Saturday 1st February 2020
And already the last day is over! Where did the week go to?
It was a fantastic last day – we had a sports day for all of the children from the CRS and CSS slum schools; nearly 500 children! They had breakfast and then lots of crazy games. I was in charge of the sack race and it was quite a challenge explaining how to do it when they children understand no/very little English. Somehow we managed and they had a great time.
After the games there was a magician and a ventriloquist while the children ate their lunch. Many of the children saved their lunch to take it home and share it with their family but they really enjoyed their ice cream (see below!)
It was so sad saying goodbye to the teachers and the children – I have loved my week in India.
Writing this blog is the last thing I will do tonight before we leave in the morning. Our flight is very early. While I’ve been here I have learnt something very interesting; if you turn your watch upside down, it will tell you the time in Kolkata. So if it is 11pm here – it will be half past 4 at home. Try it and see for yourself.
So, it’s over and out from India. I can’t wait to tell you all about my adventures – see you soon!
Goodbye India L
Friday 31st January 2020
Back in school today and it was good to help the teachers as they taught the children using some of the ideas we had shown them. In India the children are taught in quite a different way; the teacher stands at the front and the children listen so we have tried to explain how they can get the children more involved in their learning.
Anjoli showing us how it is done.
The children are always so proud of their work; they love it when you take a photo of them and then want to see it on your phone.
You may remember a boy called Debro whose photo was on our wall at school for a long time. Well, he was at school again this year and Jayasree wanted to take me to see his house. This picture is of me, Debro and his mum. I’ll tell you about his home when I see you.
As you know, you see all kinds of strange things in India – just look at where this taxi is parked!
One more day in India L
Just like last year, our final day was the sports day. We invited 500 children from 16 slum schools in and around Kolkata. It had been my responsibility to plan and prepare the activities before the trip and organise which of the English teachers were delivering each activity - Mrs Poole took charge of the sack race and it was amazing to see all of the boys and girls climbing in their sacks and bounding around the sports field.
Throughout the day, all 500 children were provided with breakfast, lunch and ice-creams. Whilst they were eating, a magician and a ventriloquist performed at the front. We finished the by all singing a song, which we had taught all of the children in the week (I’ll sing it with you in collective worship next Monday).
After the song, all that was left to do was to say our emotional and heartfelt goodbyes.
I leave feeling proud of what the schools in Kolkata are achieving and the progress the children are making; of the input myself, Mrs Poole and the other English have put in throughout the week; and of all the hard work you have all done at home to raise money for our linked school, Bhowanipur.
The children at Bhowanipur stole my heart this week. I do believe Stanton in Peak C of E Primary School is making a difference to their lives and I cannot wait to get back to school and share my experience with you all. Mrs Poole and I also have some exiting ideas of how we can continue to move this project forward.
Today has been my favourite day. Mrs Poole and I went back into Bhowanipur Cemetery School. After working alongside the indian teachers throughout the week, this morning was a chance for them to deliver some of the teaching strategies they have learnt. They were incredible!
Whilst assisting the Indian teachers, it was also a great opportunity to get to know the children.
‘Ravi’ is 7, a real cheeky chappie and a little bit mischievous, but his English is brilliant! Both of his parents sadly died when he was younger and he now lives with his grandparents in a slum nearby. Despite his hardship, Ravi is always full of energy and enthusiasm and it constantly smiling and laughing. I’m really hopeful that if he continues to attend school, he will be accepted into one of the public schools at the age of 11.
‘Debro’ is 11. Both Mrs Poole and I remember him from the previous years we have visited. Many of you will remember his picture being displayed in our school. This year, we had the privilege of visiting his house, just a short walk from the school. Once there, we were greeted by is mother. I was amazed at how clean and tidy their house was. It consisted of one room, with one bed, a small work surface (for preparing food), a shelf (which displayed many trophies won by Debro’s elder brother), a cupboard and a fish tank.
Unfortunately, Debro’s English isn’t great, but Jayasree (the headteacher at Bhawanipur) is still hopeful that he can continue to improve, and she is also considering keeping him at the school for an extra year.
I was very emotional leaving the school and when a member of the CRS came to pick us up, I did not want to leave.
After I was finally ushered into the car, we went to the Cathedral - to check that the money you raised had been sent to the correct place. Jayasree came with us. The look on her face when she knew how much you’d raised and that the money has arrived was a picture. It will make a huge difference and was greatly appreciated.
Another great day working with the indian teachers. Their English has improved so much since last year and they seem more willing and more confident to try out some of the methods of teaching that we are showing them. Tomorrow, Mrs Poole and I go back into school and teach alongside them - they’ve promised to have a go at some of the things they’ve learnt today.
