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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Harish in the trench

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

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Watching soccer from the other side of the trench

 

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

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A leafy headdress

 

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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.

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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.

 

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