How Palmyra tree juice keeps this Tamil Nadu school running

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The Tirunelveli Roman Catholic diocese opened a school in Anthoniyarpuram in Tamil Nadu Thoothukudi district in 1940 to educate the children of palmyra climbers. Situated in a quiet hamlet surrounded by lush green palmyra trees, it was upgraded to a middle school in 2003.

However, trouble began here as the school management recently ran out of funds, but not to let it go defunct, the entire village, which overwhelmingly has palmyra climbers, joined together to run the school and arrange the necessary funds.

The local residents set up a ‘Kalvi Nidhi Kulu’ or education fund committee and opened a pathaneer (sap or juice tapped from fronds of palmyra tree) outlet along the Tirunelveli-Thoothukudi highway and started selling the juice or sap of palmyra trees.

“The palmyra drink or pathaneer is purchased by the Kalvi Nidhi Kulu at wholesale prices and we sell it to customers from our outlet at the Thoothukudi-Tirunelveli highway and the money earned is used to meet the expenses of the school,” School Committee President, Siluvai Anthony told IANS.

He said that the climbers tap around 600 litres of Pathaneer per day during the peak months of June, July, and August and around 500 litres are sold in no time at a price of Rs 100 per litre. The balance of pathaneer is used to make ‘Karupetti’ which is a sugar supplement used in tea and coffee.

The school, at present, has 163 students, including 95 in primary and 68 in middle school and Anthony said that most of the students have passed the school with good marks.

He said that the palmyra climbers also benefit from this project as they need not wait for hours on roadside to sell pathaneer and they get a ready market. Also, the children of the palmyra climbers are getting an education from the school.

However, the village, which has 400 families, is falling short of palmyra climbers as many have opted for other professions and only nine climbers are now remaining in the area.

The school authorities also said that the support extended by the local people for running the school is immense. “The support extended by the local people by generating money selling pathaneer is of immense help in running the school. The school approaches other people for support during the lean months of palmyra climbers,” Jaison Raja, of the school management, told IANS.

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