In 2013, when Malala Yousufzai won the International Peace Prize for Children, little did anyone anticipate that in the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, a young lad would be drawing inspiration from her. Four years on, 12-year-old Sakthi is the youngest of the 169 children nominated for the International Peace Prize for Children 2017.
Hailing from the nomadic Narikuruvar community, Sakthi spearheaded a campaign that resulted in 25 tribal children joining school. Once a dropout, he went on a door-to-door campaign convincing parents to send their children to school. After quitting school, he had resorted to begging on streets and selling accessories at traffic signals for a living. His life took a turn when an NGO, 'Hand-in-Hand', approached Sakthi and his family and convinced him to join a training programme partially managed by the government's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and conducted at Residential Special Training Centre (RSTC) in Poongavanam.
Speaking about it to The Quint, he said,
When I go looking so decent during Diwali or Pongal, other parents see me and ask where I am from. I tell them I eat well, sleep well, and study well. I tell them that if we study well then we don’t have to slog it out in the fields. That convinces other parents, and they want their children to join the school as well.
Recollecting the first few lessons he learnt, Kalpana Shankar, the NGO’s co-founder said, "From wearing tattered clothes and looking dirty and unkempt, Sakthi went on to become a stickler for cleanliness and practised what he was taught even at home." She further added,
Sakthi not only transformed himself but also brought a great change in his community. That is why we decided to nominate him for the award. He is the youngest amongst all 169 nominees for the award.