The Hindu published fantastic coverage of our the first-ever sports day celebrations at a school for the tribal children of Alleri.
(Racing aheadStudents participating in the eventArun PRASHANTH)
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One of Palamarathukollai’s main sources of pride is a red-and-yellow building — a school built by collaborating NGOs Seb’s Projects and Prayag. The school is the lone cement structure in the hamlet situated 20 kilometres from the nearest village Alleri, in Javadi hills in Vellore. It wears an even more festive look on the occasion of its first sports day.
Colourful paper flags blow in the wind as students from classes I to V bellow the national pledge in a familiar staccato before teachers herd them to the makeshift grounds outside. Twenty Prayag volunteers with the help of teachers have organised competitions for the students, including kho-kho, kabbadi and track races.
The students’ enthusiasm is so infectious that it has teachers and volunteers pick teams to cheer on. Every close escape in kho-kho and ‘toe-touch’ in kabbadi elicit loud ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.Some volunteers turn into coaches briefly, shouting out instructions from the sidelines.Yet others summon their inner Ravi Shastris. D Saravanan, one of the students, says he wants to be a Tamil teacher when he grows up; he already looks the part with his sombre and terse demeanour. He may not talk much but he moves fast. He has made a clean sweep at all the track races. The spoils include a gold medal, a certificate and a tiffin box.
Most, like Saravanan, enjoy the competition, but others, like R Nanthini, are happier playing with their friends. A shy 11-year-old, Nanthini has to turn her face away before she can talk to strangers. “I prefer swimming with my best friend,” she says.
The Seb’s Projects school was first set up in Palamaruthukollai in 2014 as a basic mud structure. According to Dominic Savio, project coordinator at Seb’s Projects, the need arose because the Government school in Alleri was non-functional. “The teaching staff there would hardly show up. Most of them are not local residents and given the bad roads, it is difficult for them to travel to Alleri everyday.”
Palamarathukollai was hit particularly hard by the winter floods of 2015. The only way to reach the hamlet is using a dirt road, either on foot or on motorcycles and tractors. The heavy rains not only made that inaccessible but also partially destroyed the only school the hamlet had. It is telling of the students’ will to learn that despite this, they would attend school; the nearby boulders serving as open-air classrooms. In June 2016, Prayag, a children’s education NGO, joined hands with Seb’s Projects to build the cement school that stands today.
It’s a special day for the students as they get new uniforms, provided by Prayag. These uniforms have been stitched by women of the hamlet. Playing an integral part in the school’s development, women here work as brick-makers, cooks and teachers. P Anitha, a 20-year old teacher in the balwadi section, jumped at the opportunity to work as a teacher. Having to quit studying at the age of 14, she is proud of her students. “They are very quick at grasping new lessons,” she says. Sandhya Sridhar, operations head of Prayag, says, “It’s sustainable to involve the women in everything we do. We can’t come here every day, so it is they who take up the responsibility of maintaining the place.”
Parents who join in during the award ceremony look delighted as their children are rewarded for their achievements. There’s bonhomie and much joy all around as the event ends with students performing for an audience gathered under the umbrella of dragonflies in the sky.
The uniforms have been stitched by the women of the hamlet.