March 6, 2017
by andrea
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Diana Smith reports on her recent visit to the BCV International School

Diana Smith, Vice President of Friends of India has recently returned from India after spending just under two weeks at the BCV International School in Tirunelveli, teacher-training and working with groups of students. Here she gives her report:

It has been two years since I last visited the school in Tirunelveli and it has grown in that time from a small school with less than twenty children, to a full school with more than 220 children.   In June 2017, there could be up to 350 children when the new school year starts.

My first impression was a feeling that it is a really happy school, the children are truly delighted to be there and are working so hard to succeed. I saw very little worrying behaviour while I was there, just respect for each other and the adults around them. In spite of their different backgrounds, all students seem fully integrated. I felt very welcome in all classrooms and communal areas at all times.

The building is beginning to show signs of wear and tear- cracks have appeared and the paintwork needs a fresh coat of paint. But the team of janitors are constantly cleaning, washing the floors and generally keeping the school tidy. Most teachers have colourful posters around their rooms, but there are very few display boards, which are badly needed on which to display students’ work.

On the Friday evening of the first week, the school held its Annual Day celebrations – a spectacular display of singing, dancing, drama, karate, yoga and other extra-curricular activities. It was a brilliant, fast-moving, colourful presentation, showcasing the many creative talents of all the students in the school.

During my time in the school, I was able to observe all the teachers during at least one full lesson, giving immediate feedback and making suggestions that were followed up during later lessons. I saw many examples of excellent teaching: lively question and answer sessions in different subject areas; the use of sophisticated vocabulary; the use of visual aids; creative mathematics and language lessons; and teaching in small groups, encouraging the students to work collaboratively.

To have the best access to all the teachers I held a staff meeting each day I was there – sharing good practice and allowing the teachers to plan and work together. We set up a calendar of staff meetings until the end of the school year, which will help the teachers become more comfortable at working more closely as a team.

When I realised the Library was not being used by the students, we cleared it and created two great spaces, one for the younger children and a study area for the older students. I was able to spend time in the library, reading to several classes and I was delighted to hear that since we returned to Geneva, the library is being used every day by all classes.

Following all my observations I made these recommendations:

  • All classrooms need internet access. At the moment only the main office has internet and even that is erratic
  • To attract new families, the building needs freshening up with a coat of paint
  • All classrooms need display boards to display students’ work and teacher resources
  • There is a photocopier in the main office which should be made available to teaching staff
  • Regular staff meetings are crucial for team building and collaborative planning. The present calendar of meetings should help and then continue into the new school year

I realise that many of my recommendations have budget implications, which may be difficult. But as the school becomes more financially independent there will be more money available for these basic needs.

It was a great pleasure to have Ms Maggie Sutton with me throughout the visit, also observing in classrooms and working with the teachers. Her help and contributions to our work was invaluable. I would like to thank Br, Ravi, Madam Selva, Br. Christu and all the staff for making us so welcome and giving us the opportunity to work throughout the school.I am already looking forward to my next visit!

Diana Smith

February 13, 2017
by andrea
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Ted reports on the FOI Board’s 2017 India trip

On his recent visit to Tamil Nadu, Friends of India treasurer Ted Talbot found out first hand what it’s like to go fishing in Kovolam on the Bay of BengalFriends of India has helped the fishermen and their families who suffered badly after the 2004 tsunami, and more recently when a cyclone hit the coast last December. To find out more about Ted’s visit, read his report below…

 

“After a few days of ‘loin girding’ at an Ayurvedic beach resort in Kerala, Pam Walsh, Jan Powell, Clare Schenker and I headed to Tirunelveli, and to the BCV International School.

There we met up with Di Smith, Maggie Sutton and UK based photographer Terry Knight (shooting footage for our crowd-funding appeal for a dalit girls hostel attached to the BCV International school). Can you imagine – it rained! But it didn’t dampen the excellence, fun and marathon length (4 hours) of the Holy Angels BCV International school anniversary celebrations. The kids and costumes were brilliant. There is a real buzz around the school which now has 200 students of which 60 are there on scholarships, i.e. Dalit.

