Sudar! Bringing light of literacy into the lives of tribal kids in Erode

In the past 13 years, Natraj’s NGO ‘Sudar’ has steadfastly continued to impart education to tribal children. The silent revolution aims to uplift children from communities historically deprived of opportunities
Sudar: Lighting up the lives of tribal kids.
Sudar: Lighting up the lives of tribal kids.

CHENNAI : A bunch of tribal kids in the far-flung rural areas of Erode sit gloomily as Tamil Nadu celebrates a 99% success in school enrolment ratio. They belong to economically disadvantaged families and communities historically deprived of opportunities. They are part of the remaining 1%, which remains a daunting task despite all-round efforts.

For SC Natraj, founder of the non-governmental organisation Sudar, it’s nothing less than a life mission. While the education department struggles to bridge the gap to ensure a 100%, Natraj focuses on providing education to children in the tribal regions of Erode district.

The 53-year-old from Shenbagapudur in Sathiyamangalam taluk in Erode district developed a passion for social causes during his college days while studying economics in Gobichettipalayam. His early involvement included aiding the rehabilitation of the affected people in the Cauvery dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In 1997, he founded Sudar, which initially focused on saving the Bhavani River and promoting women’s Self-Help Groups. A pivotal moment came in 2007 when Natraj visited Vilangombai in Sathiyamangalam for an afforestation programme with the forest department. He discovered that nearly all the children in the hamlet of around 40 families were not attending school.

The ones who attended school had a tough daily routine: a 10-km trek through the forest frequented by elephants. Sudar initially provided a van to transport the students, but a flash flood in 2010 rendered the route impassable. This led Sudar to seek approval from the district administration to open a village school under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP).

“This was when I decided that Sudar’s priority should be educating the tribal children in Erode. We subsequently opened schools in around 30 tribal hamlets in Erode. The government also constructed schools in 10 different locations and improved transportation. Through Sudar, more than 1,000 tribal children have received schooling over the past 13 years,” said Natraj. Additionally, Sudar volunteers serve as teachers in Government Tribal Schools whenever there is a shortage of educators.

Sudar’s efforts have significantly shifted the mindset towards education in these hamlets. “Tribals generally lead simple lives. Educational facilities are abysmally poor in their areas. Parents are often reluctant to send their children to hostels. Although awareness about education is increasing, we still have a long way to go,” said Natraj.

According to the 2011 Census, Erode had one of the lowest rural literacy rates at 65.4%, with even lower rates in tribal areas. “When we first visited Vilangombai, no one from the current or previous generation had attended school. As we began our initiatives, the government soon provided roads, transportation, and healthcare facilities. Even today, tribal people lack educational role models in their communities.”

“At Sudar, we aim to create these role models so the next generation can follow suit. This is my dream, and I am committed to make sure that I witness this change in my lifetime,” Natraj added.

(Edited by Meghna Murali)

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