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Programmes to develop underprivileged children

R. Sujatha

“After-school activities should involve the community also”


ACQUIRING SKILLS: Teenagers at a free computer training programme at Olcott Memorial High School in Besant Nagar.

CHENNAI: Adolescence is the period when the child develops a self-image and looks to adults for assistance. At a time when the teens are confronted with the problem of choosing a career, they also find themselves grappling with their changing physiology. Guidance can provide the necessary momentum, making entry into adulthood less painful.

As the challenges for underprivileged children are greater, the government has developed various programmes. When the AIDS awareness campaign through the Junior Red Ribbon Clubs was launched in schools, it was an eye-opener.

Saradha Suresh, director of the Institute of Child Health (ICH), that also runs an adolescence clinic with the support of the Indian Association of Paediatrics, says: “In teens, the focus on achievement is very low. They are more concerned about the physical changes, skin colour and friends of the opposite sex. The failure to address these issues causes emotional problems and leads to lack of motivation. We provide life sciences education. We try to build their confidence by teaching them about the reproductive system, hygiene and their changing life.”

The paediatricians confine themselves to providing psychological bonding and shy away from career guidance, Dr. Saradha says.

The Narcotics Control Bureau holds awareness programmes through the National Service Scheme volunteers of Anna University and Madras University. It also encourages non-governmental organisations to take up awareness programmes. But like the ICH, the NCB also has problems roping in counsellors for the programme.

“Our children put up skits, recite poems and hold puppet shows on AIDS awareness. Organisations such as the Rotary and the Lions Clubs and the Satya Sai Foundation also help,” says K. N. Krishnaveni of Nungambakkam Girls High School.

“After-school activities should involve the community also,” says Lakshmi Surayanarayanan, Principal, Olcott Memorial High School, Besant Nagar.

The school runs free training programmes in computer and Bharatanatyam. NGOs are encouraged to hold awareness programmes on abuse of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

The community-based Slum Children Sports Talent Education Development Society, working with teens from economically weak families in North Chennai, has been using sports to develop the youngsters.

“I grew up in the slums and know the problems that these children face. When the members turn 18, they become volunteers. In the last 10 years more children remain in school and the crime rate has fallen in Vyasarpadi. The pass percentage in Vyasarpadi School is now 21 per cent. In 2000, no one cleared the board exams,” says N. Umapathy, the Society’s secretary.

“Since we live in the area, we can notice the difference. Child labour has reduced considerably and fewer child marriages are being performed. During the last elections despite opposition, our members used the Right to Information Act to learn about the financial status of the contestants and displayed it in the area. We set an example,” he recalls with pride.

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