So today is apparently he first ever International Day of Happiness. This seems fitting as I just spent the best day of my fellowship in the field visiting community colleges in Tamil Nadu. What started as a simple conversation with the principal of Loyola Community College at the International Conference on Community Colleges in Delhi has turned into an amazing field visit. Dr. Stephen Muthu, SJ is a citizen of the world and Jesuit Priest who hails from Tamil Nadu, a state well known for leading India in educational innovation. The State has progressively embraced making education more accessiable, particularly for the poor. Affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Open University Loyola Community College serves 100 young people in Madurai – It helps them get access to job training programs and places them into job in their community. Offering programs in high demand fields like automotive repair, computer hardware and HVAC. Some of their students have even gone on to use the training they gained at Loyola Community College to get jobs abroad; in fact while we were touring the campus one such alum who is currently working in Abu Dhabi stopped by to say thank you to his former teachers.
In the afternoon we proceeded Perikulam, a more rural area of Tamil Nadu and visited Annes Community College. A women’s community college also serving around 100 women. The women we met shared stories of their background, how they found out about the college and why they came to seek training. They are proud of the skills they are learning and confident they will be able to put them to work as nursing assistants, early childhood educators and tailors. After we left Annes Community College we drove into a local gas station – I assumed we were stopping to get gas, when our host, Father Steve got down from the car and asked me to come and meet a former student. I met Muthu Panda (Pictured here). A proud and determined young man who has limited mobility as a result of polio. He is 20 years old and thanks to Loyola Community College he is pursuing his dream of obtaining a university degree and going on to pursue a job in government. He works fulltime at the gas station while also going to school. Father Steve shared with me that when his job as principal of the college gets tough he just thinks of young men like Muthu and is motivated to continue his work.
I’ve been reading and writing about community colleges in India for the past 6 months but today was the first time I was able to sit and talk with students. To hear their stories, to understand their challenges and to see the tremendous potential of empowering these students with the tools they need to support themselves and their families through education and employment. Father Steve told me that when we recruits students he always tells them jobs (and job training) is not about money it is about dignity.