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“The spark to play an active role in social work was there in me even when I was a young, but I did not know the means nor did I have any money to help others,” says Kalaivani.

The tuition centre was buzzing with children memorizing their lessons while their teachers were mentoring. Manoj Kumar, an eight-year-old boy rushed to the tuition centre, holding his trousers. “Miss, I have scored 90 marks in the mathematics test today,” he said. Kalaivani patted his back and smiled.

“I started with one tuition centre at Kannandapalayam village, which is seven kilometers from Thirumullaivoyal. The classes were conducted in the open ground until the panchayat provided the village community centre premise. Now, I manage three tuition centers in three different villages—Thirumullaivoyal, Kandigai, and Kanndapalayam—benefiting 150 children,” says Kalaivani.

Kalaivani is the founder of Nightingale Social Trust, an NGO registered in 2006. The Trust’s primary objective is to provide education for the underprivileged children. The centre functions from 6 to 8 P.M on all days, and children are offered biscuits and snacks. Each year, Rotary Club provides free note books and stationery to all the tuition children. Once in a year, during Diwali or Christmas the children are offered gifts by Bhoomi. Besides tuition, children are also taught environment education, yoga, and spoken English.

Few children are also offered educational support through Nightingale Trust. Bharati, 17, a student of the tuition centre recently completed her 12 th standard and ranked third in her school. She is now pursuing her graduation in Mahalakshmi Women’s College at Poonamalee, and all her educational expenses are borne by the Trust.

During weekends, the tuition centre doubles up to serve as a computer center. “We received four computers from Bhoomi, a voluntary group, and with the support of ten volunteers we provide free computer education to the tuition children. Zonta Club sponsors the salary costs for three tuition teachers, and we mobilize individual donations to meet our other expenses,” said Kalaivani.

Kalaivani eyes welled when she remembered her childhood days. She had to discontinue her studies when she was in 9 th standard as she had to take care of her ailing grandmother. She got married when she was 21 to Kuppuswamy, an employee in the private sector. Her husband Kuppuswamy understood her desire to engage in social work, and encouraged her to pursue her higher studies.

“I have now completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration in Madras Open University. I started to work for my village community. Besides the tuition centre, I also worked towards village development and approached authorities to lay proper roads and install street lights in our village. Since then, our village has access to regular bus services,” says Kalaivani.

Kuppuswamy supports Kalaivani in all the project activities, including coordinating the health camp once in three months. “My husband teaches yoga, general knowledge, and tailoring for the tuition children. He spends most of his leisure time with the tuition children,” says Kalaivani.

Kalaivani leads a self-help group that she formed in 2000. This was her first step into social work. She is also the Secretary of Thirumullaivoyal Grama Penngal Sabha (Thirumullaivoyal Village Women’s Forum) since 2001.

“While I was actively engaged in the SHG programmes as well as Grama Pengal Sabha programmes, I also attended Entrepreneurship Development Trainings. I was keen to widen my knowledge about social issues and social work, and so participated in short-term courses conducted by NGOs. This gave me the opportunity to work with Madras Social Development Society’s ‘Care and Support Program for HIV patients’. As part of my work, when I visited the Kilpauk Medical College, I met Senthil, an alumnus of CSIM. He shared with me information on the courses offered by CSIM, and motivated me to enroll for the Post Graduate Diploma in Social Initiative and Management Program.”

“A world of change happened to me after enrolling at CSIM. My ideas on social work became more focused. I learnt about many practical aspects like registering a Trust and the formalities associated, and the strategic approach in addressing a social issue. The training provided by CSIM also strengthened my communication and inter personal skills, as well as made me understand the power of networking. Today, I network with many organizations and individuals which enables me to scale up my work effectively,” said Kalaivani.

Nightingale Trust along with Rotary Club organizes health care programs at Uvbarapalayam, Kannadapalayam, Pothur, Pothur colony, Arikambedu, Kandigai, and Kollumedu villages that are located around Thirumullaivoyal. With the support of M N Eye Hospital in Chennai, free eye surgeries were conducted for ten people, and free spectacles were provided to thirty people at Kannadapalayam. Recently, Nightingale Trust and Rotary Club have taken over the management of a private hospital in Nerkundram. While the trust refers patients to the hospital, Rotary Club coordinates the administration.

“Kannan, never knew that he was having a heart ailment until he attended our health camp. As he could not afford the medical expenses, he did not reveal about his ailment to his family. One day, he suddenly took ill and was hospitalized in Chettinad Hospital at Kelambakkam.

Awareness programs on health, hygiene and nutrition, pre-natal and post natal maternal care was also conducted. “Our health care volunteers co-ordinate with the Public Health Centre and distribute medicines and supplements benefiting people living in seven neighbouring villages. “Our children planted 100 saplings in and around Thirumullaivoyal as part of our environment awareness campaign. I believe that every individual plays a crucial role in the overall development of the village and it is our duty to motivate them,” concluded Kalaivani.

Fighting against many odds, this young woman Kalaivani has paved the way for hundreds of villagers living in around Thirumullaivoyal. If you wish to extend support to Nightingale Trust, please contact Kalaivani at 09962993947.

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