The train eventually pulled into Hyderabad and there waiting for us was Elizabeth Sewell. It was with Elizabeth that most of the correspondence had been with in terms of arranging our visit. She had a driver and away we went to the CEO of the organizations home; Vandita Rao.
It was whilst at the home of Vandita that I was first introduced to the level of hospitality we were to be afforded throughout our stay. After freshening up there was the most amazing Indian lunch set out for us, far too much than we could ever eat but good authentic home cooked Indian food.
Kalleda Village is about 200km out of Hyderabad and is pretty isolated, it was to take 4hrs to get there. Needless to say we got lost on the maze like roads in the blackness of the night and sometime later we arrived at the village. We met with another volunteer from the US – Marena Lin, as we walked to dinner she explained how only days earlier the monsoon had hit the village and Mosquitoes were out in full force, she was testament to this as her face and arms were covered in red bites. It’s safe to say she didn’t just get bit, they came back for seconds, phoned their mates and all partied the night away courtesy of Marena.
Kalleda Village is relatively small and is populated by locals who earn far less than the national average and many of whom are on the poverty line. They can barely afford to eat let alone pay for education for their children and this has created a huge demand for a school for those less fortunate where the school fees are paid partially or in some cases not at all by the families of the pupil. The deficit in fees are then met by donors and sponsors meaning that all children get an education.
We were sharing a house with Elizabeth and Marena and so it was decided that we would all go for breakfast at 8.30 the following morning, of course I slept in. After breakfast we headed for the school which is just across the road and surrounded by a huge white wall. There are about 600 pupils at the school ranging from Nursery age to young teens. All the children are dressed in very smart blue uniforms and were running round without a care in the world. I had forgotten something at the house and so Elizabeth took Charlie and Abi over and I followed. When I walked through the school gates I saw a mass gathering but could not see what the attraction was. Suddenly I saw Elizabeth’s head pop up, they were being mobbed by the children eager to introduce themselves and make friends.
However once assembly started they all joined ranks and did the morning warm up followed by some general knowledge and local news.
We stood and watched in amazement in what was our first glimpse of rural village school life. After the assembly we had a walk into the village since it had been about a day since id last been ripped off and I was getting withdrawal symptoms. Sure enough I got my fix at the first store I visited when the shop owner seemed to understand anything other than the price on the side of the bottle as he added the usual tourist tax. I asked if I was paying more because I was a tourist and he did a funky dance with his head, I was just about to join him by throwing in some robot moves and a bit of beat boxing when I realised in fact he was doing what all the locals do and what Marena referred to as ‘the bobble head’ I am convinced they are grooving the moves to music in their head, but apparently it means yes.
We met for lunch which I have to say was so well organised it was almost to military precision. The children are sat in lines which are marked on the floor and they somehow sit in perfect lines with their lunch which is meticulously tailored to provide a healthy and well balanced meal, and as I found out some of the children’s only meal of the day. The meal is basically Rice, an Egg and some curry all eaten on large silver plates and eaten not with cutlery but with their hands which is the norm throughout India.
Prior to eating the children prey, they all sing in absolute harmony and at a low tone which is almost like a hum. It made the hairs stand on the back of my neck and I commented it was one of the single most amazing tings I’ve ever seen. Charlie and Abi were completely overwhelmed by this point and I think the silence between them was a personal moment to reflect upon what they were experiencing.
We had complete access to the school and every member of staff was more than willing to show us nothing but the biggest welcome, it seemed no question was too much and they were keen to show off their school and what they did to me and Charlie and Abi who were the first foreign children to ever visit the school and for perhaps all the children, the first foreign children they had ever seen.
We visited several lessons and we were welcomed into the class where Charlie and Abi interacted by singing English rhymes and getting involved with the work that the pupils were doing. Within no time and despite the language barrier a whole class of kids were doing ring – a – ring of roses with Charlie and Abi on the grass.
They both also joined in with PE where they played typical Indian school games which I have forgot the name of but are basically variants of tag and bulldog. Both Charlie and Abi were loving it and it seemed the sentiment was felt both ways as the pupils revelled in something out of the ordinary.
I remember commenting that I really didn’t know what to expect when I saw the pupils, knowing some were very under privileged I wondered if this was carried into their daily life. I can tell you it isn’t, the kids are all smiling, joking, happy and just being kids. Proof that as a child social status is irrelevant when they are busy being kids. It was perhaps one of the happiest, most positive and optimistic places I think I’ve ever been fortunate enough to visit – For instance when we asked if the children would sing local rhymes they were all keen to stand up and sing.
The head of the school was keen to show us the materials they used – which were all homemade and actually very good. The school tries to be self sufficient in that they attempt to make use of what they have and to try and give back to the village. All of the teachers are from the local community and are currently in a transitional period as the school tries to raise the level of English proficiency throughout the students. They are all qualified and could earn 3 times more in a private school but earn substantially less whilst they teach at Kalleda. Such is the belief and commitment from everyone involved in the organisation.
When school ended we visited the most amazing local temple which I later found out was restored by RDF and local help. It was around the temple that we saw the reality of some of the children’s lives as we passed mud homes with thatched roofs.
Afterwards Marena asked if we’d like to go for some homemade Samosas that were about a 2km walk away. It only takes the word food to get me interested and away we went. We were gazed at in awe by the locals and before long we had a posse following us. Eventually we ended up at a little side track and there was a mother and son rolling potatoes and spices, the grandmother was sat rolling out the pastry and the father was deep frying the Samosas right on their doorstep over a stone fire. In typical Western style we completely invaded their space and ate the best tasting Samosas I’ve ever eaten whilst chilling on their wall watching them being made, in fact they are the best food I’ve tasted in India and at 5 Rupees it would have been rude not to have a few and so away we munched. Luckily Marena and Elizabeth managed to get across Abi’s special order of a samosa without the samosa filling inside….
We went for dinner later in the evening at the junior college, and back at the room I sat with the kids and asked how they felt. Both were completely overwhelmed by what they had seen, but what struck me as mature and really testament to the pupils themselves; that was neither Charlie nor Abi commented on the kids being poor, or unhappy. Rather they spoke about them like they would any kid at their own school. We were united in our appreciation of the wonderful opportunity and hospitality we had been shown.