Marx and Wild Pigs in Davanagere

We recently took a trip to the city of Davanagere to work on our survey project to assess the reading levels of Upper Kindergarten and grade school children. Davanagere is a place known for higher education, cotton and benne (butter) dosa. On the five and a half hour train ride there I devoured a book on Marx’s Capital written in an Indian context. It was certainly an experience reading about capitalism, imperialism, poverty and corruption in agriculture while passing through the fields of Karnataka. Thinking of political economy in the context of Marxian theory shed new light on Indian society and helped me answer the last remaining questions I had about inequality and distribution of wealth in India.

UKG Assessment

UKG Assessment

During our three days in Davanagere we were able to survey several schools. Unfortunately we were kindly turned away by many schools because March is the busiest month of the year for students and teachers because of preparations for upcoming exams. All of the school administrators were accommodating and encouraged us to complete the survey in June, which will be up to the people at Hippocampus to decide.

Wild Piglets

Wild Piglets

Davanagere is a very different place than Bangalore. Instead of the many stray dogs that live amongst the streets of Bangalore, Davanagere is full of wild pigs. Much like the dogs in Bangalore, the pigs of Davanagere are very intelligent and do not interfere with humans or get in the way of traffic. Wild pigs are more social than dogs and form family groups. At night they can often be found sleeping together in rows. I even saw some piglets that were smaller than my water bottle. India is the first place where I have seen animals like cows, dogs, goats, squirrels, birds and pigs grasp the concept of human automobile traffic, unlike pretty much every wild or domestic animal in North America or Europe. Yes, the pigs and dogs look both ways before crossing the street here.

The drivers of Danavagere are less likely to honk incessantly or drive through a crowd of people for no reason, which I greatly admired. Another oddity about Davanagere is the amount of people who are not accustomed to foreigners. Over the past three days in Davanagere I haven’t see a single other person of non-Indian descent. Groups of people would often stare and it was common to have groups of boys slow down or pretend to tie their shoelaces in close proximity to have a closer look at us. We were welcomed by a few restaurant owners and a few nice men our age asking where we were from, but overall we were viewed as an oddity in the town. I didn’t feel comfortable garnering so much attention, as I like to blend in. Walking around at night was much easier, being careful not to step on any sleeping pigs.

Literacy Levelling Test

The food in Davanagere is great and mainly consists of tiny south Indian restaurants that more resemble stalls. Eating benne dosa and puri masala every day is a treat, but I am looking forward to simpler fare such as a big bowl of salad or plate or rice. I have greatly enjoyed southern Indian cuisine and hope to find a few places that serve it in Canada. Unfortunately north Indian cuisine is over-abundant in Canada, but south Indian cuisine has very little presence. I prefer south Indian over north Indian food by far. Out of all of the Asian cuisines that are popular in Canada such as Japanese, Korean, Chinese, north Indian and Thai, it’s odd that south Indian does not have a bigger footprint.

Hippocampus Davanagere

I also experienced my first time visiting a Hindu temple, which I greatly enjoyed. Jagadhish, the Hippocampus Davanagere manager, invited us to the temple to give a rupee offering, receive incense and holy water and walk around the sanctorum three times to achieve peace of mind. Ringing a bell to wake God up was also an option, but I passed on that. We also sat in on a kirtan where priests and temple goers sang religious songs.

It’s hard to believe that I only have two weeks left in India. There will be many things that I will miss such as the friendliness and hospitality of the locals, the countryside, and the great people I’ve met. No further comment on the traffic or lack of pedestrian rights.

More to come as we wrap up our time here.

Cheers,

Matt

Annual Day, Our New Project, and Taking the Bus to Rural India

Greetings from Alan in Bangalore City,

This week we continued our new marketing project, took part in an Annual Day celebration at a Hippocampus Kindergarten centre, and were invited to visit a friend’s small village.     

