“We are working to make this a zero-waste campus,” R. Gayathri says, as she points to a broken suitcase that has become a mini flower bed. She is an enthusiastic guide, and her tour is interspersed with bits of information about the girls’ daily routine.
Her vibrant chatter and cheerful smile belie the pain she went through in earlier years. Gayathri’s mother died six years back, when the girl was barely a teenager. Her father developed Parthenium allergy, a skin condition that limited his ability to step out of the house – with it came the inability to work or take care of his daughter. At that time, he heard about the Atmalaya Swami Dayananda AIM for Seva Chatralaya for Girls, Udumalpet, Tamil Nadu.
When she arrived at the chatralaya, Gayathri was very withdrawn. She barely spoke, and would respond only if a specific question was asked. She was physically weak, as her father had been unable to afford nutritious food or cook for her. The lack of emotional support from family members had given rise to fear and lack of security.
There was a silver lining. “Gayathri looked at studies as her ticket to success, and she was very hardworking. At the chatralaya, we gave her everything she needed to do well – food, tuition, support and security. I kept telling her we were all there for her – always,” says Swamini Gurupriyananda Saraswati ji, the coordinator of the Udumalpet chatralaya.
For Gayathri, it was a second chance at life – and she grabbed it with both hands. It took her a year to emerge from her shell – from then, the metamorphosis was rapid. In the Class 12 board exams, she scored 1,119 out of 1,200 marks.
Today, the 19-year-old is in her second year in the B. Com in Chartered Accountancy course at the Government Arts College, Udumalpet, and aspires to become an IAS officer. Swamini Gurupriyananda Saraswati ji helped her to procure second-hand IAS exam guide books, and she spends her weekends poring over them.