Full Circle with Pudiyador: Meet Dhanasekar, Ranjitha, Narmada & Deepika
Dhanasekar (1st grade, second from the left) and Ranjitha (kindergarten, peeking from the right) were part of the first batch of children to join Pudiyador back in 2001. In the following years, Dhanasekar and Ranjitha were able to bring in their younger sisters Narmada (hiding in the left) and Deepika (carried in her cousin’s arms) into our programming. These four siblings loved playing with the other children, working on their academics and took full advantage of the extracurricular activities that Pudiyador provided. As these siblings have grown and moved through the Pudiyador programming, much pride has been expressed by the Pudiyador teachers for their dedication, curiosity, and gentle personalities.
After graduating from high school and Pudiyador, all four siblings in their own roles have given back to Pudiyador. Dhanasekar is a diploma holder in automobile engineering and for a number of years taught yoga at Pudiyador weekly. Today he is busy with his full-time job. Ranjitha completed her bachelor’s degree in business and works full-time for CapGemini. For a period of time, Ranjitha was a staff member for the Urur Kuppam Centre and an Ultimate Frisbee player. Today she is married and works full time. Narmada has completed her bachelor’s degree in computer science and has found a full time job. While, Deepika is in the process of completing her undergraduate degree in commerce. Both of these sisters for a number of years conducted dance classes for the children's program at each centre. All four siblings have grown immensely throughout their journey with Pudiyador and we are sure that they are making their parents and family very proud. We look forward to seeing these siblings continue to grow and give back to the communities that helped raise them!
A Family Full of Gems: Meet Rathna
Rathnabooma (Rathna, for short, meaning ‘gem’ in Tamil), lives up to her name. Rathna’s family moved from a small village to Chennai when she was very little. This shift was very hard on their family. Nevertheless, Rathna’s father found work on a construction site and her mother was able to find work in a textile factory, however money was always tight. Rathna’s neighbours introduced her to Pudiyador when she was in 5th grade and eventually convinced her to register. Rathna made lots of friends through Pudiyador and she was having such a good time that she convinced her parents to enroll her younger sisters as well. This trio of sisters participated eagerly in all the activities at the centre with much curiosity and excitement. Over the years, the sisters grew to love academics and they also took an interest in traditional folk dance (Theru Koothu) and traditional music (Parai Isai & Veenai). Despite their focus on the arts, they were always eager to mix things up with a bit of ultimate frisbee and crafts as well.
Presently, Rathna is pursuing her B.Sc. in nursing at the Thakur Medical College and Hospital after having scored excellent grades in high school. In her spare time, she volunteers at Pudiyador, teaching performing arts to the Children’s Program. Rathna is a driven young woman who is eager to give back to Pudiyador and help raise the next generation. Occasionally, one can still find Rathna flying around the beach playing Ultimate Frisbee in the evenings. Equally, Rathna’s sisters are making opportunities for themselves and pushing boundaries. Jayashree was able to keep up her strong academics through high school and she is now pursuing an undergraduate degree in business at Queen Maris Government College for Women. Meanwhile, Meena, the youngest, found her passion for dance at Pudiyador and is widely regarded as the best dancer in her school.
A Force to Not Ignore: Meet Anjalai Akka
Anjalai akka (akka meaning sister, a fond way to address someone we consider our own in Tamil) was an 8th grader living in a remote village in Southern India when she was forced to quit school and was married off very young. Her family moved to Chennai from a remote village in search of a livelihood in 2005. Anjalai akka was a very tentative mother when she first got introduced to Pudiyador in 2008. However, her courage to approach Pudiyador for help in supporting her children was her first big step to joining the Pudiyador family. Anjalai worked an assortment of jobs at the time including: a construction labor, domestic helper and daily contract labor.
After observing her dedication to her children, and her attendance to parent meetings and community programs, Pudiyador identified her talent and her love for children, and suggested that Anjalai akka would be an ideal candidate for a Pudiyador teacher. She was provided with extensive teacher training and today, after eight years, she is one of the best teachers in Pudiyador. Anjalai akka serves as a role model for many young teacher trainees and is also a center coordinator.
