Sunday, November 29, 2009

26th October - 30th November: Farewell to Chatola


Goodbyes suck… There’s no two ways about it, they just suck…

Tomorrow we will be leaving Chatola, the tiny picturesque village which has been our home for almost two and a half months and heading back to Delhi. More importantly, we will be leaving our newly inherited family whom we will miss very much.

We’re definitely happy to be moving on and getting a change in scenery, food, and of course there’s the glistening amber and fizzy bubbles of a crisp, cold Kingfisher that awaits me at the closest licensed establishment from the train station. We are however, not looking forward to the inevitable tears from the four children that will flow on the day we depart. To make things easier, we have promised to return and to bring our family along… so Mum you better get used to eating lentils!

We’ve said previously about how scenic this place is, but you can’t comprehend it until you see it for yourself. This is a place everyone should visit.

Anita & Cuzbu

Our work at Aarohi has finished for now and we’ve been farewelled by the staff. We both think we have done some good work that will hopefully contribute effectively to the organisation. It’s hard to tell whether or not Dr Sushil (the organisation head) believes we’ve done good work, mainly because he hasn’t had the opportunity as yet to sufficiently review our projects, but even if he had I don’t think we’d know for sure!Sushil is a very hard man to read.

Our "Office"

Many years ago Dr Sushil tragically lost his wife Oona and their young child in extraordinary circumstances. The family of three ate some poisoned mushrooms, all fell very ill and Sushil was the only one to survive. Oona and Sushil were the cofounders of the Aarohi organisation after having met at another existing NGO in the region. Since Oona’s passing, Sushil has taken the responsibility of growing the organisation to the success story that it is today (it has over 50 staff).

To endure so much suffering and to continue on with his wife’s legacy, helping so many, makes for a man that commands enormous amounts of respect and admiration. It is however no surprise that Sushil is hard to read, there is no doubt that there is still sadness in his eyes and emotions are held close to his chest. It’s nice to see that Sushil has since remarried to a woman local to the region and they have two young children together. Unfortunately, although Aarohi have created their own school, which is miles a head of the other local public schools, the quality of education still has a long way to go. Sushil knows this and as a result, his wife and family live in Pune over 1000km away so as his children can have access to good schooling, leaving little time to be together throughout the year. Sushil’s commitment to the organisation and the people of the region is unfathomable and inspiring. Sheena and I hope to stay in touch with Sushil and contribute more to Aarohi in the years to come.

As mentioned earlier, Aarohi have created their own school and has classes from 1st to 8th. The teachers at Aarohi are instructed to create lesson plans and have specific objectives for every class they undertake, this is not the case in most public schools. Although constrained to the textbooks and examinations issued by the government, the school creates their own brand of teaching and uses extra material. The difference is phenomenal in confidence and ability especially in regards to speaking English between the Aarohi children and the other local children, including the children in our family who attend public schools. Hema the 9 year old in the family can barely read Hindi, Ravi the 7 year old can’t at all, and don’t even ask about English and maths. Anita the oldest at 13 is far more advanced and said she could read Hindi at their age which is a reflection on the teachers currently at the school at which Hema and Ravi attend as Anita went to the same school when she was younger.

It’s no surprise that pretty much all the children fail English when one reads their textbooks. The English in the textbooks are written in print as you would expect, however they try and teach the children to write in cursive. This has just resulted in Ravi not being able recognise any letters as written in print because he’s learned to write them in running writing and they look completely different! It’s such a shame, because these children are smart, however the futures are being dictated by a faulty system.

Classroom in the Aarohi School

Classroom in a Public School
(this is all the students attending on this day)

Sheena and I do our best to continually try and instil confidence in the four children by encouraging them and telling their parents how clever they actually are. We especially encourage Anita a lot because she is starting senior school next year and doesn’t want to go because she is scared and is failing a lot of subjects. Anita has an amazing ability when it comes to picking up the English we speak; her good ear also transcends to her excellent music ability, she is much more intelligent than she realises. The problem is, the only gauge the parents have of their children’s ability is the report card issued by the schools, which merely tell them that they’re failing. Sundar and Asha have only had very limited schooling themselves, and although they are both very progressive and naturally wise, they still don’t have the ability to judge their children’s performance for themselves.

In a society where tough love is prominent and encouragement is not so common, the children don’t have much belief in themselves. Having said this, I think our encouragement has washed off on Asha, as she now is starting to frequently say positive things about her children as opposed to affectionately calling them pargals (fools) like she did when we first arrived. I say affectionately because mamma and papa have nothing but love for their children even if it’s not always apparent. Both parents are wise beyond their education, and Sundar especially has a good mind for entrepreneurship and engineering, so we have confidence that he will lead their family into more prosperous times with the help of their guest house and under the guidance of Sushil.

Wow.. I’ve written a lot, without actually have said anything that we’ve done.. but that’s ok.. I think these experiences are far more interesting than our little side trips and happy snaps. If you’ve gotten this far into the blog than you probably think the same thing too! If you must know, since our last blog, we’ve been to Kausani for more views of the mountains, attended a local wedding (which to me was half celebration and half somewhat funeral like…) and took Anita to the town of Almora. For Anita the Almora trip meant two hours of vomiting in the bus on the way there, two hours of feeling seedy wondering the shops, and two more hours of vomiting on the way back, not to mention the fact that she was completely overwhelmed by the mass of people, cars and bad smells she had never encountered before in her life! She won’t be going back again soon…

So now it’s off to Delhi for a week and then Pune to visit Dadima, which will be nice. We will not forget our time here, nor will we forget our family.

Speak again soon!

Simon & Sheena

Scrabble: dunno

Squabble: who cares?

P.S The family cow had a baby calf recently, and in order to keep our legacy alive, we decided to name it after Sheena’s sister Nimita, however seeing as it’s a boy cow, Anita decided to change the name slightly, so the family are now the proud owners of Nimit the baby cow!

Say Hello To Baby Nimit

Try and not say "Awww"

Hema - The strongest 9 year old girl
in the world!

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