The beginning of the school year in January is a busy time for Mr Naskar and the staff of the New Life centre, not only for welcoming new students, but in sorting out the books for distribution. The staff are in the school before the beginning of term for this purpose.
Schools in India have to have their name printed on the front of the exercise book, which means that the books cost more but also limits ‘shopping around’ for cheaper books.
For a school which exists to serve the poorest children in this village, book buying at the beginning of each year is only one of the ways in which Mr Naskar has to balance the budget. The parents of the majority of these children live at a subsistence level, doing daily labouring jobs in the fisheries which are predominant in this area of West Bengal, or in the paddy fields.
Mr Naskar is scrupulous in following the National Curriculum, which means that the children study between 10 – 12 subjects depending on their age. Each subject has an exercise book and sometimes a text book which can be used as an exercise book for the student. We can see therefore the high cost of books for the school each year, when the majority of parents are paying a minimal amount, for schooling, the equivalent of £1.60 a month.
What a contrast to our schools where the exercise books are handed out without any thought of where the money has come from for them?
Wouldn’t you like to help Mr Naskar educate the first generation of highly literate adults in this village?
I have recently returned from the New Life Centre School in Sarberia, West Bengal. We celebrated Childrens Day in the first week we were there which is a National event in Indian schools. India celebrates Children’s Day every 14th of November each year. This special day commemorates the birthday of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru who was the first ever Prime Minister of India and raises awareness of the rights, education and care of children. During his term, Pundit Nehru worked greatly for the educational rights of children for which he was called the Chacha (Uncle) Nehru. Before Nehru’s Death, India celebrated Children’s Day every 20th of November as declared by the United Nations. After his death in 1964, a resolution was passed to move the celebration to the 14th of November in order to honour Nehru and his advocacy for children’s rights.
In the NLC school Childrens Day consisted of fun and games and a meal paid for by the staff and Alindra and cooked by them! Considering there are over 400 children this was no small feat!
A parachute was donated which we took out with us and this proved to be a highlight on this day as it did throughout the visit. The joy on the children’s faces was a delight to see.
The children gave us gifts of homemade cards and candles, and the staff bought us presents this time of coffee mugs. They have so little in terms of material goods but they want to share whatever they can with you.
I have put up the cards in my home as part of my Christmas decorations to remind me of what this time of year is really about; the celebration of a child, innocent, pure and joyful, as we experienced on the 14th November in the New Life Centre School.
Art classes as we saw in the last report are considered an important part of a child’s education at the NLC school, and those who are talented are encouraged to attend extra classes. Alindra’s report last time referred to the fact that not all children are the same, thankfully, and some children’s talents lie in subjects that do not receive the same attention in the curriculum as the traditional academic ones, such as Art.
Here are some examples of the children’s artwork, and it is interesting to me how much information you can get from the picture about the way of life of the children and their families in Sarberia. The fisheries are an important employer for the childrens’ fathers, as the school is situated in West Bengal towards the Bay and therefore low-lying with lots of inland waterways. Fisheries and Brickmaking factories are the two main employers in the region. Carrying objects on one’s head would seem unusual to us but the women locally think nothing of carrying these large baskets full of provisions, which by the way appears to improve their posture rather than inhibit it!
What is heartening is to see the subtle changes that are occurring such as the young schoolgirl arriving home as her mother cooks, and the bin outside the school with the slogan, USE ME. These 2 are both advancements; girls going to school and looking after the environment. Both recognise the development of this extremely isolated area, but one that is benefiting from the vision of one man, Alindra Naskar, who has dedicated his retirement to raising the expectations and the potential of the local children, especially the girls.
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