News letter June-Dec 2023

Dear Friends,

New year wishes from Thulir Sittilingi, We are happy to share our latest newsletter with you. Hope you enjoy reading it.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen

or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” -Helen Keller

Participation in Running Events

Our students and teachers gained so much joy and meaning from participating in the Anandayana Run on June 4th! This is a completely volunteer-driven – and very inclusive – running event that brings together socially, economically, physically and neurologically diverse participants while also supporting their causes! Thanks to Santhosh and friends from Runner’s High for initiating and organising this!

Participated in the Wipro Bangalore Marathon too.

“One All” Frisbee Camp

Varsha from the “One All” group in Gudalur visited us for 10 days with her team of young Adivasi frisbee players in July. The One All Trust helps to improve the lives of youth in marginalised communities in India through Ultimate Frisbee (or simply, ‘ultimate’). This is a self-refereed, mixed gender, non-contact team sport that is low cost, easy to learn, and can be played anywhere. Ultimate is unique because after every game the players sit together in a circle – called spirit circle – to express and discuss feelings, challenges, triumphs, conflicts and empathy. This makes it an ideal tool for developing values and socio-emotional competencies in young people and help them cope with stressful situations. The game also creates platforms for youth to come together, think about and discuss larger issues.

Frisbee sessions were conducted in Sittilingi village, Thulir school and Paalakuttai village and hospital. On the first day no one from Sittilingi came forward to play with the Gudalur team. They were all shy and self conscious. But as the days went by, the fun filled warm-up activities in smaller groups attracted more and more people, until on the final day around 200 people of all ages and genders played in the open ground in the middle of Sittilingi village with complete abandon and fun! This was one of the rare occasions that this central village space has been used by women and children to play! Even once darkness set in, there were young women and men dancing away into the night!

Workshop on Alternative construction

Dr. Yogananda and his team from Mrinmayee, Bengaluru, have always helped Thulir and THI with the structural engineering aspects during the construction of all of our buildings over the years. In July we, along with Mrinmayee, conducted a 3 day workshop in Sittilingi on “Mud and Alternative Construction” in Sittilingi.

There was a diverse group of participants: They came from various states in India. Their ages ranged from 16 to 60. With regard to their profession, we had the whole range from architecture students to professors to masons to department heads and businessmen. But over the course of 3 days of learning, doing and building together, they bonded so well as a group that they progressed beyond architecture to even discuss deeper questions of life!

This made us realise the importance of such forums for people whose interests do not lie on the well-trodden paths of life, to simply be able to find a community of like-minded people to feel less alone and gain the courage to follow their convictions, as well as be able to connect, share and seek support from each other!

Food Project

This July and August, our theme was Food. We did projects on topics including the nutrients in food, balanced diets and the food cycle, as well as projects based on different foods in different cultures, different recipes and stories/songs about food. The 10-year-olds came up with their own recipes that they wrote down and one afternoon, they treated the younger group to two dishes that they cooked themselves from their recipes!

As a grand finale, teachers and students got together and cooked a variety of delicious dishes for the whole school as well as guests. Soup, vegetable rice, raita, curry, salad, ragi puttu, eggless whole wheat cake and vadai were some of the dishes.

Most of the cooking was done outdoors under trees using three stones for the stove and firewood! That it is possible to use the bare minimum utensils and equipment and still dish out a gourmet meal for 75 people is a valuable lesson that one could learn from indigenous communities.

Enjoying sports day regardless of the blazing sun!

Teachers’ Exposure Trip

The teachers enjoyed a complete break from housework, husbands/ wives and children on a 4 day trip to Gudalur, Ooty and Kotagiri! In Gudalur, they stayed with the “One All” frisbee team in Thorapally.

Driving through the Mudumalai forests and spotting the wild animals, visiting an adivasi village, interacting with the villagers and tribal teachers, comparing notes between the villages in Sittilingi and Gudalur, discovering the underlying similarities, visiting the Ashwini Adivasi hospital and Vidyodaya school, visiting and learning about the ecological work and value-added forest and organic products at Keystone, Kotagiri, were all fascinating and inspiring experiences! Swetha one of Thulir teacher shared her experiences about Gudalur trip Read More.

They also enjoyed visiting and staying at Anu’ s parents ‘ house at Ooty and a brief visit to the tourist spots there.

Government Recognition for the School

We are very happy and relieved that we have finally received a certificate of recognition from the Tamilnadu Government! We are now officially a recognized school!

Respecting Tools

Dussehra is not normally celebrated by the tribals of Sittilingi. We have been very careful about not imposing mainstream rituals and religions on the tribal community. So while the entire state was celebrating Ayudha Pooja (A festival to worship the tools and machines that we use) we thought it was a good occasion to get the children to think about all the objects and tools that they use daily and teach them to respect and care for them without bringing religion and mindless rituals into it.

We felt that in today’s ‘use and throw’ culture which has led to climate change and global warming, caring for the things which one uses daily and properly maintaining them is essential.

Book Fair

Teachers and students visited the book fair at Salem. They thoroughly enjoyed it! In this digital age we are happy that a day among books is still enjoyable for them!

HomeComing! (Thulir School Alumni Meet)

“I feel nostalgic! I wish I were back in KG so that I would have 5 more years here!”

“Let’s dance! Let’s read story books! I feel like I am back home! Its so good to be back home!”

These were exclamations from our school alumni when they came here on the 26th of December for a day long get- together! We sang and danced together, painted and made paper earrings, played kho-kho and had a session of deep sharing – of triumphs, of difficulties and of challenges surmounted!

Nature Walks and Ecology Classes

Vinod , an ecologist from Marudam, comes down to Sittilingi every week to take us on fascinating nature walks! We discover new marvels of nature every walk, with Vinod’s guidance. Back in school, Vinod explains the science behind each sighting and also shows us amazing videos of the birds, insects or plants that we encountered on the walk!

One such nature walk was conducted in the Forest Way Ecological park in Thiruvannamalai and our 9- and 10-year-olds climbed the hill there with Vinod.

Parents’ meeting

We had two very good parents’ meeting this term. The one in December was especially well attended by most parents, and we had a highly interactive discussion. The parents brought up some problematic issues and the discussion around them proceeded quite amicably.

Inspiring through Cycling

It was a great pleasure for Balaji and us to host 80 cyclists and their 20 odd support team for lunch on December 27th. They stopped here enroute while cycling from Yercaud to Thiruvannamalai. This was part of a week long cycling tour organised by the Tamilnadu Cycling Club.

The cyclists were from all over the country (plus a few international participants) and came from every walk of life, diverse professional backgrounds and were of all ages. We were especially happy to meet volunteers from Asha for Education, Silicon Valley among them as Asha has consistently supported Thulir since the very beginning! To know more about the cycling group <<Read more

Teachers and students participated in the Marudam craft week.

