Quality Education

January 24 2021 | by

WHEN the only option remaining was to educate the children in Nedunthalasi, southeast India, under the margosa trees – a practice forbidden under government laws – it was time to take action. New purpose built classrooms were urgently required to provide the students with the education they so desperately needed in an atmosphere conducive to learning.


The untouchables


Nedunthalasi is located in the diocese of Sivagangai, which covers an extensive area of over 8,300 square kilometres and two civil districts, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram in the state of Tamil Nadu. The patron saint of the diocese is Saint John de Britto, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who was martyred on Indian soil in 1693. The district in which Nedunthalasi is situated is “notorious for various reasons: it is drought prone and has caste problems,” explains Father T. Bhaskar David, the parish priest. “The area is predominantly Dalits who are an ostracised and segregated group of society.” The term ‘Dalit’ is often used in India to describe people who are excluded from the varna system of Hinduism, and are regarded as ‘untouchable’.


Utter poverty


The Roman Catholic Primary School in Nedunthalasi was founded in 1939 by a Jesuit missionary to serve the educational needs of the socially and economically marginalised rural Dalit children of the area. After eighty years, the school’s classrooms were no longer fit for purpose – dilapidated and beyond renovation, an engineer confirmed that it was no longer safe to use the building. The empirical reality of education in the area makes depressing reading: 75 percent of Dalit parents have never attended school, and 45 percent of children never attend; of those, 70 percent drop out of primary school. “The R.C. Primary School is keen to do its best to educate all the poor children,” says Fr. Bhaskar David. “After school, teachers visit the houses of students to convince the parents to continue their children’s education.”

“Utter poverty is the ground reality due to the unequal distribution of wealth and natural resources,” he continues. “The Dalit are exploited. When they raise questions and ask for more money their work is stopped. This is one of the main reasons they remain simply silent, and poverty prevails and continues in their families.” The people here are economically very poor – their main labour is in the paddy fields. “When the monsoon fails, their life is very tough. At times they suffer a lot and get sick. They are hard working people in nature. They work eight hours per day under the scorching sun to support their families. They work throughout the year, but their output is quite meagre. If the breadwinner gets sick or fails to work for some reason, a son or daughter should work in their absence, which ruins the child’s education.”


Water from above


The original primary school was a simple structure made from thatched coconut leaves, but a little later a proper school was built. However, over the years nobody had cared for the building, and it fell into disrepair. Although the school is government aided, money is only received to pay the teachers. No fees or donations are collected from the students – education is free. When the only way teaching could continue was under the trees, it was time for action and plans were drawn up for two new classrooms. A local contribution from village leaders, and former students and teachers, amounted to around € 6,800. This left a shortfall of €15,000, which was requested from and granted by St. Anthony’s Charities.

The foundation stone for the new school building was laid on 28 June 2019 on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Two instalments of €7,500 each were made during the construction period – in July and November 2019. Right at the beginning of the project there was a problem with the water supply due to a lack of rain. Water was transported in so that construction work could begin, but it was soon clear that the cost of bringing in water was going to become too expensive. “Water was just too scarce, so construction work was brought to a halt,” says Fr. Bhaskar David. “With the blessing of a good shower we were able to start the work again.”

From January 2020 the coronavirus began to spread all over the world, and by March 2020 it had reached India. A national lockdown was implemented from March through to June. Not only this project, but all work was stopped throughout the nation due to the pandemic. Eventually, the State allowed work to recommence with only 33 percent of the workers. Thankfully, even with this reduced number, the construction work was able to be completed in June 2020.


Christian values


The Most Rev. Dr. J. Susaimanickam, Bishop of Sivagangai, opened and blessed the classrooms on 18 June 2020 in the presence of staff, parents, villagers, and people from surrounding villages. The building has been used by the 58 school children – 27 boys and 31 girls – from the beginning of the 2020 academic year.

“It is by your generous contribution and financial assistance that we got a new school building for the new academic year,” says Mr. S. Robert, the school headmaster. “Our children are very happy and enjoy safe and conductive learning in this new school building. New children are being admitted this year as a result. We impart quality education with Christian values, and the children will come up with flying colours in the future.”

“We’ve built a new school for these poor children with your financial support,” concludes Fr. Bhaskar David. “The parents, teachers, children, and villagers are very happy. On behalf of the diocese, children, parents and villagers, I want to express my sincere thanks to you for the gift of this new building. Our thanks also to all the donors who opted to help us realise our dream. Be assured of our daily prayers, and may the Sacred Heart of Jesus bless you with abundant blessings in all your undertakings and endeavours.”

Updated on January 24 2021