Society

With a rainbow in her heart

Radhika Muraleedharan

Radhika Muraleedharan  

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Radhika Muraleedharan, who set up the Nairobi International School in Kenya, speaks of her struggles and her success in her autobiography Rainbows in My Clouds

It is pure chance that Mrs. Lee is wearing rainbow colours on her sari when she mentions Rainbows In My Clouds, her autobiography ready for release shortly. Radhika Muraleedharan, aka ‘Mrs. Lee’, from Kochi is the founder and director of Nairobi International School (NIS), in Nairobi, and her book is about “30 years of my struggle”. Radhika’s struggle is about overcoming the violence of an abusive marriage, of life in a foreign land, of breaking free, of starting alone and afresh and going on to establish three schools of repute in faraway Kenya. “Not just schools, but E-Schools. My story is not sensational, but inspiring. I see people shatter with their marriage breaking but I want them to know that we have the strength within us to go forward; that they should not get stuck,” says Radhika, who realised that her story was indeed inspiring after none other than John Couch, the Vice President of Education, Apple, asked her to narrate her story to a gathering of 700 delegates at a conference in Vienna.

As with most success stories Radhika’s too had small beginnings. She began as an English teacher and remained so for over a decade, all the while balancing between troubled domestic scenes, raising her son Ashwin and her dedication to her job. “There was violence at home. In fact, on two occasions, I nearly lost my life. It was on the last one when I ran away that my son decided that we don’t go back to the house,” says Radhika recalling the day when she decided to break free.

At that point she just had her young son, her teaching experience, a dream to start a school and goodwill of her pupils and friends to begin with. “It is God’s grace. I was meant to do this,” she says.

Little did she realise then that she had the spirit of an entrepreneur in her. Without capital to start with she began looking for funds. “I did not have any collateral to give but found a venture capitalist company.”

Despite her personal setbacks, Radhika was driven by the conviction that her school would be up somehow. On one occasion when the school’s foundation was being prepared, a young boy came along with his mother and sister and said, ‘this is Mrs Lee’s school and I will study here’. Radhika remembers this fondly. It was a reaffirmation that encouraged her further. Kenya, like India being “also highly political,” Radhika had to encounter several problems. Political heavyweights wanted to wrench her land out but she sorted the matter and the school building came up. She opened the school on September 15, 2008, with 35 children across grades 7 to 13 with a British curriculum. She opened with Middle School and was soon urged by parents to start a primary school for the siblings, which she did over the next three years in 2011. Last year she opened the Kindergarten. Today Radhika has a staff of 150 and students from 44 nationalities studying in her three full-fledged schools with a waiting list for admissions for all classes.

If there was a turning point in her story, she believes it to be the introduction of e-learning in the schools. In 2007 she was one among two delegates who represented Africa at Apple’s Conference for Educators. She was impressed by the new-age technology and implemented it in her school. Her foresight was noticed and appreciated. E-learning at the school level drew more students and NIS grew in reputation. Later in 2012 when Radhika attended the Apple Conference along with her son Ashwin and addressed the gathering, she told her story, plainly and honestly, to educators of the world, many who cried and others who congratulated.

“I got back what I had lost,” she says about the occasion after which her journey has been one of great pride in her success and in the success of her students.

“I am blessed. Kenya has given me so much and the schools are my way to give back to the country,” she says and sponsors two Kenyan students to Cambridge University and London School of Economics. She speaks fluent Swahili and loves Kenya.

But then if there is another city that she loves it is Kochi. She grew up here and knows the place and people. Radhika cannot stop thanking her school and college, St. Teresa’s for she believes her strength and success comes from there, “from its teachers and the nuns.” “They make you a survivor,” she says.

Having lost her parents and older brother, Radhika has no immediate family in the city but has her extended family whom she meets on her visits. But what really brings her here, she says, is her Goddess at Chottanikkara, the Goddess who gave her the rainbows in her clouds.

( The proceeds from the sale of the book have been pledged for CATSI (Cancer Awareness And Treatment Support Initiative) that Radhika set up along with the school in 2008)

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 2:23:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/with-a-rainbow-in-her-heart-radhika-muraleedharan/article7438211.ece

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