The school has been sheltering hundreds of people who lost their houses to sea erosion and cyclones over the last few years.

Displaced by the sea these Kerala kids and parents still live in a school 5 years onAll photos by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Displacement Saturday, June 02, 2018 - 15:40

On Friday, five-year-old Sanjay got ready for his first day of school, but without any of the usual worries or tears. He walked out of his room waving to his mother and ran to the next building, just a few feet away. Though some of his classmates were crying, he was happy that he could see his mother anytime by looking out from his classroom.

Sanjay’s mother Suresh and father Mini live in Class 5 of the same school where Sanjay studies. Yes, you heard that right. Sanjay was born and brought up in Valiyathura Upper Primary school, which is also a relief camp for hundreds of fishermen from the coastal area in Thiruvananthapuram district, who lost their houses to sea erosion and cyclones over the last few years.

“We came here in 2013 when our house was partially destroyed by the sea. Initially, we spent our days at home and came here at night to sleep at the school. But within a few months we lost our house completely and had to shift here as we could not afford to rent a house,” says Mini, one among the hundreds who wait for a proper shelter to move to.

Mini adds that Sanjay is happy to go to school as it is also his home. “He does not actually have an idea of school and home, because for him this school is his house. He hasn’t lived in a proper home. He thinks that this how the whole system of school works,” Mini smiles painfully.

Sanjay’s family lives in the Class 5 room along with three other families. He just has to take two steps to the next building of the school to attend his classes. Apart from Sanjay, three others also are similarly ‘lucky’ to live in their own school.

Aneesh of Class 2, Varsha of Class 4 and Anu of Class 7 live in the same school that serves as the camp and attend classes there.

Aneesh, whose family shifted to the camp four years ago, hardly remembers living in his own house. But Varsha and Anu remember that they used to walk to school from home a few years ago but now they don’t have to do that.

“We had a proper house, with two bedrooms and kitchen, near the sea. One night my family came to the school. We thought we would go back the next morning. But we couldn’t as our house was taken by the sea,” 12-year-old Anu explains how her family landed up at the school.

Varsha came to the camp with her parents, Christopher and Sindhu, three years ago. She is happy that she doesn’t have to walk to school, but not so happy about the mice and mosquito menace she has to deal with here.

“When we sleep mice run over our body, which I’m very scared of. Most of us sleep on the floor, but earlier at my house we slept on cots. Here we don’t have space as we all live together. But it’s easy to go to class,” she says.

“The children are not so excited about the classroom atmosphere as they live here. We are also sad that we aren’t able to give our kids a better environment, living in these conditions. They don’t even have classrooms… but we are also helpless,” says Sindhu.

Functioning of school stalled

All the classrooms are occupied by numerous families, with only two rooms left for the functioning of the school.

Teachers complain that when they go for fieldwork, many parents want to enrol their children in the school but after a visit to the school, they tend to withdraw the admissions.

“We can’t blame the parents… when they come here they see all these families living in the classrooms with just one room left for the students. This year we had only 10 new students,” a teacher from the school said.

Another teacher from the school, on condition of anonymity, told TNM, “We used to teach in classrooms where some people occupied one corner of the room. We would make a partition using clothes and take classes. But these days the number of displaced people has doubled and the rooms are fully occupied by them. Students don’t even have a toilet to use. There could be more than 300 people staying here!”

“Before 2012, displaced families used to come here to stay temporarily and would return after a while. But later when their houses were completely lost they remained here permanently,” the teacher added.

She also recollects that the school used to do well academically and had more than 300 students in seven classes. “Now we have just 58 students. Since we are government servants, we cannot say anything against this system,” she lamented.

Nobody knows the exact number of displaced people living in the school as it keeps changing. Many of them might soon get flats in an apartment complex being built by the government nearby.

“When Ockhi hit our shores, the number of displaced families increased, but some of them went back later. But those who lost their houses and didn’t have a place to go stayed back here. Day by day the number increased as the sea was getting rough,” says school headmistress Leelamma.

Also read: Living in schools after the sea devoured their homes, these Kerala families are drowning in apathy


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