting 3,500 saplings in 10 acres in Arasur. Next on his list is Mayilampatti near Chinniampalayam, where he will plant 3,000 saplings in seven-and-a-half acres.
If you wish to contribute to his cause, call him at 95667-57074