Thursday 11 November 2010

Take one visiting teacher, a bag full of odds & ends, a room full of children, mix well....

PB090457 One of my recent visitors from home is a teacher, so of course we had to visit the Shakti school when they were here, and naturally we put Catherine to work!
PB090418First a bit of background. My NGO runs a school for children who have been child labourers. It takes boys and girls, and the current group's ages are between 9-14 years.  All have previously been working and never attended school: the boys usually in shops and workshops, fetching and carrying, cleaning up, and the girls similarly in small hotels or restaurants, or in people's houses. We take these children and in 3 years put them through 5 years of schooling!  The current lot are just starting their 3rd year. It is hard work for the kids - very few holidays, schooling 6 days a week.  The aim is to get them all into mainstream education at the end of that 3 year period and to provide them with some life and income generating skills such as embroidery for the girls.  But they do have fun as well and the students have won awards for their Orissan dance. This all serves to foster self esteem and feelings of self worth and value.

PB090439They all come from families, some from single parent families, who live in the slums of Rayagada Town. The school is in this area so all the kids can walk to school easily each day. Shakti's work doesn't stop with the children, it works with the parents first to convince them it is a good idea to let their children go to school, then to ensure the children's continued attendance at school by providing counseling and financial support to enable these very poor ( Below Poverty Line) families to send their children to school.  The family receives a 100 Rupee stipend per month for the child attending school.
This is the third batch that Shakti has provided schooling for: its second in Rayagada Town and it also did one set in Ramnaguda village. Its success rate is amazing - only 3 students have ever failed to go into mainstream school out of 200 students. All 3 were girls who married - and that of course says a lot in itself.
This is done on a shoe string budget and donations. The NCLP (National Child Labour Project) model budget is for Rupees 244,400 for a 50 pupil school (at current exchange rates that is around 3400 GBP, 4000 Euro or just under 5500 US$).  The India Government used to provide money through the NCLP but no funds have been released from this project for the past 2 years. There was also the Indian Government's Mid Day Meal Scheme, to provide a full meal at lunch time of rice, dalh, vegetables and once a week eggs. Sadly now that money is drying up and only being directed to State Primary Schools. In addition, tiffin/breakfast in the morning is required by these children who would otherwise often come to school having had nothing to eat (after all who can learn on an empty stomach?). Despite these funding issues, over the past two years Shakti has continued to support its school financially and to provide emotional and financial support to the children's families. Unfortunately, the teachers' pay (as per the model budget) is very low, only 1500 Rupees per month. Luckily we have a great lady teacher Bandita,  one teacher position remains unfilled, and a man Jaganath, from our project staff, helps out and manages logistics and finances for the school. The school employs a local lady as cook.
Amazingly this was my first visit to our school in the year I have been here. It is completely the other side of town to our office. I have however met some of its ex-students. One day as Mr P and I sheltered under a roadside stall holders shack from a monsoon downpour after visiting one of the many parts of the Indian government bureaucracy about my visa, we were surrounded by a bunch of boys and young men. All keen of course to practice their English, but refreshingly mostly wanting to tell Mr P which school grade they were now in, "I'm in the 8th grade" was said with such pride. They had all gone to the Shakti School, and all knew Mr P. For once I wasn't the centre of attention :)
PB090427 When we arrived everyone crowded into one of the the two classrooms in the building. The pictures aren't great because of the fluorescent light in the room and the light coming into the room from the window and from an open door on each side of the room. We came during the Divali holiday which is an extended holiday here and many families travel to be with family during that period so , number in the school were a bit down. Given their background the children are incredibly well behaved  and courteous: discipline and respect are big throughout Indian culture. Catherine immediately underwent a transformation from tourist to teacher, taking charge of the class and getting their attention immediately and their involvement in a word game. She conducted the class totally in English and they all managed to follow and to participate in the activities, which I have to say were great fun.  
PB090419Looking like a bit of a "Bag lady" Catherine unearthed gloves, hats, balls of string, an umbrella, tins of fish, a pack of cards, and English £20 note etc from a black poly bag. These were use to to introduce words, singular and plurals forms, grammar and sentence structure. Hide and seek turned into a word game with a volunteer leaving the room, and the item was half-hidden in the room. Upon the volunteer's return, the class named the hidden object  and chanted the name louder or softer depending upon how close the seeker was to finding it. 
Then it was the unfurling of the school banner and the obligatory group photo session. The whole day was a hoot! I'm not sure whether the kids, Catherine, Judy or myself enjoyed it most.


  1. Has Catherine found a new vocation?

  2. Sheila - what a beautiful post! And how generous of Catherine to jump right in and teach some lessons - to show how little you really need to communicate and learn - a will and some creativity. Bravo!

  3. Tim, she was in her element, definitely! It was a really fun day. Molly, I'd been hoping when Catherine and Judy said they were going to take a detour and come visit that I could organise this, but I wasn't sure it would happen until the day before. The "Bag lady" did good!

  4. Sanghamitra, one of the members of staff at the NGO is learning how to blog in her third language! Please encourage her. Here is her blog on the visit