November update from Vanavil, our little slice of southern goodness
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Two weeks back, I met with stalwart donors Wipro Cares in Bangalore. Wipro Cares have agreed to underwrite a computer learning lab at Vanavil. (Thanks heaps!) I was eager to get the ball rolling, so I quickly drove down to Vanavil Nov 10th.
I’m happy to report that the school is in great shape. The kids had a lovely Diwali. Thanks to a fantastic response to our Diwali appeal, we were able to buy new clothes for every child, as well as a special meal, donated sweets, and crackers (you can see pics here) The northeast monsoon is going on, which is good for the rice crop but tough on the roads. To quote a teacher at the nearby government school: “The school, it’s like the sea [but there] is no boat.”
Our campus in contrast is neater than I’ve ever seen it. The fence work, also sponsored by Wipro Cares, is complete but for the gates, which will be put in once the local villagers have finished moving their tractor through the paddy for the rice harvest. The fence helps keep the school compound cleaner (by keeping the goats out), makes it easier to keep the kids safe, and at last you can clearly see the boundaries of the school property.
Academics are going reasonably well. Chandran is doing a fine job as Head-of-school. We’ve hired 1 new teacher and are looking for another. (Murugapriya has gone on maternity leave and Vasuhi has decided to work elsewhere.)
Nataraj and I visited the Puducherry school attended by our older students. It has just gotten a new HM and a full complement of teachers, so our students going there are getting better instruction.
Selvarani, Manikandan, and Kalidas are enjoing the typing class in Nagapattinam Chandran enrolled them in so as to make their wait for their 8th standard correspondence exam results more productive, and he is optimistic that they will pass and get promoted.
Enrollment is steady about over 140. Four new students joined the 4th standard recently, however, two older boys Suriya and Karthi are absconding in Velankanni selling stickers and sleeping rough and two girls Maha and Deviyanni are being kept back by their families to help with housework. Chandran is organizing a community meeting to get the kids back, and Nataraj is also talking directly with Deviyanni’s family. The school recently resolved a similar issue with Anjamma, so chances are good that they will be back in school in December.
The star student of this month is Kumar. He’s our oldest male student, and doing well in 10th standard at Puducherry. While some of the Vanavil kids tease him for his goofy ways, he’s kept his bicycle in very good shape and made a lot of friends in his class. By 10th standard, you can really see the impact of unequal gender attitudes. Kumar’s government school class has 20+ boys and only 1 girl.
The bikes in general have been a great investment, and make it much easier for kids to get to school, however, the standard inner tubes are very poorly made – several of the air valves have broken and punctures are a regular problem, through very little fault of the kids.
Financially, the school is OK right now. We met with SSA and they are agreeing to fund only 50 kids, as opposed to the 67 originally registered, so that means their contribution is cut by an additional 25%. However, Citizen’s Run (http://www.citizensrun.org/) has generously decided to support Vanavil this year with 3 lakhs. This is a huge help. Ranvir Shah, one of the Trustees of Citizen’s Run, has been a great friend of Vanavil for many many years and we were very touched by the direct support of Citizen’s Run.
We also received a grant from the Aram Sei Foundation in the US, who chose to help Vanavil in conjunction with Pudiyador this year, thanks to a long campaign from Revathi. You can see our student Amudha on their home page here. We’ve also had a number of new donors participate in the Diwali appeal, and we hope they will continue to stand with Vanavil in the future.
The accountant is currently putting together the Oct statement. It seems likely that we’ll fall short of our 12 month fund raising goal, but we scrimped on expenses earlier in the year so if we can get a few more lakhs by the end of this year, we may be able to afford to conduct workshops in the summer, for Vanavil’s 10th year. The summer vacation is always tough because we keep the campus open to maintain the “school habit” and we rely on volunteers and donors to provide educational activities beyond the government academic year. Right now, in the rainy season, our biggest headache is the general operations & maintenance fund – donating for salaries, paint, and new roof tiles isn’t glamorous, but its key to our ability to successfully educate the kids.
Speaking of civil works, I was able to meet with the electrician and carpenter and they have started renovating the library for the computer lab. Emaya will be at the school next week to inspect their progress and hopefully send a few photos. We’re just waiting for the funds transfer to go through to purchase the workstations. I’ve also taken two old donated laptops back to Chennai to refurbish and load with English language computer-aided learning software (Rosetta Stone) for December.
So, in sum, the health of the school, including the kids’ health, is pretty good. Some key donations over the last 12 months have really yielded dividends: the water filter is keeping kids healthier, we expect to soon have 7 cows if the current pregnancy gives us a healthy calf, so we may actually have a milk surplus, and the fence has transformed the feel of the land.
Our challenges haven’t gone away – our students are first-generation learners and it’s a constant temptation to drop out and work, whether for pay in various street trades, in their parent’s subsistence industry, or as unpaid domestic labour. We also have a constant struggle with bureaucracy. Murugambal’s name discrepancy between her 12th standard graduation certificate and caste certificate will most likely have to go to a court case, even though everyone involved know that it is one and the same village girl who just wants to pursue her college course in peace. Despite this, the community has tremendous trust in Vanavil and give their children into our care in hopes of a better life. With your help, we seem to be making progress.