An extra mile to build a school

The instinct to protect children, one’s own and of others’, is ingrained in humanity’s collective psyche. We are drawn to their laughter and alarmed by their distress, but how far will one go to act on that instinct? T Giridharan, a freelance VFX professional making a moderate living, has gone the extra mile.

It was on a summer day a few years ago that the 39-year-old visited Maruthavallimedu, a tribal hamlet atop Alleri Hills in Vellore. While he realized that a lot could be done to improve the lives of the tribals, one particular scene caught his attention: Under a tree was a bevy of children listening to a teacher. The tots were sitting on a rough flat rock and the teacher’s words would frequently be muffled by a wayward wind or the ambient noise.

He would learn later that an NGO organized those classes for the young children in the village because the nearest government primary school was in Alleri, accessible only through a perilous trip via the woods. “That moment, all I could think of was building a school for these children,” says Giridharan, a resident of Vellore’s Katpadi. But building a school, especially atop a hill, was no easy task. Many discouraged Giridharan from going ahead with the plan, but he was having none of it. He used all his connections, cultivated through seven years of social service, to stitch together a team of friends, volunteers and college students.

“We started constructing the school in 2019 and contributions poured in from over 400 individuals in the form of money, labour, bricks, cement, steel and other construction materials. After three years, the project is almost complete, thanks to all those good people,” says Giridharan. The NGO that’s organizing the classes in the village is Seb’s Projects India. It began the classes nine years ago as a Non-Residential Special Training Centre under the Centre’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. “We reach out to children unable to access education … They had no facility but now get to study in a proper school built by Giridharan,” says Emma Koshi, the NGO’s director. After completing elementary education here, the children can be enrolled in mainstream schools, she adds.

D Sivaraj (37), a day laborer from the hamlet, has enrolled his eight-year-old son in Class 3. “We are happy that our hamlet has got a school now; we are no longer worried about our children’s education.” “The children had never seen a classroom nor did they have experience learning in one. So, gifts are given away to the children to encourage them to attend the classes regularly. We have also set up a television in the classroom for edutainment. The school was built with all facilities, including separate toilets for boys and girls,” says Giridharan.

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