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A school that barely manages to survive

Divya Ramamurthi



LIVING IN HOPE: Some of the students of Indira Gandhi International Academy School at Yelahanka in Bangalore. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

BANGALORE: When the 150 students of Indira Gandhi International Academy School in Yelahanka sit down for lunch at noon and say prayers "for peace in my country... for our parents... for the food that we eat," it tugs at your heartstrings because the prayers are heartfelt.

Life is a struggle at this school for the children of Sri Lankan refugees housed in camps across Tamil Nadu. On most days, the only nutritious meal they get is the noon meal supplied to them by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness under its Akshaya Patra scheme. For breakfast and dinner their staple is salted rice porridge; milk is hardly ever provided.

"I go to sleep almost every night feeling hungry," says eight-year-old Dilip Kumar, a gaunt-looking boy. Another student of the school, M. Sugidan, says he goes to sleep early at night to forget the hunger pangs. "Whenever I sit up and study late, I feel really hungry. So, I force myself to sleep early," he says.

Poor nutrition and bad sanitation is causing health problems for these children. Most of them have scabies. Several are anaemic and small-built because of poor nourishment. Last year, two students were admitted to hospital with meningitis.

Indira Gandhi International Academy School was set up in Bangalore in 1990 with funding by Bright Society, a non- governmental organisation that works with Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu, and the Karnataka Government. The NGO first approached the Tamil Nadu Government to set up a school there so that the children could be close to their families, but it refused permission.

However, the Karnataka Government stopped the flow of funds after Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1991. Bright Society continued to fund the school, but with several other commitments on hand, its funding has dwindled. In the past two years, the NGO has not sent any money. The school is now functioning on a day-to-day basis with aid from philanthropists.

"We are just scraping through. Every day it is a struggle to set out and try to find someone who will sympathise with us and be willing to support our cause," says N. Alangan, administrator of the school.

The school building is crumbling and has large cracks on the walls. Although the rooms are wired for electrical appliances such as lights and fans, one does not see any of the appliances because the school has not had electricity for three years. Only the corridors of the girls' hostel and the dining area have some amount of light powered by solar panels.

Privacy is at a premium. Over 30 students are stuffed into a small bedroom like a tin of sardines.

As the school cannot afford curtains and as many of the windowpanes are broken, cardboard sheets have been used to board up the windows.

Although there is a lot of open space around the buildings, the children seldom play or do any form of physical exercise. In fact, the administration discourages them from talking with anyone from outside or venturing out. "The gates are opened only to allow our second PUC students outside," says Mr. Alangan.

Play is also severely restricted for the children after the police came to the school two years ago to check whether it was a training camp for terrorists. "They saw all our children practising karate in the morning and got scared that we were training them to become terrorists. They told us to stop sports activities," he said.

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