Every class performed a riot of colour and sound for the BCV School anniversary celebration

During our stay, Di, Maggie and Pam concentrated on the teachers and teaching methods, Jan and Terry on filming and photography with Clare their ‘gaffer’, while I went through the accounts for the school with Br. Ravi and particularly looked at the forecasts to see when the school would become self-sustaining. In the school year 2017/18, which runs from May to March, there will be an intake of 150 new students of which 100 will be on scholarships. The existing building will already become too small. To cope with this it has been decided to convert another nearby building into the primary section. FOI are financing this transformation thanks to a very generous donor. The projections show that fees earned should cover teaching and general running costs, but transport is costing a net CHF 13,500 a year, despite charging fee-paying kids for the services.

On the BCV school bus

FOI are going to try and get a bus donated and may I encourage our supporters to give to our scholarship fund – CHF 500 covers one year’s schooling. Our other initiative is to raise money for a girls hostel which will not only relieve pressure on transport costs and travel time (some 4 year olds are spending 1.5 hours getting to school) but provide an environment for help with homework and to promote equality. It will also enable more dalit girls to attend school – an important objective of the BCV School.   Watch out for our crowd funding appeal for the Dalit Girls Hostel!

The Friendship Home for HIV/AIDS orphans

Pam and four-year old Robert at the Friendship Home

On the same campus is the Friendship Home – a hostel for over 40 orphans living with HIV/AIDS. What a joy to see these children again; see how they are nourished and growing up in a loving environment. One of the girls has now married, another two are at technical college and one boy is working as an apprentice at the Brothers’ print shop. Sadly little Robert (admitted 2 years ago aged 2.5 with his 4 year old sister) has not developed and 2 or 3 other children are also mentally challenged. FOI have a special fund from which we pay the salary of a specialist teacher (CHF 1’500 p.a.) as well as the college fees for the 2 girls (CHF 600 p.a. each) and the cost of an annual outing (CHF 300). Thank you to FOI donors whose monthly donation has enabled us to meet these special needs, but more contributors would be very welcome.

Maria and Priya are now studying at a local technical college

The running costs of the Friendship home should all be financed by a book-binding operation (paid for by FOI in 2015) but which has been slow to get going. I spent time with the new manager and Br. Ravi checking the accounts and discussing the future. They have good plans and I am hopeful that the Friendship Home will be fully funded from book-binding and printing activities by the end of 2017, thus relieving the Brothers of a financial burden. They told us of 3 other needs: a playground – which is already funded thanks to Ecole Moser Geneva; a compound wall and fencing as a protection against animals and snakes more than humans – cost CHF 12’000; paving in front of the buildings where there is just earth and flooding when it rains (which it did while we were there!!) – cost CHF 10’000. Help towards last 2 items would be much appreciated.

We had a very rewarding visit and are totally satisfied that your money has been well spent and ‘our’ children are in good hands. Superior General Br. Victordas is as friendly, charismatic and hardworking as ever. It was hard to leave, but after a week, Terry headed for home, Pam, Jan, Clare and I headed north to Madurai while Di and Maggie stayed on for another week of training for the teachers. Di would love to hear from any other teachers willing to continue the much needed help with passing on language and pedagogical skills!

The Chris Powell Training Centre

Madurai is where Dr. Amirtham Ammu runs the Chris Powell Training Centre, providing tailoring and computer skills courses so poor women can learn a trade and get a job or work as independents. It is a small operation on the edge of the city in a building bought by Amirtham who is dynamic and dedicated. The operation is now largely self-financing as Amirtham charges 300 rupees (5 CHF) for the three-month tailoring course, which the women pay once they are able to use their new-found skills. Making clothing for local shops, they can earn 300 rupees a day which adds greatly to family income, and gives the women confidence and a small level of independence. Jan would like to raise some funds to replace some of the well used equipment and to employ a full-time trainer.

20 women learn and earn in the supportive atmosphere of the Chris Powell Training Centre in Madurai.

From Madurai we continued North to Arani home of the SUEB (society for the upliftment of the economically backward) and the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind. I had decided we should go by train, not only because it was the most direct way of getting there, but because I love Indian trains and wanted Jan and Clare to share the experience. Well! It was an experience all right! Loaded with 11 pieces of luggage we arrived at the station at midday to find the train was running 3 hours late! When we finally climbed aboard, my previous experiences of a nice air conditioned compartment to ourselves was shattered by the discovery that because it was very crowded, we had separate seats in 2 separate coaches and only top bunks for we oldies! Ted was not popular!! However, we survived and finally arrived at 5.00 am (another 2 hours late) to be met by Br Leveil and team who had been on the platform since 1.00 am!!

Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind

Marie-Najma Thomas with a group of blind students at the Richard Walsh School for the Blind

Priscilla Daniels, director of the SUEB had kindly lent us her house (she was on her way to New Zealand) and so we crashed out for most of the day until Marie-Najma Thomas arrived. She is a blind Indian orphan born in Mumbai, raised in France, studying music in Geneva and Pam had the wonderful idea of bringing her to India to spend a week teaching the blind students at the Richard Walsh Music School. The poor girl was nervous, understandably, as this was her first visit to India since she left at the age of three. But as the week progressed, she found her confidence and gave the Tamil-speaking children a taste of western music, including Silent Night, Doh Rey Me from the Sound of Music, Yellow Submarine and Frère Jacque. What a wonderful experience for her and her blind students!

Once again we were treated like royalty with flowers, shawls, 2 hour ceremonies, too much wonderful food and waited on hand and foot by Br. Babbu, Leveil, James etc. These Brothers are just so attentive to peoples’ needs, wonderful with the children and to watch them at work is very humbling. It was a great pleasure to use money from the FOI exceptional talent fund to buy a personal PA system for 2 girls with lovely voices and a keyboard for a boy with exceptional talent. Thank you FOI donors and it would be great to have more people contributing to this fund.

School for Tribal Children

One day during our stay we headed into the Javadi hills to visit a large school for 1’200 Tribal Children run by Br. Muttu. A few months ago we paid for a water purification plant and desks and benches for the boys. We have already worked with the tribals, providing solar lamps and 2 years ago I climbed to a couple of their villages and so it was with excitement we headed into these wonderful almost alpine mountains full of fruit and wild spices such as tamarin. What a climate to retire to! On arrival we were given a royal welcome with a loud band, dots on forehead (bindis), strewing of rose petals and after consecrating the purification plant, shawls and treated to a concert in front of all 1’200 smartly uniformed, well behaved students sitting crossed legged on the ground – very impressive. Lunch and then what? … yes, another concert and blessing of the desks!! Afterwards we visited the boys and the girls hostels and were appalled at the smoke filled kitchens. There is definitely a need for another smokeless stove and we are awaiting a proposal.

Next day it was already time to say our farewells. It is always hard to leave the children, their teachers and carers who over these many years have become very good friends as well as implementers of our projects. It was also with a little trepidation we left Marie-Najma on her own to complete her week of teaching.

SUEB Community Centre

Before heading for Chennai, we visited the SUEB Community Centre and met the local director and women from the local self-help groups, hearing first hand from two of the women how they had learned a trade and were now earning money for their families. FOI have helped the SUEB over at least 15 years, but it now runs on its own and we can be proud of the building we provided, the trainers we have supported and the close friendship and respect we have for Priscilla who founded the SUEB and has built it up over many years.

Kovolam Community Centre

And so to Chennai and I must say it was like shaking the snow off one’s boots and stepping inside a warm chalet, to step into the cool marbled foyer of the Taj hotel – despite our driver spending 45 minutes cruising around looking for it!! A day of lounging and then a final visit – a trip down the coast to Kovalam to meet Naryanan of the CARDT (Coastal and Rural Development Trust) and walk around the centre built with funds collected by the children of the Geneva English school back in 2002! We went to the beach and tried to spot the 3 boats paid for by FOI after the tsunami and 2 of us went fishing! Kovalam is becoming a popular location and we are frustrated that the GES building is under-utilised. We have a challenge on our hands to get something moving here, so watch this space as they say. On our final day we visited our good friend and ex-FOI Board member Nigel Majakari and his family. His enterprise Chilasa is doing wonderful work amongst the rural carpenters of Tamil Nadu. Their beautiful furniture is now available to buy online www.calyah.com.

So that’s it! A wide-reaching tour of many projects but with just a few very specific objectives before us.”

