C. N. Rajendran, Director for India
born 9th June 1950 – died 12th April 2009
To carry wisdom and success lightly is a gift. Rajendran was a wise man and also the most fun of any companion. He was a very successful man who also always honoured the traditions of the peasant farmers from his village – the village of Rayagiri, Tamil Nadu, India, where he had planned to retire some day but, alas, was buried on Monday 13th April at the age of only 59. He taught me how to climb a coconut tree and he also gave me true friendship. I loved him. My family loved him. Everyone who knew him fell under the spell of his sincerity, his smile and his charm.
Rajendran was born into a farming family owning a few acres of rice paddy in Rayagiri. He shone at primary school and made his way to the best secondary school in the nearby town of Sivagiri. He walked back and forth six miles a day, except for one day when, in an argument with his parents, he climbed a coconut tree and refused to come down. He did well enough to get to university to study sciences and then to study to be a teacher at Sopore College, Kashmir.
When he qualified, he had intended to go back to the warmer climate of South India but the College Principal persuaded him to try for a job at the local English-Medium school in Baramulla, Kashmir. “Do you speak any Kashmiri?” – this was the feared first question of the interview by the Dutch Headmaster, Fr James Borst. “Only a few words”. “You’re hired – because you’ll have to speak to the children in English.” Thus Rajendran got his first job. He came to owe more than his job to James Borst, a great headmaster, an enthusiast for mountain hikes, and a writer and thinker who combined the best of Catholic theology with the Indian tradition of meditation. Rajendran learned how to think in a multicultural way, how to organize a school and he learned the benefits of energetic work.
In 1977, Rajendran married Vijayrani. His parents had died when he was young and he had looked after his sisters by remitting as much as possible from his small teacher’s income. Once they were married, he himself could marry the girl he loved from his own village. Vijayrani and Rajendran were to have a daughter, Sathya, and two sons Vijaya Prakash (Pabbu) and Deepak Raj (Dippu).
Returning to Tamil Nadu, Rajendran worked as an English teacher and then as Assistant Headmaster in the 10,000-pupil SHNV Secondary School in Sivakasi. While he was still teaching, Rajendran agreed in 1995 to take some English-teaching volunteers from my new organization, Teaching Abroad (later Projects Abroad) and send them to various schools in the Sivakasi area. Although neither Teaching Abroad nor Rajendran realized it at the time, this proved to be an idea whose time had come.
The early days of Projects Abroad were hard. Communications beyond India were bad and Rajendran would find that he frequently had to work till Midnight or beyond and then be back in school by 8 the next morning. Still, the numbers of volunteers grew year by year, as medical, care and conservation placements were added to teaching, and as Americans, Canadians, Germans and Dutch added themselves to the British volunteers. Vijayrani and Pabbu joined him in the work and eventually he himself retired as Assistant Headmaster to work full-time for Projects Abroad.
Freed from the constraints of the school timetable, Rajendran was able to help develop Projects Abroad around the world, especially in Ghana, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Nepal. As the numbers of volunteers climbed into hundreds and then thousands, Rajendran’s steady hand and inventive mind overcame the inevitable crises and created the first band of happy alumni, former volunteers who are devoted to India, who keep going back and, in one case, have even called their daughter “India”.
In 2005, Rajendran took responsibility for establishing a new office in Sivakasi which took on all of Projects Abroad’s administration and travel departments. If any one thing has contributed to the ability of Projects Abroad to keep costs and charges down and to establish itself as the world leader in volunteering, it was Rajendran’s ability to run a successful volunteering outfit while simultaneously establishing a global administrative centre in Sivakasi.
On 12th April, my friend was taken from us. I miss him deeply. We all do and we will continue to miss him for many years to come.
15th April 2009