Every year we are faced with the dilemma of how to keep our children actively learning during the oppressive heat of the Indian summer. Our solution is to run a special ‘holiday program’ where the kids participate in special interest activities of their choice and have a light program of academics.
On the first day of May, children were asked to choose from a range of activities including drawing, henna design, dance, karate, acrobatics and drama. Around 40 kids chose drama and got to work straight away in auditioning and rehearsing two English Dramas called “The Enormous nose”, and “The monkey and the king”. Six teachers and Mrs Jennifer worked really hard to manifest this.
The date for the performance was set as 11th May, and the students and teachers worked hard to get the students ready before the deadline. On the morning of the 11th of May, there was an air of expectation and excitement as the remaining children of SMS sat down in their class lines in front of the stage. The drama students burst onto the stage with a rendition of “Hello Hello” by the Beatles, followed by ten classic nursery rhymes and two drama performances.
Play acting is ancient tradition in India, mentioned in many scriptures. However, for these children, who come from impoverished and mostly illiterate families, there would have been little hope of being involved in play acting or the other arts, if it were not for the facility here at SMS.
The English language related activities at SMS are funded by anonymous sponsorship, arranged by Dr Urmilla Edith Best.
Pictured here is a feast of watermelon sponsored for the cows. They certainly appreciate this in this summer weather especially.
We spoke with the Malaysian born volunteer Kesi Nisudhana Krishna
dasa, who is the Manager and Worker and cow boy for 5 years about the project. He said he is stressed as there a financial crisis here presently. The direct running costs have increased by 37.5 percent, in the last 4 months. This is only the cost of feeding the cows, paying the salaries of the very hardworking cowherd boys, and medicine for the cows.
He said a 40kg bundle of dry grass used to cost Rs 130 in December, but now costs Rs220,00 this is a 59% increase. We asked why, he said this is because of the fuel price increase. And the government banned a vintage type of farm delivery vehicle, so more expensive transport is needed. He said in December and average of Rs2.5 lac was needed as running costs, but now Rs4 lac.
People keep cows and buffalo to sell the milk for an income. Due to obvious economics, non- milking cows and calf bulls are not needed as they cannot generate income for the owners. So these are usually the most abandoned cows in India. Therefore we have only 18 milking cows, 48% are bulls, of the total of 185 cattle.
The cows provide around 15 liters of milk per day,
which is given to the children attending the Kindergarten at Sandipani Muni School. Eighteen bulls are used to pull nine carts which transport students between their villages and the school. Cow dung is used for organic farming. There are also plans to use it to generate bio gas in the future.
This was the first time we entered a classroom and felt comforted by the beautiful clean rooms. Their pleasant nature definitely inspires purity and learning.
If you compare the English of the students in Sandipani Muni schools to the other local children, you will see our students speak much better English. This is an objective testable fact. This is testimony that something else is being done right in the school. However the teachers here are all usually speaking their vernacular. So even though the teachers may have studied in English in college or university, their language ability goes into dis-use. This means the knowledge becomes some-what inaccessible due to being stored in deeper unconscious memory.
Inspired by Mrs Jennifer, Mr Micheal Epstein, a volunteer from New York city, agreed to conduct English lessons for the teachers, now that the Sandipani Muni school is closed for the end of year, summer holidays. Pictured here is the Mr Epstein with only 4 of his students from one class only. There are 2 other bigger groups. What he did was at first perform an aptitude assessment via a test to divide the teachers into 3 groups, according to their ability. We sat in a session with the teachers who needed most help with English, and witnessed them revise the previous day’s test paper and it was clear that learning was going on.
It is definitely not a very easy task for Mr Epstein as he is a Caucasian, Catholic raised American, New Yorker, and these were Indian village ladies from Vrindavan, the Holy Land of Lord Sri Krishna, who naturally did not understand what is the concept of “sun tanning”. So given these differences in culture, language accent, and pronunciation we can already congratulate Mr Epstein for his enthusiasm and efforts in helping improve the lives of the teachers and children. Certainly the teachers are learning to teach better. Our children and society should benefit from this.
Pictured here is Partha Sarathi who is the dedicated person of FFL Vrindavan, that is involved on a high level in the project of cleaning the City of Vrindavana. He met with other interested parties on 24 April 2013 to discuss details. FFLV provides a team of 28 people including a tractor driver, a supervisor AND a tractor with a trolley trailer. They help clean up seven designated areas in Vrindavan town.
This is a joint effort between FFLV with two other NGO’s. There is an official policy of 3R’s – Re-use, Reduce, and Recycle. There are studies that have revealed that only 15% of garbage is real waste.
There will be public meetings with the community to emphasize a cleaner and more hygienic lifestyle. And the people will be made conscious that polythene (plastic) bags are illegal now in Vrindavan. These bags are one of the biggest problems facing us as they clog the drains, are not bio-degradable. Burning plastic produces poisonous gas in the air and affects our health negatively.
Some years ago there were no polythene bags and plastic cups & bottles, and other containers in Vrindavan. People used leaf or clay cups, leaf or steel plates, other steel or metal utensils instead of plastic and cloth or paper bags to carry groceries and water etc. We are happy to be doing this service on behalf of our sponsors, for the community.
Drew Pearson, a 26 year old Mormon Christian from Los Angeles, California first came to Sandipanimuni School in 2012 for 6 weeks. He was so deeply affected by the children and his service to them that he came back for 2 more months in February 2013.
Drew said he usually struggles with anxiety, and takes medication for this. But his anxiety is at an all- time low when he is with the children. He said, “Outsiders looking in, like our parents etc, may think that we are doing a great service by coming and volunteering…” Drew continued by saying, “when we are serving others, oftentimes those serving are the real benefactors of that service.” “After leaving in 2012 I was disturbed by thoughts about never being involved with the children again. These thoughts led to sleepless nights thinking about the children and how I could further help their cause.”
After speaking with Rupa Ragunath, FFL Vrindavan President about the marketing needs of the organization, he felt it necessary for him to come back with a team to make promotional videos which focus on the potential of the kids. Now at the end of his second visit, he has the same separation anxiety and wonders when he will come back again.