Our New Project

During the week, Matt and I continued to move forward with our new marketing project and have been travelling to many urban and rural schools.  In each school, we have three tasks to complete on behalf of Hippocampus: testing children’s reading and compression skills, conducting a basic educational assessment of kindergarten children, and administering a questionnaire to school librarians and administrators.  This information will help Hippocampus learn more about the state of libraries and reading in Indian schools today.  Our ultimate goal is to acquire data that will enable Hippocampus to provide better educational services and to help determine new ways to market Hippocampus to Indian schools.School children at a rural school 

We’ve discovered this will be a challenging project.  In India, March is the time of year when students are busily preparing for state board exams.  Students are placed under pressure to do well, and some of the schools we contacted explained that they simply do not have the time for us to come in as their children need to study.  In other cases, some school administrators are unwilling to allow us to conduct the assessments because they are worried their school might acquire an unfavourable reputation if we discover the students are poor readers.  Matt and I were sitting in a school administrator’s office the other day, and we had a rough time convincing him the assessments would be kept confidential, would not be published, and would not impact his school’s reputation.  In all, it’s shaping up to be an exciting project and a fantastic opportunity to travel about India!

 

Annual Day in R.B. Halli

Annual Day in R.B. HalliLast Saturday, we had the wonderful privilege to attend an Annual Day celebration at a small Hippocampus learning and kindergarten centre in rural India.  Hippocampus Learning Centre’s (HLC) is a for-profit social enterprise that operates low-cost kindergarten centres.  HLC is supported by a number of large venture capital firms.  Social enterprise is a booming field in India and the HLC was recently featured on the front page of a leading Indian newspaper: A low-cost pre-school chain offers hope to rural Karnataka families

Matt and I are working as interns with the Hippocampus Reading Foundation (HRF).  The HRF, which focuses on library development and children’s literacy, is a non-profit organization that is partnered with HLC.  HRF and HLC employees work together and are located in the same office.  Many of the people we work with on a daily basis are HLC employees. Annual Day in R.B. Halli

HLC operates about eighty affordable kindergarten centres in rural villages across the state.  Nearly 2000 children, many of whom are first generation learners, are enrolled.  Children learn to read and write English and Kannada (the local regional language here).  Children are also introduced to basic mathematics.  HLC promotes a holistic, engaging, and innovative teaching model that is full of fun and creative activities such as song, arts, crafts and physical activity.  Young children living in rural areas have few opportunities  to attend kindergarten.  As a result, many arrive at the first grade unprepared.  They often fall behind and drop out of the school system.  HLC aims to equip rural children for success by preparing them for first grade.  During my internship, I’ve have the opportunity to spend time in two HLC centres near Mandya.  It is clear that Hippocampus is doing great work by addressing rural education problems and is making a real difference in the lives of village children.       Annual Day in R.B. Halli

Each year, every HLC centre holds a community event called Annual Day.  Annual Day is an opportunity for HLC children to share what they have learned over the past year with their local village community through dance, songs, and performances.  Annual day is also a powerful advertising technique as parents who have not yet enrolled their children are able to see what HLC children have learned and accomplished. 

We were invited to attend an Annual Day celebration in a small village, called R.B Halli, along with a group of several other Hippocampus employees.  We arrived to find a large covered stage set up in the centre of the village.  Politicians from the local village Panchayat were seated at the rear of the stage while the village’s entire population, about one hundred people, were eagerly seated in front of the stage.  We were treated like rock stars and immediately invited to sit near the stage.  Umesh, Hippocampus’s CEO and founder, was invited to sit on stage.  Children from R.B Halli’s local HLC performed for several hours late into the evening.  The children’s performances were absolutely wonderful. Hippocampus group at Annual Day in R.B. Halli

During the celebration, I wandered around the crowd and spoke with village children.  Many were eager to have their pictures taken, and many asked me, “Where is your village sir?”  I told them I was from a village in Canada half way around the world.  In the evening, the village Panchayat’s leader invited us to his house for tea and biscuits, and we had the opportunity to chat about village life and politics.  For dinner, a local teacher invited our group to her home for a delicious meal.  It was amazing to see how supportive and enthusiastic  the village was about their HLC centre. 

