A Tamil language school in Wellington is teaching its pupils to sing Maori songs translated into Tamil to foster awareness of Maori culture among Tamil Kiwis.

Tamil is the medium of instruction at the Kamban Tamil Padasalai in Lower Hutt.

“We teach our mother tongue to our community children because the mother tongue is the identity of a person,” says Balaji Venkatachalam, the Principal. “If we lose our language, we lose our identity”.

Balaji, a tech professional who hails from Tiripur in Tamil Nadu and moved to New Zealand in 2008, started the school in 2017 to propagate Tamil language and culture.     

The school functions every Saturday morning with the express purpose of helping the children of the Tamil migrant community of Wellington to discover their cultural roots.

The school, a non-profit institution established in September 2017, relies on fee-paying parents to sustain itself. Balaji is grateful for the support of his three volunteer staff members – Meena Muthu, Thangavel Paramasivam and Chirthakala MuthuVeerappan – to help run the school.

The school started with 10 students and has grown over five years to its current strength of 20. The children are drawn mainly from Tamil speaking families of software and medical professionals originating from India, Singapore / Malaysia and Sri Lanka.  

In addition to spreading Tamil culture, the school aims to make its students model citizens of Aotearoa.

While there are other Tamil-medium schools in NZ, this is the only one affiliated to the California Tamil Academy, which has more than 15,000 students worldwide enrolled in it. The US-based university provides the syllabus and study materials with the focus being on acquiring proficiency in speaking, reading and writing the Tamil language.

The syllabus also focuses on raising awareness of Tamilian culture and festivals.

But the school’s unique initiative is in incorporating E tu Whanau values in its curriculum.

Saranya Karunanithi, the school’s cultural head,  has compiled a song in Tamil that mentions “how we can incorporate E tu Whanau values in our everyday life”.  The children sang the song at a contest conducted by the Ministry of Social Development and at other events in Wellington.

Last year, the children were scheduled to sing a Maori song in the Tamil language in Parliament, but the programme was cancelled due to Covid.

But that did not stop them from singing the song on the school annual day that year.