Express press service
THOOTHUKUDI: Surrounded by dense orchid palm trees sits the eight-decade-old college in the peaceful hamlet of Anthoniyarpuram. What was started in 1940 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tirunelveli to educate the children of palm climbers, then transformed into RC Middle School in 2003, the school found itself short of funds.
It was then that the whole village joined hands to provide support and help. They set up a ‘Kalvi Nidhi Kulu’ (education fund committee) along the Thoothukudi-Tirunelveli NH, where money generated from the sale of pathaneer, a sap or juice extracted from the tender fronds of palm trees, is used to cover school expenses.
Pathaneer is usually collected by palmyra climbers in small earthen pots covered with lime on its inner surface to prevent fermentation. The drink is bought by the committee at wholesale price to be sold to customers. Committee chairman Siluvai Anthony said the general rule for all tappers is to give their snippet of the day to the committee at a decent price. A palm climber from Anthoniyarpuram said, “The idea sounded good because the tappers don’t have to wait for hours on the side of the road to sell the juice. Moreover, it will help their children to learn.
However, there were some challenges. Home to around 400 families, most of the inhabitants of the village are palymra climbers, whose main occupation is tapping the pathaneer. However, over the years, the number of climbers has drastically decreased. “The village now has over nine palmyra climbers, the number has increased from over 100, many families prefer other jobs due to the health risks involved,” Anthony said.
He added that climbers were logging around 600 liters of pathaneer a day during peak seasons – June, July and August. However, palm climbers would be out of work for six months starting in September because palm trees do not secrete pathaneer, Anthony said. The committee will give climbers a wholesale price for the amount of pathaneer they extract during the day. Along the Thoothukudi-Tirunelveli NH, the committee has a stall where it is sold.
“A liter of pathaneer costs Rs 100,” Anthony said, adding that at least 400 to 500 liters will be sold out within hours. The unsold pathaneer is then used to make karupatti which will also be sold to generate funds for the school, he said. Stella Mary, Principal of Anthoniarpuram RC Middle School, told TNIE that the school has up to 163 students, including 95 in primary and 68 in middle school, currently. “Many students have passed with flying colors from school,” she added.
The president of Anthonyarpuram Catholica Valibar Sangam, Jeyaseelan, said the college in the region is helping to reduce the number of dropouts. “As children coming out of primary grades have to travel 5 kilometers to attend high school, a high dropout rate has been observed. Now children can study up to grade 8 here,” he added.
Anthoniarpuram Police Station Constable Gnanaraj said he studied at school. “After my father died, I had to climb palm trees to mine the pathaneer to make ends meet and fund my school fees,” he recalls. Each of the three college teachers receives Rs 10,000, Anthony said. They are temporarily selecting B.Ed graduates to teach the middle class. However, graduates from families of palmyra climbers said they were the last generation to climb the palms to exploit the pathaneer.