 

Taking the Bus to Rural India – We Survived

Alan, Venkatesh, and Matt in Kaggalipura

Mid-week our friend Venkatesh, a fellow Hippocampus employee, invited us to visit  his home village of Kaggalipura.  His village was conducting a Puja ceremony in honour of a village member that had recently passed away.  We travelled to the village by taking the city bus from Bangalore’s Banashankari bus station.  Taking the bus in India is quite the adventure, and it was a great experience to see how Indians really travel around the country.  Village roads in rural areas are in poor shape and often unpaved.  The bus bounced around like a 4×4 while speeding down narrow rural roads, but we survived, made it there alive, and both agree that the bus trip was a blast.

Village members held a delicious lunch feast with several courses of South Indian food.  I had some difficulty eating the meal with only my hands and had to ask for a spoon.  While many village members had a good laugh at me, it is surprisingly challenging to eat with your hands! Kaggalipura lunch feast

After the lunch feast, Venkatesh introduced us to several family members, former school mates, prominent village members, and local politicians in the village Panchayat.  Everyone in the village was amazingly friendly, immediately welcoming, and delighted we were there.  We met a lot of very cool people and were even invited to a wedding later this month.  I look forward to attending.

Along with a group of his close friends, Venkatesh showed us around the village, the school, his brother’s house, and took us for a hike out into the country side.  We tried to find a wild elephant on our hike, but were unfortunately not successful. Matt with Kaggalipura children

It was amazing to learn about village life, community, people, and politics in Kaggalipura.   As Kaggalipura is remote and far too dry for farming, there was little incentive for the state government to bring electricity, a paved road, or a daily bus to the village.  I learned that over the past ten years, village  members have successfully fought to bring these things to the village through community action, engagement, and petitions.  Kaggalipura now has electricity, a paved road, and a regularly scheduled bus.  While in the village, I was in awe of the strong community, togetherness, and connection that permeates Kaggalipura.  The village’s residents have such a passionate tie to their community.  The experience has been one of the highlights of my time in India.

 Searching for a wild elephant   

 

Until next week. 

Cheers,

Alan Kilpatrick

A New Change of Direction

We have been tasked with visiting 15 to 20 schools in Bangalore, Davanagere and Mandya to research the reading abilities of children, survey principals and librarians, and obtain data on how school libraries function. All of this will be completed from now until we finish with Hippocampus at the end of March. Both of us are excited to get out of the office and do a lot more traveling than we have these past few weeks. The three different sets of questionnaires we will be administering are now finalized, and we are working to create a schedule to visit these schools. We face two main challenges: the first is that all of the schools we are visiting are not partnered with Hippocampus. Although we will have the support of area managers and staff back at the office, we will be entering schools that may or may not be interested in library development or reading programs. The other challenge we face is that all students are preparing for finals at this time, and it might be tricky making time with schools and meeting with students and teachers during this stressful time.

State Central Library

State Central Library

We will no longer be working on the outreach campaign as we have already completed a presentation to “sell” the Hippocampus program to prospective schools. But we don’t mind. This next ambitious project will place us exactly where we want to be: with the students, teachers and librarians in the field. We have a lot of Canadian souvenirs to give out (grâce à ma mère et mon père) to the classrooms, including pencils, balls and a few small flags. It should be an exciting few weeks ahead.

We mostly keep busy waiting for travel plans to congeal by reading a lot and exploring our personal interest in India. I have lately taken the opportunity to immerse myself in the rich history of Indian politics and the lives of Motilal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi. Both of us are keenly exploring the issues of poverty and society since we see a lot of inequality and unfairness in the area that we live. I was also able to recently visit the Bangalore State Library and explore areas of Cubbon Park, Ulsoor Lake and the famous MG Road.

I’m off to Mandya for the next few days.

Cheers,

Matt

Ulsoor Lake

Ulsoor Lake

Librarian Training, Frankfurt, and Kitsch Mandi

Greetings from Alan in Bangalore!

This past week, we attended an incredible two day librarian workshop, continued to develop a marketing project for Hippocampus, and had the opportunity to  visit a number of schools in Bangalore.

Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to attend a two day workshop for school librarians at the Hippocampus Children’s Library in Bangalore.  Taking place as a result of a three-way partnership between Hippocampus, the Goethe-Institut New Delhi, and the Frankfurt Public Library’s Schulbibliothekarische Arbeitsstelle Division (SBA), the workshop was hosted by two librarians from the SBA and attended by school librarians and teachers from Bangalore. 

Librarian Workshop

In a fun and thought provoking environment, we learned extensively about Frankfurt’s school library system, the components required for a successful school library, the UNESCO school library manifesto, best practices for school libraries, and about a range of exciting library activities for children.  Giving Bangalore librarians the opportunity to learn about Frankfurt school libraries, Hippocampus, Goethe, and the SBA were interested in discovering whether the highly successful school library practices in Frankfurt could be adopted in Bangalore and used to improve the quality of school libraries here.

During the training, I was extremely interested in learning about the SBA.  The SBA, a division of the Frankfurt Public Library system is a central body responsible for primary school libraries in the city of Frankfurt.  The SBA employs six qualified librarians and ten administrative staff.  In all, they are responsible for about 80 school libraries in the city.  While, there are far fewer librarians than there are school libraries, the SBA has a “librarian on demand” service, where an SBA librarian will travel to a school if requested.  Bringing all school libraries in the city under the oversight of a central body, the SBA ensures the quality and success of each library.  Overall, I was impressed with the great library work SBA is doing in Frankfurt, would be excited to see a similar organization in Canada, and was encouraged to invite the SBA to come to Canada and speak about their work.  I was also excited to chat with one of the SBA librarians, Julia, who has a Graduate degree in Library and Information Science from a German university.  There are many differences between library education in Germany and Canada, and it was interesting to learn about the German LIS community.   

Librarian Workshop

Creating and executing a marketing strategy for Hippocampus is the main focus for the internship.  While Hippocampus currently works with over 200 schools in Bangalore and has brought the Hippocampus library and reading program to nearly 50,000 government schools in Karnataka State through a successful partnership with the Karnataka government,  Hippocampus wants to reach out and bring its library and reading program to a greater number of schools in  village and rural areas.  However, many challenges exist which make this task difficult. 

In Indian schools, academic performance stressed.  Each year, Indian students are pressured to do well on standardized testing, which determines which post-secondary institutions they can attend and what fields they can study.  In this context, encouraging children to read for pleasure is not always valued because reading for pleasure is viewed as an unnecessary luxury that takes away from academic performance.  In rural areas, children are often the first members of their families to attend formal schooling.  As a result, parents, teachers, and school administrators in rural areas may be unable to conceptualize the importance of reading, literacy, and libraries for their children.  To them, libraries and reading for enjoyment may be foreign concepts that are unfamiliar and unconsidered.   

Librarian Workshop

During an intense meeting at the end of last week, Umesh, Matt, and I posed as rural school administrators as Venkatesh attempted to sell our notional school Hippocampus’s library and reading program.  During his sales pitch, we bombarded Venkatesh with several challenging questions which forced him to justify the importance of libraries and define the academic value of reading for enjoyment.  As a result of this meeting, we have been busily preparing a comprehensive marketing presentation that can be shown to rural school administrators in order to convince them of the value of reading and Hippocampus’s services.  We aim to present it at a number of rural schools next week.

While enrollment in the Indian education system is extremely high, quality of education is cause for concern.  According to the ASER Centre, over 90% of children in Standard One are unable to read at their grade level and 60% of children aged 6 to 14 are unable to read a simple paragraph.  As a result, many children are not in a position to understand their assigned textbooks.  Poor reading and literacy skills significantly affect other subjects in school.  Unsurprisingly, arithmetic skills are declining in many major states in India.       

Through its library and reading program, Hippocampus ultimately aims to inspire children to read for enjoyment.  By encouraging children to read books that they want to read, carefully leveled and appropriate to their age and reading level, Hippocampus intends to increase language comprehension and literacy, develop a love of reading in children, and begin to bridge gaps that exist as a result of deficiencies in the education system.      

