man on a mission

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For 25 years, Narayanan has taken a solitary 28 km hike through the forests daily to teach tribal children

If the distance walked by K Narayanan, a one-teacher alternative school teacher in Vazhikkadavu in Malappuram, to his place of work and back over the past 25 years had been in a continuous and straight path, he would have very could well have traveled around the world several times. time.

Narayanan, 52, had walked 28 km daily through the dense forests of Nilambur and crossed risky rivers to teach tribal children from the particularly vulnerable Cholanaikkan tribal community at the Alakkal Multigrade Learning Center since 1995.

Every day, Narayanan left his home in Manimooli at 6:30 a.m. and rode his motorbike 3 km, parked it at the Anamari forest checkpoint and started his marathon to reach school.

“For the first three and a half kilometers there is an unpaved road, then I have to cross Punnapuzha by raft because the bridge was washed away by the floods. During the monsoons, I had to swim across another river in case of Then I walk through forests and plantation company lands to reach Alakkal tribal settlement,” he said.
Narayanan said that although his long and arduous daily walk was difficult and often dangerous, it was worth it because otherwise tribal students from one of the most disadvantaged communities would have been excluded from school.

“My one-way trip of 14 km is worth it because the nearest school for the children of the hamlet of Alakkal is located 20 km away in Vazhikkadavu. The fact of having been able to introduce 164 students from the hamlets to the world of knowledge is what I cherish the most. Many of them graduated and last year one of my students was selected into the police,” he said.
Narayanan said he encountered wild elephants several times during his long walks, but was lucky to escape although he suffered a broken leg and other injuries while fleeing a once a charging elephant. He said the route he is taking is dangerous, as wild elephants have killed up to 15 people in the area over the past three decades. “I also saw leopards, bears, bison and other wildlife along the way,” he said.

More importantly, apart from the children, Narayanan had also been the agent of change for the tribal hamlet of Alakkal over the past quarter century since he first visited the woodland hamlet as as a volunteer in the government’s mass literacy program in 1990.

“When I came here, the tribesmen were living in rock caves. Although the government built a few houses under a housing program, they were afraid to live in the tile-roofed houses out of fear. structures would collapse on top of them. Some were staying in sheds they had built. Also, most of the residents had not seen radios or wristwatches. We had a huge task to do because no one couldn’t read and write Malayalam,” Narayanan said.

He said the tribesmen initially viewed him as an outsider and were reluctant to interact or speak. But the real breakthrough came when he managed to learn the Cholanaikkan language, which is more of a mix of Tamil and Kannada.

“With that came trust and they accepted me as their friend and supporter and started asking my opinion even on their personal matters. They would even ask who they should vote for in elections and I would reply that they can vote for the candidate they trust would stand by their side,” he said, adding that he could help them access several government programs and also enroll their children in schools.

The recent decision by the state government to close all 367 MGLCs and transfer students to nearby government and subsidized schools has left the state with only a few one-teacher schools like Alakkal. Teachers in closed MGLCs were assigned as full-time and part-time junior employees.

“As directed by the Department of Education, this year I facilitated the transfer of 20 students from our MGLC to a government run boarding school 50km away and we are now left with nine students. But I wonder if there would be dropouts. The Cholanaikkan tribes do not like sending young children to boarding schools,” he added.
Narayanan had started his career with a monthly fee of Rs 500 in 1995, which has now been increased to just over Rs 18,000. He said he had not received a fee since the start of the year academia due to continuing uncertainties regarding MGLCs.

The long walks he takes to and from school have paid health dividends and helped him stay fit, he said.



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