Children of Poongulamm
It was February
One of the team
members of Vatsalyam was on a personal visit to
Poongulam as a guest of G Sivaraman, a compassionate
landlord inclined to help the poor and needy in
As the visitor from Chennai walked through the village
known for its lush green fields copiously fed by
water from deep bore wells, he saw school children
in various age groups trekking the dusty road in
the hot sun to reach their school some 4 kms away.
'Hmm…they take so much pain to attend school, but
how long? One day they will drop out and be initiated
into farm work", remarked Sivaraman in anguish.
On returning to Chennai, this Vatsalyam man ordered
100 pairs of footwear of assorted sizes that were
dispatched to Poongulam to be distributed to the
school children by Sivaraman.
It was an impulsive gesture and a one-time one as
he thought at that moment.
The sight of impoverished, undernourished children
walking down the dusty roads of the village in the
scorching sun haunted him for days on end.
He returned around mid-may 2002 to understand the
conditions, the mindset of the people and their
problems. Long discussions with Sivaraman and interactions
with the villagers convinced him of the need for
a school in the village.
Getting the Government to start a school was the
fist step. Sustaining it and providing incentives
to the parents for sending their children to the
school was to be taken up later.
The arrival of the school & the aftermath
Building of the temporary structure for the
People working for the School
with the personnel of the State Education Department
at the district level and also in Chennai yielded
results. The Education Department was willing to
grant a school for the village under the Central
Government sponsored Sarva Siksha Abhyan (SSA) Scheme.
But the offer came with riders that seemed difficult
One, the village Panchayat has to identify a place-
a plot of land without any encumbrances- for school
construction and transfer it to the District Education
Department through proper documentation. Two, the
villagers would have to put up a temporary structure
at least with a thatched roof.
Then began a hunt for the land in a village with
sprawling stretches of unused and unclaimed land.
A Good Samaritan among the local landlords, 'Srivanjiyam'
Ramani readily agree to donate land by the side
of the village tank. He took the initiative to meet
the officials and complete all formalities related
to the transfer of land to the District Education
The second issue pertaining to putting up a temporary
structure was also solved soon by Vatsalyam which
found a sponsor - a compassionate Indian businessman
based in Korea & a member of a cyber discussion
The initial reaction from the villagers was one
of disbelief bordering on cynicism.
On an auspicious day, the bhoomi puja was held and
the temporary structure for the school came up within
5 -days under the supervision of Sivaraman of Poongulam.
The Education Department officials were simply overwhelmed
by the pace at which things were happening in a
village known for its uneventful and listless routine.
The mid-day meal imbroglio
Two teachers were appointed under the SSA-Sarva
Siksha Abhyan Scheme by the Education department,
though the student strength was only an anemic 14,
which later dwindled to 10 and dangerously kept
oscillating between 8 & 9! On close scrutiny, the
problem was diagnosed to be lack of arrangement
for free mid-day meal, which is an incentive for
parents to send their children to school.
That entailed another bout of discussions with Government
officials who informed Vatsalyam that the school
would not qualify for the Government’s free mid-day
meal, as the number of students had not touched
the statutory mark of 25! And a frenetic search
for individuals and corporates to sponsor mid-day
meal for 14 kids began. Moved by the efforts, Smt.
Lalitha Sivaraman, the dutiful & dedicated wife
of Sivaraman came forward to personally cook the
meal for the kids and send it to the school everyday.
This arrangement continued all through the academic
year except holidays and weekends.
The 2 lady teachers appointed by the government
were a dedicated lot. They went the extra mile to
educate parents first and motivate them into sending
their wards to school.
But they were facing a delicate problem that needed
to be addressed immediately. There was no toilet
for the school surrounded by coconut groves and
Again another member of the same cyber discussion
forum from USA chipped in the funds to create a
low-cost toilet abutting the school.
Efforts to involve people
Sustained effort of Vatsalyam resulted in the formation
of a Parent-Teachers Association in the new school.
Vatsalyam convened a meeting at the school premises
to create awareness amongst parents on the need
to send their children to the school and inculcate
in them a sense of ownership. It also highlighted
the good work done by the teachers and encouraged
them to felicitate the teachers in appreciation
of their services under difficult circumstances.
Vatsalyam bought a lot of play material and educational
tools like maps and charts for the kids. A series
of meets were organized to educate and encourage
parents to participate in the school activities.
As books were supplied free by the government, Vatsalyam
organized stationery items, slates, crayons and
Uniform material for children
Distribution of Uniforms to children
Distribution of Uniforms to children
Vatsalyam adopted an interesting methodology
when it provided free uniform material to all
the students. First, it identified a lady tailor
in a hamlet nearby to stitch the material and
negotiated with her a fee of Rs. 40 per pair. Vatsalyam contributed Rs.20 per pair and the rest had to come from the parents.