AV Public School

Mid-week, Ritrika, a new Hippocampus employee, and I had the opportunity to visit the AV Educational Society Public School.  AV Public School, a large private school, has a population of 1000 students in central Bangalore.  They have made a strong commitment to their students and promote a progressive education model that aims to help children grow into inquisitive, thinking, and socially responsible individuals.  We had the opportunity to meet the headmistresses, chat with the school librarian, Indira, and observe children reading in the library.  The school’s large library is a spacious, bustling, and colourful space.  It is clear the library has become an integral part of the school and a crucial part of the children’s education.  

In the library, children were busily completing a creative writing activity where they were asked to describe what they would change in the world if they had the power to change anything.  One young girl in Standard Four, very maturely, explained to the class that all she wanted to do was to be able to spread the power to change the world to other people.  From what I have observed in India’s education system, I am convinced that reading, literacy, and education are extremely influential in bringing about positive change in the world.           

AV Public School

We had an exciting week of social engagements as well.  Gaytri, Matt, and I were able to visit the Kitsch Mandi cultural festival in town.  Kitsch Mandi supports creative entrepreneurs and  ” aim to create a platform where art meets society in a casual yet inspiring environment.”  The poetry slam was top notch, and I am trying to get Hippocampus to agree to let me set up a Hippocampus Reading Foundation booth at the upcoming Kitsch Mandi festival in March.  

Gaytril, Shahd, and I attended  The Chamber of Laughs comedy show.  It featured three talented Bangalorian comedians who were performing in support of the One Billion Rising movement.  While I don’t totally understand the Indian sense of humor, it was a terrific show that was culturally enlightening.  Assuredly,  the comedians quickly picked me out of the crowd as I was one of the few foreigners sitting in the audience.  Free tickets to Asia’s largest air show, Aero India at Yelahanka Air force Station, gave me the pleasant opportunity to get out of Bangalore for half a day. 

Kitsch Mandi

I look forward to letting you know how next week goes!

Cheers,

Alan Kilpatrick

Canadians don’t Speak Kannada

I was able to make several school visits over the past week to assess the impact of the Grow by Reading Program in school libraries and to gain more insight on how to develop an outreach program to get school administrators interested in working with Hippocampus to promote English reading and comprehension skills. My first two visits were to the Citizen’s English School and Hindu Balika Patasala School in Bangalore with two members of Hippocampus and an American named Scott from Acumen Fund. Similar to myself, Scott was researching models of self-sustaining low-cost libraries. Although the focus of our trip was to assess libraries and talk to librarians and administrators, I was able to interact with several different classes and talk to children. Since Scott was with us, we were able to highlight some of the differences between Canada and the United States, and teach them a few words in French and German (Scott was fluent in German). We discovered that there were a few etymological similarities between languages. For example in English, German, French and Kannada, the word for school is schule, école and schaal. Bangalorean children automatically think I can speak Kannada when I say that I am from Canada. I only know the Kannada word for school, so that’s a start.

Last week Alan spent a great deal of time preparing and editing (and re-editing) a Hippocampus video to provide distance education to librarians on how to organize a library and understand the G.R.O.W.B.Y. reading program. I supported him by script writing, taking video footage and recording audio for the video, but the editor job was certainly where the bulk of the work was. There were even a few nights when Alan stayed at the office very late (he even worked on it one day from 10 AM to midnight).

Shahd

Shahd and the Soap Star

As a break from traffic-jammed Bangalore, Alan and I were able to accompany Shahd to the quiet village of Karasawadi as she was wrapping up filming a project on a Kindergarten program. The director of the video was apparently a famous Karnataka soap opera star. Can’t say that I’ve seen him on television, but he was certainly a very astute, well-spoken guy. We traveled 3 hours by car to the village which is situated west south west of Bangalore. Travel on India highways is not fun, even by car. Weaving busses, trucks, slow drivers and random speed bumps made it seem more like a Death Star trench run than a scenic country drive (although it was scenic). We were a big hit with the villagers of Karasawadi, who were not accustomed to having visitors in the village, let alone three young people of non-Indian descent. A friendly middle-aged farmer, whose family offered us tea and sweets, asked our ages and was taken back that none of us were yet married. He seemed to call us out for being, in his eyes, a little “past our primes”. I didn’t try to explain that one to him.

