From ensuring that each child ate their fill, to quietly packing leftovers for kids from poor families, these Ammas practically raised the students.

Nothing more rewarding Meet the Ammas who fed generations of kids in Kerala schoolsPic by SK Mohan
news Human interest Sunday, July 01, 2018 - 11:25

“During my school days, we were extremely poor. My parents had six children, including me. When my younger sister and I joined school, my mother told us, if possible, get some rice for the younger ones too. After everyone finished their lunch is school, my sister and I would go to the kanji pura (kitchen) with steel lunch boxes. Karthyayani Amma, our cook, would ensure no one was watching, and quietly give us rice and a kiss on our foreheads.”

The person from Kasaragod who shared this memory with the reporter is now a businessman based in Dubai.

Most Keralaites who have studied in government-run schools have loving memories of these Ammas who ran the kanji puras – ensuring each child had their fill of upma, kanji or rice with curries.

For the last 38 years, 72-year-old Narayani Amma has been the heart and soul of the Cheruvakkara government welfare LP School in Kannur district. She is not just a cook at the school, but a major part of the institution’s development.

Any visitor to the school can’t help but notice the lush greenery of its campus, bursting with mango trees, plantains, jackfruit trees, apart from all the flowering plants.

Narayani Amma (Pic by SK Mohan)

Every single tree, plant and shrub in this school was lovingly planted by Narayani Amma herself. She holds on to the firm belief that children learn much from being around nature.

Children in the school can enjoy a mango pickle, made from the mangoes plucked from the trees in the campus, or an extra dish, made from the plantain or spinach from Narayani Amma’s plants.

“This is my second home. I have loved trees and plants a lot since my childhood. I personally believe that our children should start learning along with nature,” she says.

When Narayani Amma joined the school, her wage was just Rs 10 per day. Today, she earns Rs 400 per day.

“During those days, Rs 10 was a very limited amount and it just wasn’t enough. But, serving food to kids is the most beautiful experience. I love seeing them rushing to me during the lunch break.” Narayani Amma trails off as the children start coming in for lunch.

Narayani Amma also planted trees in the nearby lands, owned by other individuals. The school is trying to buy those lands now.

Chandrika Kumari Amma will turn 73 in August. For the last 35 years, she has worked as a cook in the Ponnara Sreedhar Memorial UP School in Thiruvananthapuram.

When she joined, the school would only give the children upma.

“It was upma in the beginning; later, we started serving kanji and green gram. Now, in all the schools, it is rice and curries. Whatever it is, it is fun to serve children,” she smiles, adding, “With the first ring of the lunch break bell, they rush downstairs to me, calling me ‘Ammoomma’ (grandmother). No other job will give me this sort of pleasure.”

Sometimes, school alumni come to school just to meet Chandrika Amma. “They come and ask me whether I remember them. They gratefully recall that I served them food when they were hungry. But now I am aged; I may not remember all their faces,” she says.

Chandrika Amma (Pic by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)

Chandrika Amma remembers several instances where children stayed back to ask her for extra food to take home to their families.

“Those days, poverty was extremely severe. I used to give them the leftovers, even though it was not legal. Nowadays, I don’t see children doing this,” she says.

She adds cheerfully that she wants to continue working for as long as she can because she loves children. Some children don’t eat at all, we have to compel them to eat. I have grandchildren, so I know how to do that. Other children love eating,” she chuckles.

“I remember there would be children who would ask for food earlier on in the day for they hadn’t eaten anything all day. I would always ensure they ate enough,” she adds.

Anandamma, 72, works at Chala Government UP and Nursery School in Thiruvananthapuram. She is worried about her physical ailments and has no idea what she can do if she leaves the school.

“I have worked here and fed children here for the last 32 years. Now, I have become weak; but I am not ready to leave these kids,” she says.

Anandamma (Pic by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)

She adds that the kitchen staff do not receive pension, and says she has no idea how she will get by after retirement.

But, she says, the love she receives from the children is her greatest reward.

All three of them have been honoured numerous times by alumni.

"One day, some alumni, now in their 30s, visited me with a saree and some other gifts. They told me mine was the tastiest food they have ever eaten. That made me very happy," Narayani Amma beams.

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