Glamour Magazine of America came to Shanti Bhavan to make a short Youtube of Keerthi, one of our 8th Graders.

Last year she told me that she works alongside her mother every school holidays so that they can afford her extra food. Her single Mum earns about US$3 per week breaking rocks in the sun all day to make gravel for roads. She told me that they break the big rocks up by fire – then her Mum burns her hands and legs in the hot ash because she can’t afford to wait until it cools down. Whenever I see piles of irregular-shaped, hand-cut gravel at Indian roadworks, I think that could have been made by Keerthi’s Mum.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUjMd8-axOQ

 

Keerthi is just one of the many gorgeous boys and girls that I had the pleasure of teaching this year. Here is a pic of Keerthi (in black kurta) with my 8th Graders.

SB8thGrade 2016_sml

That’s all for the school news for another year. If you are interested, after SB, we spent 5 days in Hampi, alternating days of very hot sightseeing with days of slothfulness and birdwatching at the Top Secret guesthouse perched above the river opposite the ruins.

Little-known Hampi was a booming international trade centre, home of the Vijayanagara kings from the 1300s. At one point it had a one million strong army and by 1500 AD Vijaynagar had about 500,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest city in the world after Peking-Beijing. In 1565 it was besieged and razed by a group of jealous sultans and never recovered. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Like Angkor Wat, there are many ruins spread over a large area.

Here are some random photos of ruins, and us relaxing!

Hampi bamboo huts_sml

Five bamboo huts make up the Top Secret Guesthouse. Best location in Hampi.

Hampi Mozzie net bed_sml

Mosquito-proof bed inside our bamboo hut.

Hampi bamboo huts n lounge area_sml

Huts on the right, outdoor area on the left overlooking the river.

Hampi KnB relax_sml

Enjoying the view from the Top Secret Guesthouse outdoor area

Hampi view from accom lounge_sml

Our view across the river to historic Hampi

Hampi paul n Sue padi field_sml

Paul and Sue Reuvers add colour to the paid fields behind Top Secret guesthouse

Hampi ferry bikes_sml

Three motorbikes joined us on the tiny passenger ferry across the river.

Hampi coracle_sml

After 5.30pm the ferry stops and the only way across the river is by coracle. Coracles are Welsh. We’ve found them in Vietnam and now in Hampi. Did they evolve independently or were they introduced. If so, who had them first?

Hampi elephant edge_sml

Temple elephant, Lakshmi, trundles down to the river for her daily bath.

Hampi elephant bath_sml

Lakshmi enjoys her daily pampering. She’s 69 years old.

Hampi tree B_sml

Stone roofed building in Hampi

Hampi prostrate couple_sml

A man and woman prostrate themselves in the temple grounds to give thanks for something that they had prayed for that had come to pass. They traversed about 200 metres this way – alternatively standing and sliding along on their fronts. Family members wet the path in front of them.

Hampi prostrate woman_sml

The family were very happy and supportive and there was a big feast afterwards.

 

Hampi 150yold frangipani_sml

150 year-old Frangipani, in flower, in another 15th century temple grounds.

Hampi B lungi 1jpg_sml

Barney is taught to wear his lungi.

Hampi B lunghi 2_sml

Now for the short look for hot days.

Elephant stables_sml

Elephant stables for the 11 royal elephants in the king’s army

Ruin next to boulders_sml

Buildings nestle next to boulders

ruin around boulder_sml

Building nestles around boulder

Stone chariot people_sml

Man kicks tyres on iconic Hampi stone chariot

KnSue umbrellas_sml

A break from sightseeing to contemplate life in the 15th century

 

We’ve spared you the photos of the dozens of palaces, temples, aqueducts, stone gateways, royal baths and other ruins spread over a huge area but if you like this taste of Hampi, you’ll just have to come and see it for yourselves. Over and out!

Food

Food is such a feature of Shanti Bhavan that I thought I’d throw in some foodie photos.

Chillis drying_sml

Chillies and coriander seeds from the farm dry outside the open air dining hall.

peppers at SB_sml

The food is spicy but in India the green chillies are the ones to fear! Easily mistaken for green beans and they are potent.

Coriander from the farm_sml

Coriander seeds

Coconut picker_sml

Coconuts used in the beautiful sauces are harvested right outside our house.

SB 16pic batter_sml

Pancakes for 300 people please.

SB16 dhosa cook_sml

At three each, that’s 900 pancakes. 