Matt

That Ship has Sailed

I also made an afternoon visit to Shishu Mandir earlier this week where I was able to take some video footage and interview the school librarian to get material in preparation for our outreach campaign. The striking thing about Shishu Mandir is that all of the children come from a poor slum, but all of them have excellent English speaking and reading skills. For example, the children of the 1st standard were able to read and comprehend English books from the second reading level of the Grow by Reading program. In comparison to some of the other schools we’ve been to, these 1st standard students surpassed the reading skills of several 4th and 5th standard students. I was able to sit in on a music class for a short time where a choir of nearly 100 children sang American folk songs and oldies including “Yellow Submarine,” “Amazing Grace” and “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Again, it was a brief break from the hustle and bustle of loud Bangalore.

Until next week,

Matt

Ejipura Slum Relief, Library Marketing, and School Adventures

Greetings from Alan in Bangalore,

 This past week we began working on two exciting projects with the Hippocampus Reading Foundation (HRF): a video project and a marketing outreach project. 

 We met with Shaifali, an HRF employee responsible for training, to discuss creating a training video.  Schools that adopt Hippocampus’s Growing by Reading library program must attend training sessions.  These sessions help ensure that schools are equipped to set up and operate Grow by Reading program libraries.  Grow by Reading, a proprietary program created by HRF, is designed to bridge children’s English language reading and comprehension skills and to promote reading for pleasure.  It features several reading levels, levelled books, and comprehension reinforcing activities.

The Hippocampus office in Koramangala, Bangalore

The Hippocampus office in Koramangala, Bangalore

When schools are located great physical distances from Hippocampus’s  head office in Bangalore, it is not always financially feasible to attend  training in person.  Training videos may allow Hippocampus to provide these schools with greater access to Grow by Reading training.  While Matt has been busily developing a script, Shaifali has been recording voice narration for the video.  I will be editing and creating the final product in Camtasia with the skills I learned in Internet Broadcasting class.  The video we create will be used to assess whether video is an effective  and realistic format to provide successful Hippocampus training.     

Mid-week, we met Umesh, Hippocampus’s founder, and several other employees to discuss marketing and outreach.  HRF would like to reach out and bring the Grow by Reading library program to a greater number of low cost schools in village and rural areas.   However, many traditional school administrators in rural areas are not convinced that libraries and reading are an important or necessary part of a child’s education.  It is our job to convince them of the value of good libraries, English language skills, and the Grow by Reading program. 

To start the marketing project, I began visiting the schools that HRF is currently working with in order to obtain data on children’s current reading levels and to determine whether the Grow by Reading program has been successful in raising children’s English reading and comprehension skills.  Venkatesh, another Hippocampus employee, and I visited two different schools at the end of last week:  the Shishu Mandir School and the Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf (SKID). 

Students at the  Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf

Students at the Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf

At SKID, I had the pleasure of meeting with the school librarian, Ms. Bindu for a second time.  A committed and passionate educator and librarian, she teaches English classes in addition to running the library and executing the Grow by Reading Program.  Meeting with Ms. Bindu made me realize the large impact that librarians can make in the lives of children and the vital role that librarians can play in the educational process.  Over the past five years that SKID has partnered with HRF, Ms. Bindu explained that the Grow by Reading had significantly improved the English skills by promoting reading for pleasure and reinforcing English comprehension through activities.

At Shishu Mandir, Venkatesh and I met with the school librarian, Stella.  Stella explained Shishu Mandir caters exclusively to first generation learners, that class sizes are restricted to a maximum of ten,  and that many students come from a nearby slum.  Stella summed it up best when she enthusiastically explained the school’s aim was to make its students shine.  Unlike other expensive private schools, Shishu Mandir is free.  We had the opportunity to meet with several students in the sixth standard.  Among other things, we discussed our love of Harry Potter, our favorite book in the series, and our favorite characters.    

