IOI (Internation Ocean Institue) and now known as the Anawim Trust in Tuticorin district of Tamilnadu works on various issues such as women empowerment, education and vocational training of people of dalit villages in that area. The education component started out by Anawim trust with the support of Prof. R. Rajagopalan, Director, International Ocean Institute (IOI) at IIT Madras has been funded by various Asha from 2001 onwards.
This Asha supported projects deals with setting up and running “Asha Junior Centers” dedicated to the education and all-round development of children in 8 of the villages in this area – Ganesapuram, Kulashekarapattinam, Kurangantattu, Mangalwadi, Melatonipalem, Nathakulam, Thaneerpandal, and Valasubramaniapuram. The Asha Junior Centers, consisting of a small building with a teacher, books, toys, and other resources, are essentially supplementary education and enrichment centers that the children attend after school. With this project, Asha ventured into linking children’s education with women’s microcredit scheme. These schools run typically from 5:30 pm until 9 PM. The purpose was to supplement government school education to these children and help them perform well at the school. The purpose was to make these centers self-sufficient over a period of 3-4 years so they could be funded by the micro credit scheme going forward.
Asha Silicon Valley has been funding the junior centre in Ganesapuram since 2002. On Silicon Valley side, the project had change of guard in terms of stewardship and hence the project was never visited by a Silicon Valley volunteer. Lack of stewardship led to a delay in the mailing of payment to the project in 2004 and this was sent in 2005 following my site visit.
My first-ever project site visit was short but a great learning experience. The time of 3 hrs I had was barely enough for Ganesapuram itself. I drove from Kanyakumari to Ganesapuram- a distance of around 60 km, which took us close to 2 hours. The road, supposedly a national highway was almost non-existent. End of day, I spent more time on the road and wished I had stayed over at Anawim farmhouse for a better visit. Any future project visitors, I strongly recommend staying at the farmhouse and Anawim is more than happy to have a visitor.
We first went to the Anawim farmhouse (a couple of kilometers from the village schools) and met Mrs Shanti, the project coordinator. Mrs Shanti came across as a very strong woman and she definitely had a handle of things. We toured Anawim’s new vocational training centre, which has been funded by the Japanese embassy and inaugurated just a month back in Oct 2004. We also met an embassy representative at the farmhouse. We also met a Swedish couple who were at Anawim teaching spoken English to the children of the Asha Junior centers. Their plan was to spend close to a week at each centre and they had just completed their week at Ganesapuram the week before. This was quite visible in the English language spoken by Ganesapuram children when I met them later. We also had an opportunity to tour the lab where spirulina is prepared for the children. Unfortunately, the staff had left for the day. Spirulina are tablets prepared from spirulina algae and provide supplement nutrition to the children.
From the farmhouse, we then drove to the Ganesapuram Asha centre which was next to the village temple. It was not yet 5:30 pm and children were just trickling in. The primary and secondary kids come in at 5:30 PM but the higher secondary children come in a little late as their school ends only at around 4 PM. The earlier teacher at Ganesapuram Miss Prabha is no longer with Anawim. She moved on to a different employment opportunity as a lab technician at the Aquafina factory close by. The new teacher is a final year Bachelor of Science chemistry student in a college in Tuticorin. Since she was a new teacher, she didn’t seem to have control on the older kids. She showed me attendance books and progress reports.
Consistently, students scored very high in mathematics. Attendance had improved past year. Parents-teachers meeting minutes had been meticulously maintained and so were the minutes of the eco-club. Until all kids came in, I had a look at the building and noticed some play material and cultural craft stuff in the back room. The kids started with the prayer of the day. Mrs Shanti introduced me to the class. Initially, they were pretty shy. When I asked them to ask me questions, I noticed their shyness slowly disappeared and they had questions ranging from travel on a flight to America to what people eat there. After which I asked them questions on general knowledge, math, science and English. As from records, the students were very bright in Mathematics and Tamil but struggled in science.
I got a chance to chat with them on general stuff such as cleanliness and sports and uniformly, all of them were Sehwag fans and none of them liked Ganguly:) They told me they play cricket over the weekend and that they enjoy coming to the school. The students performed some dance and skit they had recently performed at the opening of the women’s vocational training centre of Anawim.
In general, I found the kids enthusiastic and energetic and they definitely benefited from the NFE center. As recommendations for the school, it would make a difference once the teacher becomes more familiar with the class. Also, I noticed that there was no fan and very less air circulation. The next time a budget is made, I definitely suggest adding this component. It would definitely make a difference in the study environment.
Later, I met with the women of the village and spoke to them about their micro credit scheme. Ganesapuram is one of the villages where the microcredit scheme is not running the way it was planned. The businesses chosen by the women were shell picking and grocery shops. Unfortunately, they haven’t been performing well and many of them have defaulted in making payments. They were happy that their children were educated than what they were but their concern was what kind of professions their children would take up after completing school. My only concern was that Mrs Shanti runs the one woman show and she is totally over whelmed with IOI not being in the picture, which I feel has led to the some efficiency issues. With more Asha involvement, we can learn some lessons on associating micro credit program with education. This is a feasible option for lot of Asha projects but needs more analysis and study for a successful implementation.