Category: education for disadvantaged children


Vaccination site in Bangalore, India
Photo 215572010 / Covid In © Jaidev Narayan | Dreamstime.com

Locating oxygen canisters and hospital beds

During the pandemic, many of the people at the CPRA Foundation, in Chennai, India, instead of doing their usual office work, have been spending long hours on the phone helping those who are ill – by locating oxygen canisters for those having trouble breathing who are staying at home and by locating available hospital beds for those who need to be hospitalized. This hasn’t been easy to do since oxygen canisters have been very hard to find anywhere due to the huge demand – and the hospitals are full to capacity. With a lot of perseverance, however, they have been able to help and have saved lives in this way.


A migrant worker with his daughter walking along a highway.
Photo 188572407 / Covid © Manoej Paateel | Dreamstime.com

Helping migrant workers

The CPRA Foundation has helped wherever they can in other ways too. When migrant workers from Bihar in the north of India who had been doing construction work were stranded during the lockdown, they were allowed to stay on the property. The Swanag Constructions Private Limited Company continues to pay them a part of their salary although they are no longer working. Every day the CPRA Foundation gives them free meals of rice and lentils, which is the staple diet in Tamil Nadu. Being able to stay in Chennai in a safe place has been an enormous help to them since Bihar is hundreds of miles away, and they really have had no way to get home while the lockdown lasts. Last year, in many Indian cities, migrant workers, like the man in the image above with his daughter, had a lot of difficulty during the lockdown. The CPRA Foundation wanted to make sure that this did not happen to any of these workers. They are all young men who will either continue working in Chennai or will go back to their villages in Bihar after the lockdown ends.

Mrs. Niraja, school psychologist
Photo: Sharon St Joan

Saraswathi Kendra students

The Saraswathi Kendra Learning Center, the school for children with learning disabilities run by the CPRA Foundation, has set up special programs to help the children and their parents during the pandemic. Learning remotely and the stress of having to stay at home all day has brought unique challenges for these children.

The school psychologist, Mrs. Niraja, has stayed In touch with both the parents and the children throughout the lockdown and has put into effect home interventions to help in each specific situation.

One child learned to garden and found that relating to plants gave her a great sense of calm and a feeling of security.

A nine year old girl, following her conversations with Niraja, was able to develop a pattern of having set times for play and times for study. She grew to love reading and spends some time every day reading a book. She’s also begun to ask her parents to tell her stories. Her temper tantrums, which had been a problem, have vanished, and her mother wrote that she now asks for whatever she needs clearly and politely.

Positive transformations have taken place in the lives of dozens of these children, helping both them and their parents – thanks to the efforts and ingenuity of Niraja, who, instead of lowering her expectations for the children during the difficult days of covid, has only redoubled her efforts to help each child. Amazing changes have been the result.

The Saraswathi Kendra Learning Center has always had a policy of relating to each child as an individual, with his or her own unique talents and abilities. In this way, the children are able to pursue whatever they are good at and to find a path in life that will bring them success.
Many of the students go on to university, and many have highly successful careers, especially in classical dance or as sports stars. Above all, they can find happiness, knowing that they are cared for and appreciated for exactly who they are.

The pandemic has hit India hard. But there are groups you can support who are making a big difference for families. For example, with schools shut down, many children are in danger of losing a lifetime chance at education – or of getting into trouble or marrying younger than they would like to. But the CPRA Foundation is focused on making sure that schooling and opportunities continue, even for some of the poorest children in their region.

Extending a lifeline

Throughout the pandemic, the CPRA Foundation (the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation) has redoubled their efforts and extended a lifeline to many in this difficult time.

Children with learning disabilities

In the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre, a school for children with learning disabilities, autism, or dyslexia, in south India, the CPRA Foundation has been providing the children with both online education and online counseling. The head psychologist, Mrs. Niraja, has organized parents’ counseling groups to guide the parents in how to relate to the children when they are at home and not in school. They have continued to make amazing transformations in the lives of the students. In normal times, some of these children pay fees for school. Others cannot afford to pay. No one knows which children are paying and which are not, and that’s how it should be. There is no charge for any of the special counseling.

