On April 26, their worlds changed forever when the family of four from Flagstaff Hill was involved in a horrific car crash in India. Parents Hems Peddagamalla and Rama Battula died in the accident, with the children suffering serious injuries and spending the next 35 days in hospital.
Friends of the family believed it was best for the children – who were both born in Adelaide – to return to familiar surroundings when they were well enough, and the Telugu Association of South Australia set about raising more than $250,000 to support the cause.
At the same time parents and students at St Bernadette’s School put up their hands to help in any way possible. Located at St Marys, the Catholic school is the epitome of diversity, with its 143 students representing more than 20 different cultural backgrounds and religions – the largest faith group being Hindu, as are Bhava and Palvith.
“When the accident happened I had so many emails, letters and conversations offering support, asking what can we do? The children had been here for less than a year, so a lot of families didn’t know them, but still the support was overwhelming,” said principal Ray Higgins.
“Being a small school with such diversity helps families feel welcomed and connected, which in turn led to those offers of support.”
Mr Higgins said when Palvith started in the mid-year Reception intake in 2021 and Bhava in Year 4 at the beginning of 2022 they quickly made a lot of friends, who all wanted to keep in contact with them while they were convalescing in India.
Initially he face-timed the children in hospital and then over the next few weeks students and teachers at St Bernadette’s had regular face-time conversations using What’sApp. When Bhava and Palvith celebrated their birthdays in hospital in May, the students made sure to call them to sing Happy Birthday. They sent cards and videos and when the siblings finally returned to Adelaide in June, Mr Higgins and a handful of teachers, students and their families were at the airport to greet them.
“When they arrived at the airport it was overwhelming for the children,” Mr Higgins said. “There was media everywhere and they looked so tired and confused. No doubt, after a long flight, they were still in a lot of pain, so it was quite heart-wrenching.
“Fortunately, family friends of their parents had travelled to India to accompany them back and they then cared for them until their aunt arrived a few weeks later. But Bhava and Palvith are doing so well now, and their big smiles have returned.”
At the start of Term 3 the children were excited to return to school.
“The best thing about St Bernadette’s are my friends,” said Palvith with a cheeky grin, with Bhava echoing this sentiment.
Their aunt, Bala Battula, who made the big decision to quit her job in banking and resettle in Adelaide, said she had always cared for her younger sister, Rama, when they were growing up and “now I need to care for her children”.
“I didn’t have other obligations in India, except for looking after my mother, so I took the necessary decision to come here and look after the kids. A friend has shared a booklet on how to raise children so I am learning quickly,” she said.
Bala has spent the past few months adjusting to the Australian way of life, the weather and driving the children to school and ongoing medical appointments.
She said they were doing “really well” and paid tribute to the St Bernadette’s community for its ongoing support, particularly Mr Higgins’ efforts and his initial contact with the children shortly after the accident.
“We didn’t expect that call and I still remember that day…when he was talking about the school, the children were so happy,” she said.
“The moral support that our kids have received is priceless.”
Bala also thanked Catholic Education SA for waiving any fees for the children throughout their primary and secondary schooling.
Mr Higgins said despite the tragedy of what had happened, it was heartwarming to see the tight-knit school community joining together to support Bhava, Palvith and Bala as they navigated a new life together.
“They are beautiful children and I can see that beautiful connection their aunt Bala has made with them. And it’s wonderful that they are surrounded by such good people, here at school, within the Indian community and within the wider community in general,” he said.