Chantamma worked as a coolie labourer till the age of nine. Today, at 18 years, she is doing Engineering in the prestigious Indian Institute of Information Technology, Nuzvid, Andhra Pradesh. On asking how she achieved this feat, she only blushes! “It’s all due to Don Bosco Navajeevan, Vijayawada, and Fr. Thomas Koshy”, says Chantamma with all modesty! If it were not for the timely intervention of Navajeevan, this little girl’s fate would have been no different from what poet Thomas Gray describes in his ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness in the desert air.
Chantamma Vilugudi was born in a small village of Chigudipadu in Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh. Her father Kandha Rao and mother Lakshmi Kandamma were both agricultural labourers. They belonged to the Madiga community (traditionally engaged in shoe making).
Chantamma was the youngest of the three daughters of her parents. They lived in a small house allotted to them by the government under the housing scheme. They had no land of their own. Since her father often suffered from ulcers and her mother got frequent attacks of migraine headache, they could not go for work regularly. Hence at the age of 7 Chantamma also joined her sisters for coolie work in the neighbouring agricultural farms. Poverty, illness and the sheer inability to support three daughters left Kandha Rao and Lakshmi with no option but to ask their little ones also to contribute to the meagre family income.
As a result, Chantamma had no time to go to school, to play or even to take rest. Deep inside, this bright and intelligent girl longed to go to school to learn and to have fun, but these were dreams beyond her reach. She had no one to turn to for help. “This is my fate,” she would tell herself, stoically suppressing the pain in her heart and resign herself to the daily drudgery of working in the fields.
This was the time Don Bosco Navajeevan launched in 2002 an Anti-Child-Labour Campaign in the State of Andhra Pradesh. Rallies were conducted and door-to-door surveys made. During one such campaign,
Ms. Syamala, a social worker and staff of Don Bosco Navajeevan, one day visited Chantamma’s house and learned about the girls’ plight. She explained to the parents about the implications of child labour and how child lobour perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Syamala told them about the existence of Government Hostel facilities for children and also offered them the opportunity to reside at Navajeevan and go to school. Though it was not easy, she was able to convince the parents. Finally, they allowed their youngest daughter Chantamma to go to Navajeevan. By now Chantamma was 9 years old!
At Navajeevan, Chantamma was admitted to the residential Bridge Course for girl children called Setu. She had to begin with the alphabets! On completion of the Bridge Course, Chantamma was admitted to Class III. She was very quiet and hardworking. She was obedient and self-disciplined. The girl’s spirit of determination was her biggest strength which made her move ahead very fast in studies. Very soon she was sent to Class IV in a mainstream Government school with residential facility at a Government-run Welfare Hostel at Gunadala, Vijayawada. Navajeevan kept providing all the necessary support. She was a very quick learner and a rank holder every year. Finally, in 2011, in Class X, she gave a stunning performance, scoring 547 marks out of 600.
At this time there was a Government Scheme for rural students who score more than 500 marks in SSLC to directly enter Engineering colleges through what was then called Integrated Engineering Courses. For Chantamma it was smooth sailing to the prestigious Indian Institute of Information Technology, Nuzvid, Krishna District, on scholarship! After the six-year course, Chantamma will be a triple IT Engineering Degree holder.
Currently, she is a first-year Engineering student and stays in the Campus Hostel in Nuzvid. Her hard work and determination, with the timely intervention and support of Navajeevan Vijayawada, has made possible for Chantamma something considered hard to achieve even for children from rich families. The Government takes care of her study and hostel. She is also eligible for various awards and incentives that Navajeevan provides for meritorious children like her. Navajeevan is accompanying Chantamma on her journey. Besides the regular follow-up and emotional support, it is taking care of her expenses like stationary, exam fee and pocket money.
Chantamma has been linked back to her family too. She regularly visits her family during holidays. They too come to meet her whenever it is possible for them. They are grateful to Don Bosco Navajeevan for its facilitation and support.
Chantamma wishes to live a good life and help other girls like her to come up in life. In her own words, “You have given me so much in my life… because of it I am where I am… It was a start from scratch. I want to pay it back by helping other girl-children to come up in life.”
Chantamma – Navajeevan, Vijayawada