Till and toil for kids of the hills

Sathish, through ‘Tree People Charitable Trust’, aims to provide education for underprivileged children in hill villages of Sathyamangalam.
Sathish spread awareness on the importance of education among hill population. (Photo | Express)
Sathish spread awareness on the importance of education among hill population. (Photo | Express)

ERODE: The farm fields in the hill village of Gundri turned a shade of brownish black as the sun dipped below an obscure horizon. Meanwhile, in the dim incandescence of a filament bulb in a thatched shed, the silhouettes on the brick wall took on a life of their own as a group of five lively children shifted and swayed on a makeshift wooden bench while listening to a singsong lecture by a 37-year-old man. This is an excerpt from the life of Sathish who implies hope and gaiety for many from the hill villages in Erode.

C Sathish, a resident of Sathyamangalam in Erode, hails from a farming family and holds an M Phil. He lives with his wife, children, and parents. Though his family owns five acres of land and is into flower cultivation and trading, Sathish found his life’s purpose in serving others. Currently pursuing PhD, Sathish also runs an NGO, Tree People Charitable Trust, intending to provide education for the underprivileged.

Around 2013-2014, Sathish joined as a teacher in a private school in Sathyamangalam after completing his PG and B Ed. On an educational trip from the school, he travelled to Gundri, a hill village and met many children who had never been to school. Realising that these children were too far from school education, quite literally and figuratively, Sathish presumed it to be his calling to contribute what he could for them and quit his job.

“Though it was an impulsive decision, I was certain that I could support my family by helping on the farm. Every day, I wake up early in the morning and pick flowers in the field. During the day, I travel to the hill villages, including Gundri, Kadampur, Thalavadi, and Bargur. In the initial days, I was confused about how and where to start in providing education to the children. But a private NGO I was introduced to in 2016 helped me plan for these children,” says Sathish.

Two years after he set out on his journey, Sathish began working under the Nation Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme, which also helped him understand the needs of the children. “Sometimes I stay at these villages and tutor the children. I focused more on helping school dropouts. I also created awareness about sending the kids back to school. In Gundri village alone, there were at least 50 children who couldn’t go to school,” adds the educator.  

Sathish recalls a time when he was a coordinator of a special training centre functioning in Gundri under the NCLP scheme, not in a building but under a tree. Whilst taking classes for students under the tree, Sathish made up his mind to build a proper school, which led him to acquire 10 cents of land from the revenue department through the village panchayat. A private educational institution in Sathyamangalam offered him help.

“The institution asked me if I could invest something in return for their favour, and I pledged my jewels and finally laid the school’s foundation at an estimated cost of Rs 1.5 lakh. The construction work of the school was carried out with the help of private contributions, and it was finally opened in 2020. At least 70 students were admitted to the school in its first year. Three teachers were posted by the government under the NCLP, and they were paid Rs 7,500 each per month,” he says. However, the school didn’t run for long as the central government discontinued the NCLP scheme in March 2022.

This unforeseen incident did not douse the fire in him. Sathish enrolled the children in a government school 7 km away from the previous location. As many of them discontinued school due to the long distance from their homes, I initiated evening classes at the school building. I knew it was impossible for us to get a licence and start a school on our own. So I have appointed a graduate on a monthly salary of Rs 5,000. And now, around 42 students attend the tuition,” Sathish says, adding their aim is to extend the evening classes to all hill villages in Sathyamangalam.

Looking back, Sathish is grateful that he could help around 200 dropouts to get back to school. “Ten of them are now pursuing higher education, but many dropped out of school again. However, I shall not be discouraged,” he says. Today, Sathish and his NGO play a vital role in protecting and fighting for the rights of the hill people, taking care of their medical needs, and recovering their traditions.

(Edited by Lisa Anthony)

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