Visitors and Volunteers

We are overjoyed that Swetha has returned to Thulir after a gap of 4 years! She engages the children in English and Art.

Ram and Archana, along with their two daughters are on a year long exploration of alternative learning spaces in the country. We wish them smooth and fulfilling journeys.

9 children and 2 teachers from the Centre For Learning school, Bengaluru, visited in December.

12 9th-standard children and 2 teachers from Rishi Valley School also visited in December.

Harsh and Srimathi, have taken a break after their medical studies and volunteer often at school. Harsh took some Geography sessions while Srimathi has started helping to catalogue the library.

Many young parents from the cities have visited, wanting admissions for their children at Thulir. Several of them have stayed for a week or more. We find that after Covid the number of young parents reaching out, looking for alternative places to live and school their children has increased.

Field and village classes continue


Thank you very much for the trust you have placed in our integrity and our work and for your generosity that has kept this work going!

Wishing you all a wonderful new year, a year which will bring you happiness, energy and hope in all that you do. A year which will lead us from

darkness to light,

from conflict to peace.

Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

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News letter Jan – June 2023

Greetings from Thulir! Hope all is well with you. We are happy to share what’s been happening at Thulir with you.

Pongal Celebration

The harvest festival, Pongal, is the most important festival celebrated in Sittilingi and Thulir. The celebrations this year were doubly special because the corona virus had put a stop to these celebrations the last two years!

Teachers and students worked hard for three whole days cleaning the entire school, applying cowdung on all the mud floors, painting the walls, making beautiful colourful kolams (designs/ rangoli) on all the available floors, dancing the traditional Kummi dances and cooking tasty pongal outside, and finally eating and savouring it together!

Village elder, Vellachi Ammal, was invited to teach traditional pongal songs!

Storytelling Workshop

All of us love stories and have nostalgic memories of stories told to us by grandparents or parents or aunts and uncles.These stories, while nurturing strong emotional bonds, not only entertained us but also educated us about life, relationships, and the art of living!

With the advancement of technology and social media storytelling has almost disappeared everywhere.

Kumar Shaw, an expert story-teller, has been cycling through the country on a nationwide mission to revive this and create awareness about the significance of storytelling. He visited Thulir in January and regaled the children with witty, timely, and fascinating tales. Under his skillful anchoring the children created their own story as a group about a dinosaur becoming the king of the jungle and illustrated it! It was fascinating to watch the story weave itself.

Senjikottai Trip

Completely unfazed by the blazing hot April sun, our 9, 10, and 11 year olds raced up to the top of the steep Rajakottai hill!

The teachers and students went on a day trip to the historic site of Senjikottai (mispronounced as Gingee fort by the English), which is around 115 km from Thulir. Dubbed “The Troy of the East” by the British, and deemed to be one of the strongest forts in the country, Senji has been owned by a parade of powers in its 900 year history — from the Cholas and Vijayanagar to Bijapur and Telugu Nayakas. It has seen Marathas scale its rock faces with the use of monitor lizards, according to legend; a Rajasthani ruler, Tej Singh, who became a Tamil folk hero known as Desing Raja; and an eight year clash between Marathas and Mughals which was the longest siege in Mughal history. And now it was the turn of our Thulir heroes and heroines to climb up the steep, narrow and winding steps to the twin hilltop forts, named the Rajakottai and Ranikottai by locals. The same steps that Mughals, Marathas, Europeans, and so many other armies had climbed before!

On the way back the group stopped at the Sathanur dam across the Thenpennai river and played in the park there. The children were also mesmerised by the crocodiles at the crocodile farm there!

Sports Days

How does one ensure that the excitement of a sporting event is not compromised while NOT giving too much importance to excessive competitiveness and winning and losing? That participation is given more importance than winning or losing?

This has been our constant focus at every Thulir sports event. This year, the children enjoyed two whole days of sports and games in February. This time we also invited students from the government school in Palakuttai and the Thulir Alumni to participate. Anjana from Asha Bangalore visited us with family and friends.

We included two co-operative games where one wins only if the whole team wins, or the entire team loses. For instance at Musical chairs as the number of chairs reduce after each round the participants have to still make sure that everyone gets to sit. Even if one person doesn’t manage to sit the whole group loses. We were amazed at how more than 15 children managed to sit on one chair!

“Teachers for Change” Workshops

As teachers, is it enough if we merely teach the 3 Rs? Is it adequate to just teach Math, Language, Sciences? Are we aware of the socio-political-economic structures and inequalities around us? Are we aware of what kind of society our forefathers, who created our constitution, dreamed of? Do we need to make our students aware of all this? Do we have a role in helping our students grow to become tolerant, caring, and socially responsible citizens and create a free, just, equitable society in the future?

With the help of the Barefoot Academy we organised four 3 day workshops for teachers from Marudam, Payir, Vanavil, and Thulir this year to gain an understanding of all this. We express our gratitude to BA for pioneering this initiative.

Government Approval Process

After 3 long years and countless trips to Dharmapuri and drawing and re-drawing our building plans to suit varying formats, we finally got the DTCP (Department of Town and Country Planning) approval for our school buildings. The process was delayed by the COVID lockdowns and the Tamil Nadu government changing the entire Application procedure halfway through these years.

Since we now have all the required certificates we re-applied to the Education Department for approval. The District Education Officer inspected our school on 26th April and gave his approval and forwarded our files to Chennai. We are awaiting our final approval from the capital.

Thanks to Ramkumar for patiently following this process through all these years!

The Sittilingi Run

A lively and meaningful event on February 5th which brought all of us — the Runner’s High group, Thulir, THI, SOFA, Porgai, and the Panchayat teams — together in a celebration of community, team spirit, and physical fitness!

Dr. Christy and Dr. Raja Durai set the tone for the day with an initial lively warm-up session! A total of 428 runners, both from Sittilingi as well as friends from Chennai, Marudam School, Thiruvannamalai, and Ananya School, Bangalore ran the 2k, 5k, or 10k races.

As the sun was sleepily trying to peep out from behind the blue mist-clad hills, the runners ran between the sugarcane, turmeric, and rice fields on both sides of the roads breathing in the misty, cool, clean air.

The age of the runners ranged from 4 to 70, and their attire varied from shorts to tracksuits to sarees! There were no prizes or mementoes. The joy of being and running together was prize enough! Ravi has captured the beauty of this event at >> Read more

and you can also visit Balaji’s site to read more about the event.>> Read more

Visitors and Volunteers

Mhaiiri McInnes from Austria visited in January. She demonstrated the Feldenkrais method of Awareness through Movement to children and teachers.

Seetha, Uma, Vinita, and Vinodhini — indigenous women from Gudalur doing BSc Social Work did their one month field placement here at Thulir. They taught their traditional music and dances to our students.

