Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago, an orphanage near Padhar was closed. The orphanage housed about twenty children, but due to some stricter government regulations, it was deemed unsuitable. The staff therefore needed to place those children in facilities that would care for them. Some were moved to government facilities, others to boarding schools, but these two little ones didn’t have a place to go. Both Savitree and Sangita are hearing impaired and Savitree also has some physical ailments, so they need specialized care. So, the School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind took them in and now are their home.
They are new to our Sponsorship program this year, and we will be helping to subsidize Savitree’s medical care and both girls’ schooling.
On the final day of my stay at Panchsheel School, the children and staff organized a Leaving Program in my honor. There were dances and nice words and lots of smiling children. I tried to capture the spirit in photos and videos. Enjoy!
Felix Convent School was founded in 2012 and serves children in Pre-K through the 7th grade. Classes are taught in English, although Hindi and Marathi languages are used to ensure comprehension. Their new campus is almost finished and features an Olympic-style badminton court, cricket grounds, large classrooms and a wonderful setting in which learning is nurtured. The new campus is expected to be finished in the next few months and ready to be used as the new session starts in June. Take a look at the building in process.
What can you say about the amazing Panchsheel School? Not only does it serve as an educational center for grades one through 12, it is also a living facility and home to almost 600 children. The amount of staff and supplies is enormous as you can imagine. Not only does the teaching staff stay for extended lessons, tutoring help, help with meals and other assigned duties, but the wardens and additional staff stay overnight with the children and help them wash, eat and prepare for the school day. All this to create a warm and loving environment in which the children can learn. For the past three years we have been involved in providing books and supplies for the 600 children of Panchsheel school. Think about that. How much does it cost one teacher in the US to purchase supplies for one classroom per year. It’s a lot of money. But it is also an investment in the future of children. If they have the right tools now, they can accomplish all they dream.
Panchsheel School serves a large tribal area on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, in the Maharashtra state located near the town of Bahiram. It serves the Gond and Korku tribes, poor children from 1st grade to 12th. Currently, they have 580 students.
I took a ride on the school bus to pickup 70 children. before school. The bus drives out 18 kilometers, then picks up each child in front of their home, until all are gathered and ready for school.
I live a wired life. When I am working, I have tabs open to communicate via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; I am Googling something, looking up online resources, searching websites and checking and rechecking email. When I am not working, I am binge-watching TV shows online, listening to podcasts or audiobooks; all of which requires an internet connection.
When you travel to rural India, sometimes you lose internet access. Then the question is; what do I do with all this “free time?” It takes some adjusting, but it forces me to process life in different ways. Instead of checking and rechecking email and Facebook statuses, I sit and think about how others are doing - I wonder about their health and pray for them; I remember good times without having to look at the photos; I recount the memories without the push notification. When I feel like expressing a thought or an opinion, I write in my journal, or type up a blog entry to post later. (Like I am doing now) Being a part of an online community is wonderful and it makes a single life less lonely, but it also hides the reality of being in the moment. Without internet, I can listen to the birds, watch the bees reform their hive, watch the children as they prepare for the day. I had a wonderful conversation with friends, one I probably wouldn’t have engaged in had I been connected.
So much of our connected life helps us to process what is happening in the world: when something happens in the news, we check Twitter to see what is trending, we write our opinions for others to see, we like or don’t like statements or positions. This helps us define who we are in a complex world.
This week I am trying something different.
While I was visiting the Blind School, I got an update on our students: Last year, we sponsored 23 students and some of them have graduated or left school to pursue their life-goals. Therefore, it is a joy welcome new students into our sponsorship program!
We will begin a new year of fundraising in March, for the school year 2019-2020 which begins in April.
Today is Market Day in Padhar. All the farmers come and set up their stalls, displaying their fruits and veggies to look their best. The spices are poured into display bowls or into large pyramid-like mounds. the kitchen ware is organized to display the variety of items available. Shoppers comes with their bags and fill them full of rice, wheat flour and lentils, enough for the whole week.
Today I went shopping for a rolling pin. I had noticed one in the Guest House kitchen and I knew this was the item I would search for at the market: it is made of wood, thin and carved just so. Perfect for my cookie baking needs. As I walked through the market, I asked some of the ladies selling pots and pans if they had rolling pins, but no. They were really effective sales people and even almost convinced me to buy a pan I didn’t need, because it was so large and shiny.
My camera gets a lot of attention at the market, so I did a series of photos of men who were proud of their stalls. One asked me to take a photo of him, then he directed me to take photos of his friends in their own stalls. Very funny!
I found my rolling pin and was happy with the day.
On Thursday, I was invited to a picnic with the teachers of the Mission Higher Secondary School. We travelled out of the village and into the mountain area to a rest house. It was a potluck lunch, so everyone brought a dish - all vegetarian! - to share.
