[India] Kolbung Primary School

The purpose of the trip to Kolbung Primary School was to do an assessment and discuss immediate needs for this rural village in Neora Valley Darjeeling. It gave us the opportunity to contribute ideas to the community project activities for the kids and the school.

Click on any of the photos to see them in full gallery mode.

Words by Gandhi

Established in 1962

It’s winter and some kids don’t have shoes for school.

The children at the school are from ages 3-12. Parents of these children mostly work at the agriculture fields earning less than S$0.50 per day putting them below the poverty line.

View from the main school building.

Cartwheels on the lawn.

Kolbang Primary School

The school was built in 1962 by the local community and staffed by local teachers. The main school building was only 30 ft. by 30 ft. in size and it cramped all classes from kindergarten till grade 4. Due to the lack of classroom and teachers, students who want to further their studies after grade 4 will have to walk 20km to the nearest school catering for that level.

Construction underway for 2 more classrooms. One which will be used as a computer/library.

Baskhar explaining the history and challenges of the school.

School toilet which was donated and built by volunteers.

Everyone helping to carry supplies into the school.

Enthusiasm to learn!

Volunteering

Volunteers have been visiting at the school the past few years donating their time along with some needed materials for the school. The Singapore Boys Scouts donated a cupboard for a small library to house their new books, and on our trip the group from CampVision donated materials to build a 15ft by 15ft extension.

Learning something new in class today!

We didn’t have the luxury of time at Neora Valley and couldn’t spend as much time as we wanted at Kolbung. Sarah and Jayme started with a flower pressing activity, where pressed flowers were made into bookmarks for each kid. New books and stationery donated by Kinokuniya were distributed along with small toy cars and chocolate.

These activities are short-term gratifications, but the intended long-term goal for this visit was to promote Help Tourism’s long-term sustainable programmes that are in place for this community.

 

Teaching them how to make their own flower pressed bookmarks.

Teaching them how to make their own flower pressed bookmarks.

Flower pressed bookmarks.

Their level of English was quite poor, and translation was kindly done through Ahana (Mr Pals daughter and grand daughter of the founder) who volunteered her time with us.

Learning how to make paper windmills.

Loving the windmills they have made.

Boys and their windmills!

Cute.

To attract children to turn up for school, the government initiated a lunch programme. Food is prepared by teachers in a small kitchen hut at the side of the classrooms. A small wood fire stove cooks up a simple lunch for 50 kids and volunteers, usually consisting of rice and dahl. But today they had an extra dish of potato curry and papadum.

This is the school kitchen. That black wok you see will feed 50 kids accompanied with rice.

Canteen style.

Kids would bring their own bowl/plate from home and line up for their food right outside the kitchen doorway.

Everyone lines up for their lunch! Sort of.

Rice, Dahl, Potatoes and a Papadum.

Afternoon lunches encourages the kids to go to school.

Kids bring their own bowl to school and it gets filled up at the kitchen hut.

Lunch: Rice, Dahl and potatoes.

Playtime after lunch

Skills at the Jump rope.

Beautiful smiles from the girls.

No one wanted to let go of their windmills! They loved it! Great success.

Youngest kid at school who gets watched over by everyone.

Girls huddle over their new donated books.

Their school uniforms vary because some can’t afford it and will take what is given and donated to them.

Some kids don’t have uniforms, so they just come in what they have.

Engrossed in their new books.

After lunch, kids played on the sandy grounds while some of the older kids continued to learn more origami pieces in the classroom. After the energy was burnt and the dust settled, school shoes and socks were donated to the kids to keep their little toes warm through winter.

Trying to find the right sizes for the kids.

Trying on for size.

Kids saying their afternoon prayers after school. Prayers of thanks and appreciation.

Sincerity.

Teachers receiving donations of warm clothes for kids and adults for winter. Thanks to Convertium and Candela Travellers.

The committed teachers at Kolbung Primary School.

Group photo after school.

This visit gave us great insight to the school’s curriculum and the chance to speak to the locals about their challenges. A few things I have learnt from the discussions were:

  • The importance of conservation of culture and the environment at Neora Valley. Being situated in a protected area, locals kids themselves should be educated on conservation at a young age. A message which will be carried through their lives, perhaps till they become eco-tour guides themselves.
  •  Volunteers bring opportunities for culture and knowledge exchange. They have expressed how they feel out of touch with the rest of the world and it makes the community feel alienated. Our interactions do help kids know what is beyond the valley.
  • Extra curricular activities such as art and music, are very well received by the teachers and kids, giving them another avenue of expression and creativity.
  • For any activities in place as voluntourists or volunteers should eventually be sustainable and have continuity. Not forgetting that we have to respect the autonomy and decision-making process of the local community.

Late night printing and collaging photos together taken during the day.

We wanted to leave behind some pictorial memories. So that night we returned to the lodge and decided to print some photos with the Canon portable printer i brought along and put them into a collage.

Just a little gesture of appreciation and something for the kids at Kolbung Primary School to remember.

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