Pudiyador has not only supported Anjalai within her role as a teacher, but Anjalai akka, amongst other teachers has been taught to manage money by putting money aside each month and planning ahead. Recently, Anjalai akka has saved up enough money to build a little house in her community where her family is currently living.
Unfortunately, there has been a recent setback in her husband’s health, and Anjalai is now the sole breadwinner of the family. Anjalai akka works tirelessly as a domestic helper on top of her Pudiyador teaching commitments just to make sure ends meet. Anjalai akka is a strong and independent woman who is always ready to take on challenges and we hope she recognizes that her Pudiaydor family is there to support her throughout her journey!
Perseverance Despite all Odds: Meet Selvi and Divya
Selvi and Divya, two undergraduates from Ramapuram, were the center coordinators of the Ramapuram Center when the Vardah Cyclone hit Chennai in 2016. The devastation was immense, and Pudiyador had to cease operations at the center. This began the difficult search of finding a new space for the children.
After three long months of knocking on doors and requesting the community to help, spirits were down between Selvi and Divya. However, these women left no stone unturned. They finally convinced a benefactor to offer her family’s garden to be used as a center. Selvi and Divya resurrected the center in this open-air space and continued operations until we were able to shift the center to a rented indoor space.
The efforts of Selvi and Divya are commendable and kept the children attending sessions regularly. Their determination prevented us from losing the precious relationships with the families that we had worked very hard to develop. These young women inspire many people in their community and they have single-handley boosted the overall trust of Pudiyador within the community. Since then, the community has seen more families encourage their children to join Pudiyador. And as a result of this, we recruited two new teachers, Robika and Sandhya, who have been great additions to the Pudiyador family.
Divya and Sevli are two exceptional role models for the change that Pudiyador can instill within individuals and communities. We are very grateful for their dedication to Pudiyador and we believe that their dedication to the organization is a great example of the undying support that Pudiyador has developed in communities like Ramapuram.
A Determined Learner: Meet Gokul
“When I moved to after school program as a staff at Pudiyador Kakkan Colony Centre, I noticed that Gokul (grade 5) was having the hardest time learning. He was unable to maintain focus on any activity, be it reading or arts or story-telling. I realized that he needed one-on-one attention. On the days that I taught the 5th grade students, I put aside some extra time each session to teach Gokul some basic maths and Tamil outside of his school syllabus. At the end-of-month assessment, Gokul scored 14 out of 25 points. He told me that this was the first time that he had ever gotten more than five points in any assessment. He could not contain himself, and proudly shared his scorecard with all the other children and staff. He has been quite determined to perform better in his studies since then, and it is very heart-warming to watch him achieve his goals one step at a time.”
- Prem, Pudiyador
Skills that Speak for Themselves: Meet Gowtham
Gowtham was gleaming with pride as he shows his Pudiyador teachers and the Ground Team Staff the prize that he won for the public speaking competition at his school. For Gowtham, public speaking is a huge accomplishment as, Gowtham was known to have extreme social anxiety when he first joined Pudiyador. There were many factors that played into his anxiety, including the tragic loss of his father, however, his teachers and mentors at Pudiyador worked patiently with Gowtham to find platforms in which he could comfortably express himself in his own quiet ways. Gowtham has many talents that he has discovered through Pudiyador including a passion for photography. This passion for photography sparked instantly after he participated in a workshop at Pudiyador. He has gradually become well known within the community for his beautiful photography and his candid capture of everyday life.
Today, Gowtham’s mother is extremely proud of her son who is becoming a strong young man with many talents and passions. Gowtham is not only an avid photographer and a rousing public speaker, but he is also a caring mentor and tutor to the younger children within his community. When asked what he wants to do when he is older, he says he is determined to continue to develop his talents while working as a teacher at Pudiyador!