Schools for low-income children

In the two elementary schools outside of Chennai that the CPRA Foundation runs for low-income children, finding ways to help the children learn remotely has been challenging.

The CPRA Foundation runs four schools. The school in Kumbakonam, to the south of Chennai, is a free elementary school for very low-income children whose parents cannot afford to pay anything at all for their children’s education – they may work as waiters or domestic help, or as laborers in brick factories. The CPRA Foundation bought and gave to the students, textbooks and notebooks for use during the school year when the students did not go to school because of the pandemic. However, since many of the parents cannot read or write, they weren’t able to help their children to read these books, so they were of only limited benefit.

In Kanchipuram, an hour to the west of Chennai, The CPRA Foundation runs an elementary school for girls. There the teachers produced a video of themselves going through each lesson. This was easy to watch and understand and was extremely helpful for the students, enabling them to keep up with their academic work.

The CPRA Foundation also runs a scholarship program, called Each One Teach One – sending children to several schools in Chennai and paying for their education. 600 children are part of this program, being paid for by the CPRA Foundation. However, in this lost school year, the children could not attend school. Since most of the families had lost their jobs, the Foundation took the money for the scholarships and distributed it to the families to help them through this year when they had no income.

Challenges for the children of India

One morning, a woman, as she was struggling to load trash onto the back of a garbage truck, was asked why she was allowing her son, who looked to be around ten, to work alongside her. She replied, “His school is closed, and if I leave him home alone, he will be running wild in the streets. It’s safer for him if he’s with me, so I bring him along.” She was doing everything she knew how to do to keep her son out of trouble.

With so many schools in India shut because of the pandemic, there are many young boys being left alone, without supervision. Their parents work, as do their grandparents sometimes. Other relatives may have their hands full caring for the sick. Young boys, who are normally kept busy with their schoolwork are instead left to their own devices. As might happen anywhere, many do run wild, and there is a widespread fear that many unattended children could get into trouble, or even form into gangs.

The situation is dire for the girls as well. One woman being interviewed for a job, when asked about her children, explained that she had just “married off” her teenaged daughter. She didn’t want to leave her alone in the house. There was no school open for her to go to. By having her married, her mother intended to give her daughter a permanent, secure place in another family.

To prevent these things from happening, the CPRA Foundation works ongoingly, counseling parents, to give children secure, happy lives and good opportunities for the future.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna, President of the CPRA Foundation, writes, “The pandemic has caused great hardship for children in particular, as their best years are drifting past. Many young girls have been married off all over the country.”

When these teenaged girls cannot go to school and are too young to work, their families may seek to give them a secure and stable place with another family through marriage. Sadly, even when this arrangement does give some security, it will usually mean that the girl will have no further education and very few opportunities in life.

The CPRA Foundation is doing a tremendous amount of work through online learning and counseling, to help both girls and boys continue their education and prepare for the times ahead – to get through the hardships of COVID-19 and on to a brighter future.

Telling right from left is not difficult, but then if you never quite got the idea to begin with, it certainly would make life a lot harder. There are a lot of concepts like this that we all take for granted, but for some children, a few extra hours of instruction can make all the difference for the rest of their lives.

In a large room, filled with brightly colored objects, the students who attend the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre are able to fill in these gaps in their understanding. Mrs. S. Niraja, the senior psychologist, makes learning fun. With a radiant smile, she leads students around the room as they do exercises that will help with some basic concepts – like telling left from right, or forwards from backwards.

Every student at Saraswathi Kendra is related to as an individual who has special talents and abilities. They learn to do, with pride, what they are good at. Those who can do standard subjects like mathematics, English, or history are taught those subjects. Those who have other talents are taught whatever they can do well. All the students study yoga, art, music and dance and some excel in one field of study or another.