Venkatesh and school librarian Stella assess reading levels

Venkatesh and Stella assess reading levels at Shishu Mandir

Alan speaking with standard six students at Shishu Mandir

Alan speaks with students at Shishu Mandir

Our weekend was filled with another round of exciting and eventful social engagements.  Shahd, Gayatri, Matt, and I attended an impromptu TED talk on Friday evening where we sampled an impressive selection of Indian beer.  On Saturday night, we had dinner at an excellent North Indian restaurant in the fashionable Indiranagar district of Bangalore city.  We also found time to see Les Misérables in the theater.  While we planned to take a road trip to Mysore, a city several hours away, on Sunday, the plans fell through at the last minute.  I also visited Cubbon Park, an enormous park in central Bangalore, home to the Karnataka State Library.  While the library was closed due to the Republic of India day holiday, I was pleased to see the mobile state library bus out front. 

The Karnataka State Library

The Karnataka State Library

This past Sunday, Matt, Shahd, and I helped provide relief for the victims and displaced residents of the  Ejipura slum demolition.  Early last week, a land developing company bulldozed and demolished an enormous slum in the Ejipura neighborhood of Bangalore to make way for new multi-story apartment buildings and a new mall.  The Ejipura slum had spread out over 15 acres, housed approximately 300 structures and over 1500 families, and featured it own temple and water tower.  Slum residents awoke to the sound of bulldozers and were given little notice  to evacuate their  homes or collect their belongings as they were forcefully evicted.  Ejipura residents have been left without food, water, electricity, or toilet facilities.  Many displaced residents, including infants, children, and the elderly, have been left with nowhere to go and have taken to sleeping outside around the outskirts of their former community. 

The demolished Ejipura slum

The demolished Ejipura slum

The question as to where residents will go now has not been answered.  Given the uncertain fate of the displaced residents, it seems that Pyati was correct when he suggested, “one can argue that the greatest failure of the Indian state since independence is the abysmal state of public infrastructure for social development…”.    

A displaced Ejipura resident

A displaced Ejipura resident

Children at Ejipura

Children at Ejipura

While conditions for the displaced residents are extremely grim,  many volunteers from Bangalore and the surrounding community have stepped forward to help and provide basic necessities.  Volunteers have included students, young professionals, IT workers, and social activists.  Along with other volunteers, Matt, Shahd, and I helped distribute jugs of water to the displaced residents.  Into the evening, Shahd and I worked with many others to hand out clothes to children, women, and men.   

Relief volunteers distribute clothes at Ejipura (Alan and Shahd on the right)

Relief volunteers distribute clothes at Ejipura (Alan and Shahd on the right)

While in Ejipura, I noticed that labourers of the land developing company worked to erect tall fences around the former slum community and that bulldozers continued to tear down the few remaining structures. At first, I questioned how these workers could be so indifferent as to what they were doing. Then I questioned how I had become so indifferent to poverty in India. Poverty is all around you here and it really stood out to me when I first arrived. Though I have only been here for three weeks, I seem to have become desensitized to the poverty and it has become so normalized that I sometimes do not take notice that it is there.

Cheers,

Alan Kilpatrick

Cricket, School Visits and Bangalore’s Food Street

Greetings from Matt,

This week we made day visits to a variety of different schools in the vicinity of Bangalore. The first school was a government school in a heavily populated, lower income area of Koramangala. Alan and myself were invited to join the III primary class, and we were given the opportunity to teach the children for about an hour. We had no prior warning about the lesson, but soon had an impromptu discussion on Canada, twoonies, polar bears, French, and hockey. In return the children explained the rules of cricket, a game that many of them are extremely passionate about. We also joined a library reading session of younger children and then re-joined the III primarys for a math class. All of the children were remarkably bright and welcoming, although many of them could only read English at a very basic level and had trouble communicating with us. The boys invited me to play in a Sunday cricket game (becoming a decent cricketeer is one of my personal goals during this internship). I met the kids on my own and ended up practicing batting and bowling with a group of very openhearted fellows my age while the younger children watched and offered me tips. The older guys were former students of the government school, and several of them spoke English well enough to converse. The males have an organized league, uniforms and professional equipment, and said that if I practice on my own and drop my baseball habits, I can earn a spot in the “big boy” Sunday games. Although it took some practice to find my foot-work, bowling feels much more natural to me than pitching. I prefer the feel and finesse of a cricket bat to a baseball bat as well.

