Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.
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Malcolm Harper reports
I had to go to a meeting in Dubai two weeks ago, and I realized that my 'airmiles' were just enough to get me from there to India for nothing, so I managed a flying visit to Odisha.
It was a good visit, and I was able to see and do a lot in a couple of days; I met some of PUSS's new 'day boarders', who have recently joined the school, and I visited some of their families in the sad slums where they live. I also had a good meeting with Manoj Kumar at the railway station.
But first I'll share a note from Philippa Baylis from Perth in Scotland, who had left PUSS a few days before I arrived.
The first group of day boarders, taken by Francesca, a recent volunteer from Italy
Philippa Baylis visits PUSS
When I first heard about the PUSS school from Malcolm's granddaughter Mary Harper (who went to school in Perth with my daughter Merran) I decided that one day I would go there as a volunteer. I teach English as a Second Language (ESOL), have brought up three daughters, and have an interest in tribal societies; all this made PUSS's work of special interest to me. When the last of my daughters left home to go to university I had the opportunity to take a "gap month" in Naharkanta, Odisha.
I was welcomed to PUSS by Kuku, her husband and her daughter, Lorie, and was shown to the new guest quarters a short walk from the school. July is hot and humid, but with ceiling fans and a fridge full of cold water I adapted very quickly. The following day I was given my timetable and started my first classes. The girls were polite, well behaved, attentive and very enthusiastic to learn new things-a real pleasure to teach. I found it thoroughly rewarding.
I was lucky to see the beginning of three exciting new developments at PUSS. During my second week two teacher trainers from Parisa Asha in Mumbai came to implement their new teaching programme with the Pre- school and Class 1 pupils and teachers. They made an excellent job of teaching the children in English using fun, communicative methods. I was roped in to tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I found myself acting out the story; I played the role of Daddy Bear lying on the floor snoring loudly which the little ones found hilarious!
The day boarders' Education, Enrichment and Empowerment (EEE) Project also started during my stay. This is an initiative to offer places at PUSS to girl and boy slum children on a Day Boarding basis. Kuku and Mr Badal, her qualified social worker, worked tirelessly during the evenings visiting local slums and talking to parents in an attempt to get them to allow their children to go to school. This is not as easy as it sounds as parents often rely on their children, particularly the little girls, to look after infants and babies while they go out to work. I accompanied Kuku and Badal on visits to three local slums where living conditions are really terrible.
The project has been a great success and several children started to attend school during my stay. They took to school like ducks to water, and it was hard to get them to go home at the end of the day. Kuku aims to recruit around 50 children as Day Boarders.
The Parisa Asha programme is going to be extended over the next few years to the rest of the school. At present success is limited by the very basic level of English and lack of qualified teachers, but Kuku is recruiting new qualified teachers of English, with the agreement of the current teaching staff who will take up other roles in the school. I was honoured to be on the interview panel during my last week at PUSS, and it was decided to recruit Mr Anil Kumar Lanka who has excellent qualifications, good English and 14 years' teaching experience.
The children and Kuku made a tremendous impression on me during my stay and I left for home at the end of July feeling truly blessed to have been part of PUSS. I'm already planning my next visit.
...Malcolm Harper continues
Thank you Philippa, you did a wonderful job for PUSS, and they look forward to your return. There were 32 day boarders when I was at PUSS, 50/50 girls and boys, and I was able to join a combined kindergarten and first year class of which maybe a third were day boarders. It was good to see that they were totally integrated with the full boarders; they get a good meal and an hour of special tuition after they arrive to bring them up to speed with the others, before regular class begins, and PUSS (that's you, our supporters) gives them uniforms, so they fit in very well.
I talked to 14 of the school leavers who are going to various colleges; 7 are learning to be mechanics, 4 are learning about date entry and computing, and the others are training to be a teacher, a coffee shop 'barista' and a dance instructor; if they had not been to PUSS, they would have been married, with children, or maybe already abandoned.
News from SOCH
Manoj Kumar's Society for Children (SOCH) is doing well. Their three railway platform teams rescued 82 children in August, and we discussed his forthcoming visit to the UK, which is being supported by our friends at Hat Trick, and they hope to start a fourth team at Puri, the nearby seaside and festival town, in the near future.
Manoj is planning to run a month-long camp for long-term street and railway children who cannot be dealt with as easily as the short-term runaways whom the SOCH teams are used to rescuing. These sad and almost feral children are subject to every kind of abuse and need very special treatment. Those of you who have travelled on Indian trains may have seen them; begging, stealing, hiding under seats, scavenging or sleeping, and Manoj's previous employers in Bangalore have developed special techniques for helping them to get back into society. He hopes when he is in the UK to help us to raise the funds which will be necessary for this new endeavour.
Malcolm Harper, Filgrave, September 2015
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