Finding each student’s special talents

When they graduate, many go on to university. The confidence they have acquired at Saraswathi Kendra helps them on their way through life. The arts require talent, but not necessarily academic ability. Many Saraswathi Kendra students excel at sports and become soccer or cricket stars. Some pursue a career in classical dance or singing, or as a musician. They are able to contribute to society and lead meaningful lives when they are able to develop the God-given talents that are uniquely theirs. No longer frustrated or self-conscious, they spread their wings and soar.

Dr. Tulsi

Dr. Tulsi, a lovely little dog who has been trained as a therapist makes regular visits to the school. She puts the children at ease, and they are able to communicate with her in a way that they would not with most adults. Dr. Tulsi makes no demands and has no expectations. She is sweet, accepting, and friendly, which helps a lot to dispel any social difficulties.

From frustration to excellence

One boy that Mrs. S. Niraja tells me about, was having great difficulties before he came to Saraswathi Kendra. He was always angry and had no friends. Feeling frustrated, he found it hard to get along with others. After a short time at Saraswathi Kendra and much individual attention, his teachers discovered that he had an amazing ability to design robots. He could design robots and then build them. Tested for his aptitude in that field, he showed a high level of intelligence. After six years at Saraswathi Kendra, as a young man, he is now on track to have a successful career and a fulfilling life. He has many friends, and his smiles have replaced frowns.

In India, schools are not free and are not paid for by the government. In order to operate, the school must charge fees. At Saraswathi Kendra, many of the parents are able to pay for their children’s education, but some are not, and their children’s education is paid for by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, which runs the school. All the children – paying or non-paying – are treated exactly the same, and no one, except the administration, knows which child is paying and which is not.

Every student is given a bright chance in life and a way to excel – according to their own special gifts and abilities.

During the pandemic, a program of virtual instruction has been developed and is being used throughout the rest of this year and beyond if it is needed. There are some challenges, of course, but it is working well. The students are making progress and look forward to going back to their classes as soon as it is safe to do so.

By Sharon St Joan
Forest Voices of India

© Forest Voices of India, 2020

Forest Voices of India
– conducts charitable fundraising services for environmental charities, especially in India.

How you can help

The CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation operates several schools, including the Saraswathi Kendra Learning Centre for students with learning disabilities.

As well as running excellent schools, the CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation conducts a great many other programs. A few of these are
– nature outings and ecological studies for high school students,
– joint projects to restore small forests,
– bazaars and training sessions to empower women to start their own businesses,
– workshops that bring back to life the unique painting skills and other art traditions of tribal peoples.

You can help by clicking on the Donate button and choosing the CPR Foundation.

Passing this link on to a friend will be a great help too!

Many blessings and thank you so much!

 

 

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Harini and Pavitra, dressed in their blue and white school uniforms, had come to school that morning with their parents – Harini with both her parents and Pavitra with her mother – so we could interview them to get a sense of what the EACH ONE TEACH ONE scholarship program meant to them.

 

“If you could say something to the whole world, what would it be?” I found myself asking Harini.

 

It wasn’t a question I had planned to ask her. She paused for thought, then replied,

 

“Trees are very important for humans. Trees breathe by photosynthesis, and that’s good for humans, because we need oxygen to live. They give us oxygen to breathe, and they each give life to a whole ecosystem. We need to love trees and protect them. I would say to everyone in the world that we must take care of trees.”

 

An uplifting message

 

What an uplifting message from a twelve-year old child.  If only the world’s politicians would speak with such clarity about the natural world.

 

In her office, where the principal, Mrs. Ruby Puthotta, greets visitors with a warm, engaging smile, every wall was lined with shelves and more shelves of trophies, won for athletic achievements over the years by the girls of Lady Sivaswami Ayyar Girls Higher Secondary School. The school is in Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in South India.

