Newsletter June-Dec 2018

New School Inauguration

As we write this, we are all quite excited as 6 classrooms, office and toilets of the new school are ready! We plan to have a very simple inauguration ceremony on the 23rd of January. We would be honoured if you could join us on that day.

News of the academic year so far…

It was truly heartening to see the children come back to school eagerly after the summer vacation with huge smiles on their faces. They asked after their plants as if they were long lost friends! They wanted to look at their favourite books and puzzles. They came to each of us with stories and incidents from home.

It is always like walking on a tight rope trying to fulfill the requests for admission while still keeping the school small enough to be able to maintain its quality. Though there were numerous requests for admissions, we decided to take only fifteen 4 year olds this year. One of our students left us due to parental constraints and so we now have 53 children from 7 villages.

Parents’ Initiative

Our first parents meeting this academic year started with an informal interaction between the new and old parents about the school. Parents spoke about the school and its philosophy. Most new parents too showed some awareness of the philosophy of Thulir.

Bringing children to school has always been a problem for parents from the distant villages since we don’t have a school van. But we were very happy to see that parents from Dhadhampatti came together and took the initiative to solve this problem. One of them has bought a second hand van and this makes two trips each day and brings most children to school. The logistics of this is being handled entirely by the parents.

Formation of parents teacher association

Over the years, we’ve been discussing the need to have a team of people comprising of both teachers and parents to handle and resolve issues that affect both the school and the family. They would act as a bridge between the parents and the school, especially taking decisions related to the scale of parents’ contributions towards the food expenses of the children and collecting it.

In Thulir, parents don’t pay fees towards their children’s educational expenses but they contribute in cash, kind or labour towards the food that the school provides for them. We were very happy that the parents took the initiative to create this association and form an executive committee. It was decided that the executive committee would have two parents from each village and two teachers. In fact, the executive committee members have already started taking initiative in helping with some of the school work.

Foldscope

Do you remember ever handling a microscope in your high school days? Of how careful one would have to be around it, how rarely one got an opportunity to do so and how you hardly ever understood what you saw through it?! Imagine if microscopes were not so expensive and every child had one in their pockets and could explore the inner world of whatever took their fancies!

The Foldscope is an ingenious microscope designed just for that. It is just a lens mounted on a sheet of paper folded in a particular way. The Department of Biotechnology is trying this out on an experimental basis in a few schools in India. As part of this, our friend Dr.Varuni from IIMSc, Chennai, arrived in Thulir at the end of July with a dozen Foldscopes and a plan to study the pollen from different flowers.

What we do is fairly simple – pick a flower with pollen, tap it on the slide (which is just a paper slide with cello-tape) and look at it through the lens. But what we get to see is a visual treat of yellows, pinks, oranges, translucent or opaque, plain or patterned units of pollen grains different for each flower. Although the pollen is what we intended to see we had surprise visits by creatures otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Worm-like, insect-like creatures were quite a fascination for the children and adults.

Joy Of Giving

All of us were deeply saddened by the floods and loss in Kerala. We talked about this in school and subsequently when our friends from the Gurukula Botanical sanctuary in Wyanad sent out a call for help, the entire team wanted to contribute.

Ours is not a rich community so we were overwhelmed by the way children and teachers gave wholeheartedly. It was really touching to see 4 and 5 year olds come running with Rs.5 and 10 in hand. One child came with her piggy bank and shook out all the coins! We finally sent around Rs.18,000.

Participation in Marathons

Sakthivel and 7 Thulir alumni students participated in the Bangalore marathon in July. 12 runners from Thulir participated in the Hyderabad marathon in August.

Interaction with parents

Swetha Nambiar, an artist and long time friend of Thulir, is currently volunteering at Thulir. Swetha handles English classes for the younger group and conducts art sessions for all groups.

Here Swetha writes her impressions of the Thulir Parent teacher meeting held on 21st September 2018

“On a fine afternoon, the quadrangle at Thulir was buzzing with people smiling and welcoming each other, the teachers and parents catching up on the lives of the children and each other. The soft buzz settled into a quieter quiet, welcoming the gathering into that moment.

A quick update of the parent committee, school timings, and such. Parents were asked to share what they felt and that really opened up the expanse of the influence the school has on the lives of children.

He used to be very quiet before, now he is talking to us and tells us what is going on in school” this was something that most parents of the youngest children shared. “She used to be scared of everything but now she’s open and demands we too sing the songs she learns in school”. “She doesn’t like the food we make at home, comparing it to the food at Thulir”.

Another parent shared that she felt very proud when her daughter helped a child who fell down and was crying, and on being asked, her daughter recited a line from one of the songs that we sing in the assembly about how the “magic of the hands are in helping those in need”. “Other schools do not give Dhairyam (courage) and Thannambikkai (self-confidence). Ellaraalayum ellavishayamum mudiyum (everything is possible by everyone) and that is what is different about this school” said another parent.

The problem of child sexual abuse was brought into the meeting, a concern that had cropped up after Anu had a class with the older children on body and safety. The children had confided to her about instances of abuse they had faced from relatives and older teens in the neighbourhood. Parents and teachers were equally shocked to know that child sexual abuse is no more the stuff of news carried to us from the cities but very much a reality here in the village.

What was interesting for me was if someone had walked into the middle of the meeting they wouldn’t have been able to say who the parents were and who the teachers were, it felt like one whole community of adults sitting there, talking educational matters. That felt so right”.

The role of stories

In October, Mr. David Vale conducted a workshop for the teachers on using local stories as a resource for language and literacy across all subjects of the curriculum.

Swetha writes again …

“In the month of October, all the teachers would look forward to”David Anna’s Class” in the evening. He is an excellent narrator primarily interested in English Language education. But the principles we learned from him can be applied to any language education. An important learning was the role stories played in learning a language.

Stories chosen for language classes were done so by keeping certain factors in mind – language appropriate for their age but without compromising on the richness of the language, possibilities of exploring math, science, social science, art etc. from different aspects of the story. This is important simply because the story gives them the foundation to do that and all the language used around it becomes meaningful in that context! This is extremely important in a language – especially if its not the home language.

