Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Mission update 1

Two days in, I finally met my project – the reason why I am here in northern India – up close and personal, so to speak. I had received plenty of information before making the journey here,  but now I was to see the existing project in operation.

It began with Jiwan Rai (the local manager of Mondo Challenge) and I walking up the hill into town to meet a group of the charity’s local trustees – we were all going to travel together to the village – them to a PTA meeting and me to meet the headmaster and talk about his fields. We all piled into a shared 4×4 taxi, but as we set off, I couldn’t help but be concerned – I had been told this was about a 10 mile trip there and back, and we were due to arrive at 12.30. So, why were we leaving at 10.15…..?

“Ah,” said I, about 40 minutes later, “The road”. I am sorry I don’t have any pictures, but this is because I spent most of the journey hanging on to the seat in front with both hands. Doing a hairpin turn on a 1:5 slope with a 300m drop to your right is an interesting experience, even on a proper road. Large sections of this one are rough cobbled and all of it is unfenced. If the driver had tried to go any faster, I would have got out and walked.

One of the village houses - the prayer flags indicate a buddhist family

One of the village houses – the prayer flags indicate a buddhist family

Anyway, we eventually arrived in the village of Baranumber, a place of roughly 100 houses; the homes of workers on the local cinchona (quinine) plantations. Here, the people live on an income of some R4,000 per month (roughly $2.20 a day, plus whatever they can earn from a little farming on their half-acre plots. Half an acre may seem quite a lot, but it shrinks considerably when it’s made up of terracing that is 3m (10 foot) wide at best.

The view up-hill

The view up-hill, terraces to left and right

But here’s the thing. In the middle of this village, one above the other, are two schools – the privately run, fee paying school that I was visiting and a government-run free school. The government school isn’t just free of fees – the uniform, school books and even a midday meal are all free. Yet the government school has just three pupils; the private school has 72. This is because the disparity in standards is so great that the villagers will try to scrape together the R300 per month (plus uniform, etc) to send their child to the private school, rather than rely on the government one.

One of the children outside a classroom

One of the children outside a classroom

and one of the teachers

and one of the teachers

And that is what my project is about. The fees from the villagers are really not enough to sustain the headmaster and his six staff on a decent wage. And that means they have nothing to spend on maintenance or development, leaving them dependent on donations from the Mondo charity. Both the school masters and the charity want to take effective steps to end that dependency. My mission is to help turn an existing garden vegetable project designed for the children’s education into something that is commercially viable and financially robust.  While I continue to find my way into how to do that, here are some more pictures of what I saw on this first visit.

The headmaster of Alpha school - NB Rai

The headmaster of Alpha school – NB Rai

Parents at the PTA meeting

Parents at the PTA meeting

The school's terraced plots - a total of 650 sq ft. I guess that's why it's called Mondo "Challenge".

The school’s terraced plots – a total of 650 sq ft. I guess that’s why it’s called Mondo “Challenge”.

If you want to know more about the project, stay tuned, and/or look up the Mondo Challenge Foundation at www.mondochallengefoundation.org/trustees.html

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