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.
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 (KS1) 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.
At 12 o’clock the older children arrived (KS2) 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.
Everybody is so friendly - I am sure you would all love it out here!
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.
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!
Here you will find pictures and information about Mrs Poole's trip to India.
Monday 15th January
My bags are packed and I am really excited about my first trip to India. I'm feeling a bit nervous too. I've already packed the magnetic letters that your hard work has paid for - thank you so much. I plan to send you a message and some photos every day. 4 more big sleeps #Kolkata2018
Friday 19th January
Waiting at Birmingham airport. There are about 20 of us in total, mostly teachers, but there are also some people from Derby university who are going to work in medical programmes in a city called Durgapur which is north of Kolkata.
My first flight is to Dubai - it takes 7 hours so I am hoping to watch a film and have a snooze! After 2 hours in Dubai a 4 hour flight takes us to Kolkata. I will arrive there at 7.30am (Indian time). It is 5 and a half hours ahead in Kolkata so that means it will be 2am at home and you will all be safely tucked up in bed.
Look out for my blogs ...
Missing you all already - be good while I am gone.
Day 1 - 21/1/18
Well, it’s the end of my first full day in India – what a fantastic 36 hours I have had! It feels like I have been here forever.
India is a very poor country and lots of people live in slums or even on the side of the road under sheets of plastic. As we drove from the airport to the hotel it was clear just how poor some families are. Lots of the buildings look like they are just about to fall down, there are often people begging on the street and it can be a little bit smelly.
The journey from the airport
But it is also a beautiful place and everyone is so friendly. Today we went to a service at St Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata where we were made to feel very special; when we went to a very famous building called the Victoria memorial later in the day lots of Indian families wanted to have their photo taken with me (I’d like to think it’s because I’m famous but I think it’s just because I have [very] white skin!)
I'm famous(not really)!
The Victoria Memorial (it’s your homework to find out why there is a memorial to a British Queen in Kolkata … dojos on offer to anyone who can tell me)
Tonight we went on a river cruise along a tributary of the very famous River Ganges. The river is used for bathing, washing your clothes and even for funerals (I’ll explain this to you when I get back!) We also visited a temple where Christians, Hindus and Muslims worship in the same place – we could learn a lot from the Indians.
This wasn't the boat that we travelled on.
As you all know, I love dogs (especially black Labradors) and there are lots of dogs in India. Most of them are strays and they are everywhere you go lying in the sun or barking when you are trying to get to sleep. Lots of them look really unloved so I might sneak a few home with me in my suitcase!
This dog is actually ‘owned’ by someone and lives in the garden at the front of St Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata.
Tomorrow my work really begins as I will be spending the day teaching in a slum school. I don’t know much about it yet but I have planned lessons for 40 children aged 4 – 11 who speak very little English and who work in a very small room where there are virtually no resources! I’ll let you know how I get on.
Day 2 - 22/1/18
Another interesting day with lots to tell you. This morning I left for our link school which is called Bhowanpur School; it is tiny room off the gate to an enormous cemetery and is surrounded by slums (where the very poorest families live).
The gate to the cemetery
Inside the classroom
The slums where many of the children will live.
Very few of the children came to school today because there was a Hindu festival for the Goddess of Education (that’s why some children are dressed up in the photo). They did some dancing and singing for us and then we did some Maths with them. They knew how to count in Bengali, Hindi and English – not bad! I also taught them to sing ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and they loved it when we sang it at top speed at the end. They were lovely!
I am looking forward to going back tomorrow and am going to try to teach them some English phonics. I’ll let you know how that goes.
This is Sabina aged 4 - she was very proud of her work.
Crazy, crazy roads in Kolkata!
The only really scary thing in India, so far, has been when we drive anywhere. The roads are full of cars, buses, trams, bicycles, rickshaws, tuk tuks, people, dogs and sometimes even cows (haven’t managed to get a picture of this yet!) Everyone beeps their horn all of the time – and I am not even exaggerating! Even as I write this I can hear the horns blaring outside my room. Every time I cross a road, I take my life in my hands!
The day finished with a visit to the house where Mother Teresa lived – if you don’t know who she is, find out (more dojos on offer) and, bizarrely, a Chinese meal!
The entrance to Mother Teresa's house.
I hope that you are all well and behaving yourselves – Mrs Anderson has been messaging me.
More news tomorrow ….
Day 3 - 23.1.18
I’ve had the best day yet! I’ve been to 2 schools today and taught numbers to 5 with 3 and 4 years olds and English phonics to some older children. They also loved it when I read ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’ to them. They are great kids and a lot of fun to be with even if we can’t speak to each other. Some of the children have a tiny bit of English but when you speak to them they mostly say ‘thank you mam!’
The children in the school are very, very poor. This is Debroa aged 9. He lives on the street opposite the school under plastic sheeting. When the monsoon session comes his home gets swept away by the rain and his family have to start all over again. But, he’s just like you; keen to learn and comes to school every day. He has 2 pet rabbits that he keeps in a cage and loves playing cricket (most Indian boys do).