Some of Matt’s new cricket chums.

Girls and boys from the III primary class.

On Thursday we visited a private school in Attelby, 40 kilometers south-west of Bangalore. We were planning to reach the school by bus, but ended up traveling on the back of different motorcycles with Hippocampus staff. Traveling on a busy highway without a helmet (very common in India) is certainly something we do not want to experience again. We survived, but I apologize in advance to both our mothers. I had sunglasses and a bandana, but Alan had neither; it must have been an uncomfortable ride for him. The school was full of bright children who had English skills comparable to Canadian anglophone children. After touring the school with a group of Hippocampus employees, Alan and I broke off from the main group to explore, and ended up in a library session with a class of older students. We were treated like rock-stars and were even asked to give our autographs. I was surprised how interested the children were about our home country, what animals live in Canada, and where in the world we’ve been. We interacted with other age groups, visited several classrooms, and had a very positive experience overall. After the visit we traveled back to the office in an air conditioned car.

On Friday we visited a school for deaf children, and spent a lot of time touring and talking to the school librarian, Ms. Bindu. Later in the day we spent time interacting and playing games with a group of children from III primary to the 10th grade. Many of the students are gifted artists, and the school benefits from a very robust arts program. I bought a hand-made money case and a set of ornamental envelopes that were made by the students. Ms. Bindu mentioned that several previous students of the school have led successful careers in animation and design. After graduating from the 10th grade, a majority of the students will be expected to attend a college for special needs students in Bangalore.

Alan watching students from the Shiela Kothavala Institute for the Deaf organize in the schoolyard.

Ms. Bindu’s English class getting ready to view an interactive DVD. The children normally take classes in their more spacious 10th grade classroom.

I learnt how to sign “hi”, introduce myself, and use a vocabulary of about 20 words in sign language. We taught the kids how to play Jenga (as opposed to using the blocks to make houses), and I had a game of snakes and ladders with an energetic girl named Bhuvana, and a very intense game of chess with a brilliant student from the 10th grade. At the start of the game I attempted a 3-turn checkmate on him, but he knew the exact same move and it quickly turned into a long game of cat and mouse. I likely would have lost if Ms. Bindu hadn’t announced that we had to stop to attend the end of the day ceremony (in my defense this was my first game of chess in several years, and he was a leader on the school team). It was quite moving to see 150 students sign the national anthem in unison. Alan was surprised at the challenges of teaching deaf children, from interpreting text into sign to the regional differences in sign language. We were warmly invited back to every school we visited, but the school for deaf children is especially high on my list. I would like to build my sign language vocabulary and communicate more freely with the students on the next visit.

We had another weekend of social engagements where we continued to meet more highly educated and well traveled people our age. On Friday I attended a Sufi musical with Shahd, Gayatri and an American from north of Seattle, Sam. On Saturday, Alan joined the four of us at Bangalore’s food street in the VV Purim area. We sampled masala puri, dosa, chat masala, idli, ghee dosa, Pepsi masala and several other foods. Despite the mix of street food and spices, we remain in good health. We later met several other friends at a dance club much nicer than most London night clubs. We were hoping to dance to Bollywood music, but the DJ was spinning house music, which is not a style that any of us prefer. Dance places in Bangalore are very rare, but we’ll work on finding a place more suitable to our tastes.

Bangalore’s Food Street. Bottom left: Gayatri, Alan and Sam. Photo credit: Shahd.

After our school visits we realized what questions were valuable to ask of teachers and supervisors as we think of how our outreach project can be designed most effectively. A reading program in India is very beneficial to promote literacy, democracy and economic health as a whole, yet we are aware that we may meet a lot of resistance from a deeply rooted hierarchical education system. Convincing traditionally thinking administrators about the value of accessible literacy and overcoming the educational norms which have prevailed (and failed) in India for years is essentially what we are here to solve. All of our days continue to be full of surprises, and we both agree that everything is working out much more positively than we expected. We will continue visiting more schools and will begin working on our outreach project and a video project over the next week.

All the best from sunny India,

Matt

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