Sunday, 23 March 2014

Our time in Nandyal- By Imogen and Abigail

Our 5 weeks in Nandyal have come to an end. We have have such a rollercoaster ride whilst being here; homesickness, culture shock and having to adapt to such heat and such volatile food but in the end every tear and every sleepless night was worth it when we arrived at school each morning and saw the children waiting for us.

Teaching has been a new experience for us both but one that we took to with enthusiasm and determination. To begin with it was really challenging, I think teaching is a hard profession anyway without such a big language barrier! However, as the weeks went on and our relationships with the children and staff developed it got a whole lot easier. Most days were spent with Nursery or Kindergarten as the older children were preparing for exams. We played games, taught the alphabet, numbers, songs and read stories. Although the majority of the time the children couldn't understand us and vice versa, the introduction to a new language at a young age is vital for the development of the child's understanding and future. Therefore, although it was mostly fun and games with the little ones we take great satisfaction in knowing that they understand how to count to twenty  and how to sing 'A Sailor Went To Sea, Sea, Sea' in English because of us.

At break times we would see the older children and talk to them. As the weeks went on we were able to spend more time with the older classes. Especially when Abi taught the 9th class girls a dance for the 10th class leaving function. We also spent time with 5th and 4th class playing bingo (a great game that enabled them to use numbers in their head and in english). We also made paper aeroplanes with 3rd class and played 'Heads Down, Thumbs Up' with 6th class. Every Saturday at 3pm the children went outside for games, we played parachutes with them and were taught by some of the older girls how to play 'Throwball' which is literally just throwing a ball at opposite teams. We also learnt some indian dance moves though we're not sure how well they'll go down back in the clubs in England.

Every day we would play with some of the children after school. We played cricket (Imogen awful at) and badminton, skipping, UNO and we even taught them how to limbo! Playing with them after school was so much fun, time really flew by each day and we became such good friends with the children on the compound. For the 10th class leaving function, we bought ourselves some saris (Imogen green and Abi purple) and wore them that day. It is amazing how the women here wear them everyday especially in this heat, we only managed to suffer until around noon!

We would just like to thank everyone involved who made this life experience such an unforgettable one, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here in Nandyal working with the children at the Oxford School. We are now moving onto the second part of our journey and we are both hoping that the experiences will continue getting better and better.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Teaching in the Oxford School - By Abigail Smith

When I first started teaching at the Oxford school I was very apprehensive as to what to expect; it was such an overwhelming feeling walking over the field to the first assembly. However, I was welcomed with massive smiles and open arms by the pupils and teachers, it was such a lovely opening to my teaching weeks at the school. Almost everyday the children come up with new drawings and flowers for me, it's always such a nice way to start my day.

During my time so far I have mainly taught the youngest students consisting of lower kindergarten (LKG), upper kindergarten (UKG) and nursery school children.  They are all full of energy and come to school with massive smiles on there faces which really makes teaching them and being around them such a joy.

The main issue in the school is pronunciation of English letters and words, this is more of an problem with the teachers who then, therefore, influence the students with their speech. I estimate around 95% of the nursery rhymes have been changed which is strange when we start to sing one tune and they are all singing another.  Sometimes it's difficult to assign yourself to an individual child that may be struggling when the classes don't speak your language, especially as they are so young some can be shy and just stare at you (which doesn't help when you want them to try and work out a word or what a certain animal is).

I have also been teaching the girls from 8th and 9th class a dance ready for their leaving assembly on Saturday 14th.  The girls since the start were fully engaged in what they were doing and giving everything that I gave them a go.  We started off with some simple stretches to warm themselves up then got straight into learning the routine.   Going through the steps slowly count by count and breaking it down has really helped them understand the moves and what I am asking them to do.  Using spoken English to communicate with the girls has also brought some laughs to the sessions and improved their conversation skills greatly, they have all seemed to be enjoying the dance so far.

Today I taught one of our neighbours a few dance moves from the piece I have been teaching the girls in school, he then showed me a break-dancing move on the floor where I then proceed to have a go.  In England this is very acceptable and all styles of dance are welcomed to be learnt by boys and girls, but here it was clearly shown to me that this wasn't the case in Nandyal.  One of the women on the compound commented that the styles of dancing isn't made for women and that I shouldn't be trying it.  It really shocked me as in England this is something that I do regularly and I have learnt many styles over the years of learning to dance. It also made me think how shocked they would be if they came in England and saw some of the dance styles and groups that I see all the time, as women and men dance together and all they both take part in the lessons whatever style it may be.

