October 15, 2008

News Update April to August 2008

August 29, 2008

Welcome to the News update from Thulir. In this post we review happenings of the past 5 months

Bee keeping update:

The colonies in our Bee boxes are doing well. During end of August, in the 5 boxes we have in Thulir, we were able to get 2.5 litres of honey and the bee colonies seem to be healthy. bee colony in the box at Thulir

Science camp at Thulir

In August we held a weekend camp with Science experiments as the theme.
18 children took part in the Camp that started on a Saturday morning and went on till Sunday evening with the participants staying overnight.
A range of experiments were carried out:

–testing solubility, conductivity and inflammability of different materials and recording the outcomes
–making of scaled working models of pumps. This is based on the pumps made by Arvind Gupta [www.arvindguptatoys.com]. It was a great hit among the students and everybody had a lot of fun.
–various experiments to understand Bernoulli’s principles, air and water pressure, nature of sound and light etc

–observing parts of plants and flowers; transpiration in plants.

science experiments 1

Sridhar and Sriranjani , no strangers to Thulir also visited us during the days of the Camp and participated. Sridhar, being a chemist took a class on molecular structures using models. Sriranjani taught the children new songs to sing. Sridhar who is a marathon runner and is currently training for a marathon, took the students for a run on Sunday morning and was surprised by their fitness levels. Senthil in fact went on a 16 km run the next morning and we are exploring the possibility of his participating in the Kauvery marathon along with Sridhar, Sanjeev and Santhosh, from Asha Bangalore.

Siddharth Dananjay’s visit

Siddharth a class 11 student from Indonesia visited Thulir for a week. He interacted with the students and conducted art classes.

Govindamma joins us as a Fellow.

Govindammal, Aged 17,from Moola Sittilingi village, has recently joined us. She is being trained with Rajammal and Devaki. We hope she would be able to pick up similar skills to Rajammal and Devaki so that we have backup staff next year, in case Rajammal or Devaki decides to leave [marriage/ higher studies etc.] We are also looking for more such suitable trainees and hope to take them along if we get them and have adequate funds.

New Students in Thulir

Many children of the 5 to 8 age group have started coming to Thulir this year and we have a new and boisterous bunch of them. Their attendance varies from 15 to 25 each day. Rajammal and Devaki have picked up a lot of skills in being able to engage and guide this group of students. We also have a group of 10 to 14 age group students [mostly boys] about 15 of them attending regularly. Many of them have been attending the previous years too and have suddenly become senior batch and have opened up showing a lot of self confidence.

The Class 10 exams in March

All the students who attended Thulir regularly and wrote the class x public exams in March passed. As this has happened for the 3rd consecutive year, Thulir has earned a reputation among the locals. This has been both good and bad for us. Good, as parents who thought our methods were not good as we didnt hit the children and therefore didnt expect us to succeed, have begun to change their opinions and trust our teaching abilities. Its bad as a lot of children who have never been part of Thulir sessions now come to Thulir just before the exams and want to be coached. A couple of them even came the day before the exam as they thought it would bring them good luck and help them pass! One of the parents wanted to take her daughter off the Govt School 10th class and send her to Thulir full time for coaching!

We have now made it clear to the Villagers that only those children who come regularly to Thulir and have attended at least for 2 years before they appear for their exams would be helped. We have had to do this as for most children even their basic reading/ writing skill levels are poor and so it is an uphill task to get them to a level of being able to write their 10th exams.

Going Back to school / higher studies!

There is a big wave this year among the youngsters in the villages here to continue schooling and to go out for higher studies. While this used to happen with just a few students till now every year, this year most students who passed their 10th [even the ones who finished after many supplementaries] have joined class 11 in schools outside the area, many of them joining hostels to do so. All these years most young people used to migrate outside to work [mainly in the garment industry, but this year it has been for studying.

While this looks like a good thing as young people get a few more years of student life away from grueling work, the quality of education they are pursuing is poor. They often go to Govt run schools [with hardly any teachers] or to dubious private institutions that have mushroomed all around. Once the students go outside their village for higher studies, the expenses incurred on education goes up steeply and in the village there is no understanding of what quality in education means and what are the likely benefits of higher education [save for a vague promise of Govt. jobs!].

There is aggressive promotion by private educational institutions and parents and students are being lured by promises of impossible dreams into spending large sums of money. While on the one hand we want Thulir children to acquire good academic skills and do well, on the other hand we have had to try to talk to them and their parents about the dangers of the present trends. But this has been an uphill task for us and a source for great frustration.

