Penned By Board Member Alo Pal

Manikandan wants to be a policeman. His day begins at 3.00 a.m. when he goes out fishing with his father in the river. By 7.00 a.m. collection for the catch of the day is complete, he then comes to Pondicherry Goubert market from Angalakuppam village, and the sale is completed by 9.00 am. Once home he tends to his mother who has recently undergone an open-heart surgery, for the next few hours he studies to prepare for the competitive exam for the post of a Police Constable. He needs to be physically fit so he goes to the Thavalakuppam Training Centre to train. In the evening he works part-time at a lab as a technician, a skilled qualification facilitated by Sharana that included a 1.5-year training and a 6-month internship. He returns home and his day finally ends at 11.00 p.m. And the cycle restarts in 4 hours.

Manikandan was a child in the very first batch of Creche children in Angalakuppam Social Centre in 2002, he wanted to complete his B. Com but didn’t get admission in a college. Lakshmi of our social centre in Angalakuppam persuaded him not to waste time and enrol instead in a two-year Lab Assistant course, including an internship. His mother was given a loan under our Social Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) for a fishing net. While it must be said that neither of the two interventions proved to significantly enhance income there were circumstances like his mother’s heart condition and surgery that did require his time and attention.

But our success lies in the intangible. A few years back I was speaking to a beneficiary of an SEP loan. Prior to it, she struggled to bring food to the table from the income her husband made from his shoe shop. Their lives were crippled in debt and she even attempted to commit suicide. When I asked her how the loan had changed her condition she had replied “Today I hear the sound of dancing steps from my child in the house”.

“Do you now have money to pay for classes?” I asked.

“No” she’d replied, “the classes are free, but when you have no food in the house you cannot think of dance classes even if free”.

So, when I saw how intent on pursuing his dream to be a Police Constable was, I knew the spark had come from the education he had received, the knowledge that Sharana had his back and that of his family, and the confidence a skill to fall back on gave him.

“I missed out on a college experience but I will pursue my B Com. via correspondence. I will not give up on that dream. It will also help me in my career in the Police Department”.

Over the years I’ve had a pattern of information gathering at the beginning of my tête-à-tête with our beneficiaries, a key point being family income prior to intervention and family income post. But empowering isn’t defined by material gain alone. While important, it is confidence, strength, focus, and hard work that our beneficiaries gain. The bedrock, or perhaps the fount of that strength is an education.