Chirala: With an expanse of water right up to the horizon on the one side and a nondescript house on the other, he has food in a box. It is not yet time to share the eatables. He must bide his time waiting for the father and brother in the boat with the catch; or, meanwhile assist his mother in drying the leftover fish. If he is not doing either of these, he must take care of the house when his mother goes to the town to sell fish.
This is how a male child from the fishermen communities typically spends most of his growing years. And, as a teenager, he only graduates to assisting his brother and father in repairing the net or in rendering help in lifting the boat for anchoring it properly. Between the whiles, he sometimes spends time collecting coins or playing in the blue waters.
All these years, this routine typified the lifestyle of Kondalu, Venkatesu and many other children among the fishermen communities spread over villages near Chirala and nearby places. If the child happens to be a girl, she would be married by the time she turns sixteen.
Not anymore. Thanks to Bala Sanskara Kendras, there is now paradigm shift in the lifestyle of children drawn from the villages surrounding Chirala, Vetapalem and Chinaganjam areas. For, studied efforts to uplift them are showing results. Every Bala Sanskara Kendra is a self-contained centre that offers facilities for comprehensive development of children.
These include teaching of yoga as well as sharing of inspirational anecdotes and stories from the history and scriptures of the country. All of this helps instil values and inculcate habits for character building of the child. The children are provided tips on health care as well.
The best part is that children learn everything while having fun and playing games. The kendra also works to promote girl child education and eliminate child marriages.
Bala Sanskara Kendra, brainchild of Daggubati Venkateswara Rao and Purandheswari, is supported by the NTR Vignana Kalakshetram Trust and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Bala Sanskara Kendras in Chirala work for two hours daily after the school hours. The kendras are being operated in 18 places, with an average of 30 students in each unit.
Being poor, the children of fishermen residing in seashore villages used to drop out of school early and get involved in work to support the family. Girls were married early mainly to “get rid of a burden”.
Things began to change after the NTR Vignana Kalakshetram Trust personnel went round the villages and explained to the fisherfolks the importance of providing children holistic education and continuing their studies thereafter for a bright future.
Once convinced, they happily agreed to send their children to the kendras. With help from villagers, the trust has been establishing such kendras in temples and at other places where the children can sit, play and practice skills. Now, about 550 students in 18 of these Bala Sanskara Kendras compete with one another in reciting slokas, playing kabaddi, kolattam and doing yoga every month.
The winners receive prizes from the teachers. To coach the children in these kendras, the trust has appointed teachers and mandal level coordinators, paying them honorarium of Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 5,000 per month respectively. These teachers are also trained by experts from time to time. The children are occasionally motivated by the Daggubati couple.
The couple organizes an annual meet for the Bala Sanskara Kendras. At these meetings, dignitaries from various walks of life are introduced to the children. The Vignan Educational Institutions Chairman Lavu Rattaiah, Panchasahasravadhani Medasani Mohan, Nandamuri Ramakrishna, Lokeswari and other members of the Nandamuri family members participated in the annual meet of 2017 and promised their support.
Speaking about the Bala Sankskara Kendras, Daggubati Venkateswara Rao pointed out that the kendras were inspired by Dr Ch Chalamaiah, whose great work helped improve the living conditions of fishermen in coastal areas and Chenchus in the Nallamala forest region.
The kendras were started to help the children shine in education and lead noble lives. The trust has plans to extend the work of the kendras to four or five other districts soon.