Looking to support a good cause? The story of the Vanavil orphanage/school

Vanavil is a school for the poorest of the poor in the middle of Tamil Nadu, India. It started in 2005 as an orphanage/school for the children of two historically nomadic communities left stranded by the devastating tsunami of 2004. Many of the children of these two communities (the Narikuravar and Boom Boom Mattukarar) who were taken in had lost their parents and were destined for a life of begging or worse. Their luck was that a few well-to-do committed people decided to look after them. Now, it is a school of around 140 children drawn from all ethnicities in Tamil Nadu. Located in the countryside, where land and buildings are cheaper and there is less temptation for the children to turn to begging, 10 low-paid teachers are running an orphanage plus elementary school.

One of these committed do-gooders is a friend of mine, Matthew Wennersten, a Jewish American married to an Indian wife who, as a former school teacher, became interested in the fate of these kids. He doesn’t teach at the school nor does he tell them what to do, but he does smooth over things with the state schooling administrators and with corporate sponsors. He wants to increase the shoe-string budget of this school and asked me whether I knew any Australians willing to help out. Thus this bleg. See over the fold for more on this school.


I went to visit this school last week. I asked one of the more senior girls what would happen to them without the school and the unhesitating answer was ‘we would all be beggars’. Even though they have escaped that fate, you can see that the children at this school are poor. For instance, nearly all the children are stunted from having spent too many years in malnutrition. My 11-year old daughter, who accompanied me on my visit to this school, was thus a full head taller than her peers of the same age. The clothes these children wear are basic, and many have only one set of clothes, thus being forced to keep wearing them until they fall apart.

As good causes go, it is hard to beat this school. One might say that looking after the poorest children of marginalised communities should be a job for the government of Tamil Nadu, but the reality is that that government is over-stretched and not (yet) up to the task. So whilst the Tamil Nadu education authorities do in fact provide a portion of the budget for this school and the curriculum taught is that of the local state, the alternative to this privately run school is simply ‘no education’. Maybe in 20 years all the functions that the school provides – food and boarding for the vast majority and rudimentary education for all its children – will be provided by the Tamil Nadu government, but it won’t happen this year.

The ‘returns to charity’ in this school are high in terms of how much some children are helped, with 2 out of the original batch that were taken in after the tsunami making it to a local college and with dreams of international travel. For the vast majority of the children, the school means they have a reasonable chance of getting simple and regular jobs for which some degree of literacy and general awareness is needed. The children I spoke to wanted to be policemen, shop-owners, builders, taxi drivers, maids, and office workers. These kids are not high-fliers and what the school offers will not enable them to compete with entrants to US Ivy league universities, but it does enable them to have ‘normal’ jobs in their home state.

This is a small-scale charity. It has no funds to produce glossy brochures to sing its praises. It does not help enough children to be of interest to those looking to give away millions. It is a charity for those who want to give a few hundred dollars to help others. Little will go to waste and there are no obvious negative effects on others: one is simply helping the education and orphanage system in Tamil Nadu to cope more quickly with a difficult group than it otherwise would do so on its own accord, employing teachers without qualifications (because those with qualifications are too expensive) and preventing the children from being a burden on others.

The ‘official spiel’ on this charity, including details on how to donate, was sent to me by Matt and is below, so read on if you are interested. Being a small charity means being able to answer questions about it personally, so please do not hesitate to email Matt directly with your queries at matt@wennersten.org.


Vanavil Trust ( http://vanavil.org ) – What We Do, since 2005 ( http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?229716 )

We help kids from extremely marginalized and historically nomadic communities, who would otherwise be living on the streets and begging, fortune telling, selling plastic, or worse. Vanavil was set up in 2005 for children from the Narikuravar and Boom Boom Mattukarar community devastated by the tsunami in Nagapattinam and who had slipped through the gaps of government and NGO aid. In recent times, kids from groups such as the Josiar community have spontaneously come to Vanavil from across the state to find a safe place.

We house homeless kids in a supervised hostel.

We provide three meals a day.

We get kids back into school. Most of the kids who come to us are underweight, abused, ill, or otherwise emotionally troubled. We run primary school classes on-site, and, after kids are healthy and accustomed to the school environment, we enroll them in local schools, monitor their progress, provide mentoring and support through 10th and 12th standards, and help place them in colleges.

Rs. 20,000 covers the cost of feeding and educating 1 child for 1 year (about US$1.00 per day)

Rs. 5,000 covers the salary of 1 teacher for 1 month.

Anything you care to give is very much appreciated. It’s super awesome when people setup recurring contributions, e.g. instruct their bank to transfer Rs 2,000 per month, as cash flow is always difficult and a small amount every month really makes a big impact.

For transferring from Banks within India

Local Account :
Account Name : Vanavil Trust
Account No : 954121293
Bank Name : Indian Bank
Branch : Nagapattinam

Please use the below account to transfer directly from overseas accounts (FCRA account)

Indian Bank
Treasury Branch
2, Jehangir Street
Chennai 600 001
Beneficiary info:
Account Name : Vanavil Trust
Account No : 437603809
Bank Name : Indian Bank
Branch : Nagapattinam
IDIBINBBTSY : XLC No: 3582021188001 – Standard Chartered Bank
IDIBINBBTSY : XLC No: 36045868- Citi Bank

Vanavil Trust is a registered and audited NGO with FCRA accreditation. All contributions to Vanavil Trust are tax-deductable. A receipt will be emailed to you.

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8 years ago

Always nice to hear stories like this and from a selfish pov, it helps put our first world gripes into perspective.

john Walker
8 years ago

the link to http://vanavil.org goes to a UQ outlook login page?

paul frijters
paul frijters
8 years ago
Reply to  john Walker

Ha, that’s odd! I just copy-pasted the text from what Matt sent me, including links, but for some reason the links then re-arranged themselves into a uq-login page. No idea how that came about, but I fixed it. Thanks.