July 18, 2005

Walls black, roofs gone

This was a longer post with some other unconnected stories. Alert reader Charu suggests splitting them up, and I always listen to Charu, so...


Many schools in Tamil Nadu are suddenly roof-less. They had thatched roofs, and after last year's horrible fire tragedy in Kumbakonam, the TN government has decreed that all such thatched roofs must go. Upshot is that many schools have their classes out in the open. What happens with the rains?

One post-tsunami effort I know of is putting concrete roofs on these school buildings. What does this have to do with the tsunami, you ask? Only this: the people behind this effort want to address more than just the tsunami-caused problems. After all, these villages had problems that needed addressing even had there been no tsunami. The wave has opened up an opportunity, that's all.

So these people are also working on two other issues with schools in the area. Oddly enough, both have to do with answering this question: how can you keep schoolkids in school?

Answer #1: mid-day meals.

Answer #2: toilets.

Most schools have a small structure where women sit to cook the mid-day meal on a wood-fueled fire. I look inside one: walls black with soot, smoke everywhere enough to make me cough, two women emerge from the gloaming to tell me what's on the menu for lunch. This is typical. And yet this one school-provided meal -- one utterly basic meal -- is an important reason many kids in TN attend and stay in school.

The schools will soon have new and better-ventilated structures for cooking the meals, where the fire will be fueled by ...

... biogas, from new toilets.

Most schools do not have toilets. When they have to go, boys and girls alike go out into the nearby fields. When puberty arrives, the girls won't do this any more. Therefore, they stop coming to school. That simple.

So these schools are getting new toilet blocks, one for each sex, a septic tank in the middle. The plan is to use biogas from the tank as fuel for the mid-day meal.

I went to TN to look at what's happening, six months after the tsunami. I didn't expect to learn about how roofs, toilets, kitchens, biogas and puberty are sometimes connected. But I'm glad I did.


Anonymous said...

very interesting Dilip, about the schools - TN has been doing a lot to make children stay in schools - not join but hang on and not drop out, which only a few other states bother about - apart from themid-day meal (which I think is a truly brilliant move by MGR) they have been giving away free bicycles to school kids - Michael Higgins has raised some interesting questions on this on my blog...
(pl. write separate posts - too much information in one post)

Anonymous said...

thanks D, but "alert reader" makes me feel like one of those compulsive writers of letters to the editor calling themsleves, 'concerned citizen' or 'disappointed reader' or as PG would say, 'paterfamilias' (but what would you know of PG - don't like PG, huh!)

Anonymous said...

"Alert reader" is something you would see a lot in tech books.

Looks like this phrase is in heavy use among bloggers.


Coming back to the Mid Day meal scheme, I remember when Karunanidhi declared that the mid day meal would include an egg. I happened to be visiting my aunt. (She was a Science teacher and my uncle was the assistant Headmaster then). The crowd there was unbelievable.

If I remember what I read in Tamil class right, Kamaraj introduced this scheme and MGR expanded it.

As far as cycles go, I did my 12th standard in the same aunt's place and a cycle was an indicator of your family's economic status. There were mnay students who did walk home because they could not afford a bicycle.

Going by the tone of the comments, I saw here on your post on Engineering colleges in TamilNadu, I wonder what your libertarian commenters think about this 'leftist' policy.