Teachers, much like parents, contribute greatly to shape the lives of their students, but very rarely go beyond the call of duty, to make a genuine difference.
KR Ushakumari is one of those few extraordinary teachers.
A resident of Amboori village in the Thiruvananthapuram district, Ushakumari undertakes a treacherous journey through steep hills and forests every day, all to provide education to a group of tribal children.
Ushakumari’s daily journey to the school, begins at 7.30 in the morning, as she rides on her scooty to travel till Kumbikkal Kadavu. From there, she rows a boat to reach the shore across and begins another long trek.
After a couple of kilometres, the road to her destination goes steeper into the hilly tropical forest area which known to be inhabited by wild elephants and leopards.
With the support of a stick, she, however, carries on, often accompanied by her students who join her along the way to the school located near the Kanni tribal settlement in Kunnathumala.
The school, Agasthya Ega Adhyapaka Vidyalaya, is located atop the hills within the area of the Agasthyarkoodam, which is a 1,868-metre (6,129 ft)-tall peak in the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary of Kerala.
Despite the 2-hour-long journey through such difficult terrain, Ushakumari has never been late to school in the last 16 years, reports the Hindu.
She is the only teacher in the school which functions from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and teaches all the subjects (languages, mathematics, environmental science) to a group of 14 students from Class 1 to 4.
“The government began single teacher schools in the tribal areas of Thiruvananthapuram, back in 1999. It was there in other places like Malappuram even before that,” said Ushakumari to The News Minute.
She is not just a teacher, but also takes care of all the other needs of the school and her students, which includes getting them a proper nutritious lunch with eggs and milk. In her absence, a caretaker is also appointed to carry on the procedure properly.
She admits that it has been a challenge. Even without a salary for months, she has managed to continue her work with conviction, sometimes by spending from her own pocket to get the students a proper meal. The school building is also a new development, and before this, she would sit under the trees or on rock beds along with her students and teach them.
For her exemplary work and commitment, Ushakumari has won several accolades including the Saksharatha Puraskaram from KANFED (Kerala Association for Nonformal Education and Development), but she her true reward, she says, will be when her students graduate with flying colours and build a career for themselves.
Until then, she will continue to cross rivers and trek through mountains to bring about true change!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)