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A true story from India’s heartland

In 1930 my great grand mother who had not even received elementary education used her savings to found a school in her village, in South India. She wanted to make primary education free and accessible to children, especially for the economically backward groups. Back then there were no primary schools in the radius of 50 kms around where she lived. This was the reason she was never formally schooled although she came from a wealthy family. So, in a small room, big enough to seat ten children, she opened doors to inculcate a sense of learning and alphabet literacy in her hometown….and left us a story that we could show and tell our children.

In the beginning, my great grandmother’s initiative was more of a homeschool, but over the next decades it grew into a more organized centre for primary education through her nurture and vision. This little school was the only big possibility for education in that rural part of India – a place where besides the few well known wealthy families, most others were from a agriculture, farming or handicrafts background. Post India’s independence, many of the wealthy families moved from the villages to big cities, like Chennai for a better life. This exodus shifted the profile of the students who subscribed to the school and left it at what it is today: a Tamil medium, primary school (upto class 8) offering free education to those who cannot afford to pay.

In the first two decades, the school was supported entirely by my great grandmother’s largesse. Later, liberal donations from the next generations and extended family carried it through. In the 1980s the state government recognized that the school had contributed significantly to the rising literacy rates in that region and since then, has agreed to bear a large part of its running costs.

Although the school has been through many ups and downs it has sustained and remained true to its original purpose – to provide children in that region a better chance in life through literacy.

I believe my great grandmother’s lack of education was her motivation to start the school. She is said to have regarded primary education as the first step to a better future. Our generation knows this, but for an uneducated woman in rural india to have had that foresight and spirit of social entrepreneurship in the 1930s – a time when women in India were mostly relegated to domestic chores and child rearing – is awe inspiring and praise worthy, even after eighty four years!

Here are some impressions of the school.


The story of my great grandmother’s school is one of the many true and inspiring stories from India’s heartland, especially of women who have made a difference by uplifting a society/community. Most international news correspondents reporting on India seem to mostly discover stories of sexual abuse, bride trafficking, inequality and many more that further portray India and its women as an uninspiring lot. Many of the news reports could be true  – I am not denying them at all. There’s a lot to be bettered in India, for sure. But the fact that the international media rarely features real life heroines, hidden champions or inspiring accounts of everday Indians, makes me believe that they are all paid to paint a certain perception or perhaps, they are limited by their own narrow vision of a diverse country.

Maybe this blogpost will push the boundaries of a mind or two. Maybe it will bring a more balanced perception of a country and its people. After all, your perception is your reality.

Thank you and best wishes, Uma