The Kitchen

Our temporary Kitchen facility has been serving us well these past 8 months. We have had a steady stream of visitors and volunteers. The 2 part time cooks Rajkumari and Jyothi have been managing cooking the food. As they are both locals and used to cooking only the traditional diet, we have had to train them in cooking different kinds of food for us and the outsider visitors. This has also taken much effort and Mrs Vanaja Ravindran Volunteered and taught them many new dishes. We have also incorporated many of the traditional healthy millet items to introduce it to our visitors and in an attempt at trying to preserve the tradition. This we feel is important as the food habits in the villages are rapidly changing towards unhealthy polished rice diets bereft of proteins and vitamins.

New building construction

We started the construction of a proper Kitchen, store room, guest room and dining hall in May. As we usually do, this building too is built using local materials to a large extent and local labour. This involves training local youth in building using alternative materials and methods of construction, as local skilled labour is reluctant to build in this way. We now have a steady group working on this building and learning many of the techniques. We are also planning more intensive training sessions for Annamalai, Murugan and Ezhumalai, so that their skill levels improve further. This activity has been very time consuming and we have managed by starting the work day for this activity from 6 am.

Summer break in May

Thulir was closed to students in May as were doing our annual repair work / maintenance work of the buildings. We also took a break for 2 weeks and were away meeting family. The senior students looked after the campus and the maintenance work while we were away.

Visitors in March

This year we had 2 student Volunteers from the Mahindra World College, Pune visitng us. Niwaeli and Eneli from Tanzania and Zambia spent a week at Thulir and interacted well with our students. Learning about Africa and life in tribal villages there was very very interesting. The similarities in that exists between Sittilingi and villages there was surprising. The traditional food, and housing were quite similar. Learning all this our senior students got along very well them.They loved to eat the traditional millet balls in Sittilingi as they had been missing it in Pune. Their hair was a matter of surprise and curiosity for everybody here. One day when they went with Rajamma and Devaki to the nearby village weekly market, all the shopkeepers and shoppers crowded around them with good natured curiosity and all the girls returned back with huge grins in their faces!

Vinu our visiting student from Kanavu, Wayanad went back to Kerala in the summer as his family was building a new house and needed extra hands to help. He was to return in July, but unfortunately he injured himself while practising Kalari [a Kerala martial art] and so his coming back has been postponed.

Books from Mrs Aruna Sethupathy

We received beautiful books in excellent condition from Mrs Aruna Sethupathy. She has painstakingly collected these books from various sources and sorted them to make a bundle of books appropriate for Thulir. We would like to thank Mrs. Aruna Sethupathy for this magnificent gift.


March 25, 2008

Updates of January to March 2008

Children’s Committee in Thulir

Selvaraj shifted from Thulir to help with the organic farmers’ co-operatives. Gowri left to pursue a B.Ed. course. So Thulir is now run by some of our students – Perumal (19), Senthil (19), Rajammal (17) and Devaki (17).

Senthil and Perumal teach “vocational skills” to the young children in the weekends (making bamboo toys, basic electronics, etc.). All of them are continuing their studies while learning to help us in administration and teaching.

We have been , in the last few months, talking to the four of them and the three boys who stay here in the nights about taking more responsibilities and participating in the decision-making and ownership of Thulir. Senthil's and Perumal's visit to Kanavu (where the trust is entirely managed and directed by students) and Vinu’s presence here has helped strengthen this process. An informal children’s committee has been formed. They decide their weekly schedules, clearing responsibilities, free time. activities, visitors’ teaching, schedules, etc.

Pongal Celebrations in Thulir

Pongal was celebrated in Thulir with the kolam festival [kolam is the traditional patterns drawn on the ground] organised by the senior students. The entire campus was given a thorough cleaning and decorated in a simple way. Some staff from the hospital and guests too participated. Each participant was assigned a demarcated part of the ground to draw the kolams.

The rule was that each person could use only two colours. Every available floor space around Thulir was filled with a blaze of designs and creativity. Traditionally Kolams are only done by women and hardly ever by men. But in Thulir the boys too participated with enthusiasm. In fact, Perumal's was the largest kolam. Krishna's mask and Chutty's dinosaurs also drew attention. Jayashree and sangeetha both staff at the hospital, excelled in traditional patterns.

