Thanks To This Couple, Once Child Labourers And Beggars, Now Pursuing MBBS And Design Courses

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Who would have imagined kids who used beg on the streets to sustain life are now studying in Aviation, Medicine and IIITs? Dhasarathan and Dhanraj were child labourers working in brick kilns. Presently, one of them is studying medicine in Crimea State University and the other studying Bachelors of Design course in IIIT Jabalpur. Not only them, but about 50 students from the below poverty line (BPL) category are successfully pursuing higher studies. Their dreams were made a reality by Dr Uma, MBA, Ph.D and her friends. They started the Suyam Charitable Trust and are currently helping 500+ children to receive a good education.

Uma and Muthuram

Twenty years ago, Uma and Muthuram were documenting the lives of street children in India when they came across 3-year-old Jayavel.His mother was an alcoholic. Everyday, he along with his three sisters and a brother, begged on roads for survival.

Uma and Muthuram wanted to help these children who are the future of our country. They established Suyam Charitable Trust to help them and took in Jayavel. He was the first student of Suyam Charitable Trust-established Siragu Montessori School in 2003. Jayavel has finished his schooling and is now at the near-completion of his graduation in aviation in Philippines.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

Muthuram said ” We have mortgaged our properties to fund the higher education of our students and also few people have gave us interest free loans.”

Turning Point

Majority of us feel sorry when we see a child beg on the road, and few of us donate money and move on, but a very few of us want to change the lives of those children. At 12, Uma and Mathura started teaching mathematics to children who lived in slums. Apart from this, she used to volunteer at health camps for the elderly, blood donation camps and used to help accident victims.

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Emergency funds sent to 250 families

During her masters, Uma came across Mahalingam who used to work in a factory which makes bronze lamps. While cleaning a compressor, someone accidentally switched it on. Molten bronze gushed out of it and burnt Mahalingam’s face and entered his wind and food pipe. He was admitted to a government hospital, Tirunelveli where the doctors gave primary treatment and sent him away.

Uma came to know about him through one of his journalist friends who got her in touch with Mahalingam in Chennai. She admitted him to the RIGID hospital. Dr JS Raj Kumar, Chairman of RIGID Hospitals in Kilpauk, operated the boy for free. During his stay at the hospital, Uma helped him with his intermediate maths. Later, Mahalingam completed masters in economics, was reunited with his family, got married and is now a happy parent.

She, along with her friends, in 1999 established Suyam Charitable Trust. Initially, the trust accepted only child beggars, but later on, started taking child labourers too.

Creative And Innovative Curriculum

In Suyam school, Siragu, Montessori, innovative education is followed from LKG to the 12th standard.

Suyam Charitable Trust
The “WINDOW LABS” are interactive learning windows of classrooms/labs, developed, designed and created by Suyam and its students. These window allow a touch and feel learning to the students to understand the fundamental theories of science.

Icono Write is one of the innovative methods where the children learn to write and remember spellings and concept in a quick and creative way. At Siragu school children are encouraged to learn and voice their opinions and ideas independently.

Suyam Charitable Trust
Theater training in progress

Now the school is implementing Theaters into their curriculum. Resource persons from Delhi and volunteers from Ahmedabad are supporting the school to bring “Theatre in Education”.

Building The School Boundary Wall With Discarded Bottles

Due to lack of funds, the school was unable to rebuild a broken wall. One of the students in the school asked why cannot they build the wall using waste plastic bottles. With Dr Uma’s encouragement and motivation, students built a sample wall with discarded plastic bottles. Later students, parents and volunteers collected discarded plastic bottles from marriage halls and hotels, washed them and filled them with sand and built the boundary wall of 47 feet in Rs.32,000, which previously budgeted at Rs.1,50,000.

Suyam Charitable Trust

“Now nine classroom walls are built using discarded water bottles. There is no electricity provided in the green hall. We are using translucent roofing sheets classrooms lit. Every classroom window grills depict various math and science models.” said Muthuram.

Teacher Training

Uma herself is an educationist and a doctorate awardee who trains teachers regularly on innovative practices to handle the classrooms efficiently. Teachers are taken to various school visits where they learn from seasoned teachers.

Muthuram said “The teachers are exposed to various creative projects around the country. They are taken to all India tours and they visit various institutions and interact with experienced teachers and come back and try to implement those practices in their classrooms”.

Uma visits the classrooms regularly, interacts with the teachers and gives suggestions on how to handle difficult kids and topics.

Challenges

It wasn’t an easy task for the duo to accomplish this. They have undergone many challenges to educate the children. The trust is paying the fees for most of the students who are studying graduation. Uma and Muthuram have undergone severe financial problems, finding the means to fund the higher education of the students. One of the donors also pledged his property to get a loan for two students’ MBBS education.

They also feel that the solution to the financial crunch is “Pay Back Model”, where the students who get help from the trust plough back the money to help other students in the trust.

Support Suyam for their dreams to come true and educate hundreds of kids who still wait at their door to get in. Be a volunteer, well wisher, a mentor. Timely support bring meaningful impact in the lives of hundreds of children.

You can get in touch with the organisation at : Mr. Muthuram 9840365819 or [email protected]

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Emergency funds sent to 250 families

Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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