Overall, my experience here has been incredibly valuable. I've learnt so much about this strange place and about myself. I'm not sure that I'm ready to go home just yet but with three more weeks left I'm dedicated to making every second count with these amazing people.  

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Imogen's First Impressions of Nandyal

Abi and I began our Indian adventure very differently from one another. It is my second go at travelling to India alone and if I'm honest I felt more nervous this time around. Homesickness is something that has always been a struggle for me but I was determined not to let it take over my experience here. Nandyal is a strange place; you walk down a road and see stalls filled with fruits and spices and bullock carts with crops from the fields and then suddenly there is a supermarket or I suppose what you can only assume is a supermarket (maybe super is a slight over exaggeration). There is a new road in progress
 however I am yet to see anyone working on it. People walk down the railway line like there is no danger in doing so, animals such as pigs, monkeys and cows walk aimlessly in the middle of a traffic filled road. Women carry heavy loads of crops and fruits on their heads, children run bare foot over piles of rubbish and men stand around in groups staring as I walk by. The heat is something else. When I arrived it was beginning to get hot but it was bearable; however in a week it seems to have risen quite significantly, 36 degrees is now the norm until it goes up again next week. 

Once I had arrived, one thing that kept me going were the children of the Oxford School. They have this amazing ability to cheer anyone up, their smiles are infectious and the fact that they were so happy to see me made any doubt in my mind disappear. It is amazing to see children who don't even have half of what I do at home come to school so happy and willing to learn - something that is possibly never seen in England! My first day at the school began with a welcome assembly, I had flowers put in my hair and the children all sang for me. I mainly spend my days with the Kindergarten class, who are constantly full of energy and laughter. They all love to have their photos taken and giggle hysterically when I show them the pictures that I have taken of them. The children began by calling me 'Angel' as a result of my incredibly fair skin, I expect for them it is something of a rarity to see someone as white as I - even at home I am the subject of many jokes due to my paleness. The older girls seem fascinated by my auburn hair and don't hesitate to stroke and pull at it whenever they pass me in the playground. Each morning I am greeted by shouts of 'morning ma'am!' and at the end of each day I leave to many handshakes and goodbyes. I am not sure they understand that I will still be here tomorrow but it is great to be around people who value my presence so much. 

After almost two weeks here it is safe to say that I am already wishing that I could stay longer. The teaching is challenging, I did not realise that I could so patient! I enjoy it so much and am so happy that I came back and worked through my homesickness issues, it really is all worth it!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Departing thoughts….

 I can’t believe I’ve been here nearly six weeks. Some have said they like the garlands, so here is the complete set, 12 in total, I’m sure Bishop Alan manages that in a week visit! To prove it’s not been just clergy training, school work and visits to projects, I did take a day and a half off to visit Tirupati and it’s local Temple Tirumala, in the south of Andhra Pradesh. It is said that more pilgrims visit this temple than go to Mecca, or Rome, and they all seemed to have turned up the day I was there! It was a 6 hour drive from Nandyal, and setting off at 4 in the afternoon meant a late arrival, a meal for two at the nearest restaurant to the hotel I stayed in cost 60 Rupees (about 60p), the kitchen open to the dining area.

Up at 6 the next morning and another bargain breakfast, it took nearly an hour to travel the 20km to the top of the hill where the temple is; a combination of the queue at the toll booth and the extreme hairpin road up the hill. We eventually find the extra special, fast path, entrance, where for an extra 300 rupees you can jump the queue. It’s a wire mesh/railings covered walkway that snakes it’s way over roads, and round buildings and after an hour moves inside a building designed for queuing! It takes another 3 hours to reach the temple! Pressed into this corridor is a riot of shaved headed small boys and men, painted foreheads, colourfully dressed women of all sizes and ages, who every so often burst into song..’Govinda….Govinda…’ . I guess the 50 rupees queue must take several days? There are a number of temples within the compound, one completely covered in gold, but I have no photos; no cameras, no phones, no calculators (why no calculators?) allowed in, and from outside it is impossible to see more than the very tops of the buildings - go on the web and you can see pictures before most of the modern buildings were built!

The experience was amazing, but the half hour at a temple we just happened across by the side of the road on the way back was more magical. The man playing a Veena (a one stringed instrument) very happy to be photographed, as too others sitting around, and the carving looked special in the late afternoon light. Here I could buy a small guidebook in English, something not possible at Tirumala, where despite the vast area of stalls selling tat of all descriptions, there was not a postcard, or guidebook to be seen!

