Today many of the children are heading home. It is the start of the summer holidays in India (April -May) school will begin in again in June. I will miss them being around, especially in the evenings as when their exams had finished we had began a tradition of open-air cinemas. 500 sitting under a starry sky, with a warm night breeze blowing as we projected films like ‘UP’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Karate Kid’ onto the wall. They are a wonderful audience cheering, booing, and getting very excited if there is a kiss on the lips (very raunchy here!). When they go back to their remote villages I have been told they will be pampered as the people are very proud that they are going to an ‘English Language’ school. I told them at mass last night that they are ambassadors – so they must teach the other children in the villages when they go back. Already they perform this role well – on the left is a picture of a student giving out school books and school bags to children who were most affected by the terrible floods last year. This girl was grazing cows a few years ago – now she is distributing aid! Like any school the most important asset is not the building or the facilities but the students themselves. And we are very proud of them!
Alarmingly I have also been told that when they come back in May they will be a lot thinner. The sad fact is that the food they get whilst they are in school is much more nutritional then what they can get in the villages. Malnutrition is a huge problem in rural India. Two Fifths of Indian children are still stunted by hunger according to the Economist. To get a sense of how things can change – a recent study in the National Medical Journal of India of wealthier Indians, found at the age of 18 boys are 4.5 inches taller and 4kgs heavier than they were in 1992, due to better food and a lack of disease. That is an incredible change. Living with the Jesuit community at the moment is Lenka, a social worker from Slovakia. She is doing great work travelling into the villages every day and measuring and weighing the children. She is working on behalf of St Elizabeths University in Slovakia – who with the Jesuits are running an anti-malnutrition programme. They identify babies who according to a WHO scale are at risk of malnutrition and provide food supplements or sometimes even milk powder if the mother cannot breastfeed them. Hopefully in the future the government, which passes a bill last November declaring everyones ‘right for food’ click, will be able to fulfill this duty, rather than relying on generous (and often religious) NGO’s.