(Palakkad): Manikandan’s story is as inspiring as it is astounding.

The boy from the Kolappadi tribal hamlet at Attappady dropped out of school at the age of 14 after the death of his parents. Since his only sister lived in a faraway hamlet with her husband, the responsibility to support the educational needs of his younger brother, who just completed upper primary education at a school at Agali, fell on him.

He worked as a daily labourer on meagre wages for about two years, before he heard about a bridge school started by the Kudumbasree Mission in September last to bring tribal school dropouts to the mainstream.

Along with 80 other school dropouts aged above 15, Manikanan joined the bridge school.

“We noticed a set of notebooks maintained by Manikantan and these contained a number of poems he had written in the two years after he left normal school. We found the poems to be of high literary standards and launched an initiative to bring them out in book format,” says National Rural Livelihood Mission Director Seema Bhaskar, who mooted the idea of the bridge school.

Krishnan’s story

Krishnan of the Kollamkadavu tribal hamlet also has reason to cheer as the budding athlete was reinducted into the State athletic team recently. Krishnan is also a school dropout, but his educational aspirations are now back on track.

“It’s a novel initiative of Kudumbasree against the backdrop of high dropout rates among Attappady’s tribal students. All tribal women Kudumbasree units of the Nakupathi and Chalayoor settlements manage the bridge school availing themselves of government funds,” says K. Sindhuja Mol, a social worker associated with the project.

The children are trained to pass equivalents of fifth, seventh, and tenth standard examinations and they would be prompted to pursue higher education. Vocational training would be provided to those interested. “The school was visualised for 30 boys and 30 girls initially. Now we have 80 students. Each student would get free accommodation, food, clothing, and study materials,” says Seema, who terms it as a path-breaking initiative of Kudumbasree. The school housed in a rented facility at Agali has 15 teachers, selected from tribal households in Attappady.