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Reports on how charity work and development continues at the childrens and young women's residential boarding school in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, India.

NEWSLETTER—November 2006

By Malcolm Harper

Returning To Orissa

I spent four days at PUSS in October, and as usual it was wonderful. I came straight from Bangladesh and Calcutta, which are in many ways depressing places, and it was a joy to reach PUSS quite late in the evening, when all the children were quietly but happily going to bed. I met the latest arrival, a plump and jolly baby girl who had been found a month or so before under a bush in the city by an itinerant laundryman, one of whose customers fortunately knew something of PUSS.

Diwali Celebrations at PUSS

The next day was Diwali, the festival of light. There was a special performance of songs, drama, dancing and gymnastics for some local government 'dignitaries' and others.

That afternoon I went to see the 11.5 acre plot of land which PUSS are buying, thanks to the very special generosity of Eileen Pirie of Oxford Study Centres. Buying land is complicated in India, since land has been split up into small pieces over many generations of inheritance. So far all the eleven transactions have been agreed, and eight have been paid for. By Christmas it should all be completed, and PUSS can start to fence and cultivate the land.

They plan to produce enough rice to satisfy the children's appetites (currently fifty-four tons a year!) and a second crop of 'bitter gourd', which commands a ready market in the area. In the longer term, they might start a women's polytechnic, which could earn its keep and prepare local young women for jobs, and the whole PUSS school might move there one day, when the present location becomes too built-up.

And then in the evening the whole PUSS building was outlined in dots of light, as the children lighted little clay oil lamps for Diwali.

A visit to Nandankanan Zoo

I thought the children deserved a day out, so I suggested that we might go to Nandankanan zoo the next day. This is an unusual zoo; it has the world's largest collection of white tigers, and you are just as likely to see a wild animal on your side of the fence as on the other. One of the tigers' grandparents actually jumped into the zoo from outside several years ago, being attracted by a charming tigress in the cage, and several monkeys joined us on our visit.

Four big and very crowded busses took the 350 children to the zoo, plus me and a number of teachers, and we all filed in, to the amazement of the other visitors.

Two hours of gazing at the animals were followed by half an hour on the swings. Then we had a massive high tea, with 50 kg of rice, generous ladles of yellow dal and forty chickens as a special treat. The whole expedition cost me about £150; a very good bargain indeed.

Nivita Sahu best 10-year of pupil for the whole of Bhubaneswar District

Otherwise all is well. There are 357 children in residence, and the library and science laboratory on the third floor of the main block have been completed, thanks to a government grant and a donation of microscopes and other equipment from a local well-wisher whom I met at the Diwali performance. The septic tank which was financed by Femmes d'Europe is coping well, and there are also 170 school children from the village, but quality has been well maintained. The teachers are much happier after the 50% (seven pounds a month) salary increase we found for them earlier in the year, and Nivita Sahu got the best grade for a ten year old in all Bhubaneswar District, an area with a population of abut two million people.

The older children do well too. Ten of the fifteen girls who took the Board of Secondary Education exams to go to college got grade one. The average percentage of grade one passes for Orissa state is 48%, and the government school in Naharkanta village only managed twelve per cent. The girls from PUSS are all now doing well in college, with special Government scholarships for 'untouchable' and tribal girls.

So, your generous support is achieving good things. Kadambini is tired but well, and she stressed that they always welcome 'gap year' visitors. They help with the children's (and the teachers'!) English, and they bring new faces and new ideas to the school. If you know of any young people who would like to spend some time with PUSS, please let us know. It is not easy, but as those of you who have been there will know, it is very rewarding !

Malcolm Harper, November 2006

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