 

Harini and her schoolmate, Pavitra, who is thirteen, are two of the 300 children at the school who are able to attend school thanks to the EACH ONE TEACH ONE scholarship program, run by the C.P. Foundation, Chennai.

 

Harini and her parents live in Tharamani, outskirts of Chennai, twelve miles away from Mylapore. The three of them had caught a train early that morning to travel to meet us.

 

When Harini is not at school, she spends her time painting natural scenery and, especially — you guessed it – trees. She tells us that there are lots of trees and bushes around her house.  She loves animals too; there are community dogs that live in her neighborhood. When she finishes school, she wants to join the Indian Administration Service to become a civil servant.

 

Her mother, K. Jayanthi, takes care of the home, and her father, Mr. Kaliraj owns and runs a sidewalk shop that sells ice cream and snacks. He says it’s fairly busy, and he enjoys his work, which he’s been doing for around twenty years.

 

A future scientist

 

Pavriti.jpg

 

Harini’s schoolmate, Pavitra, who is thirteen, rides her bike to school every day. She lives closer to the school than Harini does – only about a mile and a half away, and she’s fascinated by science. She loves to read books about nature – especially about the stars and the planets. She’s fond of animals too, particularly dogs and horses.

 

Pavitra intends to be a scientist one day and is especially intrigued by chemistry. When she’s not at school, she spends her time doing handicrafts, especially making pink paper flowers to decorate her room.

 

Harini’s mother, Jayanthi, works in the home, has a talent for sewing, and makes clothes for her family. Married for 25 years, she and her husband have three children. She tells us, “When I’m making lunch for my children in the morning, I’m just really happy and grateful that they’re able to go to school.”

 

She wants her children to have good lives, and she is focused on that. Pavitra’s sisters are eleven and nine years old. Harini’s eleven-year old sister also studies at this school and has a scholarship.

 

Giving young people a chance to learn

 

Under the guidance of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, President, C.P. Foundation, the project has been coordinated by Mrs. Malathy Narasimhan, of the C.P. Foundation, after the passing away of Mrs. Shakunthala Jagannathan, Founder Member of EACH ONE TEACH ONE, in the year 2000.

 

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The principal, Mrs. Ruby Puthotta, gives us some background on what this program means to the students being sponsored. 90% of the students at this school are very poor, while 10% are middle class. Over half of the students are able to attend school only because of the scholarships that they receive – from the C.P. Foundation and other charities that also offer scholarships.

 

She explains, “We have a lot of children from very poor backgrounds.  Some of the girls do domestic work early in the morning, and then again after school to help support their families. We’ve identified 45 children who work before and after school, and we’ve set up a special coaching program to help them. The All India Domestic Workers Association helps by paying for the teacher that does the coaching.”

 

Legally, children can start to work in India at age 14, so without a scholarship to be able to stay in school, these girls would have only a dreary future ahead of them.

 

Thanks to generous sponsors though, there are now no limits on what they may accomplish. Their sponsorships will take them through the twelfth grade, and the chances are good that they will qualify for scholarships to go on to university.

 

A wider reach

 

It also means something really important for the rest of us — that the world will not lose all that these gifted young people have to offer.

 

The world is in need of their talents and energy – and very much in need of the deep understanding that “trees are very important” – and are vital to our future.  What could be a more meaningful message?

 

A promising future for these youngsters will make a big difference – not just for them, but for us and our world as well.

 

 

 

By Sharon St Joan

President

Forest Voices of India

 

How you can help

The CPR Foundation
(the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation)
Chennai, India

The CPR Foundation

– empowers women to start their own businesses.

_ runs schools and sponsors the education of children from low-income families in South India.

– instills the concept of ahimsa (“do no harm”) through the art and culture of India.

You can help by clicking on the Donate button, and choosing the CPR Foundation. Another great way to help is to send this link to a friend.

Bless you for your kindness!