A Lamp Still Burning Bright...
Rose was a visionary. When you see the inquisitive and intelligent
children from financially deprived coastal families of Valiathura at the
Sr. Rose Memorial Education Resource Centre (SRMERC), confidently
explaining about the Terrestrial Remote Sensor and similar sophisticated
equipment, one realizes how far her dedication has come through. Though
she belonged to the church, she had her own defining ideas regarding
her mission in life, which was to work incessantly for the betterment of
a society largely comprising of fisher people. Originally from Vaikkom,
Sr Rose did her personal management training at Xavier's Institute at
Ranchi, Bihar. But it was in Valiathura that her calling in life lay.
or the big port which went down in Travancore history as the most
flourishing sea port of a bygone era had become a neglected area which
had gained notoriety for been socially, economically and educationally
backward mainly due to illicit brewing of liqour by the local coastal
families. This was in the 1980s. Leaving the secure precincts of her St
Roch’s convent, Sr Rose chose to walk into their midst as she felt the
strong need to transform such a socially neglected area and uplift it
through education and employment. She knew that the place needed her.
And just as she expected, it was no cake walk.
Enthusiastic students at SRMERC
Valiappan and Robert were Sr Rose’s staunch companions in those initial
days in the 1980s when she started her work at Valiathura. "We did a
survey among the families to see and understand the situation. We found
that in most families, children stopped their education at high school
and started helping their parents in brewing liquor." It was wreaking
havoc in many families as it was not just the men who took easily to
drinking, but also the youngsters.
Sr Rose’s top priority was
education. "We chose not to deal with the issue of illicit distillation
initially since we knew that it would have got us literally thrown out
of this area. " So Sr Rose formed Cheruresmi Center (CRC) where she
proposed to educate of the children and also provide training to girls
of different age groups in handicrafts which would make them
self-sufficient and help them lead a dignified life.
A student preparing for a smart class
children were initially bribed into attending classes with toffee. "If
toffee can make a child enter the class, then why not?”.Sr Rose used to
say,” reminisces Rosamma Valiappan, who moved to Valiathura to be a part
of Sr Rose’s mission. The centre was registered in 1985 and the trust
board was not controlled by the church but mostly comprised of people
from Valiathura who shared her commitment and determination.
Rose would consult with the rest of us before taking any step. And she
would turn anything, even a grain of rice into a piece of art and teach
that craft to the girls,” Rosamma says with a smile. “Vallavanu Pullum
Ayudham,” agrees Robert. Greeting cards came next for which they managed
to find a good market. They got an order for 2000 cards in 1995! Then
embroidery was introduced.‘Theera Jyothi’ encouraged children from
standards 1-7 to attend morning and evening classes. Balavadi and
nursery were started for small kids.
Robert explaining to the students
those days, people used to bury the brewed liquor in our compound. But
the uniqueness of Sr Rose was her capacity to take up activism and
development side by side and carry out both.
While she put her
heart into initiatives to look after the aged, maintenance of bridges
and working towards improving the facilities in hospitals and other
sectors of the society, when the time came, she also stood her ground
firmly against illicit distillation in Valiathura. She took up
satyagraha for this cause for ten days in association with the
Fishermen’s Union in 1984. ‘Sthree Samajams’ were formed to tackle the
menace and the police was alerted. Soon other social activists joined in
and the movement gained momentum against a social menace that was
eating up Valiathura. “The change is now for all to see. Families no
longer brew liquor for a livelihood. Men do drink but the children and
women in the family have escaped its clutches and cherish their own
Rosamma Valiappan and Robert listening to the students
slept in a tiny room that could barely accommodate her. What she wanted
out of life for herself was little. She was engaged most of the time in
giving others their rights and raise their standard of living,” Robert
recalls. Unfortunately, as she strove for the people in Valiathura,
there was something eating into her. The cancer was detected late. “She
did not care about her own health,” Rosamma remembers fondly about her
friend whom they all miss a lot.
Sr. Rose breathed her last on 29
Dec 2003. Her close friends who had stood by her gave shape to the Sr.
Rose Memorial Education Resource Center (SRMERC) where children from
poor families studying in the 8th, 9th and 10th are given thorough
tuition as well as training in computer skills and English. It also
houses a good library for their use. None of them have failed SSLC so
it is further taken up by the Coastal Higher Education Society (CHES)
which helps those who passed SSLC to pursue further studies and other
professional courses. It has, to date helped 15 students to take up
career oriented courses. ‘Friends of Marine Life (FML) is another team
formed in memory of Sr. Rose to take up various causes so that the
social commitment and unconditional love that she showered on the poor
people of coastal Valiathura will never die . And, no doubt, Sr. Rose
must be looking down with joy and satisfaction on these efforts to keep
her dream alive.
By Shameem Faruque