These classes were very engaging because he did with us teachers what he expected us to do with the children. It was hands-on, and full of activities just like he wanted the language classes to be. From how to tell stories to opening up the expanse of where all it can take us unfolded in his classes day by day.

The high point was when the teachers made two books based on the life and folklore of Sittilingi titled – The “Magic Purple Chili of Sittilingi” and “The Bamboo Story”. Books that we can hold close to our chests and call “ours”. Books that children from here would relate to like it was happening in their neighbourhood. A small feat that, has actually fueled us to make more such books .

Marudam Craft Week

Participating in the Craft week at Marudam farm school, Thiruvannamalai has become a much anticipated annual event. This year 17 children and three adults stayed in Marudam for the entire week. Our children are now older and it was truly a pleasure to watch them interact fearlessly with the older children from other schools.

They learnt a wide variety of crafts and exhibited them proudly on their return.

Sad Event

Sittilingi was in the news for the wrong reasons. A cheerful, intelligent 17 year old ex Thulir student was gang raped by two youth in the village in November and subsequently died a few days later! Youth and women from almost all villages in the valley got together for two days in a peaceful show of solidarity with the family.

We used to be proud of the fact that Sittilingi was a safe place for all. But the fact that Sittilingi is changing drastically, is becoming ‘developed’ and ‘non-tribalised’ and women are no longer safe here was brought home rudely to us.

Alcohol, migration to cities for jobs, TV and internet access, exposure to porn on the cell phones etc. are huge influences on our youth. Our boys need sensitive upbringing and good role models urgently. Our only hope lies in the fact that the tribal value of community spirit and action has not disappeared totally as yet.

Article about Thulir

Ms. Salai selvam, an educator, activist and a columnist in Tamil Hindu wrote a series of articles on alternative schools and learning spaces in Tamilnadu. Thulir was also featured in this series – link

Visitors and volunteers

  • Sujatha Padmanabhan from Kalpavriksh, Pune visited us in June. The children were quite excited when they learned that she was an author of children’s books and asked her many questions about writing a book, illustrating and printing it. Later they enjoyed an unique experience of hearing a story read out by the author herself when Sujatha read out her story, ‘Bumboo’.
  • Visitors from various countries talked to the children about their countries. Geography is more personal and fun this way. Ben, a medical student from Austria and Natasha, a medical intern from Zambia talked about their respective countries.
  • Suja Swaminathan visited us at end of July to do a small study on “schools as  spaces for incubation practice and transformation of culture” as part of her course work at TISS.
  • About 20 children and 2 teachers from Helikx open school, Salem visited us in July. Helikx school caters to children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
  • Balaji from Asha for Education visited us in August. Balaji is a long time friend and supporter of Thulir. His support means a lot to us.
  • Ramya Arivazhagan, a story teller from Chennai visited us in August. Ramya’ s telling of the Japanese folk tale ‘Momotaro’ (the peach boy) was particularly enjoyed by the children.

  • Sunayana, a theatre artist from Bangalore, visited us in September.
  • Three young architects, Muthu, Dinesh and Meenakshi interned at the school building site. Muthu left after two years and Dinesh after a year as the buildings got completed. Other architects and architecture students have been coming in for shorter durations to learn practically on site. Meenakshi is volunteering now in the school and helping us prepare books for children.
  • Srinath, a civil engineer from Kottapatti is currently volunteering at the school site. Most of the volunteers used to come from cities, we are happy that some one local chose to volunteer here.
  • Sreyarth helped our teachers with computer literacy in August. We can observe a marked improvement in our teachers’ confidence and their ability in operating a computer. Sreyarth also did some basic theatre exercises with the children.
  • Siddharth, an actor and theatre artist from Kerala did a short theatre workshop with the children.

  •  Sri Madhav and Neelima Sahasrabudhe form Pune came for a weekend and taught us spinning and origami.
  • Joji, Shani and Shashwath from New Zealand visited us in December. They boosted the  morale of our team by holding a special session and explaining how impressed they were with the children, the atmosphere and culture of Thulir.

 A ‘Thank you’ lunch for the construction artisans

The first phase of the new school construction is over! As a token of our appreciation and gratitude we hosted a lunch for all the construction artisans on December 8th.

New school Construction

This does not look like a school at all!” is the comment we often hear from visitors to our school building site when they see the various cottage like classrooms scattered about. The normal big multi-storeyed rectangular school buildings appear huge to a child and therefore inspire fear and anxiety. We wanted our school to come down to the child’s scale and soothe, excite and welcome her.

We have also tried to incorporate as many learning elements in the buildings themselves. For example, place value bars and beads and fractions are incorporated in the door grills. Geometrical shapes are shown by the different windows and floor patterns. A clock is part of a window grill. We hope that these buildings would stimulate a child’s curiosity and creativity.

We are yet to construct a library and a kitchen and we are still raising funds for this phase. Here is the link to our online brochure, we request you to spread the word and help us raise funds for the new buildings.

We thank all of you for your contributions and support towards the new school! We could not have done all this without your support.

We wish you a very happy and a meaningful 2019 !

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Newsletter Jan – June 2018

Greetings from Thulir!

Sittilingi Run

The Sittilingi Run – initiated last year –  was held again on the 7th of January this year. The run was a huge hit locally. Around hundred men, women and children turned up early in the morning and enthusiastically ran the 10 km and 4 km runs! A group of runners from Runner’s High, Bangalore, two Stanley Medical College Alumni and three runners from Thekampattu also participated. The runners were rewarded with a very tasty millet breakfast prepared by our women farmers’ group and  T-shirts organised by Muthu.

Pongal Celebrations

The Pongal celebrations were a little subdued this year but the children surpassed themselves in their wall paintings and Kolams. Except for the blues and pinks, all the other colours used for the wall painting were derived from natural materials.

