Sharing the beauty of southern Rajasthan intensifies the pleasure. We were particularly privileged to be able to undertake a field trip to Girwa with Somerset and Emily on their recent visit. Girwa is a beautiful rural area south of Udaipur in which Seva Mandir works closely with local communities on a number of vital projects including watershed, seed banks, pre-school day centres for small children and bridge schools for older children for whom there is no local government school. Setting off bright and early, we were accompanied by two colleagues from Seva Mandir, Aarti and Chandra, and joined along the way by locally based members of the team.
Having turned off the main road, we were soon climbing up to about 400 meters and surveying the hills and valleys.
Evidence of the watershed projects was all around and the benefits in terms of improved agriculture clear to see.
We met local people who were proud of their countryside and welcoming.
After a few stops to examine watershed projects which stop the rain water running off the hillsides causing soil erosion, and channel it for use by the farmers, our hosts explained apologetically that, in order to visit a pre-school day centre, Balwadi, and school, Shiksha Kendra, we would have to walk for a few kilometres. But we were delighted. The air was fresh and the sun warm but not scorching.
Whilst Em had been to India before, this was Somerset’s first trip. Seeing a camel asleep outside the Balwadi emphasised the distance from the City. Inside the small hut, the children were seated on the ground singing. They were bemused to see a group of strange looking guests
and one burst into uncontrollable tears. It was explained that the little girl was concerned that we might take her away. There was a doubtless a story here but we did not probe. The young teacher consoled the little one and calm returned.
The Balwadis provide pre-school support for children up to the age of five. They learn basic skills to prepare them for school and receive nutritional meals and immunization. With the small children cared for in the Balwadi, mothers are free to work, typically in the fields, and elder siblings are themselves able to attend school.
Outside, two women sat in their front yard where chillis dried in the sunshine.
We thanked our gracious hosts and moved on around the hillside
to find the Shiksha Kendra where the children, all together in one room, were reciting verse. We were invited inside. One of the senior girls was asked to recite a poem and did so with confidence.
The pupils then played a game. One of them was chosen to be the detective and went outside while the class picked one of the remaining youngsters to be ‘it’. The detective then returned and was allowed two guesses to find the right classmate. This was done by the detective walking around the class which was seated in a circle on the ground
with the person who was ‘it’ leading some rhythmical finger clicking. The detective had to observe carefully to try to work out who was leading the game. No questions permitted. After an initial unsuccessful attempt, the detective correctly identified the senior girl who had recited the poem. How he knew we will never know, save that we suspected that the class might have selected her more often than not. We said our goodbyes and took our leave to head back to the vehicle past homes
Time was running short and we did not visit the seed bank on this occasion but pressed on to Seva Mandir’s residential learning camp on the route back to Udaipur. The residential leaning camp is one of our favourite places. Built in the countryside, it is home to a hundred or so children from different rural communities who would otherwise receive no education, either because there is no functioning government school in their locality or because their impoverished parents send them to work in the fields, typically over the state border in Gujarat for the cotton harvests. The residential camps are therefore held outside the harvest periods and last eight weeks. The children may attend three camps in a year and are taught basic literacy and numeracy skills to equip them for formal education if the opportunity arises.
We arrived on the first day of this particular camp. Most of the children had arrived but some were still expected. The day was devoted to noting their details and measuring them for the two sets of clothing which are provided by Seva Mandir. While they waited, the new pupils were encouraged to demonstrate their existing skill levels by drawing, which they did with great care and attention.
For many of the children, this was their first trip away from home. Nevertheless, the smiles abounded at the prospect of learning.
We hope to return on a Sunday to help out with extra-curricular activities including some basic language work in English and sports.
We took our leave as the children went for a well-earned lunch cooked on the premises and headed back to Udaipur.
A wonderful morning!