The world’s largest Banyan tree is located in the Theosophical Society of India, Chennai which is a few miles from Pathway. It is believed to be the oldest Banyan Tree in the world: 450 years old. Its sprawling branches cover 40,000 square feet. It measures 238 feet from north to south and 250 feet from east to west. Under its shade as many as 30,000 people have sat and heard discourses by the great Philosopher J Krishnamurthi, Annie Besant, Maria Montessori, etc.
Just a few miles from this world famous Banyan Tree, the special children and adults at Pathway grow a fine collection of 10 -12 year old Bonsai Banyan Trees with great care and love. Their supervisor, Ravi, has selected several species of Banyan, Mango, Lime, Citrus, Ficus, etc to nurture and to sculpt into attractive designs in the Japanese art of miniature tree growing. He demonstrates to his students how to grow these plants in flat-based shallow earthen pots with several holes drilled for drainage of water, how to re-pot them with the proper quantity of soil and water, how to position them for proper light and air, how to prune the roots, branches, and foliage, and how to tie and bend the stem with thick wires so that the trees take attractive designs. Boys are taught to use proper quantity and quality of soil, use of water and placement of these growing trees in proper light and air. Many people who regularly visit the Agrofarm to buy potted plants from the nursery are highly impressed with the Bonsai Collection which sell for around Rs.3000- Rs.5000 ($60-$100) each.
Akash is in the 10th grade and will graduate from Pathway in April. He wants to attend a tech college in marine engineering to become a ship pilot, a four year program with fees of about $500 per year. His side interest is Tamil music. He plans to attend school mornings and work afternoons to finance himself. He will live in Tambaram with his father who works nights in an export factory, his mother who embroiders dresses from 7 am to 6 pm, and his sister, Ashika, who graduated from Pathway in May 2013. Once a somewhat mischievious boy, he now takes seriously his position as a quiet but steady leader among the youth at Pathway.
It is now more than twenty years since Pathway started serving poor normal children from the urban slums adjacent to the city centre of Chennai by offering them free educational support. This service has galvanized lives of many children. Recently it was a pleasure to meet some of the boys and girls who have metamorphosed into successful young men and women in different walks of life. Ramesh, who was in the 8th grade in 1992, is today successfully employed in the engineering section of the Public Works Department of the state government. Similarly, Parimala is now working as a teacher in a government primary and middle school near Chennai. There have been other success stories from many of the children who were served by Pathway over the years. It was indeed satisfying and thrilling to hear such stories about many former students.
In 1992, as Pathway was in process of shifting to its new building at Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai (where it is presently located), there was considerable hostility and opposition from the neighborhood, where hundreds of slum dwellers live next to the mosquito-ridden canal bank. The disabled children of Pathway faced hostility from men, women and children from the slum, who had the bizarre belief that the presence of disabled children in the area or even catching sight of them would spell “doom and bad luck”; therefore, the local people tried all methods to stall the functioning of Pathway. Prasad and Chandra were baffled with this new problem and pondered over this for several days, when out came the solution. First: They decided to throw open the doors of the walk-in clinic to all the poor in the slum so that the men, women and children could receive free medical services and thereby have an opportunity get closer to the institution. This helped many so that they would actually visit Pathway and see the services which were given and accept the children with disabilities. Second: To encourage children to get closer to Pathway, it was decided to start a child-friendly programme of helping a few school children in their education between 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day. This step had an overwhelming response as more than 100 children approached the organization for assistance. This compelled Pathway to enlist several well-educated and dedicated teachers to offer educational support to these poor children who were attending the government-run corporation schools. This free and highly friendly support gained the patronage of hundreds of children who needed educational support for completing homework as well as for understanding their lessons better. This move by Pathway brought great changes in the lives of children as they flocked in the evenings to attend the well-organized classes. The focus on spoken English gained much popularity. This service brought great dividends. Once hostile neighborhood children came to know many of the disabled children by name and showed positive affection and concern to them. In addition to this, Pathway also offered the deserving poor children modest financial support by purchasing books, stationery, clothing and other needs. This experience formed the foundation to understand the needs children, particularly girl children, and the problem of Indian children marginalized by poverty, and paved the way for Pathway to establish the Pamela Martinez Matriculation School and orphanage.
Many studies show that poverty and lack of education go hand in hand. One of the best ways to lift children from dire poverty is education, which allows them to earn better wages as adults and to value the education of their children. Poverty in India is widespread, with the nation estimated to have a third of the world’s poor. In 2010, the World Bank reported that 32.7% of the Indian population lives below international poverty line, with income of less than $1.25 per day, while 68.7% live on an income of less than $2 per day. According to the Seventh All-India Education Survey, in India there are more than 35 million children between the ages of 6 and 14 years who do not attend any school. Fifty-three percent of girls are illiterate, not able to even write their own names. The situation in many schools is appalling. On an average there are less than three teachers in each primary school in the country, where many teachers are expected to manage children between grades 1 and 5 every day. In these areas there appears to be alarmingly high dropout rates: 50% of boys and 58% of girls drop out of schools between grades three and five. The reasons given are the need for the children to work to help support their families and the parents having little or no interest in education. Pathway has been addressing this problem in a humble way, but with some success. By sustained effort, school dropout at the Pamela Martinez/Pathway Matriculation School and Orphanage has been reduced from 19% in 2002 (its first year of operation) to 2.5% in 2013. This lift will spiral upward for generations.
Diwali or Deepavali is a festival of lights symbolizing the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The Sanskrit word Deepavali translates into rows of lights. It involves lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. These lights are kept on during the nights and the house is kept clean. Firecrackers and fireworks are burst as it believed that it drives away evil forces.
Deepavali was celebrated in a combined festivity at the Pamela Martinez /Pathway Agro Farm for Children. The event was filled with bursting of crackers and fireworks which illuminated the sky. Children from all the facilities of Pathway descended to the Agro Farm right from the afternoon to partake in this most loveable and colourful festival. All the children were served with plenty of sweets and special food and were gifted with new clothes, colourful frocks, salwar Kameez , shirts and pants. The entire atmosphere was electric and it was a job to contain the excitement of children as they participated in playing with fireworks. Special innovative fireworks were displayed for the benefit of children.