New Arrival in the Thulir Family

We welcome Ram and Archana’ s new baby girl, Chaitanya! She was born in the Tribal Hospital during the Pongal holidays.

Parents meeting

This year’s parents meeting in January started with a performance by our children with their eager parents in the audience. Some children read a story or an excerpt from their books, while the older groups performed a dance sequence and the 4 year olds did a small play. We ensured that all our children participated in these activities.

Their lack of stage fear and openness in expressing themselves were appreciated by all the parents in the meeting that followed. The parents also gave their feedback  about the school and its teaching, learning approaches. Some parents expressed the concern that as we do not have a school van, children from hamlets that are further away were finding it hard to commute to the school. They decided to explore the possibility of parents getting together and arranging a vehicle to  transport the kids  from  these hamlets  to the school.

The teachers brought up the topic of media and its impact on  children. Many parents expressed their helplessness in curtailing children’s screen time. Encouraging children to read a variety of books and the importance of books in helping children grow and in promoting literacy among them was also discussed.

Maya, a volunteer from Switzerland, talked about the garbage problem that is plaguing the world and how the beauty of this landscape and our environment is ruined by garbage.

Farmer’s meet

Our children did a short song and dance performance for the Annual Meeting of the Sittilingi  Organic Farmers Association!

An introduction into the enchanting world of Bharatha Natyam

A unique experience was in store for all of us in March, thanks to Ms.Jyotsna and her team of dancers from the Shamkaram troupe, trained in the Kalakshetra school of classical dance. They came all the way from Chennai, engaged with the children during the day, did a stunning performance in the evening and left by night. Their unflagging interest in dance was highly contagious.

The creatures of the wild came alive in our classrooms. Herd of elephants went on a rampage, peacocks danced in the rain, fishes and crocodiles leaped out of the sea. Do we need explicit instruction to appreciate art ? Children immediately merged into the performance without any barriers and were captivated by the elegance, poise and grace of the movements.

In the evening, the staff of Thulir, Hospital, SOFA and Porgai, alongside half the village community gathered in the meeting hall in the Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association campus. Jyotsna talked about dance and the performing arts in general. She opined that dance is not exclusive and talked about how we do not need any special qualification to appreciate this art form, the diversity of indigenous dance forms that exist in our land, how all our communities valued performing arts, how not to lose sight of this diversity, the dangers of dogmatism etc. With a few dance movements she demonstrated how dance was a language and can be used to express oneself. This talk helped us to gain a perspective to observe and understand the performance by the team that followed. This was the first time most of us witnessed a live Bharatanatyam recital.

 

It was heartening to witness the effect of performing arts on human souls. Our thanks to the entire Shamkaram team for their efforts in bringing joy and dance to Sittilingi.

Classical Dance Training

The Shamkaram team has offered to teach dance to our students and teachers. As a first step, Rajamma and Sasikala visited Shamkaram campus, Chennai, during the first week of May and learned some basic classical dance steps. They stayed at Yoga Vahini. This was their first visit to Chennai on their own. Thanks to the Yoga Vahini and Shamkaram teams for giving them a memorable time.

Sports day at Thulir

Our annual sports day events were held in March, with enthusiastic participation from children and adults.

Folk Dance Workshop

Sri Mohan from Porur conducted a workshop on rural folk song and dance from April 4th to 7th. The teachers and children enthusiastically learned Paraiyattam, Oyilattam, Karagam, Kummi, Kolattam, Kazhiyiyalattam and Villupaatu. It was a short but intense session and the whole campus resounded with music and dance from morning to night each day.

Practice session for Karagattam

Villupaatu is a traditional form of musical narration in a group format addressing various social issues, usually with plenty of humour involved. The narration is started by the main figure of a Guru, and the disciplines intervene with doubts and comments. We were amazed by the children’s ability to master the script, learn the songs and their cues and perform fluently. One or two of them were only six years old!

Cultural Evening

The dance workshop culminated in a cultural evening where the children displayed all that they had learned to an audience of parents, villagers and staff of the various organisations in Sittilingi. Teachers also performed alongside their students. There was no recorded or film music. All songs and music were folk pieces provided live by children and teachers.

The audience was enthralled by the performance. The villupaatu in particular was a big hit. It was very encouraging to have one or two parents go up on stage and express a very positive feedback of not only of the performance but of the school also.

Parents meeting

At the end of the academic year in April, we held another parent’s meeting. Our program  started with a detailed feedback session. All the parents expressed their appreciation of the  cultural evening performance, especially the villuppattu performance by our children. Accounts of parents contribution towards the nutritional expenses were reported. Some of the parents had not contributed anything to the school and the issue of sustaining this school amidst these challenges were discussed by the parents. Creation of a Parent’s Association to get other parents involved in the school was discussed. It was a gratifying sight to witness the parents actively engaged in the discussion about uniforms, fundraising and finances, the shift to the new school, transport problems etc,  A strong sense of involvement of the community was evident.  This is not a school run by just  by one or two people but by the community.

Due to a dearth of good picture books and children’s fiction in Sittilingi, we had ordered books from NBT. These were kept on display during the meeting for the parents to  see and buy. Kids picked the books they  were already familiar with in the school and it was heartening to see the joy of holding the book in their faces.

We think it is important to provide a wide range of experiences to the children. Learning doesn’t happen only in classrooms or behind four walls. We discussed the importance of involving children in household activities or in the field.

Auroville Marathon

Sakthivel took a group of seven runners to participate in the Auroville Marathon on February 11th .

Human chain in Thirvuannamalai

Our teachers and staff joined hands with Marudam team, Thiruvannamalai and rest of the teacher community for a human chain to express our concern at the recent incidents of violence against women and children and to emphasise the need to bring up our male children sensitively as well as to protect and cherish our girl children.

ASHA teacher training workshop

ASHA Chennai conducts a teacher training workshop every May. Rajammal had attended it earlier and this year Ravi participated. He has come back with numerous Math puzzles up his sleeve. It is nice to see the children quiz us on a new one each day.

