Category: Education


Stories of Hope

AMDG

Fr Eric Mathias SJ (left) is the director of the educational works in Manvi and the founder of the Jesuit Mission here 10 years ago. This blog has been contacted by a few people who wanted to know more about the many children here who have been saved from a life of grazing cows and given an education.  Fr Eric has written todays entry to highlight two students (from many) whose life has changed dramatically because of their work.  

Pannur Mission began with releasing some bonded child labourers and giving them A life-changing experience  through education. All these children who were released  are doing well and are an example to others.  Let me give you some  examples of living stories of our children who were grazing cows and never ever thought  that one day they would speak in English and study in an English medium school.

Hanumanthi.  Hanmuanthi hails from a small village called Umli Hosur,  26 kms from Manvi. She was grazing cows  of the landlords and used to collect  Rs. 3,000 per year.  Loyola team met her in her village and sent her to Bijapur for literacy program. She proved herself so smart  that  we decided to send her to Mangalore to do her primary studies. As she was good in English we brought her to school in Manvi for the 8th std. She has excelled in studies and sports and brought a good name to the school. Now she is in 2nd year PUC (Pre University) and dreaming of  being an eye  specialist.  She says  that both   her mother and brother are suffering from eye trouble and so she would like to be a doctor and help out  those who have eye trouble.   She has also has a desire to be a nun at the service of people.  Though she is now in holidays she has opted to spend her holidays in visiting villages and helping to identify and register malnourished children with a team that is engaged in helping these children.  She says she gets energy and peace when she helps the poor and needy.  Hanumanthi is an example of a girl who is liberated and wants to liberate others.

Noble Raj is coming from Pannur village and at an early age engaged in grazing cows and doing some work under the landlords.  He had never been to school till he met us.  He has one brother and two sisters. He was never bothered about the loss of education till he started schooling.  One day he came to us and begged that he wanted to study and work and help out his  poor family.  We gave him an initial grounding in his studies and brought him to school in Manvi.  He has been with us past five years and  has been diligent in his studies.  He has a strong desire to be a Jesuit and to serve humanity especially the poor.He says that his eyes  were opened when  the Wimbledon group first visited Pannur in 2002 and he used to see Bro. Tim (now Fr Tim) lifting children on his shoulders and swinging the children hanging on his arms. He was thrilled when he himself had the joy of being carried on Tim’s shoulders.  He was astonished that  Dalit children were made to feel free by the  English group. They were considered untouchable by so many, even their own families, yet the boys from Wimbledon were delighted to play with them

Later, when another English visitor Dinah and her family visited his poor and simple house, he felt accepted by them and was strengthened by their love. Now he is in 10th std preparing himself for the public exams. He wants to score well and go for PUC.  Noble Raj is very helpful by nature and is a gentleman with discipline and self respect. Even now in holidays he  is staying in the school and helping out in different activities. He  has made his school as his own second  home and is cordinating a group of boys in building and maintenance works.   English medium has helped him to grow in all round knowledge.

There are many Hanumanthis and Noble Rajs in our school who will change the structure  of our society and liberate Dalit families from the slavery of moneyed people and landlords.   If you would like to help support them directly click on this link

The Vision

AMDG

Thankyou for so much interest about the educational work that the Jesuits are doing here in India.  A repeated question has been about what effect does education really have in a rural underdeveloped area like Manvi?  In a ‘developed’ country like the UK there may be a valuable question to ask about the wisdom of sending so many people to university, when many leave with degrees that may not be helpful or useful.  In that context I would agree that vocational skills can be more useful that tertiary academic education and there is no point in pushing someone who is demotivated to do a degree for the sake of it.  But here in Manvi we are talking about education at a much more basic level. Here education is the key to transforming society.  Why?  Because it changes mindsets, it encourages people to think, to challenge. It opens their horizons. In rural India, traditional ways such as child marriage or child labour, corruption, sexism, and caste discrimination all work against development.  Even deeper that that is an all-pervading sense of fatalism that comes from an ancient philosophy of time being cyclical. In the West we understand time in a lineal manner – Judaism, Christianity and Islam talk about the ‘end of time’ – Judgement Day – when the good and bad deeds of life are weighed against each other.  In many places in the East time is cyclical, judgement is through reincarnation, good karma versus bad karma.  This can produce a certain fatalism – I was born in this caste, in this village, if I don’t cause trouble, try and live a virtuous life then my next life, my next reincarnation will be favourable.