New Year’s Day in Thulir – Children’ Committee’s organising capacity

We did not realize the potential of the Childrens’ Committee until the morning of December 30 th. Anu, who was suffering from fever, was woken up by a group of teenagers. They presented her with a computer-printed invitation (in English) to attend the New Year's Function in Thulir organized by the Thulir Childrens’ Committee. It was to be an ambitiously long program and they wanted to organize it in two day’s time. Anu was sick and Krishna had gone to attend the Asha Fellow’s Conference. The children coolly assured a flabbergasted Anu that they would handle everything. She had to only correct the spellings in the invitation and give her opinion, when asked for ,during the rehearsals.

And true to their word, they did! About two hundred people turned up – including the health auxiliaries from all the 21 villages. We were really proud to see our hitherto tongue – tied teenage boys talking on the stage, and our shy girls dancing and the smaller kids putting up plays. True, the songs and plays needed more practice and polish but we were proud to see the way the kids took charge of everything – including refreshments for the entire audience – and carried it through.

We were touched when our friends who were visiting that day - Christiane, Kai-Uwe and Susanne told us, “We couldn’t understand the language but we could feel the children’s spirit and pride for the place and that they were entirely self-motivated.”

Anu suffered a ligament injury in her back and collapsed that day. She has been immobile the last five weeks. She is progressively getting better and is expected to recover fully in the next three or four weeks.

Other news

  • In October, just before Gowri left, we along with the senior children visited most of the children’s houses in Moola Sittilingi, Kalayankottai, Malaithargi and Sittilingi. These social visits went on for a week and the warmth and hospitality we received made us feel good.

  • Of the evening children many girls aged 12 to 14 attained puberty in the last six months and their parents have stopped them from coming to Thulir in the evenings. The boy’s death in the nearby stream 1 ½ years ago and the belief in the spirit, which is thought to reside in the land of the road to Thulir contribute to this. They believe, that girls of that particular age group are most vulnerable to the ghost and hence have stopped them. We would have to visit parents once again after Anu recovers.

Work on the land/ bee-keeping update

  • An organic farmer form Sathyamangalam, Mr Kumar visited us and talked to the students. He commended Senthil's banana patch in Thulir and our vegetable patch, cleared our doubts and gave tips to improve. He initiated improved Rice planting method in Rajkumari's land and all of us went to observe it.

  • The Hospital had also organised a 2 day organic farming workshop. The senior students of Thulir participated. After that they started making organic manure and vermicompost. Each of them took small patch of land and started growing vegetables organically. but we observe a feeling of reluctance among the older students to do any work on the land or grow anything. There is a feeling that it is a low status work. We have to keep gently pushing them to do it and emphasize that farming too is a valuable education and that the knowledge that they possess is something to be valued and not forgotten. This we find is a very difficult task as mainstream values teach exactly the opposite!

  • We harvested our first honey this January. We got about 700 ml. We now have divided colonies and successfully housed them in five separate boxes. Our beekeeping seems to have settled down after a lot of initial difficulty. We still have a long way to go.

Our thanks to:

  • Dr. Ravi – a close friend who used to work in the hospital here and now works in a remote area in Orissa – got married in December. His wife Prema and he have donated the money they got as wedding gifts to Thulir. This was a very touching gesture. All of us at Thulir wish them a long life together filled with happiness, health and contentment. Both of them want to work for disadvantaged people in society. We admire their principles and wish them good luck.

  • Throughout this year, Prof Ravindran and Vanaja akka have been looking after Thulir whenever we had to go outside Sittilingi. This has been a great help and has provided much relief to us. Prof. has taken a number of classes for the boys on pumps, machines and electricity. His vast knowledge,and his ability to explain the basics have helped us all a lot. This year he has been teaching basic English too for the senior students.

  • Dr Sridhar santhanam from CMC Vellore and V.Krishnan an Architect friend from Delhi have been consistently supporting us in the building up of Thulir through the past 4 years . We are thankful for their support.

  • Since the formation of Thulir Trust, we are happy to have received donations from Tribal Health Initiative, Sittilingi,; Mr. Sujit Patwardhan, Pune; Dr Mary Ramaswamy from Oddanchatram; Dr. Sunder Iyer of IIT Kanpur;and Mrs. Meenakshi Balasubramanian from Chennai.


  • Dr Nick Bateson of Friends of Sittilingi, UK and Ian of Fairgrounds UK visited us. They talked to the students about fair trade and showed some products that they sell through Fairgrounds. Nick has been a regular visitor to Thulir and has conducted engaging sessions earlier too.