Vinod from Marudam School came often to conduct nature walks, birdwatching walks, and ecology classes.

Sakthi from MIDS, along with her daughter Samrutha, a class 10 student visited in March. Samrutha has written about her experience here:>> Read more

A Dying Art!

One of the most ecological, sustainable and thermally comfortable roofs is a thatch roof, made of thick bundles of grass. Thatching a roof is a highly skilled craft! Moreover, it is group work, that needs a full team of skilled artisans to do, and invariably involves everybody in the surrounding community in one way or another! We saw this for the first time 19 years ago when the roofs of Anu and Krishna’s house and the old Thulir buildings were thatched by a group of highly skilled thatch-layers from Alangayam and many of the locals who came to help them then were people who have stayed with us all these years since!

But in the years since, thatch roofs have become rarer and rarer, and the artisans who thatch these have almost vanished.

However, there is a silver lining to this, as recently Anu and Krishna’s 19 year old roof was re-thatched. Though we were not expecting to be able to work with as skilled artisans, through a stroke of luck we ended up finding a group of professional thatch-layers from the very same village of Alangayam! Work started at 7 am every morning and went on till 5 pm every day. Many adults and children from the community pitched in to help and we all worked and ate together! There was much laughter, conversation, team work and camaraderie! The tension, stress and the overpowering noise of heavy machinery that are pervasive when a concrete roof is built were completely absent here. It was an unforgettable experience!

Thank you!

Heartfelt thanks to all of you for recognising the value and authenticity of our work, and choosing to support Thulir’s continued growth and blossoming.


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Newsletter June – Dec 2022

“The best thing that I saw at the Thulir cultural evening was this group of kindergarten children dancing away ( off stage, behind the audience!) to the songs that their seniors performed on stage. At that moment they did not worry about the world, they had no teachers to make them “behave”., and they weren’t embarrassed or shy. Maybe they were just being children?!

The space that was provided for them was a space where they could be who they were. There were no adults to bend their minds so that they think more like them..

I read somewhere that ‘children have the strangest of adventures and are not troubled by them.

We all know that it is we adults who fret over the small stuff and forget to be in the moment. It is a valuable lesson to learn from the Thulir children.

The best thing they can have for now is for them to let them be themselves, and not snatch their childhoods away from them. I feel jealous of the true childhoods that the Thulir kids have!”

– Dr. Pravin. Tribal Health Initiative, Sittilingi Village.

Run to Thulir

Santhosh has been a long time friend and supporter of Thulir. Over the years, he has been motivating, guiding and supporting our running programme. He writes:

“During a visit to Thulir many years ago, I realised the immense talent and enthusiasm the children had and how physical activity could be a potent way of educating them and improving their self-esteem. Yet, there was hardly any space for physical activity in the Indian formal educational system. With my involvement in various grassroots efforts, especially experiences with training children for running, I saw a confluence of both my passions – running and working for the education of the disadvantaged. We started training the children there for running and in fact, this was the origin of Runner’s High, a wonderful community of runners who change lives through running.”

Santhosh, Mani and Krishan from Runner’s High, Bangalore inspired all of us with their ‘Run to Thulir’, running all the way from Bangalore to Sittilingi between October 29th and November 1st.

In Santosh words :”Mani, Krishan, Chandra, and I have always liked to run long distances. This running we do is not about breaking records, showing the world what we are capable of, doing something superhuman, etc. Our running has always been about creating a larger meaning, enjoying the process, and inspiring/being inspired by others. Our goal for every year has been a target event that also raises funds for a cause and makes a true difference in lives on the ground. This year we chose to raise funds for Thulir and in our discussions with them, we realized that building a library for the school and helping many other government schools in the area was a real need. Instead of running to various other cities, locales, etc., we decided to run from Bangalore to Thulir itself, bringing everyone’s attention to the cause and meeting the community that we want to get involved with.”

To read more about the run >> Read More

Painting workshop

Akash Yaligar and Roma Patadia, two architects and artists, have been conducting travel journaling- sketching and painting workshops in many places over the last year. They conducted one such workshop in Sittilingi from August 20th to 22nd.

Akash writes about the workshop: “We felt it was not just an art workshop but much more than that. A workshop purely made for the heart! Where people can learn to sketch as well as witness the sustainable way of living and serenity of the place itself!”

The teachers, doctors and children enjoyed playing and experimenting with paints and colours, light and shadows, under their gentle and expert guidance!

Building with mud

Have you ever seen 8 and 9-year-olds building a complete thatch roof entirely by themselves completely unprompted and unassisted by adults? We would never have believed this either if we hadn’t witnessed it ourselves.

It all started when we made small child-size bricks for our children to build with, as the theme for the month was houses. The children used those bricks for a while to humour us, but soon outgrew them! They went around collecting leftover real bricks, bits of sheets and tiles from various construction sites and soon started building real houses. They soon found many opportunities to build their own rooms by adding one or two walls to the corners of the school classrooms!

House building became a frenzied activity carried out with much passion and enthusiasm, snatching any free time the children got: before and after classes, lunch time and snack time! It was fantastic to watch the way the children worked – their passion, team work, effortless delegation of work and leadership. Children who were perceived by adults to be academically weak excelled here! Children who were troublemakers in class and were constantly blamed by others were well behaved and fully engaged here!

One group of girls finished their house and had a house warming ceremony, complete with handwritten invitations to all the adults and groups in school, kolams and other decorations around the house, boiling milk over a wood fire and providing wild fruits and simple snacks to the guests!

After all the effort they put into completing their house and the house warming ceremony, we were astounded to see them breaking their house that same afternoon! They wanted to add another room and alter the design!

Only then we realized that for children the process was more important than the product! They loved the activity of building a house, but the finished house didn’t interest them because there was nothing left to engage with there. So they preferred to demolish the house and start over again! Only we adults are fixated on the end product and want to preserve it to show off!

Training of Construction Artisans

Some of the construction artisans that we trained in Sittilingi are now building in Thiruvannamalai. A group of Marudam School teachers and well wishers have purchased a newplot of land to the south of Marudam and are building three houses there.

Krishna has been training the artisans on site while helping each house owner fulfil their dream designs in the best aesthetic and ecological fashion possible. 

Dancing to our heart’s content

All of us at Thulir love dancing and we eagerly look for dance instructors who can teach us new dances! This time we had two exceptionally talented dancers who were both excellent in teaching dance visit us!

Denis from Delhi visited twice and taught western dances!

Christy, an obstetrician and gynecologist, taught not only the teachers and students at Thulir but also the nurses and doctors in the hospital many dances over the course of a month!

Cultural programmes

A cultural programme was held at the end of November where the Thulir, Hospital, SOFA and Porgai teams showcased everything they had learnt under Christy’s guidance. The 200 people who attended thoroughly enjoyed the show. Christy’s choreography and the hall decorations he had organised were brilliant!