All of the teachers are very nice - I’m sure you’d all enjoy being taught by them although they can occasionally be quite strict (they scared me a few times on Tuesday).
At lunch time, I was driven over to the Cathedral to sort out the PE equipment for Saturday’s sports-day. Whilst in the car, the sky turned black, a sort of hazy mist swept over the city and then the heavens opened! When it rains in Kolkata, it REALLY does rain! This of course made the journey back to the school even more interesting!
Thursday 30th January 2020
I love these days when we get together with the teachers and help them to think of new ways of teaching the children. The teachers at our school are so enthusiastic – they love to sing and have a song about everything! Tomorrow we are back in school with them and they will use teaching methods that they have never tried before. I can’t wait to see how it goes!
You may remember this lady from my last visit – Jayasree. She is the Headteacher at both Cemetery School and Scott Lane. She is 82 and one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. She inspires me – I would love to be like her when I am 82!
In India they love cricket and so does my husband! He supports the cricket team from Kolkata called the Kolkata Nightriders. When I was coming back to India he asked me to buy him one of their shirts. Well, that turned out to be a very tricky job; I went to the market and after about half an hour someone brought the shirt to me and then we had to haggle about the price. He wanted me to pay 4500 rupees but after a lot of discussion I paid 3300 rupees (that’s a lot of money in India!) I hope that Mr Poole will be pleased.
Tonight we are going out for a meal to eat a special Indian meal called dosa; it looks like a kind of savoury pancake with different fillings – probably curry! I’ll let you know what I think.
I’ve heard that it’s been snowing a little bit at home. Today we had the most amazing rain in Kolkata – the sky suddenly went black and it blew a gale. Then, just as quickly as it came, the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Hope that you are all looking after each other.
Wednesday 29th January 2020
Just a short blog tonight as it is already very late!
Today was a festival in this part of India (they have a lot of festivals). Our little school was closed so that the children could celebrate; this festival is to celebrate the Goddess of Education and Learning. Shrines were set up to the Goddess Saraswati on the streets and Indians left gifts of flowers and food. The children receive new clothes and the girls we met were wearing the most beautiful, brand new saris in all the colours of the rainbow – they looked fantastic.
Because it was a festival we did a very Indian thing and went for a picnic! It wasn’t quite like any of the picnics I have been to at home but it was a lot of fun (even though we spent 6 hours travelling on a bus). Our picnic site was right beside the River Ganges and it was lovely to be out of the craziness of Kolkata for a few hours. (I will working on Saturday to make up for the fact that I had a day off on a Wednesday!)
When we got back to Kolkata we went for pizza at Dominoes and afterwards we went for a coffee at Starbucks – very odd in the middle of Kolkata!
Tomorrow it’s back to work and we’ll be doing some more teacher training.
(A very snoozy) Mrs Poole
Today was a national holiday. Each year on the January 29th, Saraswati (the Hindu god of education) is celebrated. The schools were closed and we saw thousands of locals walking to public parks, temples and communal areas wearing their finest sarees and Kurtas.
Instead of running from September to July, the school year in India begins in January. What is really interesting is that their reception children don’t join until the January 30th.
The teacher I spoke to yesterday told me that they believe it is good luck for pupils to begin their school journeys the day after celebrating their god of education. I thought that was a lovely idea.
It will be nice to see the new starters when I am next in school on Friday (which will only be their second ever day in school).
Because the schools were closed, we visited Diamond Harbour - a 3 hour bus ride (on which we nearly died several times due to the crazy driving!!!) out of Kolkata. As well as the slum schools in Kolkata, the Cathedral Relief Service (CRS) also tries to help children living in different areas of West Bengal. Our trip today enabled us to meet some of the local people and children from Diamond Harbour.
Challenge - how many of you can find Diamond Harbour on the map? See if you can map out the route Mrs Poole and I may have travelled to get there.
Tuesday 28th January 2020
Today was the day I have really been looking forward to – going back to school. We arrived and were welcomed with songs and showered with flower petals! It was wonderful to see children’s faces that I remembered from 2 years ago – and I think that they remembered us. First of all we taught the younger children; my group were learning how to say ‘My name is ….’ and to tell me the name of their favourite fruit. We read Handa’s Surprise together but the teachers couldn’t think of the right Hindi word for an antelope and weren’t entirely sure what an avocado was. We still had lots of fun. The older children were learning about opposites: tall/short, hot/cold, fast/slow, loud/quiet – but they found quiet very difficult to say. I’ve lots of new stories to tell you about the children there.