Becoming Yoga Teachers!

Yoga Vahini from Chennai had conducted a fifteen month yoga course for the nurses in the hospital and three of the Thulir teachers. Practitioners from Yoga Vahini came to Sittilingi once a month for a period of two to three days. The teachers learned how to observe their bodies and the effects different Asanas have on different parts of the body. They also learned how to tailor their teaching according to their students’ age, health and capacities. Yoga is a very simple form of physical activity where the mind, body and breath are synchronised.

At the end of the course, a graduation ceremony was held on June 24th at the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai. Chintamani, Ravi, Rajammal and Anu attended the function.

Visitors & Volunteers

Maya Muehlemann from Switzerland was here for three months. She brought with her years of expertise in teaching English for german/foreign students. She helped us see how teaching English could be stressfree and lively by the innovative use of materials, creation of worksheets, etc. We thank Maya for her efforts and wish her the best.

Niru Ramaswamy came back to spend February and March here. Niru conducted sessions with the children and teachers on identifying our emotions, recognising and acknowledging them and discovering positive and harmless ways of expressing and channelising them. She also helped organise our forest walks and did a lot of craft work with the teachers and students.

In March Lolle and Anne  — medical electives from Germany — spent their free time in the school. They were very good singers and taught the children many English songs. It was amazing to hear the children singing ‘We shall overcome’ with perfect diction and emotion. Children thoroughly enjoyed their singing and the tunes from the ukulele.

Swetha Nambiar –  an artist and old friend of Thulir, — visited for a week in February. The organic farmer’s association had requested our students to do some artwork on the walls of their new Meeting hall. Swetha anchored this project and brought out the children’s creativity to the fullest. The walls of the meeting hall came alive with scenes from the forest, hills, fields and villages. The art has been well appreciated by all subsequent visitors to the SOFA (Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association) meeting hall.

Construction Updates

The school buildings are progressing fast. We hope to shift to the new school sometime this year.  The classrooms have been designed so that they will stimulate the children’s curiosity, creativity and learning.

The walls and roofs of all the classrooms are finished. The classrooms will have steel grill doors and windows so that there is more openness, light and air inside. These are being fabricated on site by the Thulir alumni.

We are very happy that the construction process itself has been a learning opportunity for all those involved. The buildings have been built completely by our ex- BT course students. They have become full-fledged masons and builders.  In addition, three young architects are at present interning on the building site. One of them, Muthu, has been here almost from the beginning. Dinesh has been here for six months and Meenakshi for the last three months. Other architects and architecture students have been coming in for shorter durations to learn practical skills  on site.

All this has been possible only because of your support. Thank you for being a part of our efforts.

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Newsletter May – Dec 2017

We are happy to share the latest news and updates from Thulir.

The past 8 months have passed quite quickly, without our realizing it. From a near-drought situation in May/July to a bountiful spell of rains in August/ September, our journey has been quite exciting.

Summer Dance Camp and Street Performance

We conducted a dance workshop from May 8th to May 15th for the government and private school children as well as the nursing students from the hospital, all of whom didn’t get a chance to participate in the last workshop at school. Mr. Mohan from Thiruvannamalai was the resource person for this activity.

On the last night, the students put up a very impressive street performance in the middle of Sittilingi village with hardly any props. Almost the whole village turned up! The students sang, danced and performed a street play. The electricity went off in the middle, but no one minded it or whistled or moved away! The show just went on. People used flash lights from their phones and houses and were silent enough to hear everything. All the villagers helped by diverting vehicles, organizing etc. The fact that everybody took ownership over the program felt very good.

Water

We had a prolonged and scorching summer, which led to a severe water scarcity. The hospital team initiated meetings in the villages to talk to people about water conservation measures. The Thulir team also took part in the de-silting of the check dam in Moola Sittilingi village. It was amazing to see how much could be accomplished without any money or machinery, just by getting everyone together.

New admissions and transfers

We had decided that we would limit admissions this academic year as the new buildings were not ready and space in our present campus was limited. So since March we have had to turn away a number of parents who came to us for admissions.

But the situation in the village changed in July. A new road to Karumandurai town (in the Kalrayan hills) became operational this year and a private school van from there started plying to Sittilingi and canvassing for students. Meanwhile, the local government school started an English medium section. Three nurses withdrew their children from our school to admit them in the private school.

The advantages of having a school van to pick up and drop the students were cited as reasons for withdrawing them from Thulir, as we don’t currently have a school van. Influenced by this another 6 children were withdrawn from Thulir.

This incident lowered the morale of the entire team. It also brought home the fact that education has become a commodity even in a remote place like Sittilingi and parents with some salaried jobs would like to purchase what they perceive is the best that money can buy. Their behaviour with relation to this is exactly the attitude of a shopper who drops everything and rushes to the latest brand in town. Some of these kids have been shifted to a new school every year, regardless of the disruption it causes to their education and their emotional development. And very often the paraphernalia ( of uniform, shoes, tie, van, strict discipline and English) is thought to be ‘ good education’.

The parents in rural areas, maybe because they feel they have a lot to catch up on, are worse than their urban counterparts in expecting their children to perform well and put enormous pressure on even 5 year olds to stop play and study. The freedom our children enjoy and the practical way through which they learn have not been understood by these parents. In the past, some of them have openly expressed their displeasure that our children climb trees or go on forest walks or that most of our teachers are tribal.

But this also opened up many questions for us to reflect and critically examine our work for any flaws in our approach. As teachers we are increasingly aware how our children are flowering in an atmosphere of freedom through the questions they ask, the quality of their work, self-directed learning, taking ownership, their concern towards the environment etc. Perhaps the parents didn’t get enough opportunity to witness and understand the learning process that is happening in the school. So we explored the possibilities of opening up various avenues for the parents to appreciate what is happening at our school, opportunities to reassure the parents that their children are actually learning much more than academic skills. We also made changes to our timetables and now have a dedicated reading time after lunch. This small change brought in a complete transformation in our childrens’ reading abilities. It is wonderful to watch our children quietly engaging with a text they chose. It has helped them with reading and spelling as well as boosting their confidence in picking up any story book.

