Madurai

Where they make a man out of tender shoots

Know where they go: Students enjoying a holiday at Boys Town, Tirumangalam.

Know where they go: Students enjoying a holiday at Boys Town, Tirumangalam.   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

Boys Town Society equips poor and destitute children with education and trade skills to see them through life’s journey

Not very far away from Tirumangalam on Kollam highway is this arched gate that has been hearing the noise of a Bullet motorcycle passing by it for about half a century. The campus, Boys Town, reverberates with prayers from all faiths since the late 1960s. Today, if you walk into it, the first thing that strikes you is the small Vinayaka temple. A few metres away is a Siva Linga nestled among green plants. This secular institution was founded by Bro. Joe Homan, the man who rode the Bullet, who left the Catholic religious order, The Christian Brothers, in the United Kingdom to serve poor and destitute children in south Tamil Nadu.

It was a scene in Madurai railway junction that inspired Joe Homan in June 1964 to take Tirumangalam as his second and last home. The sight of a child, who died on the platform due to malnutrition, and 13-year-old Bashir carrying his luggage as ‘porter,’ shook Joe. On that day, he decided to make a new beginning. He returned to Madurai with 200 pounds to start his work at Tirumangalam.

“In the early years, his only asset was a typewriter. His hard work and determination resulted in barren lands bearing flowers and fruits, quite literally,” recalls P. N. Narayana Raja, general secretary, Boys Town Society, who takes care of the four Boys Towns, one Girls Town and two Children’s Villages located in Madurai, Dindigul and Tirunelveli districts after the demise of Joe Homan on March 30, 2016. Till his death, more than 15,000 children had passed through his villages, armed with education and practical skills.

Farming skills

The Tirumangalam Boys Town was started with just five boys, who were taught farming skills, on October 5, 1967. In its obituary for Joe Homan, The Guardian wrote: “In the early years, when India was an overwhelmingly rural country, youngsters were taught mainly agricultural skills, helped to accumulate some savings and encouraged to return home to their families better equipped to survive as farmers.”

Says Mr. Raja, “The Tirumangalam Boys Town had Joe Homan Farm School, where boys from surrounding villages were trained as ‘farm boys.’ On completion of training, they were sent home with a bullock cart, two bullocks and a plough or 20 goats.”

But the scene has changed now. The focus is on education and personality development. Vocational training is provided for the boys. “We encourage boys to take up vocational education after SSLC. In the case of girls, we insist that they join a college,” says Mr. Raja.

‘Parliamentary system’

All the institutions are run by the inmates themselves through a ‘parliamentary system,’ in which there is a ‘Speaker,’ a ‘Prime Minister’ and nine ‘Ministers.’ An inmate becomes eligible to become a ‘Minister’ on the fourth year of stay. All of them are chosen by ballot. The ‘parliament’ meets from 10 a.m. on the fourth Sunday of every month to review the functioning of ‘Ministers.’ “The daily accounts are signed by the ‘Chief Minister’ and ‘Finance Minister’ before they are recorded,” says S. Arun Pandi, ‘Education Minister’ of Tirumangalam Boys Town.

K. Nandini Devi, a ninth standard student at Karisalpatti Girls Town, who had lost her father to liquor addiction, is a joyful participant in all activities as she is able to develop friendship, lead a disciplined life and, more importantly, have a safe environment. The ‘Chief Minister’ of Girls Town wants to be a teacher. The ‘CM’ gets ₹15 as monthly allowance while each ‘Minister’ is paid ₹10.

All taken care of

The institutions admit orphans, children of single parent, those not living with parents, from economically poor families and those from households where the parents are in conflict. A selection committee screens the children, who are provided free books, notebooks, uniform, food and accommodation. They study at Francois Meyer Matriculation School on the campus in the primary classes and go to nearby high schools later. “We send boys to higher secondary school only if they score above 400 marks in SSLC. They are admitted in ITIs and polytechnics, with all free provisions and a monthly stipend. School dropouts are sent on apprenticeship to industrial units, where they get paid a monthly stipend by us,” says Mr. Raja.

In the early years, the institutions were supported by philanthropists from India and abroad. Now the funds have come to a trickle. Yet, for self-sustenance, the inmates make banners for Rotary International and palm cross, both of which are exported. Old students also chip in but the situation has prompted the boys to voluntarily give up the stipend and pocket money they get. But Mr. Raja does not want to withdraw the incentive. As there is hope.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 3:20:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/where-they-make-a-man-out-of-tender-shoots/article26488247.ece

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