Conversation on the journey back turned to Bytipeta, the ‘slum’ I described in the previous blog. Where, despite the lovely welcome, and the colourful scene, the harsh truth is somewhat sobering; 50% of the women there are widows (alcohol and AIDS the main causes of death amongst the men), and only about half of these have any jobs, remarriage is not an option in India, and for many the primary source of income becomes prostitution. The, not quite David Wilson Homes, housing development I described also has it’s challenges. It was only looking through the photos that I realised not a single house has a toilet! I guess the mains drainage is for flood relief, certainly nothing to help the some 60% or so of Indians who don’t have a proper toilet. In the rural areas ‘using the field’ seems a plausible option, but here? And however much I see it I still can’t adjust to the fact that all Indian’s seem to throw their rubbish on the ground wherever they are. In the past when this was just a banana skin, or other waste food, the phrase ‘the whole world is my waste bin’ has some plausibility, but now the volumes of plastic discarded everywhere is almost overwhelming.

But the view out of the car window still continues to enchant; fields of banana trees, mango trees (the ground ploughed under them as I’ve seen Walnut orchards in France), papayas, as well as the usual crops, chillies drying in the road and a stall selling ‘durian’, the most amazing looking fruit; the one I bought should be ready for monday. Evidently it is very sweet and ‘smells like hell, but tastes like heaven’, I’ll let you know…..

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

From Oxford to the slum......

An idyllic morning spent in the CSI High School (sometimes called the Oxford School) on the Bishop’s compound. Assembly a bit more like the Scouts than schools I’ve seen. In very neat lines, standing to attention and at ease, declaring loyalty to India, singing the school song, the front child giving the head count for their class, and all done outside. 

I get to take class 8 (13 and 14 year olds) doing some craft activities; finger puppets, stick puppets, and paper bag puppets. We then performed the story of Jonah. Lots of spoken English and then the highlight for me the class performed their action song of Jonah in Telugu. The Principal and the Class teacher stayed throughout and participated fully. Was this because they didn’t trust me, or because they were having as much fun as I was?

I then head to Bytipeta - which means ‘out of city’, because it lies outside the city boundary of Nandyal. Eight years ago it was total slum, informal buildings, unregistered, the very poorest, but the government decided to let the people own the land so they could build permanent houses and a priest from the Korean Presbyterian Church came and started a creche. Today, this short street, maybe 150 metres or so, with a Hindu Temple at one end, an open air Hindu Crematorium in the middle, and the drainage outflow at the other, is home to some 2,000 families (up to 5,000 people in total). The creche is thriving with some 50 pre-school children coming every day for games, singing, learning and a nutritious lunch. In addition there are 30plus older children who otherwise wouldn’t be going to school but now are learning too.

The street gave me lovely welcome, smiling children throwing handfulls of yellow flowers, and keen to show me round their centre (in the Church). They sing some lovely songs, and watching them sit silently on the floor in neat lines for their lunch is amazing. The homes are the traditional one, or one and half, rooms, with beds turned on their sides during the day, and home to three generations, usually two to three children, the parents and a grandparent or two. The street is full of different activities; cooking, washing, drying, sleeping, wood storage, and conversations. The animals intermingle; goats and pigs and chickens and dogs and occasionally a cat. With the drain at one end and the animals drinking and eating in this there is a lot of skin and respiratory disease, but it is so much better than it was and everyone is smiling and welcoming.

From here I travel further out of town, past the piece of wasteland where the animals are brought for slaughter, it has the appearance of a small landfill site! Across the river where the bigger sheets are washed, and the motorbikes, tuktuks, and animals too, and past the palm trees that make it look so tropical and idyllic, to a place called YSR Nagar. This is a new development; land being sold off by the government to the poorest of families; moving them out of the town itself? 

You can have your house as detached, or semi-detached, many only part complete, interiors waiting to be finished off - but it’s not quite like your local new development in England! Although there does appear to be mains drainage, and water at standpipes on street corners. There are no buses and I guess a good two to three mile walk to town, the road is rough but mainly concrete, and few of the families will own a vehicle. There is a Church with rooms below used for an after school club, and there is a training centre funded by the Korean Church. The potential is enormous and everything is better than what these families will leave, but quite how it will develop is unclear - there are even fewer amenities than in the previously imagined English out of town housing development, and this is about as far from ‘middle England’ as you can get, but the ground floor is raised about a metre above the ground level, so it looks like they have taken the flood risk into account here! 

So much to see and take in in one day, I want to go back and see it all again, and talk some more to people to find out their dreams and ambitions, but I guess it is still more about survival and hoping the children get some education and some better opportunities soon.