Published: 26th June 2018
How three TFI fellows have helped Govt School kids in Chennai talk their dads out of alcoholism
The trio started a community centre called Vidiyal where they teach academics, arts and help them initiate conversations about alcoholism
Like every other youngster, Sanjana Rajaram, Alamelu Kathiresan, and Shalini Ilanahai joined Teach For India with many dreams. They wanted to change the world. How? They thought they'd begin by inspiring little children from underprivileged families and transforming them into changemakers. But they soon realised that this wasn't an easy task. Most of the children whom they taught at the Corporation Girls Higher Secondary School, Nungambakkam, came from broken families and never knew what it is to have a peaceful atmosphere in their homes, making it difficult for them to concentrate on classes and study well, courtesy alcoholic fathers.
But this trio wasn't discouraged. A year ago, they pooled in money and started Vidiyal, a community centre near the school, where they started teaching the children a few extracurricular skills after school. "Right from the time we joined this school, we've been hearing tales of how families are ruined because of alcoholic fathers. As a result of this, most of these children are victims of abuse. The plight of their mothers are similar too," says Alamelu, adding, "Our focus was to train them in a different skill, that can be used in a creative way to relieve them of the stress and create awareness about alcoholism." Arts and other extracurricular skills have obviously helped the students, the teacher trio observed. Alamelu tells us how it has also encouraged a lot of children to have conversations with their alcoholic fathers and help them battle addiction. Also, the children are much more relieved and are able to perform better in school.
Extracurricular activities help: Vidiyal community centre in Nungambakkam teaches students through art and academics
Initially, they started training a few children after school hours. But later, they started conducting more organised sessions — stretching to three days a week. The centre remained open through the week and the students could walk in whenever they wanted to access the internet, read books, study or practice the skills they'd learned. "As a part of the initial programmes, we trained the children in journalism. They would go around the community and find out what the problems were and wrote articles about it. This was instrumental for us to understand the major threats in the community," says Alamelu.
Initially, parents were a little reluctant to send their children to Vidiyal, as they had concerns about their safety. That is when the idea of converting a row house into the community centre came up. "We wanted a safe space. Since it is in the same locality, it is easier for the students too," says Alamelu. A month ago, the trio's TFI fellowship ended. Sanjana moved back to her hometown in Kerala and Shalini joined Schools of Equality. Alamelu is waiting for the new batch of TFI fellows to take over the community centre and keep the dream going. "Also, we're looking for a few regular volunteers, who can train the children in other skills too. I hope it happens soon," Alamelu concludes.