Profile: Selvi Santosham

Empowering Children

Written by: Pat Morden

Selvi Santosham was 19 years old when she arrived on her own from India to start classes at Brescia. Thanks to a visa mix-up, she was a month late for the beginning of school, and the residence was already full. “I remember feeling very perturbed,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine how I was going to stay by myself.”

The Brescia community soon embraced her. Her business professor, Ken Bowlby, offered to rent her a room in his family home, beginning a warm relationship that has lasted for more than 30 years. She settled into her courses, helped out in the Bowlby household and eventually worked as a teaching assistant, a research assistant and even as an Avon sales rep.

“Coming to Canada was a major culture shift,” Santosham says. “Brescia taught me how to be on my own and how to adapt and adjust. My self-confidence was strengthened. Canada is the country that made me who I am.”

Santosham returned to India when she had completed her degree. After her first daughter was born, she was hired to handle special assignments at House of TVS schools in Madurai. The company operates five schools, a teacher training college, a community college and a school for children with autism. Santosham is now head of Administration for Lakshmi Vidya Sangham, the trust that runs the schools. Her responsibilities include supervising teaching staff, systems, recruitment and procurement, maintenance and budgeting. “My career journey has been exciting because of the opportunities given to me,” says Santosham. “Over and above my responsibilities, I was able to pick up projects that I wanted to do, be creative and make improvements.”

One of those improvements was the introduction of the Japanese concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) to the schools in 1998. Today, students complete some 170 TQM projects every year. “All of the 21st century skills we want young people to develop come out of this movement,” Santosham says.

In one project, a group of grade nine students focused on reducing drinking water wastage in their school. A few simple recommendations resulted in cost savings to the school and earned the team national and international awards. Another project tackled food waste, reducing total wastage at one school from 14.2 kg per day to 1.8 kg. Santosham says students “have an edge” after working through TQM projects.

“Life is a series of challenges and problems,” she points out. “How you approach them is very important. You can’t jump to conclusions; you have to be calm and level-headed.”

Santosham has three adult children. Her husband, a lawyer, is now a district judge. As retirement nears, she is hoping to spend more time doing the things she enjoys — reading, writing, travel, gardening and especially working with disadvantaged people. She is currently completing a PhD in psychology, looking at the impact of teacher burnout on teaching effectiveness.

Life is a series of challenges and problems. How you approach them is very important. You can’t jump to conclusions; you have to be calm and level-headed.

“Some people say an administrative job is boring, but it’s what you make of it,” she says. “The real reward comes when I am able to empower a child.” She adds that receiving a national award during the month of International Women’s Day had special meaning for her. “I dedicate my award to all the women in the world who are doing silent service and of course to God. What I am and what I achieved is sheer God’s grace.”