The Rediff Special/A V Ramani
The Light of A Lantern
We reach Ambajhari at 8 pm. It is the last village we will visit today, and I am glad. I am tired. It's been a long day of work, examining ante-natals
and under-five children in various villages in the cluster. Now in
Ambajhari I will be examining children in the non-formal education centre.
Ideally, this should be done during the day, but this is the only time the
children are available.
As I walk with Sasikala and Sallie to the village, I try to keep up my
enthusiasm for my work. I feel stale after a long spell of field work, and
the problems seem overwhelming. Poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance,
exploitation... the list is endless. I can't help feeling that the Saura
tribals among whom I work are fighting a losing battle for survival. And
what *I* can do for them seems so insignificant, so ineffective.
I hurry along behind Sasikala, who has the torch, trying not to stumble on
the narrow path.
As we enter the village, I can see the small lamps in the verandahs of a
few huts. The bright spill of solar-cell-powered light from the NFE school
building helps us skirt our way around cows and dogs warming their feet at
a log fire that is dying down to a comfortable glow. Further down the
street, nine young men sit around a lantern, their faces lit softly by its
light as they listen intently to what one of them is saying.
As we enter the schoolroom, we are met with a chorus of greetings. Faces
scrubbed, hair slicked down, wearing their best clothes, 20 children
aged 6 to 13 gather here each night to study. Their teacher is barely
older than they are, a bright boy who graduated last year from the NFE
centre in his nearby village. And though he longs to study further, he
cannot afford the luxury of being a student in one of the residential
schools in the area. He needs to earn. So he works during the day, takes
classes at night and tries to keep up with his studies when he can.
All this is explained to me by Sasikala, the health worker in charge of
this cluster of villages.
The children are delighted at our arrival -- it is a change from their
routine. I find that most of them are suffering from chronic malaria, and
some from severe anaemia. Other than those things, they are a happy,
energetic group. Several mothers gather in the schoolroom when they hear we
have come; each watches anxiously as her child is examined. The younger
children have all gone to sleep and so we will examine them the following
We finish an hour later and emerge from the schoolroom. The men around the
lamp are all writing something now. I ask Sasikala about them. She
The youth of the village decided they wanted to learn to read and write as
well, just like the small children in the NFE building. Too shy to study
with their children and siblings, they formed a separate group. They are
being taught by a literate youth from a neighbouring village; they are
paying him Rs 10 per person per month. They are also buying the kerosene
they need for the lantern.
I stand there for a long time, watching this group of young men studying by
the light of a lantern.
As we walk back to the jeep, I notice the stars in the sky. I realise now
that, without my being in the least aware of it, this little village has
been quietly lifting my spirits.
A V Ramani is a MD in Community Health from the Christian Medical College,
Vellore. She spent four years working for Gram Vikas, a NGO in Mohuda,
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