Simply Giving them a chance

So education is a force that says – you can change things, you can improve the here-and-now, you can aspire to be a doctor, engineer, teacher.  Just this morning I took a class of very motivated science students – we watched a programme about the Arctic Circle, as well as exploring ideas such as body temperature, nutrition, seasonal variation etc.  The students were fascinated by snow and ice, particularly by the phenomenon of ‘cloudy’ breath in freezing temperature. It blew their minds.  When I asked the class what their ‘coldest’ experience had been  - the furthest one of them had traveled was to Mangalore and a temperature of about 15C. So Education opens their horizons, they loved seeing an igloo being built.  We also discussed the challenge of a balanced diet.  In one of the scenes the Inuit were hunting for Whales which is their only source of vitamin C, in a terrain where nothing grows.  So this lead to a discussion about a balanced diet – and a project where the students who will go back to the villages next week will log all they eat for a month and then will investigate what vitamins or minerals are missing from their families diet.

Regarding the questions about what the students will go on to do after school – the Jesuits are building a University College on the same site. Two weeks ago – after an inspection – we received the news that ‘Loyola College’ as it is called will be affiliated to Gulbarga University and has been awarded decree accreditation powers in the fields of Computing  (BCA), Commerce (BCOM),  Social Work (BSW),  English (BA), Science (BSC).   So for the students who wish to they can now study here from kindergarten through to undergraduate level.  Already there are     students studying their PUC (Pre University) courses.  This years saw the first batch of graduates from the PUC.  Most of them will go to the college, some will write CET exam and go to medical or engineering or architecture colleges.  Some will do vocational courses like automobile, welding, electrical, electronic, plumbing, diesel mechanic, tailoring, carpentry – access to these courses is only available to children who have finished 1oth standard in school (age 15).  Since almost all of them come from families who if they are lucky rely on seasonal ‘coolie’ work – to have a skilled steady job in itself is a big achievement. I have been told that the ‘drop out rate’ i.e. thks students who don’t complete 10th standard is less than 2%n  (which is considerably less than other schools where the average drop out rate is 40% or higher).

Any help you can give or continue giving through charities such as Supporting Dalit Children really does make a difference.  I have asked Fr Eric Mathias to write the next blog about the changes he has already seen over the last 10years.

AMDG

Great  contemporary Indian authors 

It is an arresting paradox of India – that its culture sustains one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the world, its engineers are valued and sought after, and it is becoming a dominant force in the IT sector, yet on the other hand there are more illiterate people in India that the whole of the population of the US.  I am helping train the teachers in the Pre-University-College here, we meet every day, I have been asking them questions about this paradox and what would they change about the system.  The answers ranged from better pay for teachers, reducing teacher absenteeism in government schools and a female teacher who said she would rigorously enforce the banning of child marriage and child labour.  This group of teachers has impressed me with their desire to learn, and I have shared with them teaching skills and professional practice from the UK.

Last week we discussed the findings of PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment).  Started by the OPEC countries, who realised that as education was so important for growing a future economy, they needed an independent ‘transnational’ way of checking how successful education systems are, and how they compare to other countries.  You can’t always trust national governments to give you an accurate and unbiased picture!  Data was gathered every three years as 15-year-olds’ take a series of pen and paper tests focusing on four areas. : Literacy in maths, reading and science and finally problem solving.  This international report is growing more and more influential in the field of education, South Korea performing best in the recent test, the UK and US slowly slipping down the table. India, not in OPEC, have resisted taken part – but eventually allowed two regions, Himachal Pradesh  and Tamil Nadu  to take preliminary tests.  They came below the mean scores in the tests but interesting scored high for language skills.

A recent report from PISA results suggested that there were roughly four stages countries would find themselves. At the first, basic stage, the challenge is to centralise learning, standardize curriculums and make sure everyone is using the same textbooks etc.  Then when this in place the second stage seems to be the use of reliable exam data to identify good schools and share good practice, The third stage, perhaps where the UK is at, is then to choose the best graduates for teaching, by increasing entry salaries and raising the status of the profession.  And the final stage, where East Asian and Scandanavian countries seem to be is the opposite of the first stage  - a radical de-centralisation and allow teachers more control over curriculum and teaching.  In my limited experience it seems that at least in rural India is making the transition from stage one to two.  One of the problems is the unreliability of  the public exam system. I have been told that in the cities it is different. However it seems as though corruption is endemic.  Copying in exams seems frequent, in some places the invigilators even encourage it. There are many leaks of papers, this year being no exception.  Papers are  frequently recalled and have to be sat again, putting extra pressure on the students. One girl committed suicide a few weeks ago.  There are attempts to come to grips with it – todays news is that the Common Entrance Tests are being delayed in Karnataka after exam rescheduling because of leaked papers and also boycotts from lecturers.  The delay allows an evaluation of exam scripts but puts even more pressure on students who have other exams for civil service, police and armed forces.

