Blog: India Schools Project 2019

A group of Oakham students have travelled to India to work on a School building project and explore the country. They are working on this project in partnership with The Doon School in Dehradun. The students will send updates below of their trip as and when they are able to do so due to limited internet access:-

Day 14:

Our final morning in India called for an early breakfast and a short trip to the airport for our flight at 10.20 am. Thankfully all was on time and we reached blustery London Heathrow nine hours later. The students were of course in good spirits; a highly anticipated pit stop at M&S, some comedy awards and a good singalong helped with the bus journey back to Oakham. Before being reunited with their loved ones after a frantic two weeks away, the students were able to recount all that they experienced and the differences between our lives here and what that saw in India, no matter how subtle or extreme. 
The roads were smoother, there wasn’t a car horn to be heard, and there were no cows meandering through motorway traffic. But this impressive group of young Oakhamians were able to delve beyond the obvious and really question what it means to be privileged. My challenge to them, proposed in April 2018 when the trip was first advertised was to reserve all judgement of what they see and attempt to understand why India operates in the unique way that it does. 
I am hugely proud of the way in which the group engaged with all aspects of our expedition, from living in the village to questioning tourist culture at some of the worlds most famous landmarks. They showed commitment and dedication in their fundraising and continued in the same vein when working at our project school. They remained enthusiastic and interested, even when some of India’s social constraints were difficult to understand. They have seen poverty and luxury in India, my hope is they will take away life lessons that will resonate for years to come.
NY Chohan
Day 13:
Following a breakfast of made to order omelettes, pancakes and fresh jalebi (Indian sweets), we set off for Delhi. A much shorter bus journey this time of four and a half hours, although a chunk of the time was spent in Delhi traffic. In preparation for our flight home on Friday, we stayed at the Delhi Aerocity, a stones throw from the airport. 
We spent our last afternoon and evening swimming, visiting the nearby mall and eating at the excellent food court, where we sampled everything from tandoori aloo to Tibetan momo’s. Our final box of mangoes provided an opportunity for us to reminisce and reflect on all that we have done over the past year and a half that built up to these final two weeks of adventure. 

Days 11 and 12

After a 10 hour bus journey to Agra, we finally arrived at the beautiful Taj View Hotel. However doing nothing all day made us all rather tired so to wake ourselves up we all went for a swim. After a vote, it was decided that we wanted a taste of home... this meant going to Dominos (just next door), it costs £4 for a pizza in India?! 
This morning we woke up at 7, going for breakfast at 7:30, which was surprisingly English (although curry was still on offer). We then went to the Taj Mahal, which has enabled us to cross off one of our 7 wonders of the world... and left us utterly speechless! Built as a tomb for the favourite wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, it is a true love story. We then went to a marble factory, where we watched men carve marble and inlay precious gems, just like the ones that lace the Taj Mahal. We also had a go at making jewelled carpets. Following this, we came back to the hotel to freshen up for an hour, as the heat was really picking up and then went out for a curry (no surprise!). 
After lunch we went to the Red Fort, which was home to royalty in the Mughal Empire. It really was an impressive Fort. Today we have learnt a lot about India’s rule under the Mughal Empire and the imprisonment of family members. We were also able to give some clothes brought from home to the Mother Theresa Orphanage; another reminder to be mindful of the struggles of others, particularly when materialism comes so easily.
Agra is a real tourist town, lots of hustle and bustle, it really has been an eye opener!

Day 10

After breakfast at Doon School, we said goodbye to the Headmaster, staff and some of the boys that looked after us during our time there. We then arrived in Rishikesh and met our local guide Ashish. We travelled to the Laxman Jhula (one of the two suspension bridges, Jhula meaning ‘swing’), which connects the two sides of the city. The whole city is vegetarian so on the other side we had a vegan lunch in a restaurant, which looked over the Ganges. After, we browsed the shops and bought some souvenirs and cultural clothes. We soon gathered it was a much more spiritual city than Dehradun. In the evening we took a rickshaw to experience the Aarti ceremony at the Triveni ghat. This was an incredible sight and gave us a better understanding of the culture and Hindu religion. Rishikesh is a major pilgrimage site, and we were privileged to take part in such a ceremony on the banks of the Ganges. It was a moving experience. 

At 6am on Monday we went on a nature walk. We walked along the beaches of the Ganges and saw monkeys and various birds. After we joined a yoga class, which was far more intense than we expected! Suitably stretched and relaxed, we took another rickshaw to the famous Parmarth Niketan Ashram on the Ganges, where we learned about various Hindu gods. It was a very hot day, and extremely busy due to the start of a Hindu holy month. After we headed out for some final shopping and then had lunch at the popular Little Buddha cafe. Finally we ended the day by participating in a second Aarti ceremony at the hotel. It’s been a great stay in Rishikesh, and we look forward to our next stop. 

Maddie S and Hattie G-W.

Day 9

The last day in the village brought around more dancing, singing, crafts, and gifting sports kit brought by our students. Just as our time was coming to an end, the children at the school fully warmed to us as a group, and resulted in having a whole Hindi dance circle in which no one held back their best moves. Throughout our time in the village, school and farmhouse there were a lot of experiences that made the group reflect on the needs and comforts of their home lives. The happiness that was brought to the kids through dancing and taking part as a whole group was one of the most simplistic joys that many of the group had witnessed. It was a heartfelt goodbye as we waved off the children in the bus, and an honour for us as a group to be thanked by the teachers at the Arthur Foot Academy. The five short days spent at Arthur Foot have definitely created memories that will last a lifetime.