At Thulir, every Wednesday we have what are called student assemblies where each group if students goes up on stage and puts up a performance of their choice. These performances, especially the plays, have steadily improved in quality and become very enjoyable. We thought the parents should also see them.

So we had a cultural evening for parents in the first week of January where the children re-performed all their Wednesday songs, dances and plays for their parents.

Tamil Nadu Alternative Education Network meeting.

The annual meeting of the Tamil Nadu Alternative Education Network was held at Thulir this year from December 3rd to 5th. 32 educators committed to the cause of learning, teaching and nurturing with a deep focus on the child, the environment and society interacted and shared experiences, perspectives and thoughts. 

This group met online before and after the meeting and also prepared a draft of their suggestions to be sent to the state Education Policy Committee.

Parental support

Parents are in constant and continuous interactions with our teachers about their children’s academic performances. Parental expectations are quite high and teachers are often disheartened because they find it difficult to convince the parents of the quality of our education.

But 60 sets of parents think highly enough of Thulir to undergo considerable financial and physical costs, efforts and hardship to bring their children to school every day, since we don’t have a school bus.

A recent incident showed us even more clearly how much parental support we actually had.

A few children and teachers had nausea and vomiting after lunch one day. As a precaution we informed the parents and took all the children and teachers to the Tribal hospital for observation. This news spread through the villages, and it was vastly exaggerated in the telling! All the parents came to the hospital. It turned out that the millet, varagu, if improperly harvested, can become what they call sokku varagu, and this can cause temporary nausea and dizziness if eaten. However, village elders also told us that the antidote for this is tamarind!

Despite the shocking and sensationalised nature of this incident, not one parent complained. Instead they reassured us, saying they had all experienced this at some time or the other in the past. They calmed down the odd trouble maker, and assured village officers and others that there was nothing to worry about. It was a huge relief to have their support at this stressful time, allowing the teachers to focus on the children’s well-being.

Visiting the Book Fair at Salem

All the teachers and their children went on a day trip to the book fair in Salem in November. The teachers came back with their bags stuffed full of delightful books for the family.

Interaction with the government school children.

Our weekly classes in the government schools at Palakuttai and Nammangadu continued with more emphasis being put on hands-on, activity-based learning and crafts.

 Suresh continues his evening classes for government school children in Palakuttai village.

Visitors and volunteers

  • We are very happy to welcome new residents to the valley, Kavya and Mallesh, a couple from Nellore, Andhra pradesh. Their search for a good school for their 4 year-old son Abimanyu led them to Thulir, where the simple, down-to-earth life style appealed to them. They decided to shift to Sittilingi and live on the school campus. Kavya is now volunteering in Thulir, while Mallesh works in Porgai and Abimanyu is a student in Thulir!
  • Swetha continues to be associated with Thulir, visiting every so often, making illustrations for our workbooks and conducting online English classes for the teachers.
  • Vinod, an avid bird watcher and ecologist from Marudam visited often and accompanied the Thulir team on birdwatching trips and tree walks in the forests!

  • Suresh, Sasikala ,Chintha mani and the students from Palakuttai village participating in the Bangalore Marathon.
  • Students and teachers participating in the Marudam Craft Week—a well loved event. Thanks to Marudam for hosting this!

  • Discovering the hills around us—Teachers and students enjoyed frequent Treks up the hills around us!

  • Visiting Eechangadu—Ravi’ s village

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.

Delicious ambiguity.”

– Gilda Radner

As we emerged from the depths of the covid waves, it has been really fulfilling “taking the moment and making the best of it” as a team with all of you ! 

We are truly grateful to all of you for the belief you place in us. Thank you for your support.


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Newsletter Jan-June 2022

It was a novelty to have children back in school full time from February!

Looking back over the last two difficult and unusual years, one realises that good teamwork, community spirit and all your support have unleashed our creativity and resilience to the maximum. In fact, many new projects have sprouted in Thulir!

Training of government appointed Illam Thedi Kalvi volunteers.

“I never knew multiplication could be taught so interestingly!” “Why was I never taught Maths this way?” “Can we come every day to your school?” These were the enthusiastic refrains we heard during the one-day training workshops we conducted every fortnight for the government appointed village volunteer teachers under the Illam Thedi Kalvi (education at your doorstep) scheme.

The Illam Thedi Kalvi scheme has been launched by the Tamil Nadu Government to help children catch up after the gap in their schooling due to the lockdowns. Under this scheme they have appointed a few volunteers (mostly recent graduates) in every village to provide supplementary and bridge classes to a specified number of children from their neighbourhood every evening. Classes are conducted in front of their houses in the village. Unfortunately, most of these volunteers have no prior teaching experience and found it hard to teach a multi level, multi graded group of students!

We talked to the Chief Educational Officer of Dharmapuri and offered to train these volunteers at Thulir so that they would be better equipped to give the children in our villages their required educational support. The response, both from the volunteers themselves and the headmasters of the local government schools, has been very positive. Volunteers from Palakuttai, Velanur, Nammankadu and Sittilingi villages now attend a full day workshop at Thulir school once in two weeks. We have also started a WhatsApp group for these teachers so that materials could be shared easily and continuous guidance could be provided.

Interactions with government schools in the valley

Our discussions on how to continue and maintain our interactions with government school children during the lockdown spurred us on to re-establish our contacts with the government schools in the valley. One cannot remain an island when one is in a community like this.

We visited all the government schools in the valley, interacted with their teachers and headmasters and gave them some library materials. This is the first step towards further programmes in these schools in the future.

Classes in government schools

To begin with, we selected two government schools, in Nammankadu and Palakuttai, for regular interactions. Two teachers from Thulir go one afternoon a week to each of these schools and conduct classes for the children there.

Each of these schools have around 50 children from class 1 to 5 with one teacher and a headmistress. Our sessions include songs, stories, maths and science activities.

Daily Evening class in Palakuttai village

Suresh has started taking classes every day in his village, Palakuttai. The number of children attending varies, but there is a constant group of 12 to 15 children coming every evening. The confidence that these children have gained when it comes to learning is visible and palpable, when compared to the other children in the govt school there. Suresh also brought his students to Thulir school for a day.

Working with children with developmental delays

Ambika has rejoined Thulir to work with children with developmental delays. She attended two week-long training programmes at the Developmental Paediatrics Department in CMC Vellore. The doctors in the department were amazed at Ambika’s training in Thulir and the way she was handling the children’ s activities. They have expressed an interest in training her more and in continuing interactions with Thulir in the future. She has interacted with and taught two such children in school this year apart from her own daughter. Lakshmi, an Educational Psychology student from Vellore, acts as an interpreter between the doctors and Ambika and helps the doctors remotely guide Ambika in her work.