After that we went to visit another school which is in a slum called Brace Bridge. I was shocked by the poverty that I saw. I was most upset when I watched a family sorting through the rubbish to find things that they could sell. It is very hard to see that and not really know how you can help.
The day ended with a special meal in the Bishop of Kolkata’s garden. It was lovely but I couldn’t help thinking of all the children I have seen and worked with today and felt very guilty to have so much food when they have so little. India is a very complicated country – lots of people are wealthy and lots of people are very poor. But the money that you have raised will help the children of Cemetery School and that has made a difference.
Finally – you do see some funny things in India – this picture is of a goat in a coat (well a football T shirt). Hope it makes you laugh as much as I did!
Today was amazing!
We finally got to visit the school and work with the children. It was so encouraging to see some of the same faces that were there last year, and what was even more encouraging - they all appeared to be making some progress!
We used the chalkboards that some of the money you raised paid for. I was able to model how we use them in our classes at Stanton.
Their class teacher told me they were learning opposites (antonyms) and also ‘FANBOYS’ (yes - they’ve remembered the acronym to recall their co-ordinating conjunctions).
It was great to demonstrate to the Indian teachers some of the ways we learn at Stanton. Based on what I’ve seen in school today, I am really hopeful that many of the pupils at Bhwanipur Cemetery School will leave with a really good understanding of the English language. This will hopefully result in them being accepted into Kolkata state schools.
Monday 27th January
Today our job in India really started. We met with the teachers from all of the slum schools to give them ideas as to how they can teach the children to improve their spoken English. It was wonderful to see the teachers from Cemetery School again and we had a lot of fun during the training. We finished the day by planning what we need to teach the children tomorrow – and that’s what I’ve been really looking forward to; seeing the children again!
These are some of the teachers: Rita, Sipra, Indirana, Jayasree and Anjali
After the training we visited the Mother House (which was where Mother Teresa lived and worked). I’d been here before but am always moved by the amazing love she showed to those who lived in the slums of Kolkata. She really is an inspiration to me!
You may remember that there are thousands of stray dogs who live on the streets in Kolkata. They live in packs and lie in the middle of the pavement fast asleep – you just have to walk round them or step over them. Today I whistled at a pack of dogs and this one came and sat in front of me; I think that he knew I had a ‘soft spot’ for dogs (even slightly smelly and grubby ones) and thought that I might take him home with me. Not sure what Boris and Dougal would think about that!
A challenge for you all before I head off to bed – can you work out what this man is doing on his bicycle? Let me know your ideas when I am back in school.
Keep working hard!
Today has been a really busy day. We woke early and travelled to La Martiniere’ (a private school in Kolkata that was allowing us to use their hall for the day).
Once we arrived and met the teachers from Bhwanipur Cemetery School (the school we are linked with and that I visited last year), we spent the morning showing them different methods of teaching. Some of the things we taught them how to teach included: how to use pronouns (I hope you can all shout out at least 5 if you’re reading this!); types of fruit; simple phrases - how to introduce yourself and talk about some of your characteristics; and also how to speak and write in the past, present and future tense!
During the afternoon we spent time talking to the teachers about their planning. They explained that they don’t have whiteboards in their school - so, in order to help them teach, we used some of the money you raised to buy them enough chalkboards for each pupil! Tomorrow, we will go into their school and model how to use them effectively.
Above are some photographs of the teachers Mrs Poole and I have been working with today.
Sunday 26th January 2020
Coming back to Kolkata has been like meeting an old friend! It hasn’t changed in 2 years and I love it just as much as ever! We’ve only been here for about 36 hours but we have already squeezed so much in. These first hours are about getting used to life in India – and that we’ve travelled over 5000 miles! It is a little bit tricky remembering that there is a time difference between home and Kolkata (it is 5 and a half hours ahead here – this means as that as I am going to bed, you are probably getting back from school) and it is a little odd wearing your sandals and summer clothes in January!
Today is a very important holiday in India. It is called Republic Day and marks the date in 1949 when India officially became a country that could be governed by an Indian government. Before this India had been a part of the British Empire for almost 200 years – which means that the British were in charge! It is a holiday here in India and everyone was out and about: going to the park, having parties, eating lots of food, singing and dancing and just having great fun. It feels a bit like a Bank Holiday in England (without the rain)!
So far …
We have been to church this morning in St Paul’s Cathedral – the service was 2 hours long!
At the end of the day we went on a Ganges river cruise. It was an enormous boat with hundreds of people all celebrating Republic Day. There was a band playing and there was lots of dancing. The day ended with the most beautiful sunset over the Hooghly Bridge (a famous bridge over the river which, I am told, is 823 metres long making it the longest cable-stayed bridge in India – so now you know!)
