Last Wednesday was one of my best days ever in India – and in the past 15 years I’ve had some amazing days!
I was with the Belfast Saphara school team – 20 young people and 5 teachers – who were visiting Donk Primary school, a tiny rural 2–roomed school 7000 feet up in the Himalayas, two hours walk from the nearest road. The school is run by a Christian charity MGVS and totally funded by Saphara. The director of the charity, Surender Singh, a local man, led us along the wooded paths. Our first stop was with Kumla Devi – a woman who had been abandoned by her husband some years earlier and struggled to bring up her 4 daughters and 1 son alone, as well as cope with the stigma of being without a husband.
Last summer I’d been delighted that her daughter Kamlesh was the first student to be awarded a university scholarship.
I had heard from Surender before Christmas that Kumla Devi had been thrown out of the home that a relative had allowed her to live in after her husband had left.
Being homeless in a Himalayan winter is a real challenge so her brother gave her a piece of family land on which she could build a new home. The community helped her find stones with which to construct her home but she could not afford the windrows, roofing and door needed to make her home secure. At this stage Surender got in touch with me to tell of her plight and we were delighted to be able to help out with funds to cover all she needed.
So it was great excitement that I came to see her in her new home. I was moved – and somewhat embarrassed – when she touched my feet, a traditional Indian sign of respect. Seeing her beautiful 2–roomed house was a real privilege – her pride was so evident. Surender told me that although her house had been completed in January, her brother had second thoughts about allowing her to have the family land and she faced the prospect of eviction once again.
At that point her daughter Kamlesh decided to stand up for her mother and went to the village elders to ask for their support. For a young girl to do this took a lot of courage – and I was thrilled to hear that her education had clearly empowered her to speak up for her family’s rights. The village elders took their side and the brother had to relinquish the land.
Our second stop was at the home of a young woman named Babita. She had just completed the Indian equivalent of A levels and had done very well. Her father had died and she lived with her older brother. His wife had recently given birth to a son and so he didn’t want to spend any money on his sister’s education. Surender said she was very hardworking and committed to her studies and felt she would be a good candidate for a university scholarship. So right there and then we asked her if she would like to go to college. It’s hard to express the joy on her face when she heard this news.
We finally reached Donk village school and were in time to see the 30 young children enjoying their lunch – rice and dal cooked by a local women as part of Saphara’s midday meal scheme set up two years ago.
With over half the children of rural India suffering from malnutrition it is a huge privilege to ensure that even some have a better start in life. We had planned to have a similar meal for the 60 pupils at Kaplani high school – so it was very frustrating when the school principal had decided that it would be too difficult to organise.
Instead they were given a bread roll and a banana – not nearly as nutritious. As I talked this through with Surender on our walk to Donk he agreed that we should speak to the principal once again – a few days later we were delighted when he agreed that we could have a similar meal for the Kaplani children. New pots and pans have now been purchased and we are hoping to start serving the meals next week.
On our way back the Donk primary school children walk with us on their way home. My special friend Yogesh is now a big boy of 6 so doesn’t need a piggy back as he did when I first met him as a little boy of three.
Posted in Christine
We walked along the path side by side when after a few minutes a felt a small hand slip into mine – the end of a perfect day.
on Saturday 20 July 2013