It is so wonderful to be back at Shanti Bhavan again – our fifth time as volunteer teachers in the last six years. The children are always so welcoming and we love to see their smiling faces again. Paul Reuvers from Perth joined us last year and with his wife, Sue, there are four Aussie volunteers this year. They are keen to have more!

Happy kids everywhere

Happy kids everywhere

What the school is all about

If you are new to our blog, Shanti Bhavan is a fully residential school that takes in 24 four-year-olds each year from economically and socially deprived backgrounds. It provides a safe, positive environment for these children and supports them right through university until they are settled in their first job and further education. When they graduate they will help to bring their families out of poverty and guarantee the future of the school. The school has been educating kids for 17 years and five batches of school graduates are now at university or employed in excellent jobs with big companies in Bangalore and beyond.

Yesterday was a special day for the founder of the school, Dr Abraham George, now 69. With a tear in his eye he revealed that it was exactly 20 years since he had stepped off a plane in Bangalore to begin the long road to achieve his dream – to find a patch of vacant land in the middle of nowhere and build a school in India. Born in India, he had lived in the US since he was 22, when he went to do a PhD in economics. He started a very successful software company which he ultimately sold and vowed to devote the proceeds and the rest of his life to the school project. Every building you see in the following photo is part of that dream.

View of Shanti Bhavan from the school vegetable gardens.

View of Shanti Bhavan from the school vegetable gardens.

Here’s a picture of Dr George on his 65th birthday.

Dr George receiving flowers from the students on his 65th birthday a few years ago.

Dr George receiving flowers from the students on his 65th birthday a few years ago.

Republic Day/ Oz Day

Did you know Australia Day and India’s Republic Day both fall on 26 January? The school holiday here began with the students marching down to the flagpole to the beat of several drums. For kids who only march once a year they did a remarkable job.

Republic Day march

Republic Day march

The Indian flag was duly unfurled with a cascade of petals, the national anthem was sung, and without further ado, the ceremony was over.

Petals fall as the flag unfurls

Petals fall as the flag unfurls

As it happened, we’d already planned to host a surprise morning tea for all the volunteers on our first weekend. Knowing from experience how valued real coffee and sweet treats are when so far from ‘civilisation’, we’d brought some Aussie lamingtons and ANZAC cookies. It was a coincidental bonus that it was also Australia Day. We regaled the four American and one Chilean volunteer with stories of Gallipoli and lamington drives. We displayed the many books we had brought of kangaroos, koalas and emus; and Paul set up a shrine to the Socceroos, with one of our green and gold balls. It seemed to work!

Shrine to the Socceroos

Shrine to the Socceroos

Of Typhoid and sharing water bottles

We arrived two weeks after the Christmas break. Some of the children had brought back sniffles, sore throats and tummy bugs, and these had spread through the school a little more speedily than most years. Auntie Annie, the school nurse was flat out. The preschool dorm had been converted to a sick bay and more serious cases were evacuated a few kilometres down the road to the clinic.

This one-sister clinic (set up and paid for by the George Foundation) serves as a first aid post for the local villagers as well as the school. Four cases of Typhoid were detected, tested, swiftly isolated and treated. We were glad we’d had all our shots. Lovely Sister Sheila of the clinic works every day in a flowing white sari. It seems as impractical as the habits that used to be worn by hospital nuns but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sister Sheila in her white sari

Sister Sheila in her white sari

Thanks to the training the children receive when they arrive at the school at the age of four, these outbreaks are well contained. When we first arrived at the school six years ago I was surprised to see an urn of filtered drinking water outside the classrooms with three cups that all the children shared. On closer observation, however, the kids tip their heads back and deftly drink the without touching the cup. This trick is repeated with bottles and jugs in the dining room too. When you think of the deaths from meningococcal disease in Australia, it would be a good trick to teach our schoolchildren, as they often share bottles on the sporting field and at parties.

Drinking the hygienic way

Drinking the hygienic way

That’s all we have time for today as we are preparing for a visit by Chicago Public Radio, a branch of NPR who are preparing a program for Worldview in the US.

Stay tuned for further news featuring ducklings, the farm, movie night and more!

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