 

Fond Farewells

After a final busy week, we bid our farewells to Shanti Bhavan. Saying goodbye to the kids is always hard. Here is my lovely 8th grade class. It’s not just the kids that we will miss. I have no photo – but a vivid mental picture – of our fellow volunteers running all the way down the driveway to the gate, madly waving at our retreating car. They are all exceptional people and one of them has already said she will come and visit us in Oz in November.

SB 2016 8th grade_sml

The 8th Graders. When we first came they were 6 years old!

Farewells: A time of thank yous

In the final assembly, two very small, very sweet children presented each of us with a thank you card on behalf of the school.  We’d like to pass those thanks on to others back home. So a big thank you to our stalwart supporters, Robert and Bonnie Jenkin from South Australia for your wonderful annual donation, and our other friends and family who contributed money, stationery, books and moral support. Even our ‘Gemini’ friendship group contributes when you forego your birthday presents so we can buy extra things for the school!

SB 2016 B thanks card_sml

Barney’s collage card: We’d also like to thank Tom Clarkson and Alistair Campbell for your timely contributions to computing from afar.

As well as the books and equipment we took with us, this year’s funds will provide much-needed improvements to the internet connections and to a fly-zapping machine in the dining hall. Another helpful addition is a poster on the wall in the assembly hall featuring the virtue of the week and 52 laminated ‘virtues’ to be displayed in turn. We’ve also provided suitcases and backpacks for the 16 graduating students to take to college. We presented these at the final assembly and used the suitcase as a metaphor, urging the students, as they venture into the outside world, to pack up and take with them all of the virtues they have practised over the years, along with the love and support of their Shanti Bhavan family.

By reading this you are part of that extended family too. So this card is for all of you!

Sb K thanks card_sml

This curled paper collage must have taken ages to make. Please share the thanks everyone!

That’s all the Shanti Bhavan news for another year. I will post one more blog about our brief rest and recuperation visit to Hampi, a UNESCO world heritage site/hippy retreat. We shared this time with our great friends Paul and Sue Reuvers, who were terrific volunteers (Paul’s third time and Sue’s second) and very amicable house mates. Thanks also, Paul, for the photos used in many of the blogs.

Finally, thanks to Shanti Bhavan for allowing us the privilege of coming back year after year and spending time with these amazing kids!

 

On Saturday, the school celebrated Dr George’s 70th birthday in style, with a very full day of games, performances and festivities. This surprise event was planned, executed and largely paid for, by the ‘working grads.’ Although Dr George knew something was brewing he had no idea of the scope of the activities. The day began at 9.30am when the children lined the path from his accommodation to the school.

IMG_0830_sml

Children line the path to the school

 

Dressed in their finest clothes, each of the younger children handed him a rose.

Pink girls w roses_sml

These same pink dresses have been worn on special occasions since the school began 21 years ago.

 

The graduates divided the entire ‘school family’ into ten teams, each with a different coloured hat. Teams included security staff, kitchen staff, cleaners, teachers, volunteers, admin and graduates; a total of 370 people. A fiercely competed Tug of War was waged, with 15 per side, and all of us were treated to biscuits and buttermilk.

Barney's orange team wins heat_sml

Barney’s orange team wins their heat

Kandy and two pinks_sml

Kandy and some of the blue team look on

Next came a very creative carnival. We each received 5 coupons and any points we gained at 10 fun fair stalls staffed by graduates were to go to our team. Simple but effective games included magnetic darts, archery, and various ‘fishing’ activities. We could also spend our coupons on face-painting or fairy floss (aka cotton candy/candy floss).

IMG_0902_sml

IMG_0915_smlIMG_0904_smlHoopla_sml

Archery boy_sml

William Tell, eat your heart out 

Face paint Pink girl_sml

Face painting was popular

The fairy floss makers, seated on the ground, were a sight to behold. One man threw in the sugar mixture, turned the handle to rotate the machine, and threw the floss onto the mat. His partner, sitting barefoot on the mat, scooped the bright pink floss into a cup.

IMG_0894_smlFairy floss K_sml

Fairy floss 4 cups_sml

Rasiga is all that for you?

At 3.30 we reconvened for the cutting of the birthday cake. The cake depicted three seasons of Dr George’s life, his time in the Indian army, as a successful businessman in the US and now as a philanthropist back in India.

