“A few years ago, the premises of our anganwadi used to be a wasteland and was infested with snakes. I wouldn’t have sent my daughter there if it was still unsafe. But now the place has transformed. All thanks to Sumathi Teacher who transformed the place into a haven for the kids,” says Narmatha, from Marakkanam town panchayat.
Situated in the fifth ward of Marakkanam town panchayat in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu, this anganwadi stands out from the lot for many reasons. The anganwadi which currently has a strength of 30 children, including 12 from the Narikurava tribal community, is led by S Sumathi, a teacher from M Pudupakkam village.
Over the last four years, Sumathi has been working relentlessly to transform the anganwadi, which was in a dilapidated state when she joined in 2017. With her efforts, this rural child care centre is now a model anganwadi in the area.
“Before I joined the anganwadi, it was run with the help of contract workers and meals for the children were brought from outside. The place didn’t even have any basic facilities like a water connection or a clean toilet. But the fact is that children came to the anganwadi to just avail of the meals,” Sumathi tells The Better India.
She adds that the anganwadi, set on just 3 cents of land, wasn’t renovated since its establishment in 2012. “The premises of the school were filled with wild plants. There was a toilet but neither did it have a door nor a septic tank. The school didn’t even have chairs or even utensils for the children,” says the 52-year-old.
“It was important to make the school safer for the kids, so I brought in a tractor to plough the land, removed all the wild plants and cleaned the entire compound. A fence was put in surrounding the school with a grille gate instead of a compound wall. I also painted the school and bought chairs and utensils for the kids,” the gritty woman says.
Asked who spent the money for all the renovations, Sumathi replies with a smile, “I used my money.”
“We thought it was a government initiative but later we came to know that it was Sumathi teacher who was spending money for all the renovations in the school,” says Narmatha, whose 3-year-old daughter attends the anganwadi.
She continues, “But she never asked anyone for help. All credits for transforming the anganwadi goes to her. Today, my kid loves to go to the anganwadi.”
Sumathi’s mettle stems from her childhood on the farm.
Born in a farmers family, she was always fond of farming and has been at it even at her workplace. “I was born and brought up in a remote village where farming was the source of income for most. My father was a farmer and that’s perhaps why I developed an interest in farming. So, after ploughing and cleaning the premises of the anganwadi I decided to set up a nutrition garden to grow different varieties of vegetables,” says Sumathi, who also won the Best Worker award in 2002 from the Tamil Nadu government.
Today, her tiny garden grows several vegetables like okra, beans, tomatoes, bottle gourds, snake gourds, corn, brinjal and more. She is assisted by Hemavathi, who works as a helper at the anganwadi.
“Hemavathi helps me with everything, from anganwadi duties to farming. She is always there by my side. She also cooks food for the children,” says Sumathi.
She adds, “We don’t have a kitchen facility, so we cook the food outside the building. We get rice, dal, oil, eggs, etc. from the government as well as some money to buy vegetables, once every three months. Now we also have vegetables from our garden too. We harvest and cook them for the children.”
Earning just Rs 15,000 per month, the teacher always prioritised the needs of her school over her expenses. “I love my job. I even go to the anganwadi on my holidays and I never take a leave. Most of the students who come here are underprivileged and I aim to provide them with the best facilities. So, I use my salary to do the necessities. To date I have spent around Rs 1.5 lakh for the school,” says Sumathi, who also pawned off her gold chain for the same.
She also adds how her husband disproves her spending her hard-earned money on the school but she persists nevertheless.
Besides renovating the building,
Sumathi says she also provides her children with new toys, slates, books and even pays for the stitching charges of uniforms. “I recently installed a second-hand television and a DVD player in the school to teach them rhymes and stories through videos. I wanted to set up a projector and screen but I can’t afford it,” she says.
Talking about her inspiration, she says, “Mother Theresa has always been my role model and I wanted to help people with whatever I have. No matter how little I earn, I am sure I could still help someone or do something good for society.”
She continues, “I grew up seeing my grandmother helping people and feeding them for free and she has always been an inspiration. I wish I could do more for my school if I earned a little more income. I don’t have kids of my own but I am happy that I can always be with the kids at the anganwadi.”
If you would like to help out Sumathi in her endeavour, you may reach out to her at 9786058003
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)