Tender minds with big dreams

Print edition : January 13, 2006

Pappu Raj with the prizes he won. One of them is for a State-level quiz conducted by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum. - M. SRINATH

"MOTHER gives me love and care, Father shows me how to fare... " goes the enthusiastic chorus of fifth standard pupils at the Annai Sathya Government Orphanage and Elementary School in Nagapattinam as they recite a poem. The 98 pupils at the school are not all orphans. Many of them have a parent, and all of them have close relatives, whom they visit or who visit them over weekends and holidays. In any case, these little survivors are truly the most coddled and treasured children of the district. They are under the District Collector's watchful care and receive a constant stream of visitors who bring them presents and even specially prepared food.

Three-fourths of the children at the orphanage are girls - a reflection perhaps of the low value placed on a girl child in the fishing community. The emotional scars are fast disappearing. "Their worries, nightmares, bad memories and restlessness are much less now," said S. Vasantha, their teacher. Enthusiastic and uninhibited, the children clearly want different lives for themselves. "I want to become a fifth standard teacher," says S. Malarvizhi (9). So does her friend S. Tamilchelvi. Ten-year-old Soundaravalli says she wants to be a "children's doctor" and work in her village, Keechankuppam. S. Vigneshpriya wants to become a Collector "and build houses and a big wall in my village to protect it from the tsunami".

The majority of the children who lost their parents stayed with relatives in the community. Ten-year-old Priya and her nine-year-old brother Sabarinathan lost their parents but live with their uncle and aunt in Akkarappettai. "In our community we don't like to put children in orphanages," said their uncle P. Vadivalagam. The State government put Rs.5,00,000 in a bank deposit for each child that lost both parents, to be used when the child turns 18. The district administration has placed special emphasis on the welfare of children. The value parents place on education for both boys and girls is a striking feature of the tsunami-affected areas.

Fifty-three pupils of the Panchayat Union Elementary School in Akkarappettai died in the tsunami. "We opened our school on January 10, two weeks after the tsunami, as we wanted to bring about normalcy through a school routine. By March we had full attendance. We have 115 new admissions and 144 children passed the fifth standard exam," said R. Balu, the headmaster.

"I want to create a revolution through education in this school," said P. Ayyakkannu, the headmaster in charge at the adjoining Government Higher Secondary School, which has 877 pupils. Fourteen children died here, but the school is back on track thanks to dedicated teachers and non-governmental organisations that focus on children's welfare.

The school has also shown excellent results. It is the motivation of his teachers, Azhi Rama Arangarajan in particular, that helped 16-year-old A. Pappu Raj of eleventh standard to discover himself. The son of a poor fisherman in Akkarappettai, whose family too suffered huge losses, Pappu Raj won the district-, divisional- and State-level prize in a quiz competition held by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum. He also stood first among the schools in the tsunami-affected area for his SSLC. His aim is to join an Indian Institute of Technology and become a Collector.

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