IMG_0946_sml

 

There followed a few more hours of team games such as musical chairs, wheelbarrow races, sack race relay, bobbing for apples relay, ‘lemon and spoon’ race, and lots of good old-fashioned fun.

IMG_1124_smlIMG_1195_sml

IMG_1092_sml

IMG_1109_sml

They had to run to other end, drop the apple on a plate and then the next person ran back to the ‘trough’

 

IMG_1117_sml

Two villagers (parents of facilities staff) are bemused by the activities

An amusing game for spectators was “dog and bone”. This game requires the ten competitors to be numbered in pairs and when a pair’s number is called out they both run into the centre to compete for the ‘bone.’ Sounds straightforward? Picture this. Ready? ‘Number TWO!’ Only one person runs into the centre to retrieve the bone. It turns out that the security guard contestant allocated number two can’t speak English. Ooops. OK, we’ll start again but this time all in Hindi. Wait a minute, Mr Paul can’t speak Hindi. OK, we’ll call out in two languages. This works for a few rounds until scenario one recurs because the kitchen hand speaks only Malalayam. By this time the competitors and spectators are rolling around with laughter.

IMG_1209_sml

The games drew to a close with a piñata, and it was time to dress up for the evening activities. The lawn had been transformed with fairy lights and the outside tables had been set with white cloths and flowers. Where we had earlier seen chillies and coriander drying was now a stage. Choral and musical performances were interspersed with terrific dances by different groups of school kids, college grads and working grads. These included traditional Indian dancing, Bollywood, ultra modern gangsta style, and even a combination Irish/ Indian dance. I don’t know how they managed to get together and practice but their efforts were very slick. The volunteers performed a creditable version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, complete with ukelele, guitar and piano accompaniment. What a talented bunch!

Volunteers' item

Volunteers perform [Low light but you get the idea].

It was a balmy evening and the feast that followed the performances was delicious and enjoyed by all. It was so lovely to be able to chat to the graduates. Just when we thought the evening couldn’t get any better, the fireworks burst forth. We retired discreetly at 10.30pm, totally exhausted but the older kids disco danced for another half hour. What a great day!

We leave tomorrow afternoon so I must go and pack. Off to Hampi (World Heritage Site) and home on 6th March. See you all soon!

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix documentary

This week reminded me of my first day ever teaching at Shanti Bhavan in 2010… when I had a large movie camera in my face. The resultant documentary later won the Toronto Hot Docs Audience Choice Award from 200 films. We haven’t seen it yet as it’s still being released at festivals in the US. Maybe it will come to a festival in Australia one day.

K doco 2010 4_sml

My first class with camera in face in 2010.

K doco2010 3_sml

The 2010 doco on “Three Chairs Lawn” – and I thought THAT camera was big!

This week it is a Netflix camera crew that can appear out of nowhere at any time. They are making an extensive documentary (5 x 1 hour episodes) exclusively about our amazing school. Their intrepid team of four are ‘embedded’ with us, like journalists in a war zone. They are filming absolutely everything from pre-dawn to late at night until they drop. Their stamina is only exceeded by that of the kids they are following. (Our kids would give the Energiser bunny a run for his money – but instead of batteries, ours are powered by rice).

Ajit camera 3 chairs lawn_sml

Dr George’s son, Ajit, Director of Operations, on the same “Three Chairs Lawn” in 2016 – the camera is bigger and a LOT closer.

Netflix Jason_sml

Netflix. Now THAT’S a camera!   It’s so big it needs a harness.

We never know when the crew might parachute into our class, or catch us helping kids to prepare for News or Public Speaking. Even though we know that there is a 99% chance that our five minutes of fame will end up on the proverbial ‘cutting room floor,’ it is still a little intimidating – mainly because of the size of the camera and sound boom.

Camera Ajit catface_sml

Ajit with his face painted for the carnival – more on that next week.

The documentary (called ‘Untouchables’) will be released in 150 countries in 2017 – subtitled in 30 different languages. It was the serendipitous result of a former volunteer, Jenny, who was enthusing about the school to her neighbour, Vanessa Roth. Vanessa is a young documentary filmmaker who won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Short Documentary. Her father was the screenwriter for Forest Gump (Academy Award), Benjamin Button and many others. I’m really looking forward to watching their finished product.

