Across the river, into the forests, a journey to reach their students

Teachers of Agali school carry textbooks, stationery to the children of remote tribal hamlets in Attappady

The children of remote tribal hamlets in Attappady might have remembered the quote “if the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain” when their teachers reached their houses with bundles of books and sweets.

For the teachers of Government Higher Secondary School at Agali, who reached out to their students living in remote jungles of Attappady with textbooks and notebooks last week, the four days spent in the hamlets gave moments of reckoning.

Reaching the primitive Kurumba hamlets at Thudukki, Galasi, Thadikkundu, Kinattukara, Murugala, Kurukkathikkallu, Palur, Gottiyarkandi, Mele Bhuthayar and Pazhayur in the remote hills of Attappady was never easy for the teachers, led by Student Police Cadet (SPC) community police officer Joseph Antony.

10 km on foot

Carrying bundles of books and stationery on their heads and shoulders, the teachers walked through the hilly jungles for about 10 km, after covering 25 km by jeep from Agali to Anavai. They crossed the River Bhavani risking their lives. “Their walk through the leech-infested forest in the rain gave them one of the toughest experiences of their life,” said T. Satyan, nodal officer of the school’s Electoral Literacy Club.

The teachers took the books to the students as they have remained in their homes since March 2020. Reaching the students over the telephone too was hard as their hamlets were far inside the forests. “There was no choice before us as our students were from far-flung corners of Attappady hills,” said Mr. Antony. His colleagues Mohammed Faizal, Manikyan, Jemshad, and Dominic Arogyaraj accompanied him.

The children were excited to see their teachers after more than a year. When the teachers offered them sweets, their joy knew no bounds. The teachers were touched by the living conditions of their students in the hamlets that lacked proper roads, power and mobile connectivity.

Solar power

Many of them have been depending on solar power for television and online studies. Solar equipment become virtually powerless in the monsoon. Lack of mobile towers in the regions makes them travel a long distance to get signal.

The teachers stayed in the hamlets for four days, and experienced the life of their children in the jungle. “Life in those hamlets is hard by all means,” Satyan told The Hindu.

Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) Officer Suresh Kumar, Scheduled Tribes promoters, tribal chieftains, school headmistress K. Vasanthi, and the members of the parent-teacher association and the school management committee offered their support to the teachers.

Because of the lockdown, parents of the tribal children were without work and stayed at home. The remoteness of the hamlets often forced the students to stay in tribal hostels for their studies, leading to various kinds of psychological stress for them. The children had returned to their hamlets after their hostels closed down in the wake of COVID-19.

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