8th AGM

The 8th AGM was held at Kanasu, an eco-friendly, people- friendly , cafe run by Shobana, at Hotel Preethi Palace.

Braving the traffic most of the active local members turned up.

Kalyani , Roopa , Geetha , Nivishna, Jyothi, Sangeetha, Sapna, Prema, Sheela, came. Mr. B.J. Krishnan, our advisor was there to listen and commend; along with Dr.Vanaja .

New members Shalini , Desiree were welcomed. As was Karuna S, who made the effort to turn up later and contribute to the discussion.

People who had headed some of the programs of last year made their reports, gave us an idea of the expenses involved, the impact on the children and their wish to continue it for the coming year.

Geetha on the Spoken English program of TM school

Sapna on the Birthday celebrations held every two months

Jyothi on the Kutties Carnival,

Sangeetha on the program at Main Bazaar School,

Nivishna on the Wednesday Afternoon craft Class,

Kalyani on the Sports Program at the TM school

Roopa rounded it up with a comprehensive report and Power point presentation with pics to make a greater impact

Budget for the past year was presented.

Members of the next Executive committee were nominated and passed unanimously.

And then the discussions for the next year began.

Lots of ideas flowed and were discussed with pros and cons. Finally we had to break up for lunch.

A good meeting with great interaction







The TEAM Celebrates!!

After all the hard work of the Jumble Sale, we wanted to celebrate the high spirits and great teamwork. Roopa organised the gathering into meeting at Hotel Nahar, Charing Cross, Ooty for a gay lunch .


L to R: Jyothi Mehta, Nivishna, Nikita, Sapna, Sangeetha, Harshita (hidden), Roopa, Geetha, Kalyani, Sheela, Sumathi

celeb2. A happy and colourful team

And more – Vidyavanam7

To remind us of the approach to  education of some great visionaries and thinkers ; there was a panel discussion from four different schools of thought – Gandhi, Tagore, J.Krishnamurthi and Aurobindo reprsented by Dr.M.P.Mathai, Dr.Uma Dasgupta, Mr.Alok Mathur and Dr.V.Ananda Reddy

Dr.Rajan Gurukul , Professor and Director, School of Social Sciences, Mahatma WP_20140529_002Gandhi University, Kottayam, gave an eye opening talk on Social Sciences and Citizenship. He showed us how the dominant part of society decides what knowledge is important . And then knowledge of ‘lesser people’ is marginalized.

Dr.Pramod of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History opened our eyes to the wonderful world we live in with his passion.  There are 14000 types of flowers in India and so , 14000 types of leaves. Observe, enjoy, revel in the natural world.

Communicate your joy to the young. Get them to trace bark on trees and see the differences. Teach them to look at plants and flowers and bees. Show them how to appreciate the natural world.

The very young Dr.Anish Mokashi who worked as a science teacher at Vidyavanam demonstrated to us how science can be taught at school, as something that kindles the curiosity and observation of students. He taught us that classes should be participatory if we want children to find meaning in their studies. 

There were a choice of workshops in the afternoon which were interesting. And created interaction among participants.  A dazzling  cultural show in the evening by the students of vidyavanam

A cornucopia of stimulating and reinvigorating ideas.

The Quintessential Teacher – Vidyavanam5

Gowri Ishwaran is an innovative educationist with over 30 years of experience in leading gowri-ishwaranschools in India and has been awarded the Padma Shri for her work in education. Her talk was on Developing Empathy in the young. To be a teacher is a privilege she says, to be able to influence the lives of so many young people. Teach young children compassion, consideration, kindness. Sensitise the children in tolerance , respect and integrity. Teach them to say thanks. Teach them to help. Give them ethical dilemmas and discuss them. What will you do when a friend is cheating? One exercise she suggests at the beginning of a class, get them to appreciate the people who serve them This calms them down and centers them. Don’t tell children what to think . Ask questions that make them think. For example —- What do you think the pouch of the kangaroo is for? What is the difference between Gandhi and Sharukh khan ? prema_rangacharyMrs.Prema Rangachary, who is the Director of vidya vanam is obviously a very empathetic person. She stressed the large role that a teacher plays in the life of a child. A child has to feel secure, cared for both at home and the school. Parents and teachers together can transform a child. And if possible, the teacher should connect to the parent to understand the child better. Teachers have to be role models and to CARE a lot for the child. Just a smile, a look, a tap from the teacher is enough to convey a message of caring. A teacher has to recognise the talents of the child. Caring and nurturing have to be communicated to the child.

