We are delighted that Matt Barbet, Presenter, 5 News, has agreed to become our patron. Matt filmed the construction of the very first classrooms at Hunar Ghar in 2007 for the BBC. His time in Bakhel made a deep impression on him and here he shares what inspired him then and what still inspires him now about Educate for Life…
Occasionally, you just know that someone absolutely means it when they say they will get something done. That’s what I felt when I first met Ed and Ash.
I was working as a reporter for BBC London News at the time, and was dispatched to interview two young University College London students who happened upon the bright idea of asking people to donate two-pence pieces to raise enough money to build a school in India. Inspired – if it worked.
I set off with cameraman in tow to film these two idealistic young men while trying to keep my scepticism in check. Once I arrived at their digs, and began filming the mountains of coppers they had amassed, the doubt disappeared. They were smart, enthusiastic and determined. Of course the idea worked, with interest, and in the eight years since I met them, they haven’t changed a bit.
A few months after that first meeting, I was fortunate enough to be able to head to Rajasthan and film the fruits of their labours with a couple of other colleagues. We picked up a driver in Udaipur to take us along unfinished highways, past nomadic shepherds and wayward elephants, for three or four hours until we suddenly came to a stop on what looked like a deserted road.
The landscape was weirdly reminiscent of the Tellytubbies set: green pointy hills emerged from what was essentially a flat vista. Our driver didn’t care that we were his paying clients, as he turfed us out of his vehicle and said he would wait there for us. He wasn’t going any further, and we would have to venture into the village of Hunar Ghar on our own. Such is the continuing influence of the caste system on much of rural India, and the reluctance of those higher up the chain to mix with those they perceive are at the bottom, the Untouchables.
Fortunately, the feeling wasn’t reciprocated as we walked towards the village, hauling our tv equipment. We were met by a wiry man with a broad, toothy smile who spoke next to no English (although I had zero Hindi). No matter, his welcome was warm, and he somehow managed to communicate that Ed, and his friend Rob, where elsewhere and he was charged with looking after us.
We dumped the kit, and had a look around. As you can imagine, our presence was met with curiosity. Three pasty-faced telly-types nosing around, talking about the angles of shots, and pieces to camera, is faintly ridiculous at the best of times, but here, we were complete aliens.
It turned out that our grinning host was Bhuriya, who was also working as a foreman on the embryonic school buildings that were beginning to emerge from the side of one of the funny hills. His gestures conveyed the fact that we would stay with him and his family that night, in his very modest two-room home.
A supper of sabzi was served up on metal plates, with delicious homemade roti, before we did our best to settle on the three traditional cots Bhuriya and his family had given up for us. He slept on the floor with his eldest daughter Chitori, accompanied by a couple of goats. His wife was in the other room, with their toddler, Chetalis, who was only known as “47” at the time (she hadn’t been given a name yet, so a number used by a local charity to register children had simply stuck).
Outside, tied up, were a dog and a cow. Little did I know that also above my cot, in the eaves, was a chicken coop. It only became apparent when, in the middle of the night, a chick hatched and dropped onto my sleeping bag, Put it this way, I was simply grateful it wasn’t a cobra that startled me from my fitful sleep…
Ed and Rob returned the next day, and they’d clearly gone native pretty quickly – they were tanned, and Ed was even skinnier than I remember, in his 10 rupee vest and pyjama trousers rolled up above his ankles. His infectious enthusiasm was even more prevalent as we set about filming the progress they were making over the next three days. Over the next eight years, the progress Educate for Life has continued to make is nothing less than astounding.
Looking back, I can remember my visit to Hunar Ghar as vividly as if it were yesterday, even though it feels like a lifetime ago – or two lifetimes, to be precise: those of my own two daughters, who are now three and five. My wife and I have gone through that usual Western angst of getting them into a good nursery, and hoping our eldest would get a place at the primary school of our choice. Never did we worry that our girls wouldn’t get an education at all. How privileged and fortunate we are.
So, when I was asked if I would like to become a patron of Educate for Life, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. When I sit down to help my 5 year old with her maths homework, I find myself wondering how Chitori or “47” are getting on. How the hundreds of other girls and boys in that remote Rajasthan village are benefitting from the collecting of loose change all those years ago. How educating children properly is undeniably one of the most vital keys to reaching a better world for everyone. That’s my two pennies’ worth – but it’s clearly worth infinitely more.