Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.
REPORT ON VISIT TO PUSS, JULY and SEPTEMBER 2002
By Malcolm Harper
I was able to visit PUSS during July and again at the end of September. It was hot and cloudy, but still sadly dry. The monsoon has been late this year, too late for many farmers. Naharkanta will not feel the immediate effects of this as harshly as the interior areas where the people have no other source of livelihoods apart from the land, but the drought will mean that even more hungry villagers will migrate to the State capital for work. Wages will be lower, and food will be more expensive. This will mean that there will be even more children in need, and even greater pressure on PUSS to take them in, and on us to support them.
PUSS continues to grow
The number of children at PUSS has continued to grow. There are now 265 altogether, including 125 children from tribal migrant labourer families. Eighty-five of these are little boys. PUSS have made it clear to their parents they will have to leave when they reach twelve years of age, since Kadambini believes that it is a good thing to have boys and girls together when they are young, but that problems will arise if the boys remain much after they reach that age. In any case, they propose not to admit any more boys for now. There were ten more children in September than in July. They are all little girls, some from the leprosy colonies and some from destitute single mothers. New admissions must now stop until the new school year begins in mid-July next year. By that time the new rooms above the classroom block will be completed, and it will be possible to admit more children. There is always a demand for places.
The children at the school continue to do well. There have been very few health problems in the last few months, and Kadambini is sure that this is because of the improved washing and sanitary facilities, which we have financed. The older girls' choir recently won a prize at a schools singing competition.
College and study
Three of the older girls have left recently. S has gone to the local college for further study, and intends to return to PUSS as a teacher as soon as she has completed her studies. Another girl is taking her exams, and the third is employed as an assistant at the main Hospital in Bhubaneswar. She also plans in due course to return to PUSS to help to take care of the smaller children. The local Rotary Club helps PUSS to find jobs for such girls, and also provides some help with their upkeep.
The handicraft activity continues to do well. I was able to collect and bring back to England a supply of Orissa style dolls clothing and one hundred children's dressing up kits which PUSS has made for East West Education, a small charity based in Sussex that provides British schools with ethnic education items which are sourced from needy producers in India and elsewhere. I also brought back six sample applique wall hangings, which PUSS has made for Orient Art Tapis of Paris, and these have been very well received.
We have also secured a grant from Artisan Trust for equipment and working capital to expand the handicraft production. This will provide jobs for a number unemployed young women in Naharkanta and nearby villages. In addition to running the school, PUSS employs a small team of social workers who are financed by a government poverty alleviation programme. These workers have identified thirty unemployed girls from very poor families in a nearby lower caste community, and they are being trained by PUSS to knit sweaters for the short winter season, and to do simple tailoring. PUSS will then sub-contract work to them, and will thus both provide them with employment and earn additional profits to cover the costs of the school.
The annual sales of handicrafts are about twelve thousand pounds, and this earns a profit of just over two thousand pounds a year. This covers about three-quarters of the school's salary bill, for fourteen teachers. The balance of the school expenses is met from small contributions from the day children's families, and from occasional donations. Most of the day children bring a handful of rice to school every week; this may not be possible later this year when the affects of the current drought begin to be felt.
Two more of our supporters have visited PUSS. Kes Srikanthan and Kate Rook, from Bedford and Olney, spent two weeks there in September, helping with English and sports teaching. They took some school supplies with them, which had been donated by Bedford School, and Gulf Air kindly allowed them an extra baggage allowance to enable them to do this.
There has been a change in government policy on financing primary education, which seems likely even further to delay any State support for the PUSS school. The previous State Minister of Education was generally positive towards the role of voluntary organisations such as PUSS in education. This Minister recently died. His replacement believes that all education should be in the hands of the State. The recognition committee, which is considering PUSS' case, has not sat since his appointment, and although the local inspectors have submitted excellent reports on PUSS it appears that recognition of PUSS secondary classes will also be further delayed, even beyond the three years it has already taken.
Much of the State's government's money for primary education comes from a DFID (British aid) project. It was originally planned that non-government schools such as PUSS would be eligible for support from the DFID fund, but the new Minister has stopped this. We are taking this up with DFID through our contacts in their London and Delhi offices.
Here in the UK we are pleased to be able to report that we now have our own website: www.orissa.org.uk. We hope that the site will keep our members and regular supporters such as yourself in touch with our work, and we also anticipate that it will bring in new supporters. We hope too that it will save some postage and printing costs!
Thanks again for all your support. Please keep it coming.