Swathi was born in Allankuppam
Swathi was born in Allankuppam, next to Annai Nagar in 2002. She has two brothers. She attended SVV school until 10 th standard. Swathii’s mother worked at the home of an Aurovilian called Maire Claire. Marie Claire helped Swathii with her studies and also supported the family financially. Swathii initially wanted to become an Air Hostess or Nurse, but her mother encouraged her to study commerce. She attended Pondicherry School in 11 th and 12 th standard, with a focus on Commerce. She is currently a B Commerce student at SCG.
Swathi and Thamarai
Swathii first came to Thamarai After School project for six weeks at age 17, on the suggestion of Maire Claire. She was having some difficulties at home at this time. She liked Thamarai immediately. There was a really good atmosphere and the facilitators were very nice and helpful. It was during Thamarai summer camp, when schools were closed. She attended the computer class. Very soon after this, Swathii started as a volunteer, helping children in 4 th and 5th standard with their homework. It gave her an opportunity to contribute and to meet people. She was at Thamarai on weekdays from 5:30pm to 8pm. Swathii says: “ At Thamarai I learn many things. I don’t want to waste this opportunity.” I asked Swathii how her experience of Thamarai changed her.
“Before I came, I had a stereotype of some people from certain villages and caste. I realised they are completely different from what I thought. I was very shy about speaking, but Thamarai gave me the courage to speak. It helped with my self-confidence. Before joining I couldn’t make a sentence in English. Now I can speak confidently and I’m teaching English now. I got to know a lot of people and became friends with some of the other facilitators. It’s really nice when the children recognise me on the street and shout hello. I learned about ‘being in integrity’ – doing what I said I will do. With my time keeping, for example. In the past my parents didn’t fully believe in me or trust me. Now they do.”
The Radical Transformational Leadership Program
Swathii, like most Thamarai facilitators, has participated in the Radical Transformational Leadership (RTL) programme, designed by Monica Sharmer. She says it has benefitted her in many ways: “I got to know a lot of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, and learned their stories and how they think. I learned how to give and receive feedback. Not to take feedback on my actions personally, but to use it to improve and develop myself.” Swathii’s dream for life is to help her mum financially and to help children. She wants to change caste and gender culture in the region.
Soon leaving for Germany
Swathii will go to to Frankfurt in Germany on Sept 24th for one year with Weltswart program. She is studying German in preparation for this. She feels proud to have been accepted for this opportunity and her mother is also very proud and happy. She is excited but knows that she will be lonely at times and miss her family. It will be a new challenge to manage looking after herself without her mother’s support.
Thamarai, a life changing experience
Swathii says that Bridget inspires her. Bridget stands for full potential for herself and others. She gives everything and takes nothing. Swathii says that Thamarai helps children in many ways. They can use materials, such as computers, that they cannot access due to finances. They learn a lot, especially to speak English. Some children have difficult home situations and Thamarai can be a place of peace and support for them. The words that spring to mind in relation to Thamarai are: Love, Equality, Full Potential, Equity. What image is evoked when Swathii thinks of Thamarai? “Sitting surrounded by children in a circle all around me , saying ‘Akka, Akka (older sister, older sister).” What would be her wish for the future of Thamarai? “ Get students from other villages to attend. This will help change gender and caste stereotypes. It changed me. I hope it will change others Help bring more gender equality into people’s lives. Helping people to speak English confidently. Help each child reach their full potential (one may not be good at reading or writing, but one may be a brilliant artist, for example) Some Thamarai memories: On the first day, I struggled to speak English at circle time. Going on a trip to the beach with other facilitators. Seeing the new Thamarai learning centre open. Going on to the village sports ground for the first time. Teaching English. Why would someone volunteer at Thamarai? You can learn many things and you can share what you know.