Rachel's Netflix debate_sml

As if debating in front of your peers isn’t challenging enough. [photo by Rachel Immaraj]

Graduates’ lunch in Bangalore

Our Saturday graduate lunch has become one of the highlights of our trip. This year we hosted over 30 ‘college grads,’ ‘working grads’ and volunteers to a lunch in Bangalore. It is always wonderful to see these fine young men and women flourishing outside the cocoon of the school. They love their family reunions and there is always much joking and teasing amongst the ‘siblings.’ We were a few guests short this year, as the annual Indo – German soccer tournament was the next day and 10 of the grad boys had to mark the pitches. They are so committed.

Grad lunch2016 all_sml

College Graduates, Working Grads and Volunteers at lunch in Bangalore 2016. 

gradlunch b tags plus girl_sml

As the grads left, they decorated Barney with their name tags.

Vinceya Thank Dr B_sml

Vinceya, who was in 9th Grade when we first came in 2010, is about to graduate.

 

German Soccer Match

On the Sunday, we watched the annual soccer match in Bangalore. German companies based in India compete against each other and the proceeds are donated to SB. There is also a competition for school teams in two age groups; 16 & under, and 11 & under. Shanti Bhavan takes a strong moral stand regarding these age divisions, much to the disappointment of the kids who are just a little over the age group, who can’t compete. Not all of the schools have the same view. The photos below highlight the difference in size between our under 11’s and their competitors. Even the uniforms provided seem to have been made for giant ‘under 11-year-olds.’

Soccer jnr team_sml

SB under 11 team

Soccer jnr goal_sml

Hey you in red! Pick on someone your own size!

Twenty SB girls provide a cheer squad and festive atmosphere to spur on both adult and school teams – and, just like the soccer boys, it is an honour to be selected. They also perform a dance routine before the grand final. The girls and boys leave school by bus at 5am and return home at 7.30pm, absolutely exhausted.

Soccer Cheer_sml

Let’s get a little bit ROWDY, R-O-W (pause) D-Y!

Vols soccer_sml

Volunteer cheer squad at the soccer.

 

That’s all for this week. Thanks to the lovely volunteers, Rachel Immaraj and Paul Reuvers for sharing their photographs.

Next time will be about Dr George’s 70th Birthday party and more.

Snakes

Of the six most deadly snakes in India, the Russell’s Viper is responsible for more deaths than any other snake. According to the book, it’s 1.5 metres long and highly poisonous due to its exceptionally large fangs. It is highly irritable and, when threatened, it coils tightly, hisses and strikes with lightning speed.

We’ve had two encounters with these vipers in the last two days. The first was when kids piled out of evening prep to head for the dining hall. One spotted a snake on a low branch and within no time there was a ring of about a hundred kids, six deep, about a metre and a half away from it. Each child expressed a loud opinion about what should be done. If that wasn’t likely to make the snake irritable and threatened, nothing would. Attempts to get the children to move back were unheard above the din.

Fortunately a senior boy fetched a stick and quickly dispatched the snake. It was all over in minutes and then business as usual – off to dinner. The next day, however, they were reminded that in future they should summon security staff to kill snakes.

The following day, Paul, Barney and I were on our afternoon constitutional, along the inside perimeter of the campus. We always look for interesting birdlife and we spotted some small birds making a big ruckus on the fence line. There was also a shrike performing all sorts of gymnastics – it was clearly very upset about something. We initially thought it was diverting us from its nest. Paul’s experience in South African came to the fore, however, and he suggested the behaviour might indicate a snake. We crept forward with camera at the ready and Paul captured a photo before the snake slithered away. From this photo we were able to identify it as another Russell’s Viper.

Snake_sml

A glimpse of a Russell’s Viper next to our path.

 

Computing

Barney has made inroads into the computing scene. Only three of the twelve computers in the junior lab were working when we arrived and by cannibalising a few of them for spare parts, nine are now functional. As you can imagine, having nine computers makes teaching a class a whole lot easier, so the teachers are very happy. He has also been working on an iPhone/iPads App that gives quick access to all of the students’ photos and birthdays. It will be a boon for new volunteers to help them to learn names.

There are some lovely new young Indian teachers this year and Barney has run several sessions on using the programming tool, ‘Scratch,’ which they are pretty excited about. He has also been running an extra-curricular option on calligraphy.

Barney, Nikita and Scratch_sml

Barney teaching Scratch programming to the 3rd Grade teacher, Nikita.