Scholarship Fund

Many students from Sittilingi are now going outside the valley to pursue higher studies. Higher education fees are now quite steep and far beyond the abilities of their families. So we have started a scholarship fund to provide some initial assistance to a few deserving students each year. We helped two students from Sittilingi to pursue BSc nursing and one student to pursue Engineering in NIT, Trichy.

Folk song and dance workshop

Multiplication tables sung enthusiastically accompanied by the rhythm of the parai (traditional drums) reverberated around the school. Thiru. Manimaran conducted a week-long folk song and dance workshop in Thulir. Observing that children learnt very well through songs and chants, we requested him to set the multiplication tables to music. He did so, and the result was a huge success!

Anandayana Run

Attending a public gathering after 2 years of restraints seemed a novel and very welcome experience! Suresh and Jyoti took a group of 18 children from Palakuttai and Sittilingi to run 5km in the inclusive event, Anandayana, organised by Runner’s High. Getting to meet and mingle with differently able and differently privileged children from various schools was a great learning experience.

Bringing children to school

The private mini-bus which operates in our valley, and which many children used to come to school, stopped operating in March and April. But parents took the initiative to share bikes or get help and somehow brought children to school in spite of physical and financial hardships.

Glimpses from the campus

Anil and Rekha and students from Sahodaya school, Bihar visited the school in January.
Natural Builders!
Building with mud seems to be a very natural and enjoyable instinct!
Sports day in the blazing sun!
Active participation from the teachers.
The school walls have come alive with birds, animals and trees! Painting with home-made natural colours under the guidance of Swetha and Rajammal!

We have been able to bounce back with renewed vigour only because of the resilience among children, teachers and others from the community. And because of your continued support.

Let’s keep this spirit of giving and sharing alive and healthy!

Thank you!

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Notes from Riya Dominic

Written by Riya Dominic in 2022:

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Newsletter June-Dec’21

Warmest wishes for health, healing, love, creativity and revival this new year!

Children’ s voices and laughter … a song from the distance … the thud- thud of running feet … the rhythms of a dance somewhere … an adult admonishing someone … the rustle of the leaves… a dog barking joyfully… a calf calling out to her mother… young voices chanting Thirukural loudly and enthusiastically… all these come floating on the breeze whizzing by…

Yes, the Thulir school was active and full of life again after almost two years of lock-down. Full time classes resumed from November 1st and were on until the end of December. The importance of a neutral space where adults and children can learn together free from the interference and pressures of the realities of village life was brought home to us vividly.

Children bloomed in learning much more over these two months than they did in the last two years of our village classes. There was more time for singing, dancing, playing and working with hands. And we got to witness firsthand just how much these activities really enhance a child’s academic learning after two years of their absence.

But sadly the return of the dreaded virus in its Omicron form is dictating the closure of schools again in Tamilnadu starting this January.

Village classes

During most of 2020 and 21 our teachers conducted decentralised classes in the villages. Children from government and other private schools too attended these classes.

Student Enrollment

Tamil Nadu government schools have during the pandemic been distributing their students’ free mid day meals to their families in the form of weekly supplies of rice, dhal, eggs and other groceries. Ten Thulir parents, who were economically affected by the pandemic, have removed their children from our school and have admitted their children in government schools in order to access these food rations. The parents feel that since we also teach government school children in our village classes, these children will still get education from us and food from the government school – the best of both schools.

But new children have also joined us this year and we currently have 49 students in our school this year.

Getting to school

Prior to the pandemic, parents took responsibility for the logistics and costs of transporting their children to school. But the pandemic has affected many of them economically and they are finding it difficult to bear the transport costs.

Currently, the children are using the public transport – a mini bus that shuttles between villages in our valley. The transport costs for the children is supported by the school.

Workshops for mothers

” I have never had a more relaxed day in my life.”

” Can we do this every weekend?”

” I wish I could have learned this when I was in school.”

These were remarks from mothers after a workshop in Thulir.

Most of our children are first generation learners. Their parents have tremendous aspirations that their children should get the most of the education they themselves missed out on. For many parents these aspirations translate easily into anxiety and worry. They don’t have a realistic idea of age appropriate learning and so put enormous pressure on the teachers and their children to attain outcomes that are far too advanced for their age. We have found that this parental anxiety actually hinders and thwarts a child’s learning abilities. Increasing parental awareness about their children’s abilities and progress and bringing them to the same page as us is vital.

We planned to have practical hands-on workshops for mothers, teaching them activities they can do with their children at home. The first workshop was held in October.

Greening the land

A young and vibrant team from Marudam led by Vinod and Shyam visited us, bringing indigenous and endangered evergreen tree saplings along with their passion and love for the environment. The teachers and students camped at school that night and went out for an early morning bird watching walk with Vinod. Other teachers and students from Marudam joined us that morning for a day long celebration of nature through tree planting. There is indeed immense joy in such life affirming work with Mother Earth.


In a rural agricultural community livelihoods and lives themselves revolve around rain. Rain can save or completely wreck entire families. So at Thulir we have been measuring and recording rainfall for the last 17 years.

After years of drought, 2020(965mm) and 2021(1010 mm) were years of abundant rain. The valley looks green and lush and beautiful.

But sadly most of the rain was unseasonal and very heavy and many farmers, our teachers and parents among them, lost their crops.

Children with special needs

We are privileged to welcome three children with developmental delays to the school this year. Two of them come regularly and the other comes occasionally. Interacting with them has been a valuable and humbling learning experience for all the teachers and students.

It all started when Dr. Sridhar, a pediatrician from CMC Vellore conducted a session for the teachers on how to identify developmental delays and autism in children and when to seek help. He also interacted with, and counselled, the parents of four such children. Through his help, these four children were able to go for consultation and treatment to the Development Pediatrics unit at CMC Vellore. Two of them stayed in CMC Vellore for a longer period to undergo physiotherapy and occupational therapy. One of our teachers, Ambika, too went with them for a week-long training in Development pediatrics. Special thanks to the Development Pediatrics team at CMC, Shikha Bhattacharji and Dr. Sridhar for making this possible.

Return of the Thulir Alumni

Abhay Regi, editor at The Caravan, and one of the very first students of Thulir has returned to teach our oldest students this year. The children enjoyed his classes exploring Geography through map making.

Rahul from Sittilingi, who studied Leather Technology in Anna University, Chennai and went on to work in Kenya and Malawi, visited and talked to students about Kenya and Malawi. He enjoyed coaching students in football.

Poovarasan from Sittilingi, who is now doing his PhD in Calcutta, donated notebooks and stationery to the school.

Sreyarth taught History online to the older students who discovered that History could be fascinating and not as boring as the textbooks make it to be.

These were proud moments for us as teachers , watching our earlier students, now grown up and giving back to the community. It was nice to see how they have not only imbibed our values and learning but also have learnt much more in their subjects and made them many, many times more interesting.

