The 2004 Tsunami brought a wave that changed the lives of the residents of Tamil Nadu’ s Nagapattinam district. R. Revathi, an associate director working in the film industry, volunteered to change the disastrous aftermath of the Asian Tsunami. Revathi ended up staying back in the district for the rest of her life after a chance meeting with Lakshmi, an emaciated and malnourished child from a nomadic community called Boom Boom Maatukarar.
Recalling the beginning of her journey, Revathi tells us, “The nomadic community was cast off from relief camps and was staying in a public park. We tried to get the community members food items and took the emaciated Lakshmi to the hospital only to realise she had a slew of diseases caused by malnutri - tion. We set up Vanavil as a bridge school in 2005 and working with the community, made us realise that the gap is too wide… We ended up becom - ing a full-time residential school and a children's home. Our achievement is that we started a school for a community which was nomadic and whose children were child beggars and have produced two graduates and three diploma holders—that is five women with higher education and who are working now. Five more girls are in colleges now pursuing their degrees.”
“Personally, for me to choose my own path and to push myself ahead in what I've chosen even if it seems impossible to achieve, my mother K Premavathi is the inspiration. The young infant Lakshmi who I met in Nagapattinam bus stand succumbed to malnutrition later. In a way, her untimely death due to lack of proper food and the plight of children like her has also been a huge push for me to do this.”
Trailing her thoughts through the various challenges she came across, Revathi says, “I had no money and the community was surviving on the money that the children were earning by begging. We were struggling in the beginning as I was new to Nagapattinam and running institutions. Children were our first priority as we built stronger relationships with the community and convinced them that education is the way forward. It was ensured that the school is a happy place and children are involved in the process of decision making. Children knew that they have ownership.”
On generating funds and working with the government, she shares, “Our friends and team members took on the task of fundraising; we collected money from friends as they supported us. Even today, the trust runs primarily on individual donations and it is a perennial challenge we constantly work on. Another challenge arises in getting families their due relief, rehab, and certificates from the government. We have worked hard, walked miles and miles in official corridors and secured the community certificates for some children. A challenge that continues to exist even today.”
“Our motto has always been equality in education, through education. We believe every child is unique; children of even the most marginalised communities deserve the best of education equally. I believe learning happens in many places and ways; every child can learn if we give them a safe environment and holistic learning experience,” vouches Revathi.
She goes on to share an inspiring message, “We have a lot of young people who help us to be where we are. The Vanavil School has many volunteers who eventually become important stakeholders; we always welcome new people to get on board with us. I hope this award inspires more people as our story reaches the readers of ScooNews; I hope our story can bring them towards our little Vanavil, which translates to a rainbow in Tamil. ”
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