 

Last week an Indian, Sundar Pichai, was appointed as Google’s new CEO – now the top paying executive job in America. He was born in Tamil Nadu, the Indian state in which the school is situated. Although his father was an engineer, Sundar’s family of four did not own a car and would all venture out on their Lambretta scooter. When Sundar went to Stanford University, the plane ticket cost more than his father’s annual salary. He is an inspiration for the kids at the school and he hasn’t forgotten his roots. In an interview last year he said that the result of a Google search was exactly the same whether you were a rural kid in India or a professor at Stanford.

Dr George’s Lunch and background to The George Foundation

Dr George put on a special lunch for the volunteers. It was a delicious feast, featuring one of the ducks (remember all our meals, except for one meal a week, are vegetarian,). Dr George turns 70 soon and is still extremely active in running the foundation that he set up twenty years ago. He gave us some interesting insights into the early struggles to alleviate villagers’ fears that the school had devious intent (child slavery, trafficking, etc.). One of the ways of tackling this was to ensure that the school medical clinic also catered for the villagers (which it still does). Villagers soon learned that the school created employment directly, and indirectly through farms created to supply it.

Dr George was a friend of Ralph Nader and twenty odd years ago they were discussing productivity. He told Nader he could increase productivity in rural India for $2 per pregnant woman. Ralph didn’t believe him but a few years later he was able to report what The George Foundation had achieved in villages around the school. Pregnant women and babies had been dying in childbirth due to lack of hygiene, poor antenatal nutrition and unhelpful cultural traditions. TGF introduced several low cost initiatives, including a campaign to train the midwives who served the villages around the school. They also provided protein powder, vitamins and folates for local women from the time they were married (often as young as fourteen!).

The ‘piece de resistance’ of the plan was to provide a package, just before each woman delivered her baby. It contained a small towel, sliver of soap and a sharp sterile blade to cut the cord. Postpartum deaths and illness reduced dramatically and the women lived to raise their mentally and physically healthy children and be productive members of their communities. Other early initiatives of The George Foundation included ground-breaking research that ultimately led to the elimination of lead in petrol in India.

Physical Training (PT)

The kids at school love their PT. They do soccer, basketball, dance, volleyball and more. Paul was sad when we arrived because Paul had brought some new balls but the volleyball net had disappeared. The next day, however, a rope was strung between the poles, and a day later there was a net. Ever resourceful, someone had whipped it up with string and it does a very acceptable job.

Volleyball_sml

Home-made volleyball net

 

There is a big annual soccer tournament on Sunday (more about that next time) and the chosen teams are practising like mad.

Soccer in misty sun_sml

Late afternoon soccer

We were quite shocked when we returned to SB to find that a deep trench had been dug right through the middle of the school playing fields, halving their size. I can’t go into details as the matter is currently before the courts but, suffice to say, the school did not dig the trench. The balls often fall down this trench, which is directly behind the goal posts and small children disappear while they retrieve them.

Harish in trench_sml

Harish in the trench

On the positive side, the dirt from the trench makes a great viewing platform, as below.

Soccer viewers_sml

Watching soccer from the other side of the trench

 

Other kids make their own fun on the edge of the playing field.

Headdress1_sml

A leafy headdress

 

Headdress2_sml

A bit of sack makes a great headband

 

Key cutting Indian style

Finally, we needed to get another key cut for the padlock to our house. The picture shows how keys are cut in our nearest town. Unfortunately, the key doesn’t work because the blank key that the cutter used had the indent/furrow on the wrong side… he tried.

Keycutter_sml

More soon. Meanwhile, thanks for the feedback on our blogs so far. I’d also like to thank Paul Reuvers for providing many of the photographs for these blogs.

 

Great volunteers

As predicted, the volunteers are all great people. This year’s On Site Administrator, Katie, has a good handle on her complex, multifaceted role and there is a very positive spirit amongst the volunteers. Along with the four “Australians” (two of whom were originally South African), there is currently one volunteer from France, one from Colombia, and five from the USA. Two of the five Americans are from Indian family backgrounds and one has Taiwanese roots. SB kids are exposed to such a rich mix of cultures.

SB16EduardoRobot_sml

Eduardo captivates the budding robotics engineers

In addition this year, we were privileged to overlap with volunteer Eduardo from Catalan for the first time. This university robotics researcher has been coming to SB since 2005! He enthralls the kids with his motorised Lego constructions. The photos show some construction fun, and a robot taking a message on a string from one side of the classroom area to the other.

