|Each year, we take a group of students from Japanese universities to
India where they learn about Indian culture, society and development. We
spend much of our time in Kovalam, a fishing village located on the Bay of
Bengal, only 40 km south of Tamil Nadu's largest city, Chennai.
Chennai (formally Madras) is a modern city of about 7 million people and
home to India's automobile manufacturing industry, a growing IT sector and a
film industry that rivals 'Bollywood.' As close as it is to Chennai, Kovalam
remains much as it was before independence.
population of 6,000, half are children. It is divided into nine 'hamlets'
based on caste or religion. The fishing colony is next to the beautiful
beach and is often used as a backdrop for Tamil films.
Not all of Kovalam's hamlets are so picturesque, however. At the "back"
of the village are four colonies of 'Dalits' or former untouchables.
These are the poorest of India's poor. Few have jobs, most of the men and
many of the women are day-laborers and most families have incomes of less
than $2 a day. Because we return with students each year to "study" Kovalam,
we asked leaders of the Dalit community what we could do in return.
They said, "help us build a playground for our children, there are none in
The play structure pictured above was completed in March, 2007 in
Kotai Colony, one of the four Dalit colonies in Kovalam. For more about the
construction, click here.