Tamilnadu education network meeting

Six of us attended the two day meeting hosted by Payir Trust where around 35 educators from all over Tamilnadu attended and talked about their work and the challenges they faced during the pandemic. We came back completely energised and inspired.

New ‘ Thulirs’ (‘sprouts’)

The Thulir family is growing. Lakshmi, Suresh and Sakthivel have baby boys and Rajammal has a baby girl this year. Rajammal and Lakshmi have been on maternity leave this year.

Trip to Marudam School

The teachers went to Marudam School, Thiruvannamalai, over two consecutive weeks to participate in their ecological projects. All our tribal teachers have always been near hills and forests and have grown up taking the incredibly beautiful surroundings and nature for granted. Seeing the urban folk of Marudam love and value nature and forests with a passion was very new for them. Many of them remarked , ” We have never valued what we have on our doorsteps. Our eyes have been opened now.”

Nature walks and nature observation have restarted at Thulir with great vigor now.

New construction

The children and students loved the newly constructed dining space.

Visitors and Volunteers

  • Varun’s scratch classes resumed again.
  • Sini from Kerala visited and conducted Toymaking workshops in October.
  • Senthil from Marudam School had participated in the farmers’ protests in New Delhi. He visited and spoke about his experience.
  • Shanti from Thiruvannamalai came to teach Music to all the groups. She held us all completely enthralled with her singing during a day-long music session. The 4- and 5-year-olds who normally can’t sit still for more than 5 or 10 minutes sat quietly mesmerized for more than an hour that afternoon listening to her sing.
Thank you each one of you for believing in us and standing with us through these difficult and unprecedented times.
Your support is truly invaluable!

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Summary of Activities

Here is a summary of activities carried out by the Thulir team during the corona pandemic between Mar’20- Sep’21.

Educational response during the pandemic

This pandemic has deepened the urban-rural, educated-uneducated and digital-nondigital fissures among us. The disease spread has been more in urban areas than in rural areas but in many ways the rural students suffer more. All over the world urban children and teachers are engaged in virtual classes. But teachers and students in Sittilingi and other rural areas have no smart phones or laptops and little or no internet access. Online education is impossible here.

In Sittilingi Valley, until a couple of years ago, we always had to go out to bigger towns to access the net. But even that was not possible in the lockdown. A few years back, the Tribal hospital got the only broadband connection in the valley. The rest of us struggled with highly erratic 2G mobile data. For most of 2020 it was a familiar sight to see young men go around the valley with their phones and laptops searching for good signal spots under a tamarind tree or a particular rock where a 2 G signal from the hills at very low speed may be accessed.

By late 2020, we extended the broadband connection from the hospital to the Thulir school using wireless network devices. Just this year, Sittilingi village has got a 4G coverage. Glitches are still there frequently but on the whole, our connectivity has improved. But most other villages in the valley still have limited access.

Our students are being left behind in the world of virtual education. Families that are struggling to put together two balanced meals a day are under great pressure to invest in smart phones and laptops for their college going children. Even in the homes that have one smart phone, it is very often in the hands of the men in the family and women and girl children don’t have access to it! This is true of our women teachers as well. Most of our lady teachers don’t even own a cell phone!

The first lock down- March 2020

In the initial months of the 2020 lockdown all of us at Thulir had to help the tribal hospital team and the panchayat teams in helping raise awareness about covid norms in the villages.

Schools were closed. There were no classes in the initial months. We believe that children learn more while watching adults work outdoors in the fields and homes than in the classrooms. And this was a great opportunity for them to do so.

From the beginning of June 2020 we brainstormed about activities which would force children outdoors and encourage them to learn from their parents and grandparents – observing plants, trees and insects around their farm, asking parents about them, drawing and writing about them, finding out from their grandparents how each millet is grown, writing about forest trees, finding out and recording weekly household expenditure etc. We prepared hard copy worksheets and learning materials and physically handed them to the children in the villages while observing covid norms.

This didn’t work out well. The sad fact about today’s villages is that many children are only exposed to adults watching TV serials, drinking alcohol or frequently fighting with each other most of the day. Most children live with their extended families in one- and two-room houses. So they had no physical and mental space at home to do any of these activities.

We realised that children need neutral, safe and supportive spaces, outside their homes, for their social, cognitive and emotional development.

Decentralised Classes

Since children were not allowed to attend schools, the school had to go to them! To help educate our children while complying with lockdown rules of not having large gatherings in institutions, our tribal teachers started holding decentralised classes from July 2020 for children in their own villages. These classes still continue. These happen mostly outdoors under a tamarind tree, on someone’s verandah or in open spaces next to the temple. Children from other private and government schools also attend. These classes happen in nine locations. Children have been divided into small groups and each group meets the teachers twice a week.

Worksheets and books from the library are given to the children after instructing them on how to use them. We show them good audio visual materials too. Games, craft, song and dance are also a part of these classes. The attendance in each session varies from 5 to 30!

Our teachers were very diffident at the beginning of last year to go out and teach mixed age groups of children in the villages. Teaching under public gaze is vastly different from teaching one particular age group in a disturbance-free atmosphere in a school setting! A series of motivational, training and academic classes had to be conducted through the year for them. But by the end of the year they grew in confidence and we are really proud of how they have all bloomed as educators and all that they have done so far.

Teachers work though the week taking classes, preparing learning materials, growing vegetables and millets and attending teacher training sessions. This has also been an opportunity for teachers to read, reflect, plan and improve their skills. We hold regular teachers training sessions, reflective and introspective sessions every week.

We are facing a historical educational crisis and we have to respond to it differently and innovatively! We need community learning and teaching! How do we deal with the academic learning and memory loss amongst children? At the same time, how do we acknowledge that children have learnt a lot from their experiences through the pandemic and build on that learning, focussing on their social-emotional-cognitive learning? It is up to us to imagine and create an effective learning movement!

The second wave and after..

The virus entered Sittilingi Valley during the second wave in May 2021 and there were many patients in every village. So these classes were stopped and all of us had to help in covid related work.

A teacher in a rural area can never remain strictly a teacher but has to play many roles as the circumstances demand.

Now the second wave has subsided and the decentralised classes have resumed from mid June onwards on popular demand from the villagers. These village classes have worked fairly well. Classes are held every evening in Rettakuttai and Palakuttai and twice a week in the other locations. Here are some of our observations.,

  • Learning is very local, centred in the village and the parents and elders can see it happening and be a part of it.
  • The teacher who is from that village gets more respect now than when she was just a daughter of the village!
  • Some of the parents (and even some of our teachers) who were initially sceptical about our teaching materials and methods, could now practically see their effectiveness and see how our school students were academically better than students from other schools.

