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Child rights champion

EducationWorld April 17 | People

Coimbatore-based Latha Sundaram is promoter and managing trustee of the Aram Foundation Charitable Trust (AFCT, estb.2012), which provides soft skills training, counselling, guidance and academic support to 24,170 underprivileged students of 83 schools managed by the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC). AFCT also conducts awareness and self-defence training programmes for school girls and women to empower them to protect themselves against opportunistic abuse. 

Newspeg. A former national volleyball star employed in Indian Railways since 1984, Sundaram balances her several roles as homemaker, working woman and social activist with rare finesse, and AFCT’s service to CCMC schools and society has been widely appreciated. For securing the highest number of public votes in a ‘100 women achievers of 2015’ nationwide poll/contest conducted by the Union ministry of women and child development (WCD) in collaboration with Facebook, Sundaram received an award from President Pranab Mukherjee this January. 

History. A psychology and education alumna of Bharathiar and Annamalai universities, Sundaram registered AFCT in 2012. Starting with three, she scaled up AFCT’s projects steadily to include general counselling and career guidance; vetri palli (smart class) for academic support; baala jana graha — a civic education programme; the Swachh Bharat (‘clean India’) campaign for Coimbatore, Erode and Salem railway stations; segregation and recycling of waste in CCMC’s ward 54. To implement these projects, AFCT has a team of 1,000 trained student volunteers from colleges in the city, another team comprising psychologists, educationists, counsellors and self-defence trainers, and seven teachers are employed for vetri palli. Sundaram funds most of these projects herself with help from family and small donations made by college students. 

Direct talk. “Most students in CCMC schools are from broken families or children of daily wage labourers. Our objective is to ensure they are well-educated and provided career counselling and job opportunities. Therefore, we train them in soft skills, anger management, interpersonal skills, personal hygiene and also teach them citizenship,” says Sundaram. 

Future plans. Having won the respect and confidence of CCMC children, this indefatigable social activist has drawn up an action plan to cover more schools and launch new projects. “We have finalised our project puthri (girl child) in partnership with the Chennai-based NGO Avatar to train and counsel 2,000 girls of classes VIII-XII in corporation and government schools for careers in the IT industry. Also on the drawing board are plans to transform six government primary schools into model institutions in partnership with the well-known German auto component manufacturer Bosch Ltd. I’m positive we will make life better for thousands of CCMC school children in the near future,” says this tireless champion of women and children’s rights. 

Wind beneath your wings!

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai) 

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