What use are the three Rs to a young stomach that’s rumbling in hunger? As a teacher at the P K Ilamaran understood this first hand at the Chennai High School (CHS) in Kodungaiyur, northern Chennai, Tamil Nadu. And it left him shaken… “Most of my school children are below the poverty line,” he shares. “They are single parent children, street children, hostel-based children.” The common factor is they would walk into the school without having breakfast, not a grain in their stomach before they could start off an entire school day of classes and activities. “I pained me to see that they would have nothing to eat before their classes. The students attending this school are from a very poor background and could simply not afford to eat in the morning.” While observing his students in his classroom, he noticed that some would not have had anything to eat at night either.
This grim reality naturally had its consequences… “I observed that over 120 children at the school either complained of stomach ache or fainted during the morning assembly session.” Unable to stomach this heart-rending situation, Ilamaran decided to act. After all, he had seen his share of sadness and also experienced the power of kindness. “I lost my parents in my childhood,” he reminisces. “I grew up in the hands of my brothers; we had been rendered orphans. My brothers were the ones who realised the life and social position.” It was his brothers’ kind heartedness that impacted him and led him on. “They are my role models,” he vouches with a smile.
Ilamaran gets emotional as he shares, “I understand the feelings of my students due to the circumstances under which I was brought up. I grew up with the same financial crisis.”
He reveals how his feed-the-children plan developed… After interviewing all the students, he identified that 120 students had not been eating breakfast. It was time to bridge the gap and provide breakfast to all. “When I asked the Headmaster to provide the morning meal scheme, our municipal school did not finance the breakfast. I then requested the Headmaster to give permission to provide morning meals at my own cost. The Headmaster immediately allowed me to start with my own self-funded morning meal scheme.”
Initially, there were problems, as the city school was not allowed to permit food from outside. He could be held responsible for any minor complication through the food which he provides. “However, I was determined to provide food to the students without any restrictions.” And he did…
Ilamaran, apart from being a teacher, also served as the state president for the Tamil Nadu Teachers Association. He decided to buy food through a state-run unit called Amma Food which provided food all day. The hurdles had been overcome.
The results were almost instantaneous. Pinched faces and weak gaits, were replaced by happy smiles and active cheers, as the daily breakfast began to show benefits. Even as the children happily munched on the idlis and Pongal served to them, Ilamaran noticed a big improvement in attention span, positivity and yes, no more fainting spells, either! Every morning he spends time with the students as they enjoy their pre-class meal, his pocket lighter but heart so much richer.
Ilamaran maintains, “My unshakable faith is that if our students get real education, their lifestyle will improve and change. I want to make sure that food should not be a barrier to education.” Today he is happy that through TNTA live classes for the poor students, guidance and counselling for students and many more activities are carried out through volunteers. But his mission is far from complete… “The students studying in various government schools are very poor. So, I am constantly requesting the Government of Tamil Nadu to provide morning meal scheme for the welfare of poor students to grant them the opportunity to get quality education.”
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