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.

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