The task of collecting the parents' share was given
to the teacher at the school.
So, in one shot two objectives were achieved:
It was a win-win situation for the poor tailor in
the community and also the kids who got their uniform
Meanwhile, the Govt. had allotted funds for the
construction of a permanent structure for which
foundation was laid. Again there was another hurdle.
The government employees went on a strike and the
matter was pending for over 4 months before the
With the starting of the 2004 academic year, the
school was seen as the most happening place in the
locality and people started evincing interest in
The students' strength soared to 43, eighteen more
than the magical number of 25 that would entitle
children to a free mid-day meal from the Government!
Mid-day meal became a reality and children were
fed with reasonably good food prepared in the community
kitchen in Veedhividangan village nearby.
A few more hurdles
Temporary structure for the school
Things seemed to be settling down when the ill-fated
Kumbakonam school fire tragedy in July 2004 that
consumed the lives of hundreds of innocent children
sent all the efforts on a tailspin. The Government
came down heavily on schools operating under thatched
roofs. The children had to be evacuated from the
temporary structure put up by Vatsalyam at a huge
cost. Classes were conducted in the shade of a tree
nearby. The teachers extended full cooperation without
demur and patiently put up with a lot of inconvenience.
At last …a permanent building for the school
The new school of Poongulam
Crossing all the hurdles, finally the new building
came up under the stringent quality conscious eyes
of Sivaraman. After a formal inauguration in presence
of the village elders, the children beaming with
joy proudly moved into their 'new' school which
will remain there as a beacon of hope for them lighting
up their lives with a better tomorrow.
Vatsalyam's Poongulam initiatives: an overview
1. Desilting of the tank
Tank before desilting
Desilting in progress
Tank after desilting
It was felt that the tank adjacent to the temple
had to be desilted - an operation that had not been taken up for
over 40 years now! Here again 'Vatsalyam' played
a major role. Moving the matter with Thiruvarur
Collectorate, it brought the Govt. agencies into
desilting the tank. But unseasonal rains that year
played spoilsport and the operation was successful
only up to 85%. But this task encouraged people
into participating with more enthusiasm.
2. Organized events for
women’s self-help groups
Women's self-help groups
Women’s empowerment through collective efforts is
an integral aspect of yam’s service endeavours.
Realizing the immense potential of Women's Self-Help
Groups as an instrument of social and economic emancipation,
Vatsalyam did a programme for them. Inviting LIC
officials from Thiruvarur to do a presentation on
Rural Insurance Schemes that are available for premium
amounts as paltry as Rs 25 a year!
3. Conducted Dental camp
A comprehensive dental camp by mobilizing 15 young
dentists from Raga's Dental College, Chennai with
full equipment was organized on August 15, 2003.
It was a grand 2-day affair wherein the dentists
performed complex operations involving cleaning,
scaling, extraction and filling. Over 150 people
attended this event.
4. Provided scholarship
for a meritorious student
Vatsalyam got a sponsor for a poor Poongulam boy
from a socially disadvantaged section who had joined
Polytechnic College in Nagapattinam. Thanks to the
organization’s effort, the boy gets his scholarship
plus the hostel fee till date.
5. Special gynaeic camp
Another major event was the special Gynaeic camp for Womenfolk
conducted by a team Gynaecologists led by Dr. Jayalakshmi,
Chief Gynaecologist of Chennai Kaliappa Nursing
Home, who is known as much for her service to society
as for her diagnostic & surgical skills The turnout
was way beyond Vatsalyam’s expectations. As against
an estimated 200, the camp attracted 580 women from
Poongulam and also other villages nearby. Medicines
were distributed free. The doctor was kind enough
to mobilise her scanner which was put to good use.
6. Got a free cardiac surgery
done for a 12-year old girl
Sivaranjini, a bubbly 12-year old girl was spotted
at the August 2005 medical camp at Poongulam She
was suffering from acute cardiac rheumatism, a condition
that involves erratic valve function. One of the
two daughters of a landless farmer who has been
driven to selling vegetables, her father was struggling
to make both the ends meet. Vatsalyam identified
a noble industrialist who came forward to bear the
entire cost of the surgery- Rs. 1.80 lakhs. Sivaranjini
was operated up on a by a leading hospital in Chennai
on October 3, 2005. After a week’s post operative
care, she returned to her village and back to school.
The kind hearted industrialist is bearing the cost
of medicines that she has been taking until today.
Rome, they say was not built in a day.
Well, neither Vatsalyam nor its Project
Poongulam for that matter.