Meet These Child Heroes from TN Who Want to Change The World

Meet child heroes from Tamil Nadu who are fighting against all odds for access to education and a better tomorrow.

Updated
India
6 min read

Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam

20 November 2019 is celebrated as the International Children’s Day. It was on this date, 30 years ago, since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the historic Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, that recognised children as individuals with their own rights.

Commemorating this feat, the UNICEF Chennai chapter, put together a compendium of 30 child heroes from various parts of Tamil Nadu, who have championed against all odds to fight for their right to education.

These child heroes have championed against all odds to fight for their right to education.
These child heroes have championed against all odds to fight for their right to education.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

All of these children come from socially and economically marginalised backgrounds and are exposed to the grim everyday reality of domestic violence and alcoholism. And almost all of them are first generation learners and their determination to stand up for their rights, whether to their teacher or their own parent, is quite commendable.

Let us take you through the lives of a few of these champions:

Sangeetha aspires to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) someday.
Sangeetha aspires to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) someday.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

Sangetha, a first-generation learner who is in Class XII, was taught by her father to always fight back. So when her school asked her to pay Rs. 1,000 as tuition fee, she refused and told that no fees should be collected in government schools. Soon, the defiant child convinced two of her classmates to also not pay anything.

Once, when her teacher hit her with a cane, she sat in protest and told the school that she will complain to the police and Childline. Today, the teachers do not hit any of the children at her school.

Sangeetha aspires to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) someday. She loves to write poetry and compose music.

15-year-old Samandhi, from the Irular tribal community, is a first generation learner.
15-year-old Samandhi, from the Irular tribal community, is a first generation learner.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

15-year-old Samandhi, from the Irular tribal community, is the first in her community in Gudiyam village of Poondi block in Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu, to reach Class X in school.

Once at a gram sabha at her village, the district collector was addressing the problems of the villagers. When no one spoke of the woes of her community, Samandhi stood up and spoke about how their houses have no thatched roof which makes nights scary, no access for ambulance and even no cemetery. She then mobilized her community to sign a petition, which urged the authorities to build the first toilets in their area.

Samandhi aspires to become a Collector and put an end to discrimination as she is tired of her community being ostracised.

Altaf wants to become a filmmaker.
Altaf wants to become a filmmaker.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

Mounting debt and an alcoholic father pushed 16-year-old Altaf to ignore school and work odd jobs to support his family. With a little help from an NGO, he is now back at school full-time. Grateful for the help he has received, Altaf has turned into a campaigner rallying for basic civic issues. He successfully lobbied for streetlights at a park in his neighbourhood.

He was also one among the many children who prepared a situation report listing violations of child rights, just before the 2019 parliamentary elections.

Altaf wants to reach out to every child in the world and so he believes short films and movies is the way to go. For filmmakers reading this, he is already scripting for a short film, ‘Dalit’, which goes into the issue of caste and how it affects the lives of children.

15-year-old Jayasri is a boss at sports today.
15-year-old Jayasri is a boss at sports today.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

Hailing from a broken home with an alcoholic and abusive father, 15-year-old Jayasri thought her dream of being an athlete will never become a reality.

With the relentless support of her mother, the teenager’s breakthrough came when she was in Grade VIII, as she was introduced to netball. Mocked for being too short to even qualify, she became the captain of the netball team that took part in the ‘One Nation Netball Cup’, a tournament organised by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, Delhi. Jayasri has even convinced several parents to send their daughters to school.

She aspires to win laurels for the country some day.

To make children aware of their right, Gayathri puts together street plays and holds discussions.
To make children aware of their right, Gayathri puts together street plays and holds discussions.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

17-year-old Gayathri from Tiruppur has seen hardships all her life: lost her father very young, mother works at a construction site and her elder sister dropped out of school to work. However, she is determined to study and has been a pioneer for child rights.

When one of her friends eloped with a boy to get married, Gayathri called up 1098 and the minor girl, who was actually deserted by the boy, was brought back safe.

The teachers at her school would order the children to wash their lunch boxes and tea cups. Gayathri once stood up and firmly told that was wrong and if this continues she would report. The teachers then stopped asking the children to do menial work.

To make children aware of their right, Gayathri puts together street plays and holds discussions. She and her friends had even written petitions to the grama sabha asking for a library and now they actually have one.

Meet the dynamic brother-sister duo: Vinod and Vinodhini.
Meet the dynamic brother-sister duo: Vinod and Vinodhini.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

13-year-old Vinodhini and Vinod from Rajalipatti village in Pudukottai, are a power brother-sister duo. They are experts at organic farming and rainwater harvesting and have convinced several in the community to take it up.

Vinodhini has even persuaded several parents to let their children complete education and let them go to college as well. The duo visit tea shops and warn them not to sell narcotic substances to children.

The two have stood up against teachers physically abusing children and are now raising their voice demanding toilets. They have understood the stark reality of caste discrimination and how toilets are a privilege for communities such as theirs.

While Vinodhini wants to become a police woman to ‘protect the country and catch thieves’, Vinod wants to become a lawyer as he wants to ensure that ‘wrong-doers do not escape punishment’.

Anbumani is keen on becoming a politician to bring about a change in the system.
Anbumani is keen on becoming a politician to bring about a change in the system.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

15-year old Anbumani loves to call to dabble with nature and current affairs.

The teenager takes care of a vegetable garden along with 14 other children in Devendavakkam village in Tiruvallur district and is closely learning about climate change, the need to boycott chemical fertilizers and how sand mining is damaging the river beds and causing water scarcity.

He idolizes Dr Ambedkar and so believes in questioning every wrong he sees. When he was hit by a teacher, he wrote a complaint that the Village Child Protection Committee read and the teacher apologised to Anbu and so ended the physical abuse, altogether at the school.

As a first-generation learner from a marginalized community, the boy is keen on becoming a politician to bring about a change in the system. And robotics engineering is his plan B.

This boss girl teaches taekwondo, silambam (traditional marital arts) and yoga to other children.
This boss girl teaches taekwondo, silambam (traditional marital arts) and yoga to other children.
(Photo Courtesy: UNICEF Chennai)

Rajalakshmi, from Dindigul, is a popular face in her village who fights against child abuse and bonded labour and checks if children are getting nutritious food in the anganwadi. She has even rescued a minor from bonded labour in a cotton mill.

Coming from a socially marginalized community, she has often been ostracised by a few kids at school and she has earnestly taken up the matter to the correspondent who has now put an end to this discrimination.

This boss girl also teaches taekwondo, silambam (traditional marital arts) and yoga to other children.

She wants to become a nurse and work with children someday.

These everyday heroes are fighting against all odds, raising their voice today, for a better tomorrow.

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