Having been so involved and busy at Global Pathways School,we are now back in Toronto and have time to write a blog!
Our first port of call in India was Delhi, one week before the Commonwealth Games took place. Nothing appeared to be ready, but we knew the Indians, true to form as we have seen, would pull it off – which they did, by bringing in the army and many, many more workers. Our main goal was to meet with Gautam Banerjee, a legal advisor to the Supreme Court of India and our Advocate/Lawyer for the Foreign Contributions Registration Act (FCRA). Gautam is most helpful at guiding us through the intricacies of the FCRA requirements and has written a book on foreign contributions. In a short space of time, he always manages to clarify what would be a most confusing process for us.
After three years of carefully avoiding doing the tourist thing, we finally visited the Taj Mahal and the pink city of Jaipur. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of all the buildings and intrigued by the history of the Moghuls, the culture and learning that they brought to India. Then it was on to Chettipalayam and the school.
We were greatly surprised and delighted to observe the progress the children had made since July. The teachers are obviously doing a great job! Some of the standard two students are now beginning to read in English, math skills across the board are flourishing and, from kindergarten to standard two, the ability to speak and understand English has developed amazingly well. The parents report that the children are teaching them English.
In order to buy land, we need the special status that the FCRA will give us. Now that all the application documents have been signed, sealed and delivered to the Home Office, it will take approximately three months for the application to be approved. Theresa and Seth Mersky have begun negotiations with some local landowners to buy 6.5 acres of land near to the settlement area were many of our students live. Our first step in these negotiations was to ensure that there was sufficient water and thus the local water diviner was called in. Complete with his coconut and gold chain, he successfully discovered the best place to drill for a well and predicted we would find water at 750 feet. The drillers arrived at 6:00 a.m. one morning, complete with heavy equipment, itinerant workers (who spoke no Tamil only Hindi) and a large truck carrying water, food and the cooks to prepare a fresh vegetable curry with rice.
Once more, we were left speechless at the lack of safety requirements, no hard hats, steel-toed boots or any protective clothing…simply bare feet and cloths to cover their heads from the sun and their mouths from the dust. Sure enough; however, at 750 feet they struck gold – or rather water. With this and another bore well on the property we appear to be set for an adequate water supply.
Marathamuthu, our PT master, organized an impressive display for Sport’s Day which included Asana Yoga. This is yoga done on a rope hung from a very high (probably 10 to 15 feet) scaffold, which was specially erected the day before. After watching this with our hearts in our mouths, we reckon that, if all else fails, our students can always join the circus! Although it seemed like a risky business, in actual fact, Marathamuthu had everything under his very capable control and the students performed with great agility and confidence as they climbed rapidly up the rope. Given the stringent risk-management policy, we doubt that we can introduce this to The York School much as we found it impressive!
In mid October, we made a special trip to Chennai, in order to meet with Balaji Sampath the founder of AID India, who was introduced to us by AGK a native of Podanur, currently living in California. Balaji and his team have successfully developed a school, Eureka, south of Chennai in the area that was affected by the Tsunami five years ago. The school has a similar student population to GPS and, while the classrooms look very different, our vision is the same and we felt a real bond between ourselves, Balaji and Vivek who manages the school. Their organization is also busy setting up village libraries and running after-school enrichment programmes for children in government schools. Through Balaji and his association with the Pratham organization, we were able to obtain lots of books and a science kit. Our teachers were delighted to receive these resources.
In planning for next year, we have hired two teacher trainees, who are working in the classrooms and learning from the other teachers who are now “old hands”. We hope that this will ease the transition in June when we create two new classes of Standard Three and Four. Leena and Michelle are working hard and enthusiastically acquiring new skills in their teaching repertoire as they learn by doing. When we return at the end of January we hope to hire another teacher in preparation for the new school year. We are also looking for more space to accommodate the two new classes which means another house, hopefully near the school. As one of our teachers has said, we are “renovating Chettipalayam one house at a time”.
Towards the end of October we were happy to welcome one of our donors, Ken Toten and proud to show him our school. Ken and Teresa have generously contributed enough funds to support the building of a classroom in our future school. Along with Ken, were his daughter, Nikki and two other York graduates, Lisa Howard and Arjun Kumar, who were back in India volunteering once more at FFC. In addition to spending time in the classrooms, they also visited the settlements where seventy five per cent of our students live. We enjoy these visits from our donors and are proud to show them the accomplishments of our teachers and children.
En route back to Canada, we made a visit to Australia and Singapore. In Melbourne we spoke at two schools, Girton School, a co-ed independent school in Bendigo, and Mentone Girls College. Both schools became interested in Global Pathways School as a result of our presentation in March at the Global Connections Seminar in Jordan. We were given a very warm welcome and students responded with interest to our presentation. Both schools plan to send volunteers in the future
In Singapore we went in different directions, Barbara Galbraith went to Bali to see The Green School and gather information about sustainable building using local materials in anticipation of GPS’s future building. Barbara Goodwin-Zeibots attended IB meetings of the Access and Advancement Governance committee and met with various people to establish connections and support from IB schools in South India.
We are now preparing for our return trip in February/March and the visit of Seth and Theresa Mersky. Joining us in February will be three volunteers, Nancy Sprott another classroom donor, Dan Taylor, Network Administrator at The York School and Fiona Galbraith, Barbara’s daughter. Dan will be helping us to strategically plan our IT needs, for now and the future, and Fiona is developing our data base.