Tomorrow we start our work with the schools so our days will be work days and really busy.
Finally, one of the many interesting things about India is how people move things around! I’ve seen whole families on motorbikes and bicycles with little trailers that are full to the brim – and then there is someone sitting on top of that! This man was carrying his ‘shop’ on his head. He was setting up his stall to sell snacks and fruit to the visitors to the Victoria Memorial. I’ll try to take some more photos of the creative and crazy ways people get around, or get their belongings around, in Kolkata.
Behave yourselves this week!
The first two days have been merged in to one big blur and have mostly been spent travelling. Mrs Poole and I left Derbyshire around 9am on Friday. Two coaches, two aeroplanes and a 5-and-a-half-hour time difference later, and we finally arrived at our hotel around 10am on Saturday morning.
We then managed to squeeze in an hour of sleep before having some lunch (mine did not turn up so I ended up having half of someone else’s naan bread) and heading out with our friends from the Cathedral to the ‘Eco Park’.
The Eco Park is a huge park on the outskirts of Kolkata divided into three parts:
- ecological zones like wetlands, grasslands and urban forest
- theme gardens and open spaces
- urban and recreational spaces.
Our friends from the Cathedral took us to the themed gardens - can you spot some of the famous worldwide landmarks photographed above?
Time spent at the Eco Park was also a chance to remember just how friendly everyone is in Kolkata. Lots of locals approached us for photographs and wanted to practise their English and engage in conversations. The photograph of me above is with a group of school children enjoying a trip out to the park - it reminded me of you all at home.
Camp-out for India
The year 3,4,5 and 6 children all worked really hard to prepare their natural shelter, ready for their camp-out. Whilst we all enjoyed building it and had a lot of fun collecting all of the materials as well as toasting marshmallows and singing songs around the camp fire, it was important for us all to take a moment of reflection, and consider how lucky we all are - for us sleeping rough was a novelty, it is a norm for so many in Kolkata and across the world.
Day eight was my busiest day yet - the sports day. I had been given the task of organising a sports day for the slum schools located in and around Kolkata. Around 350 children turned up. They spent the day playing games and taking part in activities they had never done before. We also arranged for a magician and a ventriloquist to come and perform for them as well as food for them to eat at lunch.
This was a truly unforgettable day, not just for the children - who had never done anything like this before, but also for me and the other teachers out here with me.
Once all the games had finished it was time to say goodbye. The children went back to their homes - most of which are on the side of the road, and we went back to our hotel to pack for our early morning flight back to the UK.
Day seven began at 6:30am - a quick breakfast before setting off to visit one of the CRS school in the Sundarbans.
The Sundarbans is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It spans from the Hooghly River in India's state of West Bengal to the Baleswar River in Bangladesh. See if you can find it on the map.
To get there we took a 4 hour bus drive before boarding a boat which took us through the mangroves for about an hour until we arrived at our destination.
Once we got off our boat we kept our eyes peeled and listened out for Bengal tigers (they roam freely and live amongst the mangroves). It was slightly scary and very exciting at the same time.
I’ll tell you if I saw one or not once I’m back in school!
We walked for about 20 minutes before we came to a small community. Mud huts, straw roofs - it was like stepping back in time - but it was the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
Unfortunately the locals told me it didn’t always look as idyllic - during the rainy season the waters rise, the crops are covered and the snakes (there are thousands!) all move to higher ground. Not only that - the waters are so high that the local people cannot leave their little island for around 5 months of the year, meaning that they are isolated from the rest of the world.
The school we visited there was great. All the children welcomed us and then we sat with their teachers and discussed ways we could help them.
It was important we left before the sun went down as it would be hard to navigate our way through the mangroves. We arrived back in Kolkata at 10:30pm. A long day, but 100% worth it!
On day six we headed back to the cathedral for more training with the teachers from the slum schools. We worked in small groups and taught them lots of new things - lots of phonics games, story ideas and we also helped to improve their English language. I taught them how to ask for the time and how to say the time in English. I also showed them some games they could play with their children once they were back in their schools.
At the end of the day, they were all presented with a certificate and given 5 bags full of resources, including books, puppets, games, chalk and counters etc. The teachers now had many ways to teach English to their classes.
Day five presented another chance to go into Bhowanipur school and work with the children. There were children as young as 3 in there, so whilst they were ordering numbers 1,2,3,4,5, I was working with the older children adding, subtracting and multiplying numbers. They were quick to learn our methods for column addition and subtraction - perhaps that was down to Mrs Poole’s brilliant teaching last year?