  • Susanne, a teacher of mentally challenged children, is volunteering at Thulir. It is good to have her here especially with Anu being ill. Susanne teaches English through Games and activities to the children and they enjoy it thoroughly. A good rapport has been established and she was invited to various houses during the week long Pongal celebrations.

New community Kitchen at Thulir

In December and January, the senior students built a small temporary structure to house a makeshift kitchen cum dining space. They started with a lot of enthusiasm, planned at length [thereby making it more elaborate and bigger], and built with great gusto. However, with New Year intervening and Pongal fever taking off, the work crawled to a stop and with some gentle pushing and external help, we managed to finish the project. Now we have a kitchen operational, and so are able to host visitors and guests.

Class X public exams

The Tamilnadu government class X exams for private candidates were held in September. Six of our students wrote one or two subjects each and four passed. We have a group of 11 students (including 6 girls) coming during the day to study and write X exams. All these students come to us only months before their exams and this whole exercise is a source of dilemma and frustration for us. First, none of them have been taught the basics in any of the subjects. They have been taught only to memorize facts in their school without any understanding. We believe in learning and not memorizing. So it is a frustrating exercise.

We compromise by selecting a few topics from each subject and teaching them completely.

Before the exams, they have to go to Harur (a day’s work) to pay the exam fees and again to collect the hall tickets (two days before the exams). Two whole days and about Rs 200 are spent in this travel alone. They are also allotted exam centres only in Harur or Dharmapuri. So they either have to go there the previous day and find someone to stay with or risk the bus-service on the day of the exam. During the last exams, the bus didn’t come on the morning of the English exam and the girls hitched rides and bus-hopped and reached the exam hall 45 minutes late!

When one sees the enormous hardships these students undergo just to write these exams and the poor academic skills and recognition they gain at the end of it one wonders if the whole exercise is worth it!

Other inputs for the class X dropout – students

Realizing the importance of “hand-on”skills, we taught this group basic - electronics, soap- and paper making, embroidery, organic farming, bamboo crafts etc..

We also had many discussions on the social and personal issues that confront them. Effects of the media (TV, cinema), suicides, alcoholism, infatuations and romances, real education, etc. were some of the issues we discussed with them at length. Initially most of them were silent, but with time there is an increase in their participation. Schooled into “not thinking, just receiving mode', they have just started realizing the importance of “thinking” about some of these issues.

Senthil and Perumal have been teaching this group the skills they have learnt. The girls too make good LED torches now! There is a great demand for our bamboo torches outside Sittilingi and for our plastic torches inside Sittilingi!

Rajendranath Setty, a class X student of Rishi Valley school, visited us in November and taught them to weave wrist bands of thread. These friendship bands are very popular among both boys and girls! Our village children used to buy them earlier from outside. Now they make various designs in Thulir, thanks to Raj.

Music and dance in Thulir

In our last post we had written about the visit of the Timbuktu school students. Their visit has given quite a boost to music and dance in Thulir. Prior to that, our children (and the two of us) had a great fear of singing and dancing. But inspired by them, we decided to have singing sessions every day and Kolattam dance sessions every weekend. We have also been encouraging students to enact the stories they read into small skits, which they have been doing. So now they have started organizing small performances within Thulir every month. The quality of all this still needs to improve a vast deal but all of us have great fun singing and dancing.

Learning Exchanges with “Kanavu”, Wyanad, Kerala

In September, Shirley from Kanavu visited us with two of her tribal students - Mangulu and Vinu. Mangulu and Vinu stayed here for a month learning and teaching. They taught the children songs, dances and a few Kalari payattu (traditional martial arts from Kerala) exercises. They started learning some academic and vocational skills. Their visit and the fact that five boys are now staying at Thulir regularly in the nights to study spurned us to start cooking and eating together in Thulir. All of us took turns cooking and cleaning that month. That all our teenage boys could cook a basic meal of rice and “sambhar” surprised us!

But this activity had to stop during the November/ December monsoon rain as we didn’t have a proper kitchen in Thulir. Mangulu and Vinu too returned to Kerala. But their influence in our songs and dances still lingers on.

Senthil and Perumal went to Kanavu for a week in December, to help the older children there with the harvesting of rice. Vinu has come back with them and he plans to stay at Thulir for a year. Vinu is skilled at pottery and he plans to start a pottery unit here.