Debroa - aged 9
Because the children are so poor the school feeds them every day – they call this ‘tiffin’. Today they had bread and cheese and bananas but they sometimes have eggs – their favourite is milk but at the minute the school can’t provide it as their cooker is broken and the milk has to be boiled to kill off germs (more about this later in my blog).
We had huge amounts of fun today taking selfies – lots and lots of people have mobile phones in India so don’t think that everyone is poor.
Me and some of the Cemetery School gang.
The very wonderful Mrs M
The lady standing beside me is the Headteacher of 2 schools (like me!) She is 70 years old (not like me) and is one of the most incredible people I have ever met. She is the kindest and gentlest person and really cares about the children. I will tell you more about her when I get back.
Mrs M and the children at work.
When you travel to India you have to be very careful about what you eat and drink. Because it is very dirty in places the germs can make you sick and give you diarrhoea (some of our group have already been poorly). So I have to make sure that I drink bottled bottle all of the time - I even use it for cleaning my teeth. I am careful not to eat any fruit that may have been washed in contaminated water and have mainly been eating bread, cooked vegetables and rice. Yummy! It is a shame because there are lots of street stalls selling food that looks, and smells, wonderful but I know that I can’t eat it or I would be very ill. India is a different world to Rowsley!
Bottled water - even for brushing teeth!
Tomorrow we are meeting with the Indian teachers to give them ideas for teaching Maths and Phonics – and while I know that this is a valuable thing to do, it won’t be half as much fun as going to school.
Day 4 - 24.1.18
It’s been a long and busy day so I’ll make this a short blog tonight (if I can – there is always so much to tell you about this amazing country).
Today we were training the teachers who teach in the schools we have been working in. Remember that most of the schools we have been visiting are slum schools and the teachers have very small rooms – one school called Hastings doesn’t even have a room as the children are taught under a motorway flyover – and they don’t have many resources to teach their lessons. Today we taught them how to teach English phonics and gave them lots of ideas about how to make Maths more fun.
Learning English is very important – if you want a good job in India you need to speak English; some of the teachers speak fantastic English, while others have very little. It was hard work but worth it. Tomorrow I have about 8 teachers coming to watch me teach a phonics lesson at Cemetery school – now I know how your teachers feel when I observe them!
Maths lessons for the teachers
One thing that I don’t want you to think is that everyone is poor in India – they’re not. We are here to support slum schools and the poorest children in Kolkata. There are lots of rich people too and some parts of Kolkata feel very wealthy. Today the school where we did the training is a very posh school for boys called Le Martiniere School. 3000 boys go to this school and just across the road there is an equivalent school for girls. As we arrived today some of the boys were doing their morning exercises.
Morning exercises Martiniere School for Boys
Also, not far from our hotel is a garage where this car is parked – I think it is a Porsche?
While lots of people buy their food from stalls that are often on the side of the road, there are supermarkets. This evening I bought oranges from a stall on the corner of 2 streets and then walked about 50 metres down the road to buy sweets for them too in a supermarket – you could even buy Dairy Milk chocolate!
A Kolkata Supermarket Dairy Milk
However, I don’t want you to forget that lots of people live in absolute poverty. Each of the schools has to decide very carefully about who can come to the school – there are far more children than there are places. In one school the children can have a place if their parents earn less than £17 each year – just take a minute to think about that.
Day 5 - 25.1.18
Back in school today and had a wonderful time teaching phonics using magnetic letters, chalk and a special book that has been made especially for this trip. I was amazed by how quickly they picked it up; my group were the oldest children and by the end of the lesson they were sounding out and writing simple sentences ‘a cat sat on a mat’, ‘the man is sad’ etc …
Then they did some fantastic Maths with numbers to 20 using the washing line and dice – they worked so hard. I also read them Monkey Puzzle – which they loved (if you go on the Stanton in Peak school website http://www.stantoninpeakschool.org.uk/homePage/ you can see a little video of me teaching phonics and reading the story to them on our Twitter feed).
But tonight I am feeling really sad – today was my last day in school. Tomorrow we have a rest day as it is a special national holiday in India called Republic Day – I know! Another holiday! Then on our last day in India (Saturday) we have another training day for the teachers.
Reading Monkey Puzzle Hard at work(this boy was brilliant
One thing that has really struck me here is how kind the teachers are to the children – especially the wonderful Mrs M. As I watch them I think that they are the epitome of love in all its fullness. These children really need to know love and kindness – and it is certainly being given to them at school. I am humbled by them and they never cease to amaze me (this bit might be more for the grown-ups … sorry!)
Me and my posse of ladies
Because it was my last day at school I bought oranges for the children and some sweets. One of the children kept saying something to me in Bengali – over and over again – eventually I took him to Mrs M and asked to translate it for me. He was trying to ask me for a different colour of sweet because he didn’t like the one he had been given!
