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Meet the teachers from our residential school for the underprivileged. They also double up as friends and family to their students. Here’s a little peek into what they do in a day- sunrise to sunset. Do they wear a cape? Find out!

A young boy with a toothy grin zipped past on his hand-me-down yellow bicycle with a few boys trailing behind. The carefree hair, untucked shirts and the cackling laughter through the canopied roads was evident enough that these boys were just out of school. Right behind them, a man follows, hollering at them to be careful and get back to class. This is Soundar, the teacher at the Residential Special Training Center (RSTC) run by HiH India at Kancheepuram. Soundar is only in the late twenties but his quiet yet firm tone was enough to get the boys to stop their shenanigans.

Meet Soundar — teacher, mentor, volleyball coach and much more

Soundar began his journey at the HiH India’s centre in 2015 and has been teaching here ever since. He is popular among his students and they have lots to say about him — he is the school’s puppeteer, the volleyball teacher and their best friend, to just mention a few of his many roles.

Hearing so much about him, we decided to get to know him better. We wondered what got him to become a teacher, what keeps him motivated.

We followed him from sunrise to sunset.

Daybreak — Soundar is the Yoga master

Following the school’s timetable, Soundar and his wards begin the day early at 6 am with a yoga class. The students trickle into the school’s courtyard, sleepy yet eager to begin their day. Yoga as a form of exercise and something Soundar stands by firmly. He believes that ‘the Surya Namaskars and asanas lend not just discipline to the students routine but also increases their mental health and build positive energy’.

Yoga brings focus and discipline to the students

Soon after yoga, the whole courtyard is buzzing with activities. It’s bath time for some, reading the newspaper for some and reciting multiples for the rest. Soundar attends to all his students individually and along with his fellow teachers, they plan and allocate themselves to different classes through the day.

Sounder gets his students to read the newspapers to practise their reading skills and also stay abreast of relevant news.

The students at the residential school come from poor, marginalised communities, once subjected to child labour, abuse and neglect before being enrolled here. Education and two square meals was once a far fetched dream for them. Our teachers and staff at the RSTCs patiently work with these children to break the years of trauma they have been through, like this boy from Madhya Pradesh. They are taught everything from washing their hands before eating, the importance of nutritious food, games, art and more. These centres first focus on creating a safe space for these children and later integrating them into mainstream education and society. The process of healing and nurturing is done with the utmost care and kindness.

Midday — Soundar dons the puppeteer's hat

Education is the core of this centre, and the focus is on lessons and concepts through an Activity Based Learning System. Classes are taught through music, dance, theatre and smart classes. We asked Soundar what his favourite activity was, “I love puppeteering and magic shows. In fact, I try to bring in theatrical elements and stories into my class and the children love it too!”

No more chalkboards, smart boards are what we use at our residential schools!

As Soundar finished up with the afternoon class with English, we had a chance to speak to him again. What is his relationship with his students like, we asked? He says it’s everything!

Taking on roles such as a father, elder brother, friend, mentor- going beyond the role of just being a teacher is quite challenging. Unlike a regular school, working at the RSTC is not just a 9–5 job. It is Soundar’s commitment every day to his students and pushing his limits as a teacher.

Evening — Volleyball coach is what Soundar is now!

We asked Soundar, who he is beyond being a teacher?

Volleyball is the stress buster for both teacher and students!

He responds enthusiastically that he is a sportsperson! Heading to the volleyball court is something he looks forward to, as his students. For them, he’s a coach teaching them the true meaning of sportsmanship through his actions. By constantly mentoring them and pushing them to participate in different sports. Volleyball and football are his go-to stress busters!

What motivates Soundar?

Soundar always wanted to be a teacher.

His father was a teacher in his village and when they walked through the streets, people would stop and greet them with immense respect. This always inspired him to get the same kind of recognition and respect someday. His parents are now extremely proud of him, especially when he goes back home. His father makes it a point to call all his neighbours home to meet the ‘teacher son’!

Five years down the line Soundar still pictures himself to be teaching. Yet we wonder what is it that motivates him to stick on?

He says there are times when he misses his family, wanted to quit and go back. Then he is reminded of his students who don’t all have the comfort of homes and families to go back to. The love and respect he receives from his students and the same he gives back are quite unparalleled to the comfort of a home and ambitions of a ‘better-paid’ job.

Do all Superheroes wear capes?

Not at all. We also figured that one doesn’t need a cape to be a superhero. All one needs is good intent and a giving attitude.

Real heroes don’t wear capes, they teach. Like Soundar.

See this video where we’ve captured a day with another teacher at our school — Milkal is the superhero for our wards at the Residential girl's school.

Hand in Hand India works across India in the area of Child Labour Elimination. We run schools for first-generation rural learners in Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh and have prepared more than 3 lakh such children for mainstream schools. We have converted more than 1000 panchayats (groups of villages) into child-friendly ones. Read more about our work here.