‘What we need at all levels is a give and take, an understanding of where ‘the other’ comes from. It requires recognising that relationship between the teacher and the student is a two-way street. It is not just the student who learns from the teacher. The teacher also has a lot to learn from his/her young charges. 

And we, at Siragugal, as volunteer teachers realise this in every class. We are learning and growing. 

The Rapier minds – Vidyavanam4

T.M.Khrishna, renowned Karnatik vocalist and the son of Mrs.Prema was like a breath of 03cm_TM_Krishna_JP_1929363gclean air, questioning closely held beliefs and the very class he was born to, the privileged society which indulges in classical music and dance.

He danced around his topic – Art in curbing Violence’ ,- not actually touching centre but raising more and more questions. Curbing  or  containing violence. Is this a good solution at all?  Words can be violent too. Silence as well.

His premise- artists are not specially different from everyone else so then why would we think art can change people? Bringing art to a class room won’t really change the emotions within. Or tame the beast.

But, he acknowledged, the space that art creates within a person – of being acutely alive – that is a feeling that can be enjoyed, encouraged, revered. The inarticulateness one feels after a great concert; when looking at a wonderful monument like the Thanjavur temple,  those are emotions that can be experienced while not having words enough to describe the feel.

Question every thought, every cliche or belief that is commonly held,  every opinion or generalisation – that is the message Krishna put across.

SriramDr.Sriram Subramaniam, Professor of Experimental Neurology at Vanderbilt University established Bhuvana Foundation and started Vidya Vanam School at Annaikatty to provide free education for children of the surrounding area.

With the incisiveness of a surgeon, Dr.Sriram brought home to us our inherent biases in judging people, including children based on appearances with a tiny experiment. He showed us a few pictures of children and asked us to judge which one was the smart kid. And then he began to question us on the thoughts that had led us to make a judgement about a kid we had completely no idea about.

Our preferences lead us to  biases which get strengthened to strong opinions  and beliefs and which are the source of action. And we don’t even realise when we voice strong opinions, what is the base of those opinions!

He explained certain types of bias.

Recall bias based on recently read or heard ideas.

Framing bias – very often how a question is framed, creates a bias. Often used in marketing tactics.

Anchoring bias – Opinions are already  framed or anchored and we see actions or the world  through this frame.

Biases are formed to help us cope with life so that we react quickly to certain situations.  A questioning mind will learn to recognise a bias as it arises or at least after and then pursue the thought.

We have to recognise our biases as far as possible when dealing with people. With children in our classrooms.

Recognise and foster any signs of caring for another in any child was his message.


Inclusion in School – Vidyavanam3

The biodata of Dr.Shanta Sinha is long and very very impressive. Professor in the vidyavanam4Department of Political Science in Hydrebad University and an ardent anti-child labour activist, she had been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award, the Padma Shri and the Albert Shanker International Award for Education among others. Yet she is soft spoken and very approachable.

‘The poorest of the poor do want to send their children to school. They want it, long for it’  was the message of her talk. ‘They realise that education is what bridges the gap between the haves and the have- nots’.

Ms.Sinha had several examples to illustrate her point.

In Puthu theru, near Nagapattinam, she came across a village where the head of the households were children! The parents had gone away to distant places to work and earn some money. They had left the children behind to go to school. The children ran their own households, cooked, cleaned, shopped as best as they could and walked to a school in the next village. Even their teachers were unaware of the effort and sacrifice for those children to attend school.

Sometimes, just the absence of the right notebook can keep a child out of school.

In many poor households, the parents do not know how to send their children to school regularly. The rituals  of sending the children to school is not in their culture and the problems of handling literacy are not easily coped with.

This is something we can see at Siragugal . The parents do not realise the value of free classes or interaction with people or problem solving or fostering creativity.  All they want is the child safe and sound at home, early.  

In a caring society, we should strive for equality, dignity, We should all be on the same page. Respect the child when you engage in talk .


The Good Samaritan – Vidyavanam2

Swami Sarvapdiyananda of the Ramakrishna Math  opened the meet.  Wedded to his vidyavanam3long experience in the teaching institutes of the Ramakrishna Math is a degree in Management from XIMB, Bhubaneswar.  So the Swami’s talk was a mix of philosophy, modern science and an understanding of human nature.

A story he recounted caught everyone’s attention and was referred to again and again in the course of the two days .