We realised that most of our parents in the valley expect Thulir to help their children to communicate in English and many of them wanted home assignments for their children. We wanted to take an approach that allows us to meet the expectations of the parents without trampling on the freedom of our children. So, we have started giving creative home assignments to our children. However, it is optional. Some of our children want more assignments while others don’t do homework. We also started allowing them to borrow books in order to read at home. We made a number of our own books. The picture books made by our teachers were an immediate hit.

Just after this, some parents from Erattaikuttai, S.Thadampatti and Thanda approached us saying that they wanted to withdraw their children off other private schools and admit them in our school as education here was much better and children were happier. Five children joined us. We now have 41 children coming from 5 villages to our school.

From Scarcity to Sufficiency

As we noted in our last update, the open well – our only source of water – was almost dry and a severe water crisis seemed imminent. Our well at the school site was completely dry. During our discussions, we even considered closing the school early and stopping construction for a while.

Eventually, it was decided to dig a 300 ft. bore well to supply water to the school and for other domestic uses. It was unanimously decided to use a hand pump instead of an electric pump, since that would help us limit our consumption.

The sinking of the bore well happened with great fanfare, excited children and teachers watching the spectacle with wide eyes. At our new school site, there was no water. We deepened our well to another 10 feet, but it was completely dry by July.

Everything changed in August & September, with frequent showers totaling 9 cm (Aug) and 16 cm (Sep). This allowed our well to recharge and at present we are hopeful that we should be able manage until the next monsoon. The stream next to our campus, which was dry for the past 3 years, flooded with water and it was an exciting time for everyone in the valley to see the river flowing after a long interval.

Due to the rains, our morning walks with our kindergarten group has been all the more exciting with lots of bugs, slugs, frogs, birds, varieties of creepers, climbers, flowers to watch and observe. The teachers are having a tough time trying to answer the barrage of questions from the children.

Tree Planting drive

During September children from Marudam Farm School visited Thulir and camped at our new school site. Govinda and team brought tree saplings from Thiruvannamalai. Teachers and children from Thulir and Marudam collaborated and planted these trees on the new school land.

Last year, we had planted around 100 indigenous tree saplings. Of these, 90 have survived despite the tremendously hot summer and water shortage. This year we also made rainwater collection ponds and bunds. This has helped to recharge our well.

A big thank you to The Forest Way and Marudam farm school for their continuous support with our efforts.

Project based learning

As part of our ongoing project based learning approach, we decided to revisit the  project on plants. Our focus has been to help our children observe the wonders of the plant kingdom around us and understand the concepts practically. Every week, children started the project activity by singing traditional songs related to plants.

Since this project was all about plants, we focused on the life cycle of a plant from seed, root, stem, leaves, flowers and covered many topics about plants like seed coat, mono/dicotyledons, root systems, leaf arrangement, venation and conducted experiments to differentiate the soil constituents, to test water retention capacity of the soil, to observe the seed germination process and the root nodules.

Our children were so excited about these activities, they started observing and labeling all the small saplings they saw in their surroundings. The excitement didn’t subside as every day we saw one child or an other curiously observing a strange looking plant and trying to understand if it is monocot or dicot or pulling out small plants and grasses to observe the root system. Of course, they were all re-planted by the children themselves with equal enthusiasm.

It was a wonderful experience to see the children collecting different types of flowers, leaves, busily making prints, dissecting flowers, pressing them, asking many questions in the process. We had an interesting time with lots of fun and the allocated time wasn’t sufficient. Currently, we are doing a project on Food & Nutrition.

Parents meeting

In June we convened a parents meeting. We held an open dialogue on what it means to have a school like Thulir, its necessity, who supports it, how its expenses could be managed etc.

This was followed by a discussion about the parents’ contribution towards the school expenses. After an intense discussion, all the parents came to a consensus towards the quantum of their contribution towards the nutritional costs of their children.

In September, we held another meeting with the parents. We wanted the parents to understand that their children are not aimlessly frolicking in Thulir but are engaged in an integrated learning environment. So this meeting started off with a performance by the children. Then each child went up to the stage and showed something they had learned at school. Some read an excerpt they chose from a book, others told the audience a story or sang a song. The older group demonstrated solar/lunar eclipses through simple experiments and performed a wonderful puppet show.

It was evident from their faces that the parents felt reassured that their children are not just learning academics but are growing up to be a well rounded person. In a discussion that followed afterwards, some of the parents expressed their satisfaction with their children’s progress. They appreciated the individual care given to each child in our school. The recurring theme of “why Thulir? what are we trying to do?” was discussed again, with parents actively expressing their concerns and questions.

It was also decided in the meeting that the first Wednesday of every month would be an open discussion day where parents and anyone else who was interested in Thulir could visit and take part.

Yoga classes

Yoga training by the Yoga Vahini team for the nurses and our teachers is happening regularly in the hospital and we hope our teachers will be able to apply the knowledge they gain in their classrooms as well.
Parthasarathy, Mrinalini and Priya of Yoga Vahini did a yoga session for the children in Thulir in October. This was a not only delightful for the children but a teacher-training session for the teachers as well.

Participation in the Craft Week at Marudam Farm School

Two teachers and 13 children attended the craft week at Marudam in November and learnt various crafts: Making beautiful artifacts from coconut leaf, palmyra leaf, banana fibres, coconut shells, stones, beads, waste paper etc. They came back highly enthused! Sakthivel went as a resource person to teach bamboo craft.

School Visits

Children from Little Grove Hyderabad, Shibumi Bangalore, CFL Bangalore, Payir Thenur, and Marudam Thiruvannamalai visited us this academic year.

