Bridget Horkan with schoolchildren in India and, inset, a drawing of the new centre with sports grounds in the background.

Mayo native reports on joy in India at grant to progress educational project

AMID the austerity of the Indian coronavirus lockdown, a community is jumping for joy with the approval of grant aid of €10,000 by Electric Aid Ireland for an educational project.

The work of the Thamarai team has also been strongly supported by the community of Castlebar, with a native of the town, Bridget Horkan, working on the ground in India.

The grant from Electric Aid will support the completion of the first stage of a learning centre and sports ground development for the Thamarai educational projects (two after-schools and playgroup for 130 children, leadership programmes and health education programmes in 12 government schools) in rural villages in Tamil Nadu, India.

The first stage development is for two classrooms and outdoor study, kitchen, bathrooms, basic sports ground and a garden area and will just take three more months to complete. A later stage will see the addition of a third classroom and finishes to the sportsground.

Electric Aid is the social justice fund of ESB staff and ESB pensioners that approves grants, every two months, to community projects with requests. This may be of interest to Mayo community projects who are struggling at the moment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis (see

Bridget has sent a message of thanks back home to all in Mayo who have got behind the project, including here at The Connaught Telegraph, with an article published on the project last July included as part of the funding application.

Thanks also sincerely to the people of Castlebar who attended the quiz fundraisers in the Bridge House, to the men's shed for their singing, and to all who sent individual contributions and good wishes over the years to support the dream.

And last, but not least, thanks is extended to volunteers Mairead Ludden for her engineering consultancy, Katie Reddington and to Luke Horkan who volunteered on the programme in India for the past four months and arrived home, three weeks ago, as the coronavirus crisis began to take shape in India.

On the situation with the virus in India, Bridget explains: "While there had been a build up of information on the situation on coronavirus, which gave us time to run a number of health awareness programmes on the subject at the project, the lockdown came very fast and caught many people, especially those in the informal sector such as migrant workers in India. Many of them left the cities where they worked at just a few hours’ notice, unable to pay for rent or get any public transport, and headed for their villages on foot with little provisions, many walking hundreds of miles.

"In the villages we work in, people are staying home and there is sufficient food. Children are finding it hard though, as homes are small, not equipped with the modern conveniences such as computers that children have in the west, and the lockdown conditions allow people to leave home for food and medicines only until 1 p.m.

"The coloured pencils, activity sheets, books and games that we gave the children before we closed are being well used."

The Thamarai team is endeavouring to find novel ways to continue the children’s learning. These include a children's writing and drawing competition, My Ideal World, for several age categories, that will award a prize to everyone.

From April 6 they are creating learning pods by phone, connecting three children with one youth facilitator over the telephone. The youth facilitators are all university graduates and many were children in Thamarai when it started in 2006.

Bridget continued: "The daily learning pods will give the children a means to connect together to nourish their hearts and minds in a structured call designed to give children time to express their feelings, motivate one another, learn something new each day and plan for home learning activities.

"We also continue to spread health information to the communities we serve. And we are also using this as a time of preparation for when we open again, creating new activities, reflecting on the learning outcomes of last year and what we will do differently next year, and preparing learning in action activities for the completion of our new centre and garden space."

The Ministry of Health regularly communicates preventive health measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks. The number of confirmed cases in India on April 6 was 3,500 but as testing is not extensive, in reality, figures will be much higher.

Work on the construction of the new centre is now at a standstill due to the pandemic.

Said Bridget: "On the day that we closed the construction site for the new building, the construction team held a pooja blessing prior to the cement being poured for the ground floor ceiling as part of a beautiful Indian tradition held at the major stages in projects where flowers, incense, fire and prayers are offered and sweets disbursed to support success.

"And it was just in time, as the first floor of the centre was completed by the end of day when the site closed until further notice, but at least now we have our walls in place and a roof over our head."

The children, she said, are excited and often point at the centre, saying "New Thamarai, new Thamarai".

"As children are an intrinsic part of everything we do, they have already designed the sports ground and chosen the designated games to be assigned courts. Post coronavirus quarantine, they will be involved in the interior design of the new centre and they have already come up with outdoor micro project ideas they want to work on such as water saving technology, tree house building, tree planting, garden and small children’s play area.

"We pray for a successful quarantine period so that we can all resume the activities we love and that all may be well. In the meantime, our construction team is on paid leave and everyone is safe and well."

For details about Thamarai and Bridget's work, email, see, or follow them on Facebook.