Once, in a Theology School, an experimented was conducted. Students were asked to prepare a short sermon on helping strangers.  One by One, at intervals, the students were sent  to another building where an audience waited. The students had to cross a quadrangle to get there. In the open space, on a bench, lay a man, obviously in some distress. Only very few of the students stopped to find out what was wrong with him and to help him! The students of Theology were so intent on delivering the sermon of the Good Samaritan, that they did not observe their immediate surroundings or the stranger in need.

People are programmed to be sociable , we have empathy, we mirror our social situations and people around us.  We want to help but do not take the time to understand how we can help.

A busy life prevents you from observing. And then you cannot know what other people really need.

There is a layer of dust over our attentiveness which can be blown away to let the fragrance of our personality come out . And then we can see where and how we can help other people; we can make caring and nurturing part of our lives.

Swami Sarvapdiyananda said ‘ feeling comes first, then the idea . If you have a feeling, act on it. Later, you can justify it with thought.’ The words  found resonance within because it  describes how Siragugal was born.

‘When you feel bitter about someone, pray for their welfare’, concluded the Swami.


Proud to be a Volunteer

Children are like blotting paper, wherever they go, they absorb what is around them. Having been associated with children from different walks of life for the past 4 – 5 years as a friend and a mentor at the Nilgiri Library; conducting storytelling sessions and craft classes, I have been able to tap into the imagination and talent of these little geniuses with ease. So it was undoubtedly with great interest that I welcomed the opportunity to work with under privileged children who were from in and around Ooty, through Siragugal.

Well, to be frank, at the onset, I was a little apprehensive about my inability to   IMG_1888communicate in the local language, i.e., Tamil. But as I am a positive thinker, I gave myself this opportunity to learn the language from these kids itself and in return teach them communicative English. Overall this seemed to be a perfect arrangement.

I soon realised that these children were much wealthier than we were; as they are street smart, aware and alert about their surroundings, have views about many  things and have loving natures with no inhibitions and with no strings attached unlike the other affluent people around.

I also came to understand from the other members of Siragugal that in order for the children to comprehend and start using English as their language of communication, their interest needed to be piqued through games and activities.

That is how it all started – a beautiful relationship of teaching and learning. It has been a very rewarding, entertaining and satisfactory journey so far. The small  positive changes in the way they talk, the way they behave and the way they interact with others brought about by the understanding of the etiquette  of this world makes us proud of the way we have been able to reach out to these children one step at a time.

For me, Siragugal has become a way of life which I look forward to everyday. I’m really grateful to my friends, Dr. Sheila and Sapna for introducing me to this wonderful platform and of course, to Kalyani aunty for welcoming me into her fold with open arms.

I just hope and wish that the children are as happy to be part of what I teach as I’m in learning from them.

 Roopa is one of those wonderful people who will be there if she says she will be there. One doesn’t have to cross check. Although she joined us fairly recently, she has fitted in perfectly. But  then anything executed by Roopa is always perfect. We are so proud and happy to have this committed member of Siragugal with us. 



Farewell party

We bid farewell to Joel, from Hebron School who has been teaching students here at Siragugal for over a year.

IMG_2953Joel has been extremely popular with the children, especially the boys.  He  prepares well for his classes and is committed whether there are 2 students or 20.  And has been able to communicate speaking in English alone.

Joel brought a very fresh outlook to the discussions at our meetings.

He hosted a treat for the boys many of whom became tearful. His Mom Annette made a wonderful cake for the boys.

We also presented mementos of books to 4 of our most regular students – Libin, Vignesh, the ever talkative Vishnu and Sam.



Vishnu, Sam and Praveen

IMG_2952Sangeetha, Geetha and Roopa inscribing the books to be given to the boys.


GivingBackjpgTxtGiving makes us happy.

But when we give, why do we hold back a little of ourselves? We stop just a little short of  wholeheartedness ; of making the gift complete. Something holds us back. We fear giving too much or having too much asked of us.

People like the idea of giving to underprivileged children.  They want to give a pencil or a book or food or ‘some  thing‘ to children under our umbrella. That is part of the Indian psyche.

But, when we ask them to come and distribute it in person, then they balk.

Why is is easier to give money or stuff rather than time or of  ourselves?  Is there a secret fear that actually makes people want to disassociate  from the poor? Or is it just laziness that prevents  people from spending an hour or two?  Or is  it a feeling of discomfort being with people from a different strata of society? Or a new situation?

Strangely, while people are happy to dole out money to buy a box of crayons to 50 children; they are loath to donate the same money to the organisation ; that seems to be money going to the adults who teach!

Human beings are full of paradoxes.