Fearlessly Defying All Odds: Meet Meghala
Meghala akka (akka meaning sister, a fond way to address someone we consider our own in Tamil) has been with Pudiyador since 2014 as a teacher. This bitter-sweet story begins with an abusive environment, yet an unbreakable spirit and a desire to overcome unpleasant circumstances. When Meghala was first hired, she was unstable and unhappy. Her home environment was rough, and she was repeatedly emotionally and physically abused by her husband. However, we at Pudiyador believed that in offering her a job, we could provide a space in which she could feel supported and empowered by the women working alongside her in the community.
Although Meghala was beaten, she was not broken. She first enrolled her two children in Pudiyador so that she could keep them safe and away from abuse. Initially, it was hard for her to completely involve herself in helping with the operations of the center and teaching the children. After she completed a few teacher training sessions and participated in Pudiyador’s women’s empowerment and awareness programs, she began to cope much better.
Today, Meghala akka’s experiences outside her home have enabled her to effectively de-escalate confrontations with her husband and distance herself and her children from the abuse as much as possible. Her children are growing into compassionate youngsters who support their mother every step of the way. Even her husband has begun to turn a new leaf, and is learning to be more respectful towards his family, shedding his archaic views and patriarchal upbringing little by little.
A Big Brother and Exemplary Role Model: Meet Prem
Born and raised in Urur Kuppam, where it is common for children to drop out of school and for many to engage in criminal activities, Prem was determined to take a different path. Prem beat all odds to finish school and pursue his college education. His aim was to take up a career in teaching at a college.
Prem initially joined Pudiyador as a tutor with the dream to take steps towards educational reform. Prem was assigned to be a math tutor and he effectively taught his students, addressing their difficulties with patience. Soon, he expanded into the additional role of a science tutor. Prem has evolved from working with the younger children, to focusing on the teenager program. Many students under his tutelage have shown progress in their grades at school. For the Ground Team, it became evident that Prem’s influence went beyond the classroom, as teenagers saw Prem as an inspiration and role model, voicing their desire to be like “Prem Anna” when they grew up. There is no doubt in our minds, that Prem has made significant strides in creating immediate change in his surrounding community and is taking steps towards educational reform.
On top of his work as a teacher and curriculum developer, Prem is the coach for the teenager frisbee team leading them to multiple exhibition match victories at the Annual Chennai Heat (Beach Ultimate Frisbee) competition. Some of his students have most recently been selected to the National U20 World Ultimate Team. Prem’s dedication to his students both in and beyond the classroom setting are commendable. We look forward to Prem continuing to inspire and educate students at Pudiyador with much composure and passion.
Taking a Stand: Meet Rakesh
Rakesh (18 years old) is a bright and energetic young man who has been with Pudiyador since 2011. Rakesh, his younger sibling, and his mother have endured domestic abuse from Desappan (Rakesh’s father) for many years due to him being a compulsive chronic alcoholic. However, things took a turn when Rakesh did an exceptional job emceeing at the Urur Olcott Kuppam Arts Festival in 2018. Desappan was so moved by his sons performance and by the praise Rakesh received from the entire community that he promised in front of the entire audience that he would quit drinking and be a more supportive father to his family. Since this event, Rakesh reports that his household is more stable and his father is no longer drinking in excess.
A Blooming Blossom: Meet Rubi
Rubi was initially referred to Pudiyador by Maharifa Aunty (Prof. Narayan’s wife) for her kind nature and dedication to education without any prior experience to a coordinating position. However, her confidence has grown immensely with the hands-on training and exposure she has received at Pudiyador. Rubi has spent endless hours at work, and her salary has never been a motivating factor as she is completely engrossed in the betterment of the centres and curriculum development. Over the years, Rubi has grown above and beyond her initial roles and proudly deserves the title as Program Coordinator for the Children’s Program. Rubi plays a key role in the Pudiyador Ground Team and is essential to the functionality of the entire organization.
