Welcome to Vidya Vanam, a school for rural and tribal children in Anaikatti near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.
Welcoming faces at Vidya Vanam
Vidya Vanam is a school with no prescribed textbooks. The children learn their subjects in themes. Last year, for instance, the theme was Rice, and their learning included cultivating five micro-plots of paddy themselves. Two teams of first-generation English speakers even had a debate on genetically modified crops: Debating rice in the forest of learning
It is a school where children learn to speak their minds and explore their talents. And they do this at their own pace. Some of the smallest children are clearly born ‘leaders.’
A born ‘leader’
12.15 it will be lunch time, so the pattis (older women, grandmothers) and
akkas (younger women, sisters) get things ready, while some children enjoy
their favourite time of the day: ‘games’
An aspiring Lionel Messi?
use of the hoop (left); And another
ball game (right)
the open dining hall, there is silence before the storm.
Plates and mats in the dining room just before the children storm in
A short while later the younger children are enjoying their lunch and the sounds of laughter fill up the open air dining area.
faces above still empty plates
After about 10 minutes the laughter is replaced with the chanting of ‘patti, patti’ as the children request a second serving.
The chants of ‘patti, patti’ are rewarded with a second serving
Meanwhile the older students gather on stage for the daily assembly. Today is comedy day and whoever has something prepared or wants to improvise is given time to do so. These two boys enact a short skit on ‘The elephant and the tree’.
The elephant and the tree
Some students conduct a quiz and others tell jokes
children from the senior classes often steal the show.
The day’s comedians are a hit with the audience
After lunch the children have some free time for
doing what they like most: playing with the hula-hoops.
The school’s hula-hoopers in performance
And soon the lunch break is over and the students walk back to their classes, though some girls want to keep playing right until they reach the classroom.
They can’t let go the hoops even while walking back to class
Senior students, Vindhya and Aravali are
preparing the newspaper that will come out on ‘project day’ on November 27. During art class and discussions
with group members they are highly focussed, jotting down important points in
their neat handwriting.
Planning pages for the forthcoming newspaper
the artwork done as well
leaf for a painted eye
‘Group photo’ time has them bubbling with smiles again
Suzanne ter Haar is a journalism student from Ku Leuven University, Brussels and founder of the Gutz Foundation that works on HIV testing among youth in Tanzania.
This photostory is a part of her ten-week internship with PARI.