Tribal students get breakfast; thanks to headmaster
By Reema Narendran | ENS | Published: 12th September 2012 10:31 AM |
Nestled among the greenery of the Western Ghats, the Government Upper Primary School at Njaruneeli, with its tiled roof and traditional architecture, looks straight out of a pretty post-card. What makes this tribal school different from the others is not just the large number of tribal students, but the near total attendance at the school - both teachers as well as students.
But when headmaster Venukumaran Nair made school assembly a regular affair every morning, there was a large incidence of children swooning, even when there was no sun beating down on them. ‘’It was not just one or two of them. At least seven or eight of them fainted every morning within five minutes into the Assembly session,’’ said the headmaster.
He knew something was amiss. A little prodding revealed that they had to walk over eight kilometres every day from their settlements to reach the school. Most of the children came from the nearby tribal settlements of Njaruneeli, Ilinjium, Kallana, Iyyakkodu, Chembikkunnu, Alummmoodu and Kallankudi.
But what was more shocking was the fact that these children rarely had any breakfast before setting out on this long, hard walk. A good many of them had just grandparents at home, who were not healthy enough to cook food. On the way down the mountains, some of them were lucky enough to find some wild fruits and berries occasionally, but generally they arrived on an empty stomach and starved till the noon meal provided at the school.
While many teachers would have given up on the idea of a daily assembly, Venukumaran Nair was not to be one of them. Neither were the other teachers in the school. Or the peon Vijayan. All of them together decided on a breakfast programme for the children.
This meant the headmaster, teachers and other non-teaching staff had to come in early. But nevertheless they decided to begin classes by 8 am. While the classes were on, delicious ‘puttu’ and ‘kadala’ or ‘puttu’ and ‘payar’ and ‘idli’ and ‘sambar’ would be cooked by Rosa in the school kitchen.
Finding funds for provisions, vessels for cooking food and plates for serving was a Herculean task. That was when the GG Charitable Trust came up with a little financial help. The money would not suffice, but the teachers and a few residents of the area contributed. The headmaster nearly spent half of his salary for the breakfast of his students.
The enterprising headmaster managed to effectively conduct the breakfast programme through different routes. When the Lions Club donated Rs 10,000, he put in some money to it and bought a five-litre grinder for making the ‘idli’ batter. When Malankara Social Service put in Rs 2,000, he added a Rs 1,000 to it and bought a steamer for ‘idlis.’ Soon, the GG Trust also donated 200 plates and 200 glasses.
Every plate is numbered and each student writes his roll number on it. He or she is responsible for the safe-keeping of the plates and glasses, just as they are for washing and drying them.
Even while all the vessels for making and serving the food have been bought, the school still is short of money for buying provisions. ‘’People celebrating their birthdays or wedding anniversaries sometimes sponsor a meal. But we hope there will a more steady scheme for their breakfast,’’ said Venugopalan Nair, who has implemented many interesting programmes like ‘nattu vaidyam’ for first-aid; revival of the forgotten ‘malampattu’ (songs from the mountains); ‘pusthaka police’, who issue books to students; and even ‘suchitwa police,’ who are in charge of the cleanliness of the school.