Be the Change you Wish to See: Meet Uma
Uma joined Pudiyador back in 2012 as a part-time teacher at the Pudiyador Kakkan Colony Centre, while she was completing her second year of college. Her primary responsibility at this time was to teach and mentor the first and second grade students. The Ground Team Staff at the time were very impressed with her creative teaching methods and patience expressed towards the children. Nevertheless, Uma pursued her dream and finished her education (with the support of Pudiyador) receiving a Masters Degree in English. Today she is a curriculum developer and teacher trainer for the Children’s Program at Pudiyador. When asked, Uma attributes many of her leadership abilities to her time spent at Pudiyador. Before joining Pudiyador, Uma was shy and unable to open up to others. However, today Uma is a force to be reckoned with. She is no longer afraid to use her voice and share her perspective no matter the situation. Pudiyador has given Uma to the confidence, independence and courage to live her life in a manner which makes herself, her family and us here at Pudiyador very proud. Uma hopes to one day bring educational reform to her village (about a 157km away from Chennai) and introduce Montessori methods of teaching which she believes is essential in allowing for more creative avenues of learning. Uma is unhappy with the current education system in India and believes that creativity is key. Rather than following a set, potentially irrelevant, curriculum, Uma hopes school systems will one day, follow contextual, collaborative, self-directed and hands-on approaches of teaching. Uma has immensely grown since she first joined Pudiyador and we are very proud of the confidence and strength Uma radiates and we are sure that she will continue to inspire the next generation.
Breaking Barriers Despite All Odds: Meet Usha Akka
Usha akka (akka meaning sister, a fond way to address someone we consider our own in Tamil), a single mother, became part of the Pudiyador family after visiting one of the centers as she dropped off her son Chandru. Unfortunately, Usha akka was forced to drop out of school before 8th grade, and therefore she was very excited for her son to have the opportunity to attend Pudiyador. Her excitement was infectious, and only further sparked her interest to get involved. In the following months, Usha akka attended multiple parent-teacher meetings and her fresh suggestions and perspectives made her shine as an ideal staff member candidate. Subsequently, Usha akka joined Pudiyador as a teacher in 2010. Usha akka attended several training sessions at Pudiyador, and with time she began to teach students independently. Today, Usha accredits her confidence and skills to her time spent a Pudiyador. Most recently, Usha akka has been recruited for a part-time job to help 30 students at a hostel with their education. Simultaneously, she continues to be a core member of the Besant Nagar, Kakkan Colony Center, helping students learn to read and write, and incorporating technology into her teaching methods. We are very proud of Usha akka and her dedication to teaching since joining the Pudiyador family
Championing Patience: Meet Vetrivel
“When I joined Pudiyador in 2012, Vetrivel was in 2nd grade. I immediately noticed that he was extremely short tempered, angry and he was always rude to the students and staff. The staff had a very difficult time trying to work with Vetri due to his disrespectful attitude and general disengagement. However, things started to change with persistence from the staff members and when extra support was given to working with Vetri. Despite being considered one of Pudiyador’s more difficult students, conflicts began to be resolved that involved Vetri. I think the honest, polite, and patient approach that the teachers took eventually started to change Vetri’s behavior. Today, Vetri, who is now in 5th grade, has totally changed his behavior :) I recently gave him the responsibility to help the younger kids with their art projects and I was very impressed with his patience and politeness with the kids. Now it feels like he is one of the most patient kids to the younger children at the center! I feel like he has gained a lot of patience, respect and kindness towards others.”
- Uma, Pudiyador
The Art of Capturing Moments and Dreams: Meet Vikram
Photography, visual design, advertising, digital filmmaking and media management are everyday phrases we hear from 18-year-old, Chennai-based, visual communications student, Vikram. Vikram first joined Pudiyador at the age of eight, with the encouragement of his father (a construction laborer) and mother (a domestic helper). Pudiyador introduced Vikram to music, dance, arts, and sports, however Vikram was most captivated by his first photography session at Pudiyador in 8th standard. All it took was a single dream, hard work, passion and dedication to transform the goofy yet good natured boy, into a mature young man with aspirations of becoming a professional photographer. Vikram topped his school in 10th grade and scored 90% in his 12th year. Vikram went on to attend college and his passion has now shifted to visual design. In his spare time, Vikram fills in as a photography teacher at Pudiyador when needed and he is a long-time supporter of all of our community events. We look forward to Vikram continuing to follow his dreams and continuing to inspire our kids to dream big!
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