This is a shame because until the exams are better regulated then there is not enough reliable data to identify good practice in the consistently successful schools and share it, at least in the rural areas where 70% still live.  It is also give another example of why the Jesuit school and college here in Manvi are so important and are becoming flagships for good education in the region.

Proud of our Ambassadors

AMDG

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.

First Generation Students

AMDG

Many Dalit children are left to a life of illiteracy and looking after sheep or goats

Education is the key to unlocking poverty so it is fascinating to observe first hand the struggles and resistance in creating a culture of education in an area where until now there has been very little.  We take education for granted but here in Raichur District the literacy rates are the lowest in Karnataka State.  The impressive Indian Censusof 2011 (perhaps unique in the modern age for technological expertise in such a diverse country indicates that rural literacy rates in Karnataka have increased from 59% in 2001 to 68% in 2011  (with girls only 59% boys 78%).   Here in Raichur District – the literacy rate is still hovering around the 50% mark, which makes the Xavier High School and the Loyola College here so important.  But it is also a challenge educating so many students from families who have always been illiterate, as it is involves changing minds and hearts or parents and grandparents too.

The Jesuit High School - almost entirely for Dalits offers a way out and hope for the future

Today I have been preparing presentations to the students on basic hygiene.  This is very important particularly for our boarding students (400+).  They are all from very poor villages – and as such are used to a different way of life. This can create problems when we have so many living in a small space – the boarding hostel.  They need to live here so that we can ensure they attend classes every day and do not spend time in the fields grazing goats as their parents would ask.  They are all the first ones in their families to go to secondary school.  Many families still  live a subsistence life so it takes a while for them to understand and value the importance of education.  Most of the children are sponsored through excellent charities such as Supporting Dalit Children, but still every family must pay something towards the education  and living costs.  Yesterday morning it was very sad to see a group of children in tears outside the gates, because their parents had not paid their annual fees – after weeks and weeks of promising.  Each pays what they can – for some it is as low as 500 rupees a year (£7 or $10).  I was told that their parents are relying on the Jesuits to be  kind, but they are standing firm.  This is important as all must value their education.  Today most have come and paid what they promised.

Part of my preparations is to teach the children how to use a latrine toilet.  Many of them used to living in the small villages have always gone and squatted in the fields. With 4oo living together in the hostel this proves to be a health hazard but they are frightened of using the commode – so part of my presentation is to show them why this is important. Fr Rohan (the head of the school) suggested I show them the video below by Wilbur Sargunaraj who has been called the first Indian ‘You Tube’ sensation.  From Madurai, Tamil Nadu, he is famous for his music and instructional videos.  Through his songs and his videos he aims to promote cultural intelligence.  I showed the video to the college teachers I am training and they were laughing and cringing! It is true that is not a sophisticated image of India – but I find him very likeable and this video is interesting (as well as funny) because it shows the basic level of education that is needed – which those of us who are urban and literate take for granted.  It is worth noting that the video is meant for us foreigners on how to use an Eastern Latrine.

AMDG

No Ambulance, No Doctor but a photographer on hand…….. “He was taken aside and given a key to hold as we felt he had an attack of fits. There was no ambulance around but we gave him some basic first aid.’’ Mahesh (Physio) From Deccan Herald

The news this morning from Bangalore was a sharp contrast from the weekend’s news in England. A young footballer yesterday died on the pitch of a cardiac arrest (click here). In England everybody has been relieved to see Fabrice Muamba begin his recovery, with the incongruous sight of Premiership footballers calling people to prayer. Here in India the family of Venkatesh Dhanraj are mourning and stunned that he died so suddenly and with no medical facilities to resuscitate him. His father said “After he collapsed on the ground, I knew something was wrong. The referee noticed it and called for medical attention. But, I saw no one. Forget an ambulance, it’s a luxury for football players in Bangalore, there was no stretcher and no doctor.” The league has been suspended with the Karnataka State Football Association accusing Bangalore District of breaking rules on medical provision. Shockingly it is the second death at the stadium in 8 years, after the Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. Perspective is so often lost with sport…. but these tragedies out it right back into perspective. I was reading Alex Ferguson praising the rapid reaction of the medical staff at the Tottenham / Bolton game where Muamba collapsed. Money is clearly the difference.

