First stop was Temple School about 30/40 minutes out of Udaipur in a very rural, semi-arid and poor area. We saw how the school had grown over the years, thanks to the volunteers who had built some extra covered areas for teaching and the children were just starting to arrive to start school at 1030am.
The volunteers usually come and take the classes themselves, giving the only teacher some time out to deal with admin – one volunteer to a class if there are only a few in a grade and two volunteers if the class is big. They bring with them plenty of teaching aids and are following a curriculum devised by the organization which has been produced by Himanshu’s wife, who is a teacher.
Before starting out, each day, the volunteers prepare their lesson plan and collect the materials that they will need from the store cupboard back at Volunteer House. There’s plenty of guidance from the staff so it needn’t be overwhelming. The volunteers take the register at school and at the end of their teaching session, write up a summary of what went on in their diaries so that anyone taking over that grade from them can see exactly what they have been teaching.
It’s important to respect the local dress code and not to show any cleavages, shoulders, legs – so baggy trousers are ideal as they sit on the ground cross legged along with all the kids although I am sure if an older volunteer would rather have a chair, that would be possible. Skirts need to be long down to the ankles and boys need to avoid tank tops and cropped trousers.
A lovely girl who had been to the school came over to talk to us and invited us back to see her house. Her sisters-in-law were there in the courtyard with their children making chapattis. The bedding was all folded up on a high shelf and the room was spotlessly clean. I should have asked her how many people slept in that room. She offered us a cup of water and (stupidly) I accepted and had a sip (so did Sera) something that we regretted later as we have no idea where that water came from and what else was living in the large container! Just didn’t want to offend her hospitality.
A tarmac road has recently been built just outside the village and Himanshu told us that this has made a big difference to the village’s prosperity and visible signs of general improvement were very apparent.
We then moved on to Kavita Village there there were usually 69/80 kids attending schools. I soon realized that primary schools were painted pink and secondary schools painted yellow. Apparently, the primary schools were all built thanks to Rajiv Ghandi who came up with this plan for two-roomed schools for all the villages but with no toilets, water or electricity. Initially the scheme was a flop because many of the children have to work or look after younger siblings and just didn’t come to school but once the Government offered a free meal at lunch time and a free uniform once a year, attendances started to improve.
It was great to see the volunteers in action in their classrooms. Some were from Australia, some from Denmark, Norway, England… They had all arrived with the lesson plan and supporting materials and the children clearly loved them and the attention that they gave them. They teach English and Maths to the children and one of the things that the volunteers receive is a lesson in Hindi when they first arrive. On that note, I think that any future volunteers would be wise to try and start learning a bit of Hindi before them come as this will stand them in good stead not just in the schools but also when they travel about at the weekend.
We saw several schools in this huge valley dominated by the Aravalli hills that surrounded it and huge dammed lake in the middle. Having a walk around one of the villages made us understand just how poor these people are: water is generally from a communal point, the ground is very arid and very little grows there except wheat in a few watered pockets. No fruit trees were seen although there were goats, chickens and the usualy cows wondering around. The cow pads are shapped into round discs by hand and left out to dry in the sun and used as fuel for the fires! Wouldn’t like that job!
Lunch was back at the volunteers’ house which was very modern, light, airy and clean. The food was good – ochra in a sauce, samosas, chapattis, rice, something else curried, semolina (I think all was vegetarian and very tastey and filling.) There were two lovely ladies in the kitchen and the kitchen was very clean and modern.
The volunteers take it in turns to do the washing up and also have a washing machine up on the roof where they can do their own washing. There’s a t.v. in the lounge with dvds and also loads of books to read – looked like a nice place to stay and it’s situated about half way inbetween the villages where the schools are and town (5 rupees to get there in an auto rickshaw).
There was an Australian family staying there – Mum, Dad and their two daughters, maybe 12 and 14. What an amazing holiday – we saw the Mum and her two daughters working in a Day Centre – another option which involves looking after pre-school kids and teaching them games and social skills all in English. This is one of the amazing things about this project – people under the age of 18 can come with one of their parents or another adult and get involved. Whilst the ideal time to come for is 4 weeks +, you can also come for as little as 2 weeks which is something a lot of companies do not offer.
After a couple of hours nap back at the hotel, we then went to see the orphanage where the volunteers had come to teach English to the boys though fun games in an after school programme. The husband of a lovely lady called Shushila had built the orphanage and started it 40 years ago and Shushila still lived there and clearly was an honoury mother/grandmother. Her young grandson is now also involved in its running.
When the organization first got involved with the orphanage just 1 1/2 years ago, one of the first things they did was start a renovation programme and gave the whole place a lick of paint. In the future, they would like to replace the beds and do some landscaping to the outside play area. (Whilst we were there, a group of boys were playing cricket and had sneaked out of a window in order to do so. One of them had a broken piece of wood as his bat!). Again, the boys seemed to really be enjoying their interaction with the volunteers and if they can learn some English, this could be their passport to securing jobs when they are grown up. One of the organization’s key people, Gaurov, was taking an English class with some of the older boys and he not only was a brilliant teacher but the boys were all keen to learn and doing very well. In all the schools and the orphanage, there were painted murals of alphabets, animals, etc. and in this classroom there was also a map of the world! All painted by the volunteers.
One extra option for the volunteers, at certain times of the year, is to work on the renovation of the schools with decorating, repairs and general building projects. You can combine this with teaching in the schools, so if you wanted to spend a week on renovations and 3 weeks teaching, that would be possible.
Himanshu took us for a drink on a roof top hotel and then to see the cultural show (singing, dancing and puppets) held daily at the Museum from 700pm to 800pm. This would explain the noise we heard every day at about that time. After that we went onto the other side of the lake and had dinner in a lovely outside restaurant called Ambrai at the Hotel Amet Haveli overlooking the lake. A perfect end to a busy day!