| Often, it takes destruction to show the path to development. On a fateful December morning two years ago, the tsunami invaded 19-year-old Elamparithi's fishing village in Kanchipuram. "Though we lost our belongings, we felt lucky as my father had not ventured into the seas the previous evening," says Elamparithi, a school drop-out who used to accompany his father. The destruction kept playing on his mind. "That day, I decided to give up our traditional occupation-fishing," he says. Subsequently, he met some volunteers at the local community college and today he is about to complete a course in catering and hopes for a job in a "more secure" profession. |
Hundreds of children of fishermen in the area have benefitted from an initiative called the Loyola Empowerment and Awareness Programme (LEAP) that covers the nine fishing hamlets of Kanchipuram panchayat. Many of them are now studying in premier colleges. Started in 2000, the programme has launched many initiatives including the Kanchipuram Community College that offers courses such as publishing and catering. "We realised the importance of providing technical education for the marginalised," says Father Vedam Xavier, Loyola's vice-principal and director of the project. And the large-scale displacement of fisherfolk during the tsunami only heightened the need for alternative livelihoods. In collaboration with the Tata Relief Committee, the college infrastructure was strengthened and it is now affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Open University. Students say the programme has provided a window of opportunity and empowered them with "life-coping skills". "High input costs like that of diesel and competition from mechanised boats has forced us to abandon fishing," says Kalil Rahiman, a student, who also broke away from the family tradition.
LEAP also includes community programmes such as health camps and welfare schemes for women, who are taught embroidery and other crafts. It has a tie-up with the Loyola College where it is mandatory for post-graduate students to do social work, such as spreading awareness about sanitation and hygiene. "The project has boosted self-belief of students," says Father Xavier. While the tsunami might have battered Elamparithi's family boat two years ago, it has put him on a new course today.