Government Approval

We have started the initial steps for obtaining government approval for the new school. We met the D.E.O in Dharmapuri and the A.E.O in Harur in this regard. The A.E.O visited our school. As advised by her, we also applied for the UDISE number for the school. We were invited along with other schools to a meeting in Dharmapuri. We will be able to move ahead in the approval process once we complete 6 classrooms, an office room and toilets and get the building stability certificate.

Palmyra Leaf Workshop

Thangammal & Esakkiammal from Kanyakumari conducted a workshop in December on making handicrafts using Palmyra leaves.

Organic farming

We harvested Samai in October and planted Urad dhal, Sesame, Horse gram. Vegetable gardens created by our kids and Sakthivel are fully functional supplying Tomatoes, Ladies finger, Chillies, ridge & bottle gourds, to our kitchen.

Visit to Dadampatti

We visited the hamlet S.Dadampatti during the last week of December. The purpose of this visit was to try and understand, as a team, the milieu of the child, its family, social life and challenges faced. The teacher team interacted with the parents and elders in the village.

Visitors & Volunteers

We had many visitors and volunteers during this year. Here is a brief summary of their visits.

  • Niru from Australia volunteered in Thulir during September. Niru talked to the team about counselling techniques and various craft activities.
  • A Doctor couple, Dr. Balasubramanian and Dr. Aruna visited us early this academic year. They expressed their interest in supporting our efforts. When they went back they talked to their classmates about Thulir and brought a group of 15 doctors (all from the 1985 batch of Stanley Medical College) to visit us on October 22nd. We are grateful to them for their encouragement and support.
  • Poornima from Marudam Farm School conducted a workshop for the teachers. The session was very lively and interactive, filled with games and activities. Our teachers thoroughly enjoyed it and we were once again reminded of the fact that learning can indeed be fun.
  • The hospital receives medical electives from various countries. Several of them visited Thulir as well. Joan C. Dew from Taiwan and Victoria O’Dore from Honkong talked to the children about their respective countries.
  • Dr. Sridhar Santhanam from CMC Vellore visited Thulir and interacted with the team. Our team had a lively session with Dr. Sridhar about children, their development, health and the adverse effects of cellphones/computers on children.
  • Mr. Thomas from Chennai, did a Ventriloquism show at Thulir and everyone enjoyed the performance.
  • During their visits, Rupa from Shibumi, Nagini from CFL interacted with our teachers about their respective schools, their approach towards education, challenges etc.
  • Mr. Singaravel & Mr. Kim from Samsung visited Thulir on the 9th of December
  • Akshatha from Karnataka visited Thulir in November and Bipin from Coorg visited us in December for exposure and guidance. You can read about Akshata’s experience here
  • Dinesh, an architect from Adhiyamaan Engineering College is interning at Thulir.
  • Gautam from Hyderabad and Florencia from Argentina visited us in Dec and volunteered at the construction site.
  • Maya Muhlemann from Switzerland is currently volunteering at Thulir.

School construction

The walls of six classrooms have been built. Of this, the roofs of five classrooms have been laid. The walls of the sixth classroom are just being finished. Roofing elements are yet to be fabricated. Flooring, whitewashing, doors and windows of all the classrooms are also unfinished. We hope to complete the office, staff resource room and toilets before the start of the next academic year.

 We request all our friends and well wishers to spread the word and help us fundraise for the buildings. A pamphlet that can be shared online can be found in the support us page.

  We wish you all a very happy & rewarding 2018!

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Newsletter Nov’16 – Apr’17

As we write this newsletter, our minds are filled with images of our children spontaneously dancing to music, singing with gusto and the audience cheering loudly! Our Annual Day function just got over and was a huge hit. We never imagined that our 4 to 7 year olds could tirelessly perform for almost two hours. The teachers and the nursing students from the hospital also joined the fun and danced for a couple of songs.

Interaction with Parents

We believe that our education work, to be truly effective, should not stop with the child but has to extend to the parents also. To foster a deeper involvement in the learning process and to encourage participation we requested parents to visit the school as observers and have one to one meetings with us. We set aside dedicated time for their visits during November/December. We staggered the timings of their visits. They visited their child’s class as a silent observer to understand the learning process as it unfolded and then discussed their child’s  progress with us privately.

This was an intense exercise as it involved continuous interaction with the parents but it was well worth the effort for both sides.

We had another parents’ meeting in March. Most parents participated enthusiastically. The meeting started with the feedback from the parents. Most of them were very positive and some of them related interesting anecdotes.  After that we had discussions about the contribution of parents, uniforms, children’s progress, TV  watching, admissions for the coming year etc. The children then put up a performance for their parents and also individually showed them their files and work in school.

Pongal Celebrations

Pongal is an important festival in the valley and it is a custom here at Thulir to celebrate Pongal in the campus with students and staff. This year also we had loads of fun during pongal, Children and teachers were completely involved in the activities right from the beginning to end. Cleaning the campus, planning decorations, applying cow-dung paste on the mud walls and floor etc.

Children unleashed their creativity on the classroom walls and each painting was unique in its own way. Pongal was cooked together and the women danced the traditional folk dances. Colourful rangolis from the children and staff adorned the walls and floor.

Project based learning

As part of our ongoing project based learning approach, children worked and collaborated on two projects

Plants

For this project, children were split in groups and each of the group were given separate patches to grow plants. They planted different varieties of seeds and observed multiple factors that affect or promote plant growth

  • What does a plant need to grow ?
  • The role of air, water, soil and sunlight in the life of a plant
  • Lack of these natural resources and its effect on the plant
  • The effect of chemical fertilisers etc.

Every week, they observed their patch, conducted measurements, tabulated and graphically depicted the growth of the plants. Later, they enacted a play stressing the importance of plants.

Water

Children learned about various types of water sources, water types, water cycle, various phases of water through observation and some experiments. e.g: boiling, freezing water. We also discussed our dependency on water.

We conducted a small awareness rally through the village stressing the importance of saving this precious resource. We wrote placards, created and shouted slogans and with the help of Sakthivel fixed the leaking community taps on our way. It was surprising to see the normally shy, quiet and diffident teachers and nurses chanting slogans loudly and enthusiastically through the village!

