Iona-Jane Harris, our Fundraising and Communications Manager, has just visited Bakhel for the first time. She spent a week at Hunar Ghar School and here she shares some impressions from her visit.
Bakhel took my breath away. It is serenely beautiful, the sky stretches out to the horizon, a vast blue expanse, gently interrupted by the undulating Aravali hills which glimmer pink and green, date palms line dry river beds, simple homesteads are surrounded by fields of wheat, fennel and cotton, all tended by hand, cows with painted horns and inquisitive goats graze, taking shade under trees. When you stand still, the noise you are most conscious of is silence.
Unless of course, you are at Hunar Ghar, the school run by Educate for Life. Here, you are conscious of chatter, of laughter, of singing, of questions, of stories, of sharing, of constant interaction. Learning spills out of the classrooms into the communal spaces of the school. The solar system is traced in the dust and children whirl around the sun at its centre in different planetary orbits. A class goes up and down the steps which curve upwards from the school entrance off a dusty, not much travelled, road to experiment with counting. Children are carefully painting their classrooms in anticipation of Republic Day, bright and bold colours and creative patterns and pictures bringing vibrancy, pride and smiles. Outside a new classroom under construction girls skip barefoot using a long rope which an intern has brought to the school and delight in seeing how long they can keep their turn. An impromptu ball game after lunch has pupils and their teachers jumping, reaching and twisting together to keep the ball in the air and in play, while some of the younger children look on and scrabble down rocks to retrieve the ball when it escapes the circle.
When the sun is shining and the school is ablaze with life, anything and everything seems possible. However, there are constant stark reminders of the community’s extreme deprivation and poverty. Bakhel really did take my breath away.
Take lunch time. Every day three women work to make lunch for the whole school over one small open fire. Every day, rice, chapati, curry and fresh vegetables are carefully prepared and served in two sittings – first to the younger children and then to the older ones. In turn they sit in a large circle outside in a communal area that also serves as a playground and space for assemblies and celebrations with the community. Every day, as the food is being served, a scruffy band of young children arrive clutching plastic bags and crouch by the rocks that mark the periphery of the communal area, and our lunch guests are also served food. Some stay to eat, others take it home. Some school children produce plastic bags from up their sleeves and, after having a mouthful or two of their food, place the remainder into their bag to take home. I found this evidence of hunger and need heart-breaking especially when I considered how much choice I and my own family have when we eat. In contrast, in Bakhel, two thirds of children in the community are malnourished.
Sitting back at my desk in the UK, I am now only too aware of how imperative it is that as an organisation we achieve our aim to provide quality education and healthcare to all children in Bakhel. While I was away, I had the pleasure of spending several days with Shwetambera Parashar our new, India-based, Fundraising and Communications Officer, discussing and developing our fundraising and communications plans for India and the UK. Together we will be raising awareness of Educate for Life and ensuring the sustainability and expansion of Hunar Ghar.
During my visit I made a silent promise. A promise to the children in Bakhel who are not yet at Hunar Ghar. You will be.