Izzy F. 

Day 8

On Friday, we continued with our programme of activities and helped the children make string telephones using twine and plastic cups, and scratch card bookmarks. The telephones were particularly popular with the younger classes as well as the older, with such a simple but effective contraption producing a lot of interest. Unfortunately, our fun outside was cut short by an intense shower - we are visiting during monsoon season! But the children made it safely onto the bus without getting wet at the end of the day, when we used Ellie’s giant water-proof poncho as a sort of umbrella, crowding children underneath it whilst we held the corners above our heads!

We were also able to visit the village elder’s family and asked many questions about their lifestyle. One aspect that really stood out was how the teenage daughters we met had no phones and had not ever left the rural district. However, they still had all the characteristics of Western teenage girls, giggling, being shy in front of guests, fixing their hair etc. Again, the lack of possessions like phones, computers, flatscreen TVs was striking, but their family life was not in any way noticeably worse, and they seemed very happy and welcoming. Our time in the village will be coming to an end soon, before moving on to seeing more of the country. 

Day 6 and 7

We have spent the next two days, after a successful first day at the Arthur Foot Academy, involving the children in activities which improved their motor skills, hand-eye coordination and building on existing English language knowledge. We split the children into their classes and sat with them in their school library to read some English books to them. Whilst they attempted to give us Hindi books, we were also surprised by their proficiency in English, using alphabet and picture books. Once we got back to the farmhouse, we were treated to a once in a lifetime opportunity to go jeep driving in untouched jungle where we saw a wild boar and many species of birds. 

Day 5

On Thursday we had our most successful day at the school, involving the children in activities which included Maths and English aspects. An example of this was making dolls out of pipe cleaners and beads and then naming the body parts in English. Moreover, the children were able to take home the dolls, gliders and bracelets they had made that day. It was great to see them playing with them hours later in their villages.

That afternoon we were invited to have chai with both the school’s cleaner in a nearby village and a nomadic tribe living in close by surrounded by buffalos and living in mud houses. It was surprising to see how families lived with TVs but no running water, sanitation and frequent power cuts. It was incredible to learn that the house, situated at the edge of the village, was under threat of destruction from charging elephants! The way of life of the nomads was also vastly different to anything we had ever seen before, we were surprised by how few possessions they had but how they made use of them. It was fascinating to see a completely different way of life to ours which also functioned just as well and gave us an insight into what the ‘real’ India was like for many of its inhabitants. Their hospitality was beyond their means, so it was important to recognise how gracious our hosts were. 

Late that evening we were able to go out on a night safari in the mango orchards and jungle, and saw deer including a huge stag, owls, a civet (a species of wild cat) and another jungle cat, which was extremely exciting!

Day 4

The farmhouse illustrated the strong contrast between how different people live in India. With Jeeps, a pool and en-suite bathrooms, we were very comfortable. We went for a walk to admire the farm then settled into our rooms and went for a swim. Dinner was a delicious chicken biryani, then we spent the rest of the evening playing cards together.

We arrived at the Arthur Foot Academy after breakfast on Tuesday to begin our first day with the children. We began with a few British party dances such as the Hokey Cokey and Macarena, then divided the children into age groups to learn colours, play hopscotch and make bunting. Though the language barrier between the children and us could be difficult, the children were so enthusiastic and had so much energy that we soon discovered a new way of communicating with them. Just before the end of the school day, some of the older children treated us to a yoga class, where we learnt that they are far better at yoga than we will ever be!

When we arrived back at the farmhouse, we were kindly invited to lunch by Mr Khan Sr, then spent the afternoon at the farmhouse swimming and relaxing before dinner, then played some very competitive card games for the rest of the evening (again!).

Zena R. 

Day 3

The Doon School exists in a walled bubble in the middle of the city of Dehradun. We were all surprised by the disparity between the beauty of the large campus and the extensive slum situated right across the road from it. The students and staff were very welcoming, hosting us in the staff cottages and boarding houses, which sat amongst sports field, gardens and jungle, in which we were told jackals and snakes lived! Whilst staying there for the night, we travelled by tuk tuk and visited the city market, which was bustling since it was a Sunday. There were fabric stalls, electronic shops, indian clothing stores and fruit carts, with motorbikes and the occasional car travelling past us down the ‘pedestrianised’ street. 

After a long bus journey through the valleys of the Ganges, we reached the small village of Bhandarchur, literally translating to ‘monkeys in trees.’ Having stepped off the bus, we were swarmed by local children with facial expressions of intrigue but confusion, thinking “Who are these people?” We were then guided through the Arthur Foot Academy with the children peeking over the gates and the windows. After this, we travelled to Mr Kahn’s farmhouse, where we will be staying for the duration of our time. 

Sophie P, Theo M and Grace S. 

Day1 & 2

It’s been a manic 48 hours in India. Following delays in leaving London due to the heatwave, we made it to Delhi. After lunch and our first taste of authentic chai (note: not chai tea), we made our way through the monsoon showers to the huge Old Delhi train station. Having eventually reached platform 16, we waited on the packed platform for our overnight sleeper train. When it arrived, we saw scenes straight from the movies, clambering and jostling; passengers even jumping through windows to get the best seats. Thankfully our bunks were reserved, but because we are travelling at a time of pilgrimage, our carriage was not a quiet one. On the upside, we had a huge dose of culture that made for an eventful train journey. We have since made it to the Doon School, the Eton of India, located in the town of Dehradun. A remarkable boarding school that mirrors the busy life of school at home.


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