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The Sri Lankan civil war tore their lives apart, and Bhuvaneswari who was a school teacher in Trincomalee found that her means to a livelihood and the farmlands her family owned had gone up in smoke. In the final phase of the civil war in 2009, the Tamil woman fled her home country grabbing her son Saieesan S and whatever she could get hold of. They landed in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and was lodged in the Mandapam refugee camp.
A decade later, Saieesan is working in Tata Consultancy Services. And, he is also hoping for job in Canada. The young techie is grateful to have had the chance to study at the Elite School was run by Ramanathapuram District Administration, which made all the difference in his life.
Saieesan was born in Jaffna. The Sri Lankan Tamil boy was studying in class 8 at Trincomalee Government School where his mother was a teacher. As the civil war in the island nation was drawing to a close in August, 2009, the family found itself caught amid the chaos. Fearing for their lives, they fled to Rameswaram. All Bhuvaneswari had in her hands was Rs 10,000 and a pair of gold earrings.
“My mother was a teacher in Sri Lanka but she had to eke out a living with whatever job she could get here. She worked in seafood companies, construction sites and dry fish processing companies. Life was very difficult,” says Saieesan.
At Mandapam refugee camp, where Sri Lankan Tamils who fled the war are lodged, Bhuvaneswari was provided with a monthly allowance of Rs 750 from the government. Unable to make ends meet, Bhuvaneswari started working in a seaweed processing company for daily wages of Rs 100. “My mother was a teacher in Sri Lanka but she had to eke out a living with whatever job she could get here. She worked in seafood companies, construction sites and dry fish processing companies. Life was very difficult,” says Saieesan.
The boy was enrolled in a Tamil medium school near the refugee camp. The Sri Lankan Tamil boy continued his class 8 there. “I scored second rank in the half-yearly exam and first rank in the final exams. I secured 441 marks out of 500 in Class 10 in 2012,” Saieesan says.
He selected the group with mathematics and science in Class 11. When he just began class 12, then Ramanathapuram District Collector K Nanthakumar had started the Elite School. Saieesan got a place in the school because he had secured the first rank at Mandapam camp school. The Elite School functioned in the Municipal Girls High School at Ramanathapuram.
Saieesan says 22 students were selected that year. He has not forgotten his beloved teachers—Navaneethakrishnan for mathematics, Arumugam for Zoology, Kumar for Physics, Gnanaprakasam for Chemistry, Tamilarasi for Tamil and Jhansi Rani for English. “Our teachers were so dedicated and the classes would go on well into the night. They treated us like their own children,” he says.
District Collector Nanthakumar would meet the students on weekends to mentor them. Saieesan, a refugee, knew that education would be the only way he could have a dignified life. He scored 1,088 marks out of 1,200 in the class 12 public exams held in 2014, with 196 marks each in Physics and Chemistry, 195 in Maths and 185 marks in Biology. His cut-off for engineering was 195.75. He was his school’s top-scorer.
“Our teachers were so dedicated and the classes would go on well into the night. They treated us like their own children,” he says.
While he was studying in Elite School, the municipal school teacher Thilagavathy was his great source of motivation. She told him that VIT University was offering free engineering courses for the top-scorers from ten districts of Tamil Nadu under the STARS (Support the Advancement of Rural Students Scheme) programme. He applied at VIT University, and was given a B Tech seat in Production and Industrial Engineering.
Having secured a free seat at VIT, Saieesan did not need to appear for engineering counseling. “I can’t thank VIT Chancellor G Viswanathan enough for giving me a free education and Nandakumar IAS for the Elite school facility,” he says.
Saieesan completed B Tech in 2018 and got a job offer at TCS through campus placement. After completing his training, Saieesan has been working in TCS since 2018. His mother Bhuvaneswari still lives in Mandapam refugee camp.
Inspired by how Elite School changed his future, the Sri Lankan Tamil boy has been volunteering at the Model School of The School Education Department of Tamil Nadu, in his effort to do something for students like him.
Saieesan was one among the alumni who have been selected by the present Commissioner of School Education to motivate school students at the department’s model schools. “We present our cases to the students of such schools and motivate them to aim high. It is a small token of gratitude to the government school that shaped us,” he adds.
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