Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Happy Children's Day
Waking up to wild yelps from the school opposite my place, I'm instantly reminded that its Children's Day. Everywhere in India, kids will be pampered and entertained, fed and cuddled and if they're really lucky, even have a holiday.
Well, not everywhere. On the outskirts of Bangalore, in a campus misleadingly titled, "The Indira Gandhi International School". If they're lucky, maybe someone would've dropped in with some sweets.
Otherwise, it'll be a day like any other. All the kids here are orphans or abandoned, mostly comprising of Sri Lankan refugees rendered homeless by the tsunami or constant fighting between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army. "The government refuses to acknowledge that these refugees could become Indian citizens and thus be able to earn a living. And there are people who have come here over 2 decades ago and still struggle with the meagre government handouts," says Renu Mukunda, who heads the administration of the IGIA, hardly an easy job. She also works with many other NGOs.
The buildings are decrepit, you have to struggle to find any paint left. The classrooms, bubbling with youthful exuberance are dingy at best. The children, age 4 upwards all contribute to the upkeep, wash their own clothes and help the younger ones through their baths and grooming. This when they aren't playing football or cricket, barefoot, with reckless abandon. In fact, the large brown playing field is the only place when they look like any other children, lost in their games. The dormitories are stuffed to the brim and yet more children keep arriving from the refugee camps. The only thing that separates the splinters of their bunk beds from skin are thin mats, mattresses are an expense they can ill afford. To make things worse a big corporate has donated a bulk of wood to the school and insist that they utilise it within 6 months. So a small battalion of carpenters work incessantly carving out tables, chairs, bunk beds and shelves all of which will lie out in the open as there are no buildings to house them. No one thought of donating money or manpower to build more dorms.
Other than a few in-house teachers and a matron, who came here as a refugee 15 years earlier, Renu tries desperately to source teachers. When I visited there were two gentlemen, working at huge corporations, who spent time on weekends and holidays to teach the older kids physics and maths. Apparently there are others like them who would rather nurse a budding intellect than a hangover. There are also doctors and medical students who come in and do free check ups and consultations, constantly striving to counteract the scabies epidemic that rears its ugly head every time a new batch arrives from the even more dismal conditions at the refugee camps.
The most endearing of these volunteers would have to be bearded Babu and his band of barbers. On the terrace of one of the buildings they had set up shop, scissors shimmering as they went clip, clip, clip through a variety of mops, long and short, curly and straight. All this for free. Babu explains, "I'm a barber by profession but I like to think of myself as a social worker." And so, he spends his holidays going from institute to NGO, armed with scissors and smiles. He wants to give "of himself" he says.
If you've ever felt the same way you can contribute to the IGIA, as a volunteer teacher, doctor, counsellor, administrator, advisor or anything else you can think of. I'm sure they desperately need financial assistance as well, so if you or your company would like to help out, don't think twice.
Here are their contact details:
Jakkur Santhe Beedhi
Bangalore - 5600064