During the annual meeting of the Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association, our students performed a play on the importance of trees. The play was a reflection of village life. The 500 members of the audience cheered throughout the play and later congratulated the children on their performance. This was the first time our children had performed in front of a large audience (mostly strangers) but they pulled it off beautifully.

Village Trip

Most of the teachers and students had not visited each other’ villages. We decided to go on some local trips. We took the children to Thanda, the Lambadi hamlets in the valley. We visited students’ homes and also a small power loom plant. We observed how a loom works and how weaving is done.

Through out these projects children had lots of learning & fun – observing, collaborating, experimenting etc. The fact that learning can indeed be fun was palpable throughout these interactions.

Camping Out

Most of our 6 and 7 year olds had never stayed a night away from their parents They were very excited when a night out at school was planned. That whole night was filled with excitement and fun. We all collaborated and cooked our dinner using firewood and a star gazing session ensued after it.

Marudam Trip

15 children along with 4 teachers visited Marudam Farm school, Thiruvannamalai. Our children attended some of the sessions in the school. In the evening we visited the big temple and the Ramanashramam. We spent the second day in the Park developed by The Forest Way Trust.

Children played for hours in the slides and swings in the Park, it is also a great learning space with life-like paintings of various species of birds, snakes, trees, orchids and interesting facts about each of them. All of us fell in love with the park.

With the guidance of Thomas from Marudam school, Children baked cinnamon biscuits in the oven. They also learned new games that are popular at Marudam. The way these 6 and 7 year olds had their baths on their own and got ready by 6 am in the morning and the way they handled the crowded public  transport buses amazed us !

Scratch

With Sreyarth’s help Children created multiple programs in scratch and tried their hands in simple animation scripts. They went on to create an animated story, “Hathi, the elephant” and presented it to the rest of the school.

Workshops

This was a community where people used to sing and dance together. Most of that is lost now. In an effort to bring back some of that spirit we invited Mr. Mohan from Polur for a week to conduct an intensive folk dance workshop. Teachers too participated and learnt dances enthusiastically.

Four teachers are attending a two day yoga workshop every month. This is being conducted at THI by teachers and therapists from Yoga Vahini. This school of yoga is based on the Krishnamachari tradition of yoga.  Our teachers are learning to observe their bodies, minds and breath and how to guide children and others to do so and reclaim control over one’s s own health and well being.

The Sittilingi Run

A dream for many years, finally came true this year on January 22 nd. The youth from Thulir and THI got together and organised this beautiful event. There was much comradrie, laughter, sportsmanship and team spirit as around a hundred men, women and children ran the 10 Km and 5 Km runs! The weather co- operated completely and we couldn’ t have asked for a better day. Santhosh and friends from Runner’s High arrived and participated to provide encouragement and support!

Sakthivel and the BT students group participated in the Auroville marathon in February.

New School Construction

The new school campus is taking shape faster than we had imagined. Walls of three classrooms have come up to 8 feet height. The walls of the fourth and fifth are at 3 feet. The ferro concrete roofing channels are being fabricated. Most of the work is being done by the Thulir Alumni.

New Additions to the Thulir family

We welcome Ram, Archana and their 3 year old daughter, Sharada, to the Sittilingi community. They have left lucrative careers in Bangalore and shifted to Sittilingi. Their coming has definitely given an impetus to the work. We are happy that they have quickly adjusted to rural life and become a part of the Thulir team!

Visitors & Volunteers

In support of Thulir’s efforts and to fund-raise for the new school campus, a group of 10 young architects from Bangalore & Pune cycled to Sittilingi from Bangalore. The distance was about 200 km and they cycled close to 100 km a day. Some of us from Thulir also cycled from Sittilingi, planning to meet & greet them on their way. We met the group near Theerthamalai and accompanied them to the campus.

  • Nandini, a student from NID Ahmedabad visited our school and taught some songs and guided the children in Art.
  • Two groups of children from Marudam Farm school visited Thulir on two separate occasions.
  • Valli and Ilakiya two architecture graduate students visited Thulir.
  • Jaishankar & Madan, students of architecture, from Adhiyaaman college of Engineering are interning at Thulir and helping us with the construction of the new school campus

Sunder, a volunteer from Delhi and part of our team for about an year,  completed his stint at Thulir and has gone back to Delhi for higher studies. We thank him for all his efforts and wish him the best in his pursuits.

This summer has been especially fierce and we came very close to a severe water crisis, thankfully we made it through. The school is now closed for the summer holidays and teacher training classes are in progress, it’ll reopen on the first week of June.

We all are thrilled and excited about the new campus taking shape and at the same time gearing up for the new challenges that face us in the new academic year.

Thank you all for supporting us through all this.

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Newsletter July-October 2016

Many new and exciting developments are taking place at Thulir!

Creation of the new School

After innumerable designs, discussions with the teachers and students and changes, we have finally started on the foundations of the classrooms last month! We would like to create an environment which is aesthetically pleasing, cost effective, environment and child friendly while satisfying the government norms.

The campus will be built by the local artisans we have trained over the years and it will use renewable energy as far as possible. Kumar is the latest addition to our Thulir team. He is from Naikuthi village and will be helping us with site supervision.

Gift Of Water

The Thulir Alumni under the leadership of Perumal dug an open well in the new school land. It was a pleasure to see them organise and conduct the whole operation very professionally.

We are really happy to have struck water at 12 feet and now we have a well full of water! Thanks to the water divining by Regi.

The first cottage

Sakthivel, Jayabal and the present batch of BT students. built a small cottage to store materials and for a caretaker to stay.

A new technique of mud walling – in situ mud concreting – was tried out here. We mixed mud, debris from the well digging, some stones and a small percentage of cement and poured it into bamboo shutters to make the wall.

Tree planting Mela

Govinda and Leela from Marudam School organised a tree planting weekend in the new land. Teachers and students from Marudam brought energy, enthusiasm and tree saplings and joined with our teachers, students to celebrate nature and friendship! The immense satisfaction of work like this and the bonding with like-minded people overshadowed the hot punishing weather and the hard physical work.

