Dear Vanavil Well-Wishers!
Greetings from the lovely town of Sikkal, Tamil Nadu, just after August 15th, Indian Independence Day. The Vanavil students put on a fantastic programme, including a solemn flag raising, speeches, songs, and a dance recital. The students led the ceremony, gave the flag salute and also danced with verve and enthusiasm. (pics enclosed). It was superb and the teachers did a nice job helping the kids prepare and conduct themselves well.
The school is running nicely – the older kids are keeping up the “study habit” and we had lovely weekend English tutoring sessions on the poems of Rudyard Kipling. Our teacher Surender retiled the leaky roof ,which allowed us to successfully shift the boys hostel into a separate building from the girls, as per the recent Social Welfare Dept. edict. Vanavil has also recently gotten Narikuravar kids from Vanjore (one of the nearby hamlets) back into regular attendance and enrollment in school. The Vanjore boys especially need lots of attention and care, as they are older (6th standard) but practically illiterate and therefore can get a bit frustrated.
Murugammal got a free government laptop for graduating 12th standard; Emaya is helping her get it setup so she can use it for her classes at the teacher’s college. She’s thrilled to be “high tech” and it’s another obvious incentive for the other kids to stay in school.
In other “tech news”, Wipro is contemplating sponsoring a computer lab for the school. I looked at possible layouts, and I think it will be possible to setup a Khan Academy lab in the current library. Stay tuned! We also hope to start work on a proper “goat proof” fence, with Wipro’s support, by the end of this month so that we can put in a vegetable garden and some more fruit trees.
The new van arrangement seems to be working well. While the van no longer carries the school name, the new driver is doing a better job managing maintenance so running costs are down.
The cycles have been a huge hit. Donors have pledged money to purchase bicycles for all 44 older students so that they can get to the Puducherry school. We have 23 now, funds in hand to purchase 10 more, and will hopefully cover the balance by the end of the month.
Of course, there are still lots of challenges. Some of the older boys have been cutting school to make money selling trinkets at the Velankanni shrine. We really need a dedicated outreach coordinator to go from town to town, but funding an extra staffer plus transport is difficult. The funding situation in general is still really dicey, as SSA and Sauquet Foundation have cut their contributions this year. Also, one of the 1000 liter overhead plastic water reservoirs has cracked, and will likely need to be replaced soon. Please mobilize your friends!
Despite the challenges, the kids are happy and resourceful. Over the weekend Lakshmanan harvested 40 coconuts from the trees in the compound, and we all had tender coconut. After a heavy rain in the night, our teacher Shalini took some older girl students to the fields and caught crabs and snails; we had delicious crab and snail stew for lunch!
A circus came to Sikkal this holiday weekend, but before we could check it out, heavy rains soaked the big top and the shows were cancelled. There are about 30 kids who stay in hostel even on holidays because they don’t have parents or homes to go to, and they were super disappointed; Emaya called a local cinema, negotiated a discount, and we treated the kids to a Tamil movie! (Velai Illa Pattathari)
Finally, K. Sudha, who has been studying in Chennai for 11th standard, had a lovely weekend catching up with family and friends. She took the Chennai bus with me on Sunday night and was back in school on Monday morning.
That’s all from this month’s visit. I’ll end with big thank you’s to Srinath and Devishree who organized a tremendous response for our bicycle appeal. Your support makes a huge difference and goes 100% towards the benefit of the kids.