By Winter Johnson

If you’re walking through the Pudupattinam Village before 8 a.m. on a weekday, you may see 23-year-old K. Sivashankari, dressed and speeding down the road to the seashore on her blue and white scooter. As a field assistant for her local government — responsible for reporting on fishing activities every morning and liaising with the fishermen on benefits and government schemes — she is used to the ebbs and flows of fishing village life.

But Sivashankari’s life is a far cry from her early years in the village, which were marked by familial strife and the death of her father, leaving her mother to care for three young children on her own.

She credits HOPE foundation’s Pudupattinam School for many of the changes in her life. Due to an unstable home environment, a family suffering from material poverty, the cultural emphasis on girls getting married versus having an education, and the 2004 tsunami destroying all the local schools, Sivashankari’s prospects of going to school were slim.

But the HOPE foundation made a way with the assistance of international aid, building a school for local children to help restore the community.  Since it began in 2005, 835 students have received a high-quality education. Currently, 57 girls and 43 boys are in attendance, and Sivashankari was part of the first ‘batch’ of students to begin school in 2005.

‘Education was the only way for me to change my life,’ Sivashankari said in Tamil, her first language. ‘After my dad died in 2015, we were going through a difficult time, no one helped us, we had to help ourselves. We had to find ways to come up.’

With a tilt of her head and a smile, she said she ‘cannot forget the Pudupattinam School’, remembering the annual days, dancing, skits, playing sports – and of course – the academics, where she excelled in maths. However, her early attendance was inconsistent, as her father occasionally told her not to go to school or her mother was unavailable to help her get ready.

There were many days that teachers would show up at her home just to help her get to school.

Graduating from the Pudupattinam School in 2011, she went on to secondary school, and then university at Queen Mary’s Government College, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in physics.

Even with her passion for education, Sivashankari’s recent years have been a struggle against her family’s expectation that she gets married. After she got her degree, her mother was insistent, even looking for an ‘alliance’ for her to marry. But she said no, even though it caused tension between her and her mother for many months.

‘In India, it is very challenging for you to say “no” to an alliance,’ Sivashankari said. ‘I wasn’t happy with the person my mother chose.’

Many women in Pudupattinam are completely dependent on their husbands for their livelihood and have no say in the family, said Nalini Kagoo, the principal of the school.  But Sivashankari refuses to bend to the norms of her village, taking it upon herself to have two side hustles in addition to her government work – making art portraits and providing maths tuition to secondary school students. According to Sivashankari, studying and working allows her to ‘stand on her own feet’.

As Sivashankari envisions a future where more women in India receive support to get an education, she is looking to continue her studies by getting a master’s in medical physics. As for the present, Sivashankari is happy to tell others about how her education transformed her life and carved a path to success.

‘If women are in difficult situations, giving them the support to study and complete their education will build their confidence,’ Sivashankari said.

This financial year HOPE worldwide UK is providing more than 70 percent of the funding for the Pudupattinam School.

If you would like to support the school, please click here, and look for the ‘Pudupattinam School’ in the dropdown.

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