The Thulir team continued the planting and watering work through the rest of the week. In spite of the monsoon playing truant in the month since, the saplings are happy so far.

Teacher training workshops

At the beginning of this academic year, Poornima conducted a two day workshop for teachers at Thulir. Later, Jessica from Marudam Farm School visited Thulir and conducted a workshop on Pedagogy through movement and games.

Nikita from Marudam initiated an impromptu craft workshop for teachers when she visited Thulir with Ram.

Chitra, Sinthamani and Sasikala from Thulir attended a teacher training workshop at Marudam from October 20th to 22nd

We are grateful to our friends at Marudam, for providing these additional learning opportunities to us. Training programs such as these have indeed broadened our horizons and will definitely help us to take on the huge challenges of the new school.

Music and Dance workshop

Shirly and Baby, the founders of Kanavu Gurukula at Wynad visited with their daughter Shanthi from 20th to 23rdOctober and conducted a song and dance workshop. They got all of us to shed our inhibitions and dance.

Music and dance feed our souls and it is a shame that hardly any of us sing or sway to music nowadays. Even adivasi communities are not engaging actively with these art forms but are just becoming passive consumers of it. We hope they will visit regularly and continue these activities.

Parents Meeting

We continue to engage with parents, as we strongly believe that an educative process cannot happen in isolation and parents play a critical part in their children’s learning. We had two parents meetings: one in June and one in September.

Parents actively participated in these meetings and they were very keen to know about their child’s academic performance. Teachers engaged them with the works of their children and provided constructive feedback.

In an open discussion, most of the parents expressed immense satisfaction with the school and they were happy about their child’s progress.  The recurring question about children climbing trees was discussed again in this meeting, with some of the parents apprehensive about tree-climbing and others confident about the benefits of it.

We stressed the need to question ourselves as Adivasi parents, whether our negative response to tree climbing is due to the outside urbanised society’s influence; which makes us feel that our way of living or being with nature is “backward/wild” and must change? How do we educate our children to learn the skills of the modern world while not losing the inherent positive qualities of the local community?

Overall, the session was filled with buoyant enthusiasm with cheerful exchanges, feedback, questions and concluded with a wonderful performance by the children. We look forward for such meaningful participation and interactions from the parents in the upcoming meetings.

Participation in the Bangalore Marathon

On October 16th, Sakthivel, Prabhu, Annamalai, Mohan, Perumal, Raghu, Sriram and Karthi participated in the Bengaluru Marathan 5K run

Participation in the Craft Week at Marudam

Sakthivel was a resource person for the Marudam craft week and guided students in bamboo craft work. The BT course students participated in the craft week and learnt various crafts.

Scratch

Sreyarth shared his knowledge about scratch programming with the children – Scratch, is a free programming language, with which you can create your own interactive stories, games, and animations.

Children were immediately hooked and we could witness the immense satisfaction in their eyes. Moreover, this process encouraged them to use English naturally without explicit instruction.

In a way, “scratch” not only helped them to gain programming exposure but also provided a great language learning experience. We intend to use scratch programming as a creative learning tool in the coming months, watch this space…

School Trip to Mel and A.K. Thanda

Our children come from six villages in the valley – Thanda, Sittilingi, Moola Sittilingi, Velanur, S.Dadampatti and Rettakuttai. We realised that many of the teachers and students had never visited each other’s villages. So we decided to organise exposure trips to different parts of the valley.

The first trip was to Thanda. It was an eye-opener to the fact that money, exotic locations and costly gadgets are not necessary for children to have a good time.

Melthanda and A.K Thanda are Lambadi hamlets in the valley. The Porgai artisans who create the beautiful embroidery are from here. We all carried our lunch boxes and children discovered great nooks, corners and slopes under various trees to play and have a great time.

Project based learning

In our project based approach to learning, every month we choose a theme and base our activities around it. Through this process, children gain knowledge and skills by working over a period of time – learning about the concepts, investigating and asking questions.

This time we chose three difference themes: Colour, Food & Five senses.

Colour: We learnt about different colours, their formation, making natural & artificial colours, colours in our lives etc., children were encouraged to express their interpretation of colours through multiple art forms –  watercolour paintings, play and songs

Food: We learnt about food, traditional & modern, methods of cooking, nutritional value of food along with theoretical & practical activities related to food.

We also tried our hands in cooking some traditional recipes.

Five senses: We learnt about the five senses – Sight, Touch, Smell, Taste and Hearing. Children experienced these sense expressions in their myriad variations. The setting of the school amidst nature provided ample opportunities for us to tune in to these oft-neglected sense experiences.

Various games and activities, in which each of the senses have to be used in a discerning manner, were held. Learning about the world around us, not only intellectually but with all our senses, was fun.

Visits/Visitors/Volunteers

  • Anita Balasubramaniam visited us in September. She conducted a small workshop with a handloom and taught us how to weave. Teachers and some children started to learn weaving

  • Vidya – a Young B.Ed student from Dindigul, volunteered in the school for 2 months.
  • Sunder – from Delhi is volunteering here and taking English classes. Sunder doesn’t know Tamil and it is heartening to witness our children interacting with him despite the language barrier.
  • Accompanied by Senthil from Helikx open school, 10 students and 1 professor from Kumaraguru college of Engineering visited in September.
  • 30 teachers from Teach For India, visited in October and interacted with our children and teachers
  • About 50 students from VIT, visited the valley and witnessed the Alternative building technology implemented here.
  • Krishna was invited by the architecture department of VIT as the jury for their rural design project.
  • Anu was invited to talk in the Children’s day celebrations and valedictory function of the Helikx Open School, Salem.

As we embark on this journey towards building a new school, we need all your support and encouragement. Please spread the word about the construction of the school and help us fund-raise for the buildings. Every small bit counts and  let us together create a meaningful learning space for the children & adults.

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