Little Teachers for Rural India

Subsistence farming dominates the plains around Tiruvannamalai, a small city off the coast of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This is not the place to accumulate wealth. Infrastructure is marginal, government services are patchy and many families are poor. The Indian administration lists the area as a backward region.

Among rice paddies, ox trails and dusty country roads stand the modest but tidy buildings of Arunachala Village School. Founded in 1999 by a Swiss philanthropist and supported by donations ever since, the school aims to give the most destitute an education. Attending the two kindergarten groups and five levels of primary school is free - and restricted to children whose families cannot afford it.

Education is the best way out of poverty. In the school, about 210 children not only study the subjects of the Indian curriculum but also learn social, ethical and environmental values. On school trips, the children learn about government institutions, the police and society. After classes, they absorb modern farming in the school garden. Taking this knowledge back to their homes, to parents who are illiterate for the most part, they become little teachers without realizing it.

The success of the school rests on the quality and comprehensiveness of the education it provides. Supplementing the local teachers are foreign volunteers who add variety, creativity and pedagogical innovation. The kids love it. Nearly as important is the community spirit that is fostered among students and teachers. It ensures that everyone's heart is in this school, that equipment is treated with respect. There's even an honesty box for the purchase of notebooks and pens - not something found regularly in India.

Among the first cohort of students was Pradeep. He went to university to study civil engineering, the first in his family to gain higher education. Back in the region upon graduating, he has already led a construction project for Regenboog, a charity associated with the school. He wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Such sentiment is common. The school has the vibe of one big family. Older children take care of younger ones. A spirit of shared ambition keeps everyone motivated and often blooms into strong loyalty. Vasanthazhagi, a former student now training to be a doctor, wants to return at the end of his studies to help the school succeed and grow. Naveena, another former student, trained as a nurse and has now returned to be a part of Mobile Clinic, a local Regenboog project.

At DECTRIS, education is important to us. We sponsor crystallography schools the world over and pitch in for students to attend conferences and workshops. But education must start at a much younger age. This year, we dedicate part of our Christmas budget to this urgent cause, and we ask you to join us. By helping us support Arunachala Village School, you can make a small contribution to improve early education in India and help children in need achieve brighter futures for themselves and their families.

To learn more about Arunachala Village School, please visit avillageschool.com and arunachala.ch.

Arunachala Village School 2017 from Sanjay H L Beery on Vimeo.

All images courtesy of Andreas Frei, Winterthur.

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