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Beyond the classroom

Way to go:  Students engaged in a campaign to promote the construction of toilets; and  Suchitra, the face of the mission.

Way to go: Students engaged in a campaign to promote the construction of toilets; and Suchitra, the face of the mission.

The education ‘beat’, which I cover, invariably yields stories about academic performances, admissions and Board examinations — all the rungs in a ladder that children have to climb to achieve some measure of “success”. But Suchitra K.P.’s story was an exception, of how a young girl went beyond the classroom to make a difference.

I met Suchitra, an 11-year-old girl from a remote village in Kamarahalli, Chamarajanagar, one of the most backward districts in Karnataka, who was the face of the district administration’s campaign after she urged families to build toilets in their homes so that her classmates could go to the bathroom with dignity.

The story I wrote about Suchitra’s contribution to the initiative was published three days before International Women’s Day. While scores of readers and officials reached out to me to learn more about her, Suchitra herself was unaware that the story had been published that day. She got no phone calls or messages, which made me wonder whether I had added any value to her life by writing about her.

 

Then the Delhi Commission for Women took note of the story and decided to felicitate her on Women’s Day amidst stars like wrestler Sakshi Malik. When her mentor Hephsiba R. Korlapati, who was earlier the CEO of Chamarajanagar, called me and told me this, I was delighted. “Will she go?” I asked. “Will her parents allow her to travel alone? What will she talk about at the function?”

To say that Suchitra was thrilled is an understatement. She called me later — not to talk about the award but about what she was going to experience. “ Thumba khushi aagide akka. Vimana nalli hogthini Delhi ge (I am very happy, sister. I am going to travel by flight to Delhi),” she said. It was going to be her first time on an airplane.

She told me what clothes she had packed and the transport arrangements for her first trip outside Karnataka. In Delhi she visited India Gate, a monument she had only seen in textbooks. She also told Ms. Korlapati that she had read the story of Neerja Bhanot, the brave air hostess, and how she wanted to become one.

Suchitra continues to receive calls from organisations and individuals across the country and has a packed schedule. On April 17, for instance, several delegates from an NGO visited her village to study her success story.

And when I find myself crumbling under the weight of deadlines or questioning why I do what I do, I think of Suchitra’s story.


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2022 2:09:55 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/beyond-the-classroom/article18113055.ece