the call to prayer……

Unfortunately not all medically trained understand their work as vocation but more as a career. Fr Eric the Jesuit director here in Manvi trapped a nerve in his leg two days ago. In great pain he rushed to the nearest hospital in Raichur (80kms away) and the doctor after a cursory inspection suggested an operation which would cost 50,000Rupees ($700). This seemed ridiculous so Eric went to Mangalore (200kms away) to the Catholic Hospital where his sister works – he had an MRI scan for 2000 rupees and was discharged after the nerve had slipped back in to place. As long as unscrupulous doctors are just working to get as much money as quickly as possible then the idea of public service takes a backseat. This is why an education system that inculcates the values of service, especially for the least is so important and the only way to transform a country. Two of the Dalit children here told me that their dream is to become doctors…. I hope they make it and remember the love and care they have experienced here at the Xavier High School in Manvi.

India Shining

AMDG

A wonderful welcome... I wonder if I get to keep the poster?Sorry for the radio silence…. I arrived in India about 5 days ago and expected a few days to get my feet in Bangalore before heading off to the remote and rural district of Raichur. However nothing every goes as planned!  Fr Eric SJ  the director of the school for Dalits where I am staying very kindly met me at the airport and I was whisked off on overnight sleeper bus to Manci, Raichur.  Raichur is the most underdeveloped district in the Western Indian State of Karnataka – a literacy rate of 57%. Here electricity is intermittent and web speeds slow, so no videos for a while! But I have eventually got set up and settled in … so apologies to those waiting for a message!.

Wow what a welcome!  It is a dream come true to return here 6 years after my last visit with a group from Madrid and 9 years after my first visit.  Things have changed…. Manvi (population of 30,000) now has a bank!!  When we arrived 9 years ago – I remember walking around with 2 Australian Teachers who were with me and it felt like we were astronauts the way the local looked at us!  I even remember turning around at one point and seeing 50 children follow us, pied-piper like, copying our every move.  I was on regency as a Jesuit (before ordination) working at Wimbledon College.  It was very inspiring to see the passion and the commitment the Jesuits had for educating the children who were grazing goats and cows in the fields.  As Untouchables they were despised, illiterate and condemned to a life of grinding poverty.

From goatherding to public speaking. Fr Eric, Fr Rohan (HM), me and Fr Maxim in the background.

Back then I remember Fr Eric driving me to some fields which he had purchased and telling me about his dreams. Well what a difference – now there is a kindergarten, primary school and high school with 1400 students.  As well as  the Jesuit House, two hostels accommodating 400 students and a lake full of fish (inspired by a visit to a Trout Farm in North Wales!  It is wonderful to be here and a testament to so many generous donations from Wimbledon, Hertfordshire (click here), Madrid,  Slovakia, Germany and even my own family!

What is truly wonderful is how happy these ‘untouchable’ children are. They love being here! Especially the ‘boarders’.  On Sat we inauguarated the Manvi Film Club, 500 sitting under the stars, nice dark skies here!, as we projected the Pixar Classic ‘UP’ onto one of the school walls.  The wonderful reaction from the children, cheering, booing, laughing is a precious memory.  To help improve their English I announced a prize for the best film review – no longer than 200 words. Obviously misunderstood some of the students have written a review plus a list of 200 words taken from the film!

The next part of the adventure is the building of the First University for Dalits…. Again progess is impressive. Saturday was a historic day …. as well as Sachin Tendulkar scorings his hundredth century in International Cricket…. nice to watch it with the Jesuits here and kind of the Little Master to wait until I had arrived.  As well as the cricket, the Loyola College name was painted on the new building.  As you can see below this is no small affair.  It is amazing  to see some of the poorest despise children getting the chance to get a university degree….. the first Dalit University in the country! When all is finished there I have been told there will be over 4000 students on site, mainly Hindus, with a large minority of Christians, and the vast majority so called untouchables…

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