Somehow I was incredibly struck by the city. Perhaps it was the relief of the sticky humidity we had come from, or for the first time since arriving in India, there were young girls and boys out on the street together, hands flirting and eyes gently touching, the girl’s heads with long silky hair resting on the shoulder of boys in tight flares. But maybe it was also the constant activity and buzz of masses of lives breathing in one space, the veins of the city pumping with masses of cars and motorbikes and their musical horns a reminder of just how many people we share this earth with and how we are all on the same journey together.
Pal comes with something else. We are in deep India now. A husky layer of fine dust mixed with dried cow dung hangs over the landscape. The scenery, seen through this gentle haze, matches the soft nature of many of the people here. They are quite and thoughtful, with a beautiful and contagious pace to life.
Surrounding the village of Pal, there are 7 hills all dotted with the last remaining trees of what was once a thick forest that housed Panthers. Isolated pockets remain where roads are to rough for the wood to be carried out and burnt as fuel for cooking or sold at the market where it fetches a high price. The houses in this bustling village are white, brown, green and blue. On its outskirts fields form a patchwork of different crops – banana, cotton, turmeric, guava, wheat and sorgom, just to name a few.
Most of the engagements we have been doing here are in the nearby schools. We travel on rough roads to small remote tribal villages with houses made of woven sticks covered in mud and lastly a dried slurry of wet cow dung and clay to seal them from the weather. Inside the houses are immaculately clean their dirt floors also sealed with cow dung and polished with a regular broom made of grasses bound together with twine. The roofs are high and tiled; the kitchen is a fire on the floor with a wall to one side covered in silver pots.
The schools are incredibly simple, but as we learn much better equipped than many others as they are supported by the organization we are working with (Satpuda Vikas Manda). Most classrooms don’t have desks and the children sit on the cold concrete flaw and if they are lucky on thin mats all in a row. I am struck by the discrimination that occurs towards the girls in some villages. They often get ignored in class and will most likely be the ones sitting without a mat. If we are doing nothing more than giving the girls some deserved attention and setting an example for the other teachers, then at least that is a good thing.
We have mainly been doing English teaching activities but with the older kids we have also done some environmental education. We get such wonderful responses from the children and the teachers making it very rewarding. Quoted from a teacher in Jamuya (one of the small tribal villages) ‘ We are grateful because you incorporate the boys and girls together and by coming make the community feel worth-while. When you share your skills in teaching we can learn from them. We can also tell and learn from different cultures’.
We have also been exploring a number of research projects including:
– Better housing for teachers (to attract better teachers to remote areas – their accommodation is incredibly basic in some areas).
– Looking into sustainable alternatives to the concrete and steel monstrosities that seem to be the trend of modernization in this country.
– Exploring traditional housing materials and design, their pros and cons and trying to get an understanding of what the locals desire in a home.
– Looking at the deforestation issues and what fuel and income alternatives there may be in the area.
– Looking at how to support and preserve the rapidly disappearing cultural dress and practices of the tribal people.
Story by Sophie Edwards