Ted Talbot

February 1, 2017
by andrea
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Jan Powell visits the Chris Powell Training Centre for Women and Girls

In Madurai, South India, the Friends of India team has visited a training centre for women and girls named after long time supporter of Friends of India, Chris Powell. It was an emotional moment for Chris’s widow, Jan, who visited the Centre for the first time.  She handed out certificates to six women who had completed the three-month training course in tailoring. Most of the women are illiterate and job prospects are extremely limited for them. After completing the course, they are able to earn two or three hundred rupees a day making clothes.

Prevathi (below) has just completed a three-month course in tailoring at the Chris Powell Training Centre.  She has two children and her husband makes a living chanting mantras at marriages and funerals.  But his earnings are irregular and they live on 4-5,000 rupees a month (60-80 CHF). With her new skills, Prevathi will be able to supplement the family income.

January 31, 2017
by andrea
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Friendship Home celebrates its 5th birthday

The Friends of India team has been visiting the Friendship Home for children living with HIV/AIDS, in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. The Home celebrated its 5th birthday with an evening of song and dance. The children were delighted to see the guests from Switzerland and showed off their skills. They look fit and healthy and are clearly benefitting from the regular care and medication provided with our help.

At the Friendship Home, Pam Walsh meets up with Robert, a little boy with learning difficulties.

January 30, 2017
by andrea
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Pam and team visit the BCV International School in Tirunelveli

Friends of India President Pam Walsh is currently in India, leading a team to evaluate the work that Friends of India is supporting in Tamil Nadu.

At the BCV International School, Pam gets a warm welcome as she arrives on the first day of the visit.

5 year old Subasri is one of the dalit children who gets a scholarship to the BCV School. One of the main objectives of the school is to provide first-class education for dalit children – the lowest caste in India. Subasri’s parents cannot read or write and live on just 300 rupees a day (4 Swiss Francs). Going to school can break a vicious cycle of poverty.

At the BCV International School, the children put on a stunning display of dance and drama, at their end-of-year concert.  The youngest pre-kindergarten children to the oldest 7th graders showed off their English language skills for the audience of parents, friends and guests from Switzerland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 16, 2016
by andrea
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2015 – “A fruitful year”

This was how Friends of India President Pam Walsh began her summing up of 2015 at our AGM on 24th May 2016.IMG_1055

She went on to say:

It has also been a year of focussing on three primary targets and not taking on major new projects:
The Friendship Home, our home for HIV infected children;

The Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind:

– Our International (BCV) School, integrating the lowest castes and minority poor into our classes.

We had an event in October – ‘Shakespeare’s Women’ – in aid of underprivileged women in India. And we have helped flood victims with Life Starter Kits, and created scholarships for the Dalit children in Tirunelveli.

Our aim has always been to help these projects become sustainable, so that as Peter Ustinov said, “We can sneak away once we have done our job!” What amazes me is what people are doing to help us with our sustainability plan. We have been the humble receivers of many birthday gifts – with supporters requesting donations to FOI rather than gifts – this is true philanthropy, and these people believe in what we are doing and they trust us. As Adolf Ogi said last week “Believe in what you do and do what you believe in“.

Next year will be the 18th anniversary of my first visit to India – FOI has got to the point where our dream of sustainability is coming true. Most of our projects have reached this point – the school for the severely handicapped, the music school for the blind, women’s self-help group training – and providing clean kitchens with smokeless stoves for kindergartens is now sustainable because the government has taken over our initiative in the whole of Tamil Nadu.

We still need to make sure that our school in Tirunelveli can become financially autonomous before the end of 2018. And we need to continue to improve the quality of the education there – teacher training is our priority. But we will not be taking on new projects. It is becoming more and more difficult to raise money for India – there is still an enormous need, but many people say “Why should I pay when India can send space ships to the moon? India is full of millionaires. Why can’t the government do something…?”

FOI is now 18 years old and none of us are getting any younger. I feel it is right to start winding down and focus on one extremely valid project – sitting the poorest children next to the wealthy – helping people to live with those from different castes. That is our aim.

Thank you for hanging in there with us!”

Pam Walsh

FOI President

March 8, 2016
by andrea
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Celebrating 7 years at the Richard Walsh School for the Blind

Friends of India is proud to celebrate 7 years of bringing the gift of music to blind and partially-sighted young orphans.music1

On their recent trip to India, FOI President Pam Walsh and Treasurer Ted Talbot attended the 7th Annual Day Celebration at the Richard Walsh School for the Blind and were delighted to learn that for certain grades, music is now part of the standard curriculum. This means that hundreds of children are now being liberated from the prison of blindness to discover, experience and explore the universal world of music.