I wanted to buy the children in the school a present and because I had previously taught them how to tell the time, last night I went to the street markets and managed to buy 40 (yes forty!) watches for 2000 rupees (which is about £25). Buying things is a little different over here. At first the man working at the stall wanted 450 rupees for just 1 watch! Maths homework: workout what discount I managed to get.
Before I left, I took the class outside for a few more games. They reminded me a lot of you all at home.
In the evening, the group of teachers I am with were all invited to a traditional Bengali meal hosted by four of the private schools in Kolkata. It consisted of 7 small courses and we all sat in two long rows. The school children had each made us a gift - I will show you once I’m back in school. It will look nice on our worship table.
Day four was spent in a building behind the cathedral, training the teachers from India - showing them all the things we do in England. They were all brilliant and I could tell they were looking forward to going back into their own schools and using their new ideas.
In the afternoon I visited a large secondary school (similar to Lady Manners). On Saturday I have organised a huge sports day. All of the slum schools in the area are attending and we are hoping to work with 500 children. The secondary school has kindly allowed us to use their sports field, so I popped over to check it was suitable and to see what equipment was available for us to use.
Before dinner we visited ‘The Mother House’ - the house that Mother Teresa lived, worked and died in. Her tomb was in the middle of the house and many people were there showing their respects. This was a very special place to visit. Your homework is to find out all you can about the work she did. I will be talking a lot about her when I return.
Day three has definitely been my favourite so far. I was picked up early and taken to Bhowanipur school where I met all of the children and teachers. I had no idea what to expect before I arrived. The younger children (same as our infants) attend school in the mornings. I read ‘Brown Bear, What Do You See?’ to them and taught them how to say different animals and different colours in English.
After that, we practiced introducing ourselves - I showed them the cards that the year 5s and 6s made for them. They loved them and they certainly made it easier for them to understand what I was trying to teach them. Thank you for making them.
At 12 o’clock the older children arrived (their Juniors) and the younger children went home. We practiced counting in English and after learning the numbers I took them outside and we played ‘What Time is it Mr Wolf?’
Their school is right next to a cemetery, so we played on the path. They loved playing ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ and I am sure they will continue to play it once I have gone.
I showed them the video of you performing ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ and they promised to learn it and then send us a video of their performance (some of the teachers have phones).
Everybody is so friendly - I am sure you would all love it out here!
I hope you are all behaving back at school.
Day two started very early (for me). I was woken at 5am by the Adhan being called from the mosque, signalling time for prayer.
After breakfast (I had a freshly made omelette), we visited the cathedral and attended the service which started at 8:30am. It was delivered in English and we sung hymns similar to the ones we sing at home. This seemed strange as we were in the middle of Kolkata, but there were a lot of people attending.
The service finished at 10am and then we were offered tea and biscuits whilst we had chance to meet some of the ladies who work in the schools we will be working in. They were all lovely and I cannot wait to visit their schools tomorrow!
Members of the CRS (Cathedral Relief Service - the charity that has organised our visit), then invited us into their Friendship Centre where we had lunch (curry again).
In the afternoon we sailed down the Ganges river and visited a temple. I saw DOLPHINS in the river (amazing!!!). There were hundreds and hundreds of people at the temple, but the only sound that could be heard was that of birds singing as they circled the trees above.
Tomorrow I visit the school in Bhowanipur. I will show them the clip of you performing ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.’
Day one has been an extremely long one. The time in India is 5 and a half hours ahead of England which meant that our plane took off from Birmingham at 1:30pm on Saturday, touched down in Dubai in the middle of the night and then finally arrived in Kolkata at 7:30am on Sunday.
The moment I stepped out of Kolkata airport I was hit with sounds, smells and scenery that were completely different to home.
We got a bus to our hotel - I would not liked to have been the driver! The roads are crazy! Everybody is beeping their horns and nobody takes any notice of the lane markings. I’m pretty sure they just make it up as they go along. It’s great fun being in the bus though (very exciting), and even though it seems chaotic to us, the drivers seem to know exactly what they are doing.
In the afternoon we visited a nearby temple. Despite being in the middle of Kolkata (which is very noisy and extremely busy!), once you stepped through the gates and walked around its garden, everywhere felt calm and relaxed. I’d like to go back there if we get chance.
After the temple we went out for dinner - on a rooftop looking out over the city. I had a curry (surprise surprise!).
I am now back at the hotel, feeling tired but also excited for tomorrow! I’ll try and get a video of the roads. Unless you see them, you probably won’t believe how crazy they are!