Penfriends finally meet in Kovalam, South India!

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Friends of India has received some lovely news of a student from the Geneva English School who has been visiting Kovalam and is currently spending a few days teaching at the BCV International School.

Pam Walsh, FOI President:

In the year 2000, Zara Plummer was a schoolgirl at the Geneva English  School. I was invited to give a talk about our work helping children – especially girls – to access education in South India. We had decided to build a multi-purpose centre in Kovalam, south of Chennai and thanks to Zara and her classmates (who ran a marathon around the school ) we raised CHF 12’000. We set up the GES Multipurpose Training Centre in 2001. Children from villages all around assemble every day after school for supervised homework and a snack. 17 years later, Zara is in India, teaching environmental studies to primary and secondary school children in another of our projects, the BCV International School in Tirunelveli. Zara and Keerthana, who was the first little girl we helped in Kovalam, became pen friends and they have just met for the first time!!

After 18 years as penfriends, Zara and Keerthana meet for the first time at Chennai airport.

Zara Plummer:

Pam visited my primary school when I was 7 years old and set up an initiative to send school supplies and raise funds for a multipurpose room in Kovalam. After sending a pencil case with basic school supplies and a little letter about myself, I received a response from a very grateful girl, Keerthana, who was around my age. We began to write to each other and exchange little pieces of information about our lives, giving each other insights into different cultures and unknown places. Being interested in geography and travel, this always interested me and we kept in touch first through letters, then emails and now Facebook and other social media. I feel like I have been a part of Keerthana‘s life and watched as her English progressed and she no longer needed to use a translator to communicate with me. I even remember one birthday, when I was perhaps 10 years old, I received a call from her and we talked like old friends.

Finally, 17 years later, we have met. It was the most incredible experience to step off a plane at Chennai airport and be met by Keerthana and her mother (who had diligently woken up at 5am to make sure I didn’t get lost somewhere between the airport and their home). I spent 3 wonderful days with her and her family, during which she showed me around her village as well as nearby Chennai and other places that were important to her. On the evening of my second day, which had been spent visiting Keerthana‘s secondary school and temple and playing games on the beach with her family, we walked home and stopped off at the multipurpose room built back in 2001. The experience was surreal and it was amazing to see a new generation of children completing their homework, talking and playing in the building 16 years later!

After some very emotional goodbyes and an infinite number of promises to return as soon as possible, I moved on to Tirunelveli where FOI has helped to establish the BCV International School.

Zara is able to spend a few days at the BCV International School, working with primary children, teaching care for the environment as well as English classes.

Here I am helping younger children with reading and pronunciation as well as teaching classes on geography, economics, and environmental stewardship (encouraging the children to care for the environment and consider the impact of their actions on the world). The school has just opened a new building and it is wonderful to see that it is already growing to fit the new space. I am also hoping to identify further needs of the school so that myself and FOI can improve facilities and further encourage its expansion.”

Zara celebrates ‘pongal’, a local harvest festival, with children from the BCV International school. Rice, cereals, sugarcane and turmeric are cooked in a new earthenware pot until the mixture overflows – a symbol of abundance.

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