As we arrived at the rest house, we began to set up for our lunch and the men went to buy a chicken in town, so they could cook it on the fire for lunch. Soon they returned with the chicken, legs bound and placed it on the side of the patio so that they could prepare it later. We talked and chatted and as we did I noticed the chicken (whom I thought was already dead) untied his rope and was walking around getting his bearings, wandering around, with the rope dangling from one foot. Suddenly, the men also noticed and the race began! The chicken ran, the men ran after! Back and forth! Back and forth! Until finally it flew through the fence rails and down into the valley. The young men hopped the fence and went looking for the chicken in the fields of one of the farmers. They searched and searched, back and forth between the wheat and the mustard plants. The lady of the farm emerged with her children and yelled at the male teachers for walking through her fields… they searched and searched, but never found the chicken. He is enjoying a new chance at life.
It did make for good lunch entertainment.
One exciting development in the village is the construction of the new campus for Happy Valley English School. It has been years in planning and construction and finally it is nearing completion. The Primary wing is being painted and doors and windows are being installed and the Secondary wing is finishing up the flooring and electrical work. They hope to be moving in before the next session starts in June. It is an exciting accomplishment to see!
In 2017-2018, in partnership with Padhar Hospital, we started a scholarship program to benefit the children of hospital and teaching staff. Those who work as nurses, attendants, drivers, technicians at the hospital were eligible and we proudly supported 16 scholarships.
For the current school year, our program expanded as the word got out that this was an opportunity for staff children to attend Happy Valley. We had 14 eligible students apply from our previous recipients and with an additional 15 new students, our current scholarships number 29! Our FoPS Scholarships provided 20-25% of the annual school fees for each student.
As we gathered for a photograph of all the scholarship recipients and their families, I said these words to them, “I represent donors who love you and support you and want you to have a good education.” Many thanks to First UMC Redondo Beach for your support of this program. Because there is such an interest, we will be doubling our goals to provide more opportunity for more children this coming year.
The Mission Higher Secondary School serves 166 students in classes 6-12. They work in cooperation with the School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind and 100 of their students are developmentally and physically disabled, hearing and visually impaired.
For the 2018-2019 school year, we raised fund for maintenance of the building and repair projects. Part of that funding was used to repair the foundation of the building that had began sinking. Now, the hallway is level and smooth and all is in good shape. The other major project was the installation of a water purification system. The tank, located behind the main office, is filled and is pumped throughout the school into spigots.Children fill their water bottles for drinking water and for use in the chemistry lab. In addition, we supplied funding for the school to purchase a new computer and printer.
Yesterday, I led the devotions at the School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind. Afterwards, the children broke into study groups and I met with the administrators to determine the new students we will sponsor in the upcoming school year. When we were finished, I hopped into the old ambulance and rode with the students to the Mission Higher Secondary School. Fun!
The School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind is a live-in facility for children with hearing, vision, physical and mental challenges. They work in partnership with the Mission School and in collaboration provide resource assistants to help the SRCB children learn braille, sign language and additional life -skills.
Mission Primary School serves 119 students from grades Nursery - Class 5 with 4 teachers teaching all grades. The Mission Higher Secondary School has 220 students in 6-12th grades. 98 of their students are from the School and Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind, meaning almost half of their population is hearing impaired, visually -impaired, developmentally delayed or physically impaired.
Sarni is a city in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh and is famous for Satpura Thermal Power Station and WCL (Western Coal Fields Limited) mines. St. Mark is primary and secondary combined school and is comprised of 432 students and 35 staff. Today I had the privilege of visiting the school and meeting with the teachers, staff and administrators to discuss their needs for the next school year.
One highlight: for Republic Day, their school participated in a parade competition and their team won first place in the March-Pass competition. Congratulations!
As the day comes to a close, I am going through photos of the week and come across a few that I want to share. Each year, I post photos with the caption “THIS is why we do what we do.” and the thought again comes to me. This is why we do what we do. So that children can have the opportunity to grow up, go to school, and enjoy life; so that teachers have the resources they need; so that children can flourish into the people they were created to be. I have big plans for the week, many site visits, meetings with teachers and administrators and gatherings to attend. But I will focus on the faces of those who are blessed by our work.
Peace to you. (ksg)
I have finished my first full day in Padhar. In many ways it is as if I’d never left: the people I know are still here; the joys and challenges of village life seem familiar. I went on a bit of a walk this morning and ran into several friends and connections, surprised a few folks with my sudden appearance and snapped some photos. I have selected a few of my favorites to share on this first day.
These photos remind me of why I am here. To see these beautiful children, their teachers and school principals, to catch the joy in their smiles.