This time, let’s look at dreams. September is the Basic Education and Literacy month in Rotary. But I did not go to the cool environs of Coonoor to visit the beautiful panchayat union middle school, transformed by the Rotarians of RC Nilgiris into a magical haven of learning, because the literacy month was coming. While taking a break from Chennai’s brutal summer, I decided to check out the project sitting in our inbox. About a school in Bettati, Nilgiris district, being virtually adopted by this club. A bunch of Rotarians explained the school’s transformation from a pathetic, crumbling building with a fungus-ridden kitchen and stinking toilets, to the cheerful, brightly painted building that I saw.
Earlier, because of several dysfunctional classrooms, students of three classes were receiving education from a single teacher, seated in the same room, with a different row marking the class! A non-functioning smart board, a few computers in a state of disrepair — remember we are talking about Tamil Nadu, so these learning tools are given free to government schools, unlike several states in the North. The dedication of a bunch of Rotarians was clearly palpable; I was told that the project leader Air Commodore Sanjay Khanna (who has left Rotary temporarily for personal reasons) “virtually got admitted to the school” during the three months the school was overhauled, ending up with a spanking new computer room with new and repaired computers, a science lab and a colourful library.
The improved facilities have enthused the children; one girl wants to become an army doctor — the region has the Wellington Cantonment; the second, who recently got a second place in Spell Bee, an IAS officer; and a boy wants to become a civil engineer. The parents and students asked for an English teacher, the Rotarians have employed one and will pay her salary for two years. The students are now seriously engaged in cracking the magic world of computers, conquering spoken English, and visiting so many exotic lands through the world of books. Instead of sitting on the cold floor in a hill area for their noon meal, they now use tables and chairs in the covered dining area, and of course colourful desks and benches in their newly done up classrooms. The Rotarians have given them not only dignity, but much more than that… dreams and aspirations.
While their government is busy fighting the imposition of Hindi, they want to learn Hindi. Who knows… the bright-eyed Likisha may tomorrow become an IAS officer and get posted as the deputy magistrate in a little town in UP. There a working knowledge of Hindi will surely come in handy! And Yalini, the army doctor, could be posted anywhere in India, so being multilingual will be an advantage. In a country where such huge disparities exist, giving an underprivileged child a dream and the opportunity to realise that dream, is surely god’s work on earth.