Ranthi a Ray of Hope!
When the formative years of children are troubling, it reflects on their nature. They become skeptical of several things—including strangers. These children mostly keep to themselves. And when they do talk, they keep it to the point. Ranthi Ekka, the 11-year-old girl from Manko Upper Primary School in Sundargarh District, perfectly fits the description!
A student of class III, Ranthi came across as a shy child … barely audible if she at all spoke. Her answers were to the point and her demeanor, that of the child who would hide behind others when it came to a photo opportunity. All this, however, changed the moment she stepped on the playground with her friends. One could sense the enthusiasm in the little girl as she ran around, giggling all along. The transformation was nothing short of dramatic … prompting the question “is this the same girl?”
Ranthi lost her father when she was a toddler. It got worse when her mother—perhaps worried about how she would raise a child on her own—left without informing anyone. Ranthi was left at the mercy of her maternal grandparents, and despite having a host of problems—poverty being one of them, the couple decided to raise the girl as their own child. “It is sad that she (Ranthi’s mother) decided to leave without telling us, but now that Ranthi is with us, she is our responsibility,” her grandmother said, whilst diligently tending her small garden where she grew vegetables.
Ranthi’s grandfather, who works in other people’s fields as a daily wage employee, narrates the story of how they mustered the courage to send the little girl to school. “We live in a bad condition. Most of our energy is spent in trying to figure out how to get a proper meal for ourselves and her (Ranthi). The thought of sending her to school was there. We couldn’t give our son proper schooling, and as a result, he is out there in the city doing odd jobs that come his way. We didn’t want Ranthi to suffer the same fate. So we wanted to (send her to school), but couldn’t figure out how to do that.”
Ranthi’s grandparents had heard about meals being distributed in the school every afternoon, but they were under the assumption that they will have to pay to get that food. “When they used to get together to play in the evening, the children from our neighborhood used to tell Ranthi what they had for lunch at school that day. But then, we were not sure if we could afford it.”
One day when he was passing by the school, he saw Akshaya Patra vehicle delivering food to the school. He mustered courage to ask the vehicle driver where this food was coming from and how much he would have to pay for it. “When he said I won’t have to pay anything, I was surprised,” he remembers. “He sent me to the school authorities and they told me that if I get Ranthi admitted to the school, she too will get the same food.” He was elated at the idea of his granddaughter getting a plateful of food every day, something that she was not guaranteed at home. Thus, started Ranthi’s journey of schooling, and along with good food, she also got access to proper education.
Ranthi symbolizes the story of hundreds of children from these parts of Odisha, for whom school is the route to better life. These children come to school either because they get good food or because they get to play. By her own confession, Ranthi likes to come to school because she gets to play. Her Odiya teacher, Rajesh Kumar Tirkey told us that she is an average student, but very enthusiastic about sports. “She often participates in sports meet held at school,” he said. When we noticed that she was hurriedly finishing her lunch, she told us that she wanted to use the remaining time to play with her friends Dashmi, Asarita, Anita, and Karmi.
At 11, Ranthi may not understand the importance of nutritious food, but there is no denying the fact that it is important for her growth. At home, they mostly eat rice gruel with salt or chilies—a trend that is quite prevalent in this region. At school, she gets a variety of food, including her favorite daal paneer, kheer, and soyabadi. It is this nutritious food that helps Ranthi make the most of the playtime she gets at school!