SB16robotLine_sml

An exciting moment as the robot actually crosses to the other side

The younger children made tiny robots from toothbrush heads that scurried around like beetles. The day Eduardo left he treated the whole school family to ice cream. That’s approximately 300 serves, when you include children, teachers, volunteers, aunties, security guards, admin and grounds staff). As the school does not have a freezer, this is quite a logistical exercise.

SB girl ice cream lge_sml

Eduardo’s treat: Ice cream with chocolate sauce

Building Culture: Virtues and School Prayer

The children gave us a warm welcome, which is always energising after a long flight. They are terrific kids. Lots of old faces and a new ‘batch’ of 24 four-year-olds to read stories to in the evening. Each week they focus on a different virtue, which is fostered by a daily reading. We presented laminated copies of the 52 virtues to serve as a visual reminder for the week and the poster has been mounted in the assembly hall. We noticed, also, that there is now a Valedictorian board. This reminds us that six ‘batches’ of students are now either at university or have completed studies and are already working. When we first arrived in 2010 we had the pleasure of getting to know the first ever batch to graduate from the school.

Virtues_sml

Karthikeyan  reads the virtue of the week

Virtues are also reinforced when Dr George, the founder, is in residence. He holds a weekly interactive ‘fireside chat’ with the students from 8th Grade up. His first chat was about the difference between feeling/expressing compassion about people in need, and actually doing something about what you see. It was powerful. This week he raised the issue of attitudes towards LGBT people. He is not afraid to confront difficult topics and the students contributed maturely, appropriately and thoughtfully.

Finally, the tone is set each day when the teachers and volunteers recite the following prayer at the beginning of assembly. The school is non-denominational with a range of Hindu, Christian and Muslim kids, and children who follow no religion. it’s hard to argue with the sentiments expressed and I like the idea of respecting the divine in each other. As we say ‘Namaste’, we press our palms together and acknowledge our colleagues.

Shanti Bhavan School Prayer

God, Creator of the Universe, help us remember that you are present in each one of us.

May we respect each other and be tolerant of our differences. 

May we be good and caring towards each other.

May the teachings of all the great world religions direct our thoughts and actions.

Grant that we may be spiritual in our interactions and zealous in our work and play.

Help us discover different ways to serve our fellow humanity. 

Guide us to discover the treasure hidden in each one of us, and to uphold what is right, cherish what is beautiful and revere what is divine. 

As we journey through each day of our lives, give us the grace to accept whatever you have in store for us. Be with us in our joy and our sorrow. 

Help us build Shanti Bhavan into a haven of peace and let this peace touch the lives of all we meet. 

We salute the divine in each other. Namaste!

Wildlife

Duck w snake_sml

The wildlife continues to amaze and amuse us. So far this year we have seen: a duck eating (or was it just playing with) the head of a snake in the school duck pond; a mongoose; a bat feeding its young in the assembly hall; squirrels; and our friendly, chirping house geckoes.

Duck pond long_sml

The ducks now produce 30 or 40 eggs a day. The school still has to buy 900 eggs a week.

Oh yes, and I was ambushed by a frog in the bowl of our toilet, on my first night, AGAIN! I don’t know which of us was more surprised. He hopped around and by the time I got the camera he was sitting on top. Was it the same frog that startled me seven years ago, I wonder?

Frog on cistern_sml

It was a while before I would go into the bathroom again without a torch!

 

Next time: the art of key cutting, computing, a special lunch with Dr George and more!

Same Same but Different…

This is what stallholders in Asia tell you about their wares. The phrase runs around in my head as we prepare to leave for India again in a few days. It will be our 6th time volunteering at Shanti Bhavan School and, as always, I’m just a tad nervous. In one sense it will be the same same but it has the potential to be very different too.

 

Could our fellow volunteers be just as wonderful as the ones with whom we have worked so closely in the past? Will we get on? What about the volunteer coordinator (OSA)? This ‘On Site Administrator’ commits to the school for a year to coordinate the teaching loads and smooth the way between the traditional Indian teachers and the transient parade of enthusiastic but varied volunteers. The OSAs so far have all been amazing, selfless people, who bring their unique set of skills to the job. They work tirelessly to set the tone for the volunteers and are pivotal to the enjoyment of our experience. While there is always some trepidation – undoubtedly, the OSA we are about to meet will be terrific too – ‘same same but different.’