The challenges faced in these classes:

  • These classes were most often outdoors under a tamarind tree or in clearings near a temple. They had to be shifted to someone’s verandah when it rained. Attendance would reduce during rains. Sometimes these spaces were also used by men gambling or drinking and so there were tensions and disruptions at times.
  • Since they were taking place in the village itself, children would sometimes get called away from the classes for some errand or other.
  • When classes were in someone’s verandah or front yard, parents who had some disagreement with that particular family would not send their children there.
  • Students enrolled in government schools get their free mid day meal scheme as weekly supplies of rice, dhal, eggs and other groceries. Ten Thulir parents, who were economically affected by the pandemic, have removed their children from our school and have admitted their children in government schools in order to access these food rations. The parents feel that since we teach government school children too in the village classes, these children will still get the education from us and the food from the government school – the best of both schools!

Transporting children to school

We conduct classes for the children of our school twice a week at school. Prior to the pandemic, parents took responsibility for the logistics and costs of transporting their children to school. But the pandemic has affected many of them economically and they are finding it difficult to bear the transport costs.

As a stop-gap arrangement, we talked to the owner of a private minibus that operates in our valley and convinced him to change his route slightly in order to pick up our children on his way and drop them off near the school. The school will pay the transport costs for the children. Students and teachers are now using this service twice a week.

Workshops for mothers

We have started having practical hands-on workshops for mothers, teaching them activities they can do with their children at home.

Covid response

As our country grappled with the second wave of COVID, we tried doing our bit to help those whose lives and wellbeing were disrupted and affected by the deadly virus and the compelling lockdowns.

The deadly virus which had bypassed us in the first wave spread its tentacles into our valley in the second wave as people had dropped their guard and become complacent. There were no beds available in the nearby big hospitals to refer them to. One 50 year old man who was referred out died before he got a bed in any of the hospitals.

It was imperative that we had to be ready for the deluge ourselves . A community problem of this magnitude had to be tackled together as a community. Our decentralised classes were temporarily stopped and all of us had to help in covid related work together with Tribal Health Initiative , SOFA and the panchayat. Being a part of a larger group of individuals and institutions with the same values is our biggest strength in Sittilingi.

Hospital Care

Our friends at Tribal Health Initiative run a secondary care 35 bedded hospital here. They dedicated a 15 bed exclusive Covid ward with protective gear, oxygen, testing, medicines etc. for Level 1 and Level 2 Covid care. The experience of doctors treating covid patients all over the world has shown that if patients were tested early, put on oxygen and medicines in time, they mostly got over the disease. Those who lost their lives were mostly the ones who did not get these in time.
Community work

We realised that the only way the staff of this small covid ward would not be overcome by covid patients and lack of resources is to have community involvement and community prevention. Spaced village meetings were held by the panchayat in which some of us participated. Frequent announcements through vehicles and the local “tandoora” were made by the panchayat. Short videos with messages from our doctor friends at THI and the panchayat president were made and distributed on what’ s app groups in each village to motivate the youth. Youth volunteer groups were formed. Some of our teachers and their spouses joined these groups going home to home in each village identifying patients with fever and cold and guiding them for testing and treatment. Small shop owners and people coming to the milk collection centres everyday in the village were sensitised.

Data base of patients

Siddharth, Ram and Archana helped develop and maintain a data base of patients all over the valley. This helped doctors, nurses , the field health staff and volunteers and hospital helpline volunteers to co ordinate and follow up on patients in home quarantine and the patients who were discharged from the hospital.

Hospital helplines

Phone helplines were set up for patients to access help and guidance. Anu volunteered on one of these full time providing psychological support to patients in home quarantine and following up on those who were discharged but had to be still monitored. The huge fear of being stigmatized by the village, when one was corona positive, had to be assuaged. People with symptoms but yet undiagnosed and wanting advice would call at all times of the day. The older covid patients above 50 would brush all covid prevention norms and need for self isolation aside saying ” Only you city folk will get corona . We villagers work in the sun all day and will not get sick!” They had to be persuaded to self isolate.

Fortunately most of them would want someone to listen to their ailments and complaints ! Listening to them patiently would help most times. On the other hand, the 25 to 45 age group ,especially the men, were mostly very anxious and afraid, because of what they have seen on TV and Whats app. They needed someone to clarify doubts and provide reassurance.

Education and healthcare needs a sustained effort over a long span of time. There is still much more to be done. We hope we can continue to do this together.

We thank all of you for your consistent support during this very difficult time.

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Newsletter Jan – May’21

Coronavirus enters Sittilingi

The dreaded virus that is holding the whole world to ransom has now entered Sittilingi Valley! It announced its arrival almost immediately with a death in the village.

As we write this in the first week of June, there have been 6 Covid deaths in the valley and the hospital has seen around 400 fever patients so far. The actual number of infected people could be even higher as many may have never come to the hospital.

Several villagers who were earlier complacent – convinced that the virus would ignore Sittilingi just as it did last year – are now scared and have started observing covid prevention norms more consciously.

Our decentralised classes in the villages have been temporarily stopped since mid April. Our main priority right now is to contain the spread of the virus in the villages. All of the teachers and their spouses are currently involved in supporting the hospital and the panchayat team in their efforts towards preventing community spread and involving the community in supporting the Covid patients. They are talking to people in each of the villages about Covid awareness and treatment, informing the hospital of any fever cases in their villages and helping to isolate and provide support for the fever patients.

Our doctor friends at Tribal Health Initiative have prepared a 15 bed exclusive Covid ward, as well as protective gear, oxygen, testing, medicines etc. Most villagers who were badly affected economically by the first Covid wave are now unable to pay for treatment. We have been helping THI fundraise for their treatment and food. We are truly grateful to Balaji and Asha For Education for their prompt and timely contribution towards this.

The hospital has set up a number of helplines for residents of the valley. Some of us at Thulir have volunteered to run these helplines. We talk regularly to Covid patients who are isolating in their homes and provide them non medical support, including psychological help and guidance.

The good news is that because of prompt and early action, at both the community level and the hospital, many patients are recovering. But we don’t know how things will change in the weeks to come.

Migrant workers in the valley

We at Thulir, have also been busy with a group of migrant labourers who came to the valley recently. There were around 45 of them including many women and children. Though originally from Andhra, they had been travelling around the state selling woven baskets and other small items on pavements and bus stands in the cities. The imposition of lockdown left them with no source of income and with no place to stay. They had been driven out of bigger cities and towns.

After trying their luck from town to town they came here asking to be allowed to stay in some open place where they could pitch their tents. We thought they could stay in the school grounds. We tried to help them along with our panchayat (local government) president. But it was not easy. Some of the villagers were afraid that this group would bring Covid into the village and complained to the superior government officials.

The government officials too wanted these people to be sent out of the valley, to somewhere out of their jurisdiction. Finally we managed to get permission from everyone and organized a place for them to stay on some land between two villages. We have been providing them with groceries, vegetables and some livelihood opportunities.

