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.
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…