 

Crazy kids

Last year, creative volunteers put together a 3-minute video to wish everyone ‘Happy Holidays’. It portrays dance music through time and is fun on two levels. I love it firstly because the kids are so happy, and secondly because the background to the shots show the school from many different angles.

It also shows the range of our kids. Remember that this unique school takes in 4-year-olds from, often horrific, socially and economically deprived backgrounds and sees them all the way through university and into their first jobs. They don’t add any more kids to a batch, so every kid we teach in the senior school, we used to read bedtime stories to when we first came in 2010. We adore these kids because they are all ‘same same but different’. Enjoy the video.

Happy Holidays video

 

Thrilled to just hear that our Shanti Bhavan kids have done brilliantly in their external 10th and 12th Grade national exams. The seniors have ALL been offered university places already. It’s 20 years since Dr George established the school near Bangalore and offered a life-changing opportunity to the first batch of 24 economically and socially disadvantaged children. Now the sixth batch of studious, articulate, creative, caring SB kids will go to university.  Like their older SB ‘siblings’ they will get amazing jobs and will lift their families out of poverty. Woo hoo!

http://www.shantibhavanonline.org/2015/05/27/the-start-of-something-new-and-exciting/

Music

Music has sometimes been a hit and miss affair at Shanti Bhavan, dependent on the presence of musical volunteers. Despite their intermittent tuition, the school has many musical children who play the two grand pianos, raft of cellos, violins and guitars. Once a year the arts get a boost at an annual ASTEP summer camp – a blitz of “Artists Striving to End Poverty” who come for intensive music, dance and art activities each summer. In between, senior students lead the choir and it does remarkably well.

This year, however, music has taken a huge leap forward, thanks to a contracted music teacher, Eric, from Chile. The difference in enthusiasm for music is immediately obvious. Eric has turned the shabby music room into a vibrant space. It has a piano keyboard painted on the wall and the beginnings of a circle that will represent the different musical tones. Eric can point at notes on the elevated keyboard to teach the choir new melodies. The choir sings competently in Hindi, English, Tamil, German, Spanish, Zulu… and the list goes on.

'Music Eric'  in front of his keyboard

‘Music Eric’ in front of his ‘keyboard’

'Music Eric' with his tonal wheel at a piano lesson

‘Music Eric’ with his tonal wheel at a piano lesson

We love reading bedtime stories to the kids in the evening, from the 4-year-olds up. Now Eric does the circuit, popping in to each group with his guitar to sing songs with them. The kids go wild. He has also worked very hard to attract peripatetic music and dance teachers to brave the long bumpy drive from Bangalore to teach on the weekend. They make such a difference.

Eric and Susanna play to the 2nd Grade at bedtime.

Eric and Susanna play to the 2nd Grade at bedtime.

A guitar class with a teacher Eric lured across the potholed road from Bangalore!

A guitar class with a teacher who was lured across the potholed road from Bangalore!

Eric’s grant is up for renewal soon and we sincerely hope that he can continue at SB because he is a musical legend!

Computing at SB

Background

As usual, Barney spends a lot of his time at SB helping to develop their computer plans – using his knowledge of the latest research in educational computing to suggest strategies and structures. Ajit George, the founder’s son, recently commented that almost everything that Barney had proposed on his first visit in 2010 had now come to fruition. When we first arrived in 2010, the laboratories had ageing, virus-ridden, stand-alone computers with old TV-style screens that ‘chewed up power’ and there was no Wi-Fi. Now, thankfully, there is full Wi-Fi throughout the main school and many other improvements.

Barney takes up the story:

Because the Electricity Board power (EB) is both expensive AND unreliable, the answer is solar power. Thanks to donors there are now enough solar panels and monster lead-acid batteries that the whole school is independent of the EB on the average day – i.e., from 6:30am morning prep in the dark, until the 12th Graders head for bed after 11pm prep. This includes powering two computer labs, a third ‘virtual lab’ of 12 loan laptops; and six electronic white boards in the upper school classes (donated by Verizon in 2014). Additionally, several donated iPads and Macbooks are worked overtime for music, researching the daily news, public speaking and debating activities. Without good planning these are potentially a charging nightmare, but overall it is pretty impressive to watch how well they are used each day!

Solar batteries - freedom from the pesky Electricity Board!

Solar-powered batteries – freedom from the pesky Electricity Board!

This year’s progress

Barney has helped in two main ways: upgrading the facilities and running professional development with the staff. Upgrading has involved working with the staff and their hardworking technical whizzer from Bangalore, Mr Yadap.

