Life was never easy for Tuni Muduli, 16. The daughter of daily wagers Padlam Muduli and Nabina, she and her three siblings learned to fend for themselves from a very young age as their parents spent most of the year working in the brick kilns of Hyderabad. When her mother died, she dropped out of school and became a child labourer herself, working in road construction sites to supplement the family income.
But by then, she had been bitten by the academic bug and she had to get back to school. She did just that, much to her father’s displeasure. Today, Tuni is all set to pursue science at the Junior Science College of the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences in Bhubaneswar after recently passing her Class X exams. Her dream now is to pursue a career in medicine. “I want to be a doctor,” she says.
Tuni, who belongs to the Paraja tribe, recalls that all the while she was working, she never forgot her days at the Government Residential Girls High School in Balda, Nandapur block, in 2002. She was then in Class V, her mother was still alive and those were the happiest days of her life.
She also remembers how she longed to be back in class while she worked at the construction site. “I saw children my age going to school, wearing uniform, and my desire to study grew stronger.”
Determined to get an education, she joined her old school. The turning point in her life was when the Koraput district administration selected her to represent tribal girls at a UNICEF campaign for the education of girls in Belgium in 2006.
Padlam is a proud father today. “Initially, I opposed her plans to continue studies due to our poor economic condition. But now I realise how wrong was I. Thanks to her, I have learnt to write my name and sign in Oriya,” he says.