Parents generally want a better life for their children than they had. And in India, this is no exception.

NZEI Te Riu Roa executive officer Gina Lockyer and UnionAID executive officer Michael Naylor recently self-funded a trip to India and Sri Lanka, and spent some of the time looking at a project of after-school centres in Tamil Nadu part-funded by NZEI Te Riu Roa and UnionAID.

UnionAID is a New Zealand charitable trust that helps alleviate poverty and achieve social justice by supporting overseas workers to form unions and worker collectives.

It has worked in partnership with the Tamil Nadu Labour Union in South India for over a decade to organise Dalit workers.  Dalit workers are typically employed in poorly paid jobs and sometimes demeaning jobs due to their caste. Many local leaders have been trained and membership has grown to 30,000.

Dalits are the ex-untouchables class in India and although it is now illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste in India, many still experience prejudice in all facets of life, including education.

Naylor says that the idea for the after-school centres came from the workers themselves.

“They came to us and said they wanted something extra for their kids. Their kids don’t do as well in school. The parents are illiterate and they do not have resources at home. They wanted to set up these after-school tuition centres,” Naylor says.

NZEI Te Riu Roa and others donated money to the project and now nine after-school centres catering for 468 children have been established. They are known locally as “Tamil Nadu Evening Education Centres”.

The centres are overseen by tutors and the children do homework, browse new books, do art and also learn life-skills – such as budgeting.

Some of the parents also attend, and some of whom are illiterate, have learnt to write their names.

Lockyer says the children attending also learn about labour rights and the importance of education.

“They did a play about a girl who was asked by her mother to go to work in a factory and she gets sick working there. So the message was that you should not go to work when you are young, you should be in school,” Lockyer says.

To learn more about this and UnionAID and how to donate go to:

Caption – NZEI Te Riu Roa executive officer Gina Lockyer interviews parents at a centre in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.