Music3Some years ago the Richard Walsh Scholarship Fund was set up with the idea of paying for a student to go on to higher musical learning. The children were still too young at that time, and so the fund has been accumulating, but this year we were told that two students had achieved ‘musical excellence’ and were asked if we would pay for instruments for them.

We were therefore thrilled to present students Jeykumar and Prakash with a drum set and electronic drum pads respectively. Thank you to our faithful donors!

Music2

Another NGO has built a hostel block for the girls at the school, with a paved area in front. This provided a lovely setting for a wonderful evening concert of music, singing and dancing. Their confidence when they play, dance and sing is amazing.

We are also delighted to report that the music school continues to be self-supporting, thanks to their animal farming activities. The Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind really does bring us both pride and joy!

January 19, 2016
by andrea
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Chennai/South India floods – disaster relief still needed

Please help us to provide ‘Life Starter Kits’ to households who have suffered in the recent devastating floods. These kits will be sourced and distributed by our long-term partner in south India, the SUEB (Society for the Upliftment of the Economically Backward).Chennai flood

Although the floods are now receding, the initial response to the disaster is over and relief camps are now being closed, many people have no home to return to. With no shelter, they are forced to sleep on the wet ground. Many have no clothes, cooking items or food. They are still in a state of shock and tears, not knowing where the next meal will come from. Although schools are now reopening, many students have lost all their books.Chennai flood 3

CHF 175 will provide a complete Life Starter Kit for one household, and will include:

Household items: a stove with fuel, cooking pots, plates, cups, water and storage containers

Food for one month: rice, wheat, cereals, pulses, edible oil, masala

Clothes and blankets: a set of clothes for each family member, blankets, mats and pillows

Hygienic products: soaps, detergents and cleaning materials, antiseptics, skin ointments, typhoid vaccines, and mosquito eradication products

Other – electric bulbs, portable lamps with back up batteries, packing, transportation, distribution, monitoring and evaluation

An example of what can be provided with smaller donations:

CHF 3 – a dried grass mat, a woman’s sari or a man’s lungi

CHF 4 – a blanket

CHF 6.50 – a kerosene stove

CHF 16.50 – a 25kg bag of rice or basic cooking pots

The North West Monsoon has brought record rainfall to Tamil Nadu and has caused havoc in the city of Chennai, where three of its rivers have overflowed. The official estimate of deaths is 400, but rescue workers have reported hundreds more missing.

Homes and belongings have been washed away. And with factories, companies and small shops also submerged under water, many workers have lost their jobs. It is estimated that 1,500,000 households have been affected, mostly amongst the very poor.Chennai flood 2

These ‘life starter kits’  will help those affected to get back on their feet again. They contain basic household supplies and food for a month. The aim is also to help prevent the dangerous spread of diseases such as dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis, malaria and cholera.

We will ensure your donation goes directly to where it is needed.

 

December 12, 2015
by andrea
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Devastating floods in Chennai – appeal for donations

flood 1A you may be aware, Chennai and its rural areas have suffered their worst rains for decades, with floods causing widespread damage. Our Share and Care project in the village of Katchur in Tamil Nadu has also been severely affected. The village itself is cut off, with extensive damage at the Share and Care school and hostel. Foundations of buildings are damaged, the paddy fields have been completely washed away, wiping out next year’s rice crops, and stores of food supplies have been ruined by flood water.

flood2Please help with a donation this Christmas time. We will ensure that your money is spent on the ground, wherever it is most needed, to help alleviate the crisis for these children and the aged housed at the Share and Care Centre. We have just sent off CHF 5’000 to help meet immediate food needs.

 

October 19, 2015
by andrea
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Donations of books and computers!

20151001_095827Friends of India is very grateful for two recent donations to the BCV International School. And from the photos here, the children at the school also seem very happy!20151001_094741

A generous monetary donation was used to resource books and educational games for the library and for other classroom needs. The hand puppets in the pictures here will be used as teaching aids. By ordering through local suppliers in India, we can get a lot of things for the money!
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Twenty-five desktop computers have also recently been donated to the school. These have now been set up and can be seen here being used by some of the older children in the school’s new computer lab.

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