Sunshine Actor

Suriya shares with Marie Banu why he puts charity before films
SuriyaSivakumar, the iconic actor, is known for his humility and charity. Born to an actor, his films have become benchmarks for others. He has won national recognition including three Filmfare awards and three Tamil Nadu State Film awards.
Suriya launched Agaram Foundation in 2008 to work towards prevention of school dropouts. Along with the Ministry of Education in Tamil Nadu, he produced a short film on child poverty, labor, and lack of education.

What inspired you to start Agaram Foundation?
The society has played a major role for what I am today. Every one of us owes to the society. Agaram is one of my small and wholehearted initiatives in fulfilling my social responsibility. It has been my father and many samaritans around me who have been a major source of inspiration to start Agaram Foundation.
There are so many pressing social issues. Why did you choose education as a focus area for your trust?
I strongly believe that education is the only tool which can bring about change. It promotes civilization, and enables an individual to conquer challenges. Education is no more a want, but a basic necessity in life besides food, shelter, and clothing. It is an answer to overcome the economic imbalance of not only the individual, but the family, and ultimately the society. The help extended to a person in any other form would benefit only that particular individual, but when one imparts education, you are providing hope to the whole family which in turn benefits the society.

Who has been your inspiration to engage in social work?
My family has certainly been the best source of inspiration for me to engage in social work. Since childhood, they have imbibed in me values and ethics. Ultimately, this is what makes me feel that I am not doing social work, but just fulfilling my basic responsibility.

Can you share your comments on the recent bill on Right to Education?
Education is the right of every child. It is after 63 years of freedom, the buds of our country have had their opportunity to blossom. The privatization of education was actually creating a social imbalance. This scenario would change with the implementation of this Bill. The quality of education should be focused to develop educated, cultured, and strong individuals who will have the courage to forge a strong and successful future for themselves, and for their community.
It is learnt that the children are best at their learning capabilities when they are 3 to 6 years old, and the period to shape a child for its future is when he or she pursues graduation. I believe that this bill would be at its best if these points are noted.

What are the measures that one can take to prevent school dropouts?
Ignorance is the root cause for school dropouts. We need to bring about awareness on the importance of education in society. The prevalence of dropouts is more amongst the weaker section. This is because most of the children are being sent to school to benefit from the mid-day meal scheme until he/she is old enough to engage in labor. It is during this period the child’s parent should be counseled by the school authorities and be encouraged to continue educating their children.

Did you engage in social work as a child? Can you please share a memorable incident?
My father Sivakumar, since his hundredth film, has been giving away cash awards for children who topped the Plus 2 examination. These events have always been close to my heart. I used to be astonished looking at the kind of devotion these children had towards education. It was remarkable to note that children who could not afford one square meal a day had put in all their efforts and vigor to top academics and life. Meeting such children year after year has been a great source of inspiration for me.
Once a student named RajiniKanth who hailed from a deprived family and backward community was offered an award for his excellence in academics. At the time of the prize distribution function, after he received the cash award from my father, he said: “I am happy to have the privilege to collect this award. But I have already received sufficient funds towards my education expenses. Many of my friends, classmates, and girls who live in my village do not have proper clothes or uniforms to wear. I wish to give this award money to them.” I was dumb struck when I heard this. A child from a poor background, who cannot even afford a proper meal a day, is now ready to take up some responsibility. This has been one incident which I shall never forget.

Your father also has a charity named Sivakumar Educational trust. What has been your role here?
Sivakumar Educational trust has been the basis for Agaram Foundation’s activities. Of late, Agaram has taken the responsibility of choosing the poorest of the poor to benefit from the awards that are offered by Sivakumar Educational Trust.

Being a leading actor, how do you find time for social work?
Any day, Agaram Foundation tops my priority. The sense of satisfaction I receive from this can never be compared with anything else. It’s just not the satisfaction but more a responsibility that I owe here. I would never give up this responsibility and Agaram would continue to be my first preference.

What are the future plans of Agaram Foundation?
Agaram aims to bring about a significant positive change in the socio-economic status of rural children. Agaram and its activities are all backed by volunteers who spend their time for the benefit of these children. Agaram strives to reach to all deserving children. This year, through one of Agaram’s initiative named ‘Vidhai’, we are sponsoring 150 rural children to enroll in professional courses such as engineering and medicine. Through this program, we not only aim to fund their education, but also look at their holistic development. Children will be mentored during their entire course of education and will be offered training programs and workshops to boost their morale and increase confidence.
Education should reach everyone in our country. I am sure that Agaram would definitely lead to become a peoples’ movement.