Today both the primary and senior school labs are networked; the senior lab now has recently-donated, brand new, energy-saving laptops. The momentum continues. Mr Yadap returns shortly to commission 16 little donated ‘tablets’ (Samsung Galaxy Note 4s). Dr George hopes these will improve 6-8th Graders’ access to the curriculum materials on the local server. I am hopeful it will provide better opportunities for subject research, report writing, problem solving and creative writing too. Research has shown that assigning ‘ownership’ of devices to individual kids in schools limits loss and repair rates. As SB usually acts as a family where everything is shared, the concept of individual ownership is a little alien, so it will be interesting to see how this works out.

The current network is already very busy, and with extra tablet traffic and increased usage of all the devices, we’ve identified that the local Wi-Fi network is overloaded. Thanks again to Bonnie and Rob Jenkins from Adelaide for their annual donation, we’ve organised installation of a seriously high speed Wi-Fi router, which will be a godsend.

Research using one of the iPad. Thanks for the Wi-Fi Robert and Bonnie!

Kandy and Naveen researching with an iPad. Thanks for the Wi-Fi Robert and Bonnie!

Paul and Sue Skype the grandkids. The first time we went to Shanti Bhavan there was no Wi-Fi at all.

Paul and Sue Skype the grandkids. The first time we went to Shanti Bhavan  in 2010 there wasn’t even email.

Professional development for staff

The biggest challenge once you have a critical mass of computing stuff is to ensure appropriate use, and working with your teachers is always the best part. I ran workshops for staff on using Scratch, an elegant programming language from MIT, for creating multimedia activities. The blurb says ‘suitable for kids from 6 – 60’. These days this excludes me but I guess I can still teach it 🙂 .    It is relevant for serious and creative work in multiple subjects across all of the elementary and middle school grades. A new version, Scratch v2, is even suitable for science and computer science to university level.

Barney teaches programming language, 'Scratch' to staff

Barney working with a staff member on the programming language,’Scratch’

More Scratch instruction

More Scratch course

Upgrading photo gallery on the web

Recent photos of the kids are very useful for volunteers and others so Paul and Barney put in a mammoth effort to upgrade the individual and class photos of the 250+ kids for the web. Paul took well over 1000 shots to try to find the best one of each child.

Taking a photo of a complete class proved to be problematic because there were always kids away sick or getting passports. Speaking of passports, two kids have been chosen to visit Chicago, four to Italy, and hopefully one or two will go to the ISAK summer school in Japan soon. The process can take days or weeks, as most kids don’t have birth certificates or even consistent spelling of their names in the various documents! The photos Paul took are really stunning. As we had brought printed copies of the superseded photos with us, we were able to give each child a copy of their 2013 photos as a keepsake.

12th Graders - some looking a bit stressed before their big external exams.

12th Graders – a few looking a bit stressed before their big external exams.

 

Presents

We’re home now, tired but happy. On our last day at SB, several interesting things occurred that reinforced the notion that you don’t need money to be happy. First, Paul was presented with a very creative cardboard ‘camera’ by a couple of the older girls in recognition of his penchant for taking photos.

Home made camera. Note the picture of Sue and the two girls who made it, on the back.

Home made cardboard camera. Note the picture of Sue and two girls on the back.

All the right knobs, buttons and lenses

All the right knobs, buttons, lenses and strap!

Secondly, my 9th Graders gave me a farewell card on the Smartboard:

Farewell from our Indian 'grand children'

Farewell from our Indian ‘grand children’

9th Grade boys pose in fron of their card from the 'grandchildren'

Then the 9th Grade ‘grandsons’ posed in front of their SmartBoard farewell card.

Finally, I handed out impromptu public speaking topics to my 9th Grade class (fourteen-year-olds). One of the topics read, ‘my best birthday present ever was…’  The boy stood up and asked the class to recall their favourite birthday presents. ‘A birthday card’ said one proudly. ‘A chocolate’ said another dreamily. Another said he had had a cupcake once, and they all turned around to bask for a moment in his reminiscence. The presenter then declared that his favourite present had also been a birthday card. He said it was his favourite present because it was beautifully made and the words his friend had written inside made him feel good.

This is why Barney and I, Sue and Paul, and all of the other volunteers love to teach at Shanti Bhavan. Quite simply, these kids make us feel good.

Until next time…