Happy Pongal from Vanavil, our little slice of southern goodness!
2015 started fantastically for Vanavil with anonymous donors giving their support on the 1st of January to construct a Granary/cowshed. The Granary will mean that we eat the rice we grow in our farm instead of selling it off at lower prices and then buying rice at a higher market price. These donors are also supporting teacher salaries along with longtime supporter Srinath Baba so that we can pay better wages to our teachers and retain them. We thank them and every one of our donors who have helped us build this rainbow. 2015, our 10th year, looks to be an exceptional year for Vanavil. We hope that 2015 will be a year in which we stabilize the school finances and build on the platform of good work and good will we have created in the community, and get a record number of children into sustaining livelihoods.
January has been a busy, hectic, and energetic month for Vanavil. We had a new academic term plus New Year, Pongal, Republic Day celebrations and the harvest in the farm. But the best news of the month is a new addition to the Vanavil family. Our Cow has given birth to a pretty little female calf and the kids are calling it Paravai (meaning bird) since it has a bird like mark on its forehead and side.
The children had a wonderful start to the calendar year with New year celebrations. The cooks made sweet kesari and the students led by P.Sudha (who had come for Christmas vacations from the Tarangampadi St.Theresa school where she is pursuing std. 12th) made huge Kolams with lots of colours and watched movies. Our artist volunteers Solai and Guruz and Kumutha were with the children for the celebrations.
Republic Day went off really well. Teacher Surendar and the kids created an Indian map on the ground with colored salt. The School Watchman who is an ex-service man hoisted the flag and spoke to the kids about the Salt Satyagraha spearheaded at Vedaranyam. The kids performed two plays – one about a drunken father quitting alcoholism after his daughter gets selected in Medical college and another about the historic anti-colonial Warrior Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Anjala Devi, Vaidegi and Sangeetha sang Bharathiyar’s patriotic songs beautifully. The students also had a dance performance.
As many of you know Vanavil teaches 1st to 5th standards and a KG section on-site, and sends older students to local secondary schools. The new term, which is also the last term of the academic year, has started. Thanks to a great Diwali donation drive last year, the Vanavil kids have got their bags and books. We have planned to improve Tamil vocabulary and basic mathematical skills across the classes this term apart from teaching the prescribed syllabus.
In order to improve the kids confidence and also language skills every month we have decided to conduct two events in which teachers will encourage the children to take part in oratory writing painting and dance and song events. Our first event of the year was January 12th: the kids had story telling, poetry writing, and painting about Swami Vivekananda to commemorate his birthday, with teacher Kalaiselvi in-charge of the event.
Vanavillers who finish 5th standard go to the High school in Puducherry village which is 3 kms away. Among these students, Lakshmanan and Mahalakshmi have been selected for the district level sports meet. Thanks to many donors the Puducherry students have their own cycles. Along with Nataraj they built a cycle stand at the Vanavil campus.
Four students are facing the tenth exams this year, which is thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time. The 10th standard exam is a “gateway” exam and we are holding extra tutoring sessions in Jan, Feb, and Mar to try and help them clear this important test.
Attendance remains an ongoing battle. For example, Mani of 5th standard is absent almost for a month. Solai went to Velankanni and brought him back but he is again absent now. Similarly the Narikuravar Children from Vanjore are not coming to school regularly. After repeated visits by Revathi to the community, four girls are back at school.
In January and February, kids go absent as many of the families head to other places for their seasonal trade. We are pushing hard to improve attendance: a community meeting was held at Sellur on the 30th of January to discuss the issue. The community leaders and the parents have promised to send the children regularly to school and the teachers have also been instructed to get the kids to school regularly.
We’ve had a few recent victories: Suriyamoorthy, who was absent for more than 5 months, has come back! He had left when his mother passed away, disillusioned with the idea of school. He is now back at Vanavil and attending Puducherry school. Danny alias Rajamanikandan is also back! Along with S.Karthi he was apprehended by the Railway police and handed over to us. Danny is now keen to study and we will be admitting him in 6th standard in the Puducherry school.
The other big news from January is that we have started harvesting at the Vanavil farm. The first leg of the harvest is over and we have 97 bags of Paddy rice. We are temporarily storing it in the old boys hostel.
When the Granary is constructed we will move it there. The Cattle will also have a nicer place to stay when the Granary cum cow shed is completed.
The second leg of harvest will start in February and we hope with the total yield we would be able to store the rice required for the School for the whole year.
Last year we used machines to harvest due to paucity in labourers and hence didn’t have any hay to feed the cattle. This year we did a manual harvest which means we will have to pay the labourers in paddy but we have hay that can feed the cattle.
We also bought young fish to grow in the pond and the kids harvested all the palm seed they had planted and ate panankazhangu for snacks.
This year’s Pongal was special for Vanavil with the new Paravai calf coming in. Massive decorations and copious food were made to celebrate Pongal. Adam Grubb, a permaculturist from Australia (Srinath’s Friend) visited Vanavil during Pongal. He sponsored the Pongal meal and also donated money towards farm expenses. We thank him.
In administrative news, the new Accountant Arivuselvan will join this week. We have hired a new teacher Kokila who has finished D.Ted and a course in teaching drawing. We are trying to source a HM to replace Chandran who would be leaving Vanavil on February 5th. We had two teacher meetings in this month and general teacher morale is good. The salary hike that would come in from next month will certainly improve teacher participation.
Financially, the school is OK right now. We’ve had wonderful support from Citizen’s Run (http://www.citizensrun.org/) and SSA has finally provided a portion of the funding they have promised. If we can continue to raise money at the rate so far, we should reach our 12 month fund raising goal and will therefore be able to afford to conduct workshops in the summer but as always at Vanavil every rupee is crucial and we need your help: http://vanavil.org/get-involved/. The Wipro Cares donation for a computer lab is still pending, but it will no doubt arrive soon and then we can set that up as well.
We do have a critical need for transport at the moment, at least one but ideally two two-wheelers (motorbikes) for Vanavil. The TVS XL we have is being shared by the kitchen, office, Farm and Hostel needs for hospital visits etc., It’s almost always scarce and many times things get postponed because of the vehicle situation. If anyone has a used Moped or scooty or anything that people are willing donate to us it would be great.
We also need a television and printer. The television we had died long ago, and we need TV for both recreational and educational purposes. The printer is in a sad state and we are taking printouts and Xeroxes outside. If people can donate or buy us a printer it would very helpful. Note: laser printers are more reliable and economical with ink, so a black and white laser printer is usually cheaper long-term than a colour inkjet printer.
The star student of this month is Anjala Devi. She was a great performer at the various celebrations this month and is also learning well.
Swarnavel Eswaran, Filmmaker and a professor at the Michigan State University who has been visiting Vanavil regularly from the time it was started, came to Vanavil last December. He recently posted a small video tribute on the school, which you can see on our website (http://vanavil.org/watch-video/) or on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30o8boKtEW8&feature=youtu.be
So, in sum, the health of the school, including the kids’ health, is OK. Many kids caught colds during the winter but now that the weather is warming up things are improving. The harvest went well within the new fence enclosure. Revathi will be spending more time at the school in February and March to transition in new staff and work on attendance. Even Murugambal’s certificate issue is out of crisis as the teaching college has agreed to let her stay on for the year. With high hopes for a great year, and ambitious plans to reach more children, we look forward to your support in 2015.
More shots of the harvest here!
Here’s wishing you a wonderful and happy 2015!