Before the second wave hit us…

  • Varun from Thekambattu conducted Scratch classes thrice a week for teachers and students from February to mid April. Children and teachers discovered that creating their own videos, puzzles and games is more fun than playing games made by others.
  • The view of the stars in our Sittilingi night sky is amazing from January to the end of March. This year this view was made even more special by Ramsubramanian, an old friend of Thulir. He brought his telescopes to Thulir and conducted star gazing workshops for parents, teachers and children in the school grounds. Lying on our backs on mats and gazing up at the infinite stars or peering through the telescope while listening to him unravel the mysteries of the universe was a fascinating experience.
  • Constructing a store room for construction materials, staff quarters and the dining hall provided a livelihood for around 20 building artisans. This activity has been temporarily stopped during the lockdown.
Store room
Staff Quarters
Dining Hall
  • Bee keeping and collecting honey has been resumed at Thulir, Thanks to the workshop conducted at Sittilingi Organic Farmers Association, SOFA.
  • Vinod, an expert on birds and insects, took us on nature walks and helped us discover the fascinating array of birds and insects we have here!
  • Anjana from ASHA bangalore visited us in February. Her site visit report can be read >> here
  • Students and teachers from Marudam Farm School, Professor Ravindran and Vanajakka and Balaji from Asha were some of those who visited and cheered us up this year!

Thank you all for being with us. Let’s tide over this storm together!

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Newsletter Jul-Dec’20

Hope all of you are healthy and well.

As this year draws to a close, one only hopes this will be remembered as an unusual event and this will not become the norm in the future!

“The real tragedy would be if we come through this pandemic without changing for the better. It would be as if all those deaths, all that suffering would mean nothing.”

– Poet and novelist, Ben Okri, in The Guardian.

Effects of the Pandemic

The virus does not seem to have an obvious physical presence in our valley – as yet! The disease spread here has been nil or negligible. Of course, one is not completely certain as very few have been tested for covid here. So either everyone here has escaped the virus or many of us have been asymptomatic till now.

Socio – economic impacts of the lockdown

These are manifold and will continue to impact the valley for many years to come. In the last newsletter we had written about the rural tribal community’s ability to grow their own food and resilience to withstand deprivations.

But the actual economic impacts of the lockdown have been starkly felt in the villages only from July/August. Other than people working in Thulir, THI and related institutions no one else in the villages had any cash in hand. Most were already bogged down by earlier loans and struggled to pay their monthly dues. So though we had good rains in July/August, people didn’t have money to start the planting or hire tractors to plough their fields. More loans at exorbitant rates were taken out from private moneylenders to start farming. Fortunately most people are growing food crops this season.

Farmers of SOFA were unable to market their turmeric and other produce during the initial lockdown phase. But our network of friends gave them a hand and bought generously. To browse and purchase SOFA products please >> click here

The Panchayat team spent a lot of time sorting out irregularities in the MGNREGA scheme and has started work under the scheme in two villages.

Artisans of the Porgai craft association also didn’t have access to thread and cloth as well as their normal markets during the lockdown. They have risen to this challenge by very creatively up-scaling, recycling, coming up with new products and setting up an online market.

You can support them by treating yourselves to some of their artwork. >> Contact Porgai

Construction Artisans

Construction artisans too had no work or income during the lock-down and kept requesting us to start construction work. Group activities at public institutions and spaces were still forbidden at the time. We could not start construction work at school. So from the beginning of July we started construction activities around our house at the old Thulir campus, dismantling old unused buildings and repairing and renovating others, while taking due covid prevention measures.

From September, as the lockdown was relaxed, we started construction work at school. The caretaker’s cottage has been upgraded and a storeroom for construction materials and tools is being built. The frequent rains this year often delayed this work. But we hope to build two staff quarters and a dining hall this academic year.

Store room construction at the school.

Construction at SOFA.

Educational impact

“The Pandemic has moved us from a Digital Divide to what some have called a Digital Partition.”

– P Sainath

This pandemic has deepened the urban-rural, educated-uneducated and digital-nondigital fissures among us. The disease spread has been more in urban areas and negligible in rural areas but in many ways the rural students suffer more. Students in Sittilingi and other rural areas have no smart phones or laptops and little or no internet access. Lack of space to study or guidance at homes make it even more difficult for them. These students are being left behind in the world of virtual education. Families that are struggling to put together two balanced meals a day are under great pressure to invest in smart phones and laptops.

Decentralised classes

To help educate our children while complying with lockdown rules of not having large gatherings in institutions, we have been holding decentralised classes for children in their own villages. Children from other private and government schools also attend. These classes happen in nine locations. Children have been divided into small groups and each group meets the teachers twice a week. Class 10 students from Sittilingi government school attend classes conducted by Ram every afternoon.

Class in Sittilingi.

Class in Naikuthi.

Worksheets and books from the library are given to the children after instructing them on how to handle them. Teachers work though the week taking classes, preparing activity sheets and learning materials, growing vegetables and millets in the campus and attending teacher training sessions. This break has also been an opportunity for teachers to read, reflect, plan and improve their skills. We hold regular teachers training sessions every week.

Class in Palakuttai.

Class in Rettakuttai.

Internet Access

Till recently the hospital had the only broadband connection in the valley. The rest of us struggled with highly erratic 2G mobile data. Mr. Ansari and team from Digital Empowerment Foundation have helped us with the internet access in the old campus and the school by extending the broadband connection from the hospital using wireless network devices. It still develops glitches frequently but on the whole, our connectivity has vastly improved now.

Coming Home

Karadi Tales and the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) have recently launched a series of story books based on real stories of rural India. In this series a storybook called “Coming Home” has been launched, this book is based on Priti David’s article about Thulir in PARI >> Read More

 Sakthivel’s Marriage

We are happy and sad at the same time. Happy that Sakthivel has married Swetha from Bengaluru. Sad that he is leaving for Bengaluru. Sakthivel has been an integral part of Thulir, first as a student and then as an administrator. We will miss him.

We wish both of them complete happiness together and hope they will come back to Thulir eventually.


Thank you all for your outpouring of solidarity, generosity and support which helped us wade through this difficult year!

Maybe this painful pandemic can give birth to a new year filled with consciousness, a consciousness of the unity of life, a consciousness of caring and sharing and a consciousness of all life and love. Wishing you all just such a wonderful new year!

Here is a short poem, written by our friends Sunder and Sonati from Thekambattu.

I wear my privilege
On me
Like an endi shawl
Wrapped tightly
About my shoulders
To keep out the cold
But just as
An endi shawl
Can wrap itself around
And warm
More than one person
I find that
I can use my privilege
For others
And the warmth
Of you warming others
And others warming you
Is privilege indeed.


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Novel based on Thulir

 “Coming Home“, a children’s novel published by Karadi Tales in 2020, is based on Thulir!

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