Oranges for the cheeky boys
When we got back tonight we went to a nearby market called New Street. It was huge and it was very easy to get lost. Everyone wants you to go into their shop so you do get hassled. We didn’t stay for long as I don’t find it very easy to say no to people and ended up buying, what is probably, the most expensive scarf in India! When you buy something you are meant to haggle – that means they say one price, then you say a lower price and this goes on until you reach a price that you are both happy with – I’m not very good at that either!
We finished by going out for dinner – I’ve eaten a lot of curry this week (you can even have it at breakfast time) so I decided to have naan bread and chips tonight – a kind of Indian chip butty. See below …
An Indian Chip Butty
Well it’s bedtime for me (almost 10 o’clock here and you will just be getting home from school).
More tomorrow everyone.
Day 6 - 26.1.18
Today was a rest day, as it was a national holiday in India called Republic Day. We drove for 3 hours to a small village where there is another school linked to the Cathedral Relief Service project that we are involved with. We were welcomed with bouquets of flowers and they showered us with jasmine petals as we walked in – wow! The children danced for us and then recited English nursery rhymes that they knew – a lot of them knew ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star!’
Because it was a special day the Indian flag was raised (by Anita who leads our group) and then they sang their national anthem. This was a nursery school so it was all very sweet.
Anita raising the flag Very sweet children
We were then given a tour of the village, it was beautiful: organised and quiet which was lovely after a week in crazy Kolkata. There was a lady washing her clothes – India style, that’s how lots of people launder their clothes here!
Washing clothes - India style.
The villagers also cooked us lunch and, although it could make me ill as it may not have been cooked in our western ways, I really did not feel that I could turn down the generosity of people who have so little. I did say no to the chicken but the rice and dahl were delicious. It was also served in a very interesting way as you can see … on a banana leaf! (Still feeling fine!)
The afternoon was spent on a river boat on the River Ganges – the water was disgusting. I have loved India but one of the things that makes me sad is that there is rubbish everywhere; huge piles of plastic bottles and no one seems to throw their food packaging in a bin – it just gets dropped on the street. Of course a lot of this ends up in the river, where people bathe and wash their clothes. I even saw a dead rat floating belly up in the river today (sorry I wasn’t fast enough to take a picture).
On a river boat with another of the English teachers.
You may, or not, know that cows are sacred to Hindus which is the main religion in India. This means that they won’t eat beef (I haven’t seen beef on the menu on any Indian restaurant that I have been to) and cows are allowed to wander the streets. See below … she was quite a bad-tempered cow and kept mooing at me in a very aggressive manner.
Grumpy cow in the street
I have really mixed feelings about leaving India on Sunday morning. I have had the most wonderful week and I will bore you silly about it when I get back to school. Every sentence will begin “when I was in India ….” Be warned!
We have our last training day with the teachers tomorrow so there will be one last blog. Hope that all is well in lovely little Rowsley!
Sunset in India
Day 7 - 27.1.18
It is with real sadness that I sit down to write my last blog – what an incredible week; one that I will never forget. India is a confusing and difficult country to visit but it has won my heart and I hope that it won’t be too long before I come back.
One of the purposes of this project is that the Derbyshire schools continue to have links with the Kolkata schools for years to come. So, when I get back, I want us to think about what we can do to continue to support Bhawanapur and Scott Lane schools where I have been working. I will miss these ladies, especially Mrs M.
The wonderful teachers of Bhawanapur and Scott Lane Schools.
Today was the last day of training for the teachers. English phonics is very difficult for Indians as they struggle to say the sounds accurately. I was using our magnetic letters to teach groups: first of all I asked them to make their names using the letters, then to say each of the sounds in their names, next to pick a letter and say the sound before making CVC words (like dog, cat, pen etc …) They did really well. Now we have given all of the resources to the schools so they will be using the magnetic letters next week with the children – thank you all.
Making our names
After the training we were invited to the Bishop of Kolkata’s house for afternoon tea (he is a very important man). Not sure what that was all about but we are obviously considered to be very important visitors to Kolkata!
The day ended with a trip to our favourite restaurant in Kolkata called Blue and Beyond. We sat on the roof terrace as the sun went down; it all sounds very expensive doesn’t it? Well, a meal here costs less than £5! I was very lucky to work with so many wonderful teachers this week, people who really want to help the poorest of poor children here.
The #Kolkata2018 crew
The view from Blue and Beyond, Kolkata, not beautiful - but wonderful.
I did manage to do one more thing before we came back to the hotel – something that I have wanted to do all week … a ride in a tuk tuk. It was crazy!
I even got to sit in the front!
So that’s it guys … my time in India is over. This time tomorrow I will be somewhere over Turkey on my way home. I will see you all in school next week and can’t wait to tell you more about this wonderful place in Collective Worship. Think of some questions that you would like me to answer.
One last question for you – can you tell me what this man is doing? Lots of dojos on offer if you can!
Over and out from India.