Resourcefulness

Generally when people from the UK think of going to the countryside for even a weekend, we would first consider all the things that we would need to take with us. This simply isn’t the case here. Living so far away from the nearest city, the staff and students here have learnt to make do with what they have around them. That and their dedication to that which is Ayurvedic. The immense amount of greenery around is incredibly refreshing and indeed it’s also what is utilised the most. I’ll take you through the many examples which I have seen, though there are many more.

While the beautiful cows provide milk, they also provide ghee and dahi. With this, chaas, kudhi, chai is made. Cow dung is used to fertilise the fields but also to layer the floor of the outside bhojanalaya. It’s also lovely to see the cows treated well. They have one full time staff member looking after the gaushala but during the seva karya hour, the kids do some major heavy lifting in there.


There is a massive plot opposite my kaksh that hosts a whole garden full of various plants. This is used as initial treatment for the kids. The kids also take care of the plants on a daily basis. When we were out farming, one of the girls cut themselves. My initial thought was I have antiseptic cream in my room along with plasters, I’ll run back and whip them out. After all, there was a lot of blood. However before I could, the other girls huddled around, assessed the wound and went off to gather various plants. Plants that have antiseptic qualities were grinded and placed on the wound. Other leaves were placed on top to act like a plaster. I didn’t have my camera at the time unfortunately, but it was amazing to see.

A vast array of beautiful flowers grow along the entire campus, these are offered in the mandir.

The wood from trees is used not only to cook the food, but the ash is used as per Vedic tradition to clean the cutlery. Apparently, this is exactly what Ramdevji puts in his Patanjali washing up soap (ash and lemon juice).

While I’ve spoken previously about chana which is grown, cut and eaten in house, Makai (corn is also grown). It is eaten in house but also, the leaves and left overs are fed to the cows. Any left over food is also given to the cows (from the kitchen).

 

The kids have to bring their own sweeping brush to the school which they use during their seva karya hour. All bring sweeping brushes made from tuver sticks from their own farms. The same goes for the bamboo sticks they use in Shakha for Dand!

As for entertainment, the kids make their own swing from rope found on the road, as well as cricket bats from unused wood. Their wickets is a recycled metal tin. It’s incredible that the kids still find the energy to laugh and have fun in what is nearly 40 degrees heat now.

Even Diwaliba (she makes rotli at the school) uses limba (bay leaf) twigs found on site to maintain her good teeth as do some of the kids! 🙂

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I hope this blog entry has given you a taste of Madhav Vidhyapeeth and the kids natural resourceful nature. It’s definitely given me a new perspective on how I live my life in the UK. Until next time 🙂

Seva Karya

Seva Karya is a part of the day dedicated to Seva, in other words selfless service. It’s essentially an hour of the day, the kids take out to clean everything. From the school, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the outside paths, the mandir, the gaushala and start preparations for lunch and dinner. They do all this at 7ish am and they are always smiling. Obviously, they are doing it because they are told but they do it happily. More importantly, this part of the day is also trying to embed essential sanskaars in to the students. That of Seva. As most have come from such harsh working lives already that this seems like almost easy work for them. It becomes a duty. Maybe this is something we could have at SSV, instead of a year out for Prabandhika duty?

In my dinacharya post, I very (and naively) casually said that ‘they work the farmlands’. In hindsight, I feel so entitled. It was probably the most emotional part of my journey so far. I joined them yesterday for a couple of hours in the 35 degrees minimum heat. This was by no means an easy feat. It was probably the most (physical) hard-work I’ve ever had to do, or at least up there. 10 year old’s do this. It’s just crazy. They should be out, having fun, being children. Not just at this school, but even when they go home. When I questioned some of the elders they said that in comparison to the number of hours they work in the field at home, this is easy work. All these kids come from farms. This way kids quite literally get to reap what they sow. I most likely will never agree to kids doing this, but by god they are much more capable of doing it than I am. We just so happened to working on cutting chana (chickpeas) that day. Chana that the kids were going to have for breakfast. Just an FYI for all the non-farmers reading this post: farming Chana burns (itches) your hand. These kids have hands and feet 10 year old’s should not have. They are out in the fields, with no shoes, no gloves and so happy. They are so happy to do this for their school. This motto of hard-work is so ingrained. This is true Seva.

The Children

The kids always have a smile on their face. Whatever problems they may be having. Whatever work they are told to do. Always smiling. Deepika just came in to our room. For days she has been walking barefoot around the grounds with a splinter and never complained. Even as the splinter was being removed she was laughing away.


When you arrive here, the first and foremost thought of the kid is, why don’t they wear shoes? When I asked, the response was because they aren’t used to having shoes at all, more often than not they lose/forget their slippers when they are given them. They seem to have such a high pain threshold as the roads here aren’t like the ones in England, they are full of stones. They walk, play and run, all without slippers. I tried to play kho kho with them without my shoes and I gave up after one run.

Even during their colder winter months, they don’t wear a sweater. They have ‘adapted’ or got used to living with very little in extreme weather conditions.

When they come to Madhav Vidyapeeth, they come as 10 years old starting 5th standard. Some previously attended nearby government schools, others none at all. The standard of education is high here, but when the kids come in 5th from government schools, you can tell that the standard really needs to change there. The kids know little to know English even though they have been learning for years. The teachers here work hard in the first year to bring this up.

Upon speaking to Ashadidi, one of Madhav Vidhyapeeth’s karyakartas, she tells me that 5th standard is a crucial year for the kids. While Madhav Vidhyapeeth offers a great, safe and secure environment, a lot of kids find the environment too harsh and run away in their first year. That and they are homesick. The environment is such a change that in that year, life skills are also taught. For instance, sewing, how to wash their clothes properly and also how to open AND close a tap. Many open a tap but don’t close it. Most haven’t even seen a tap before coming to the school. This is the part that I find the most emotional. Madhav Vidhyapeeth is 10 years old, they started the school offering filtered water, but the kids hated the taste of it, and it’s too different to when they visit their own homes. So they changed to offering the kids tap water. Food wise needed much consideration, at home they have one rotlo, maybe shak and lots of rice. Here they offer pretty much the same.

They wash their own clothes by hand daily, wash their hair once a week (but shower daily) and have learnt to be very clean. They are basically self-sufficient and independent. More than I can say about myself. I’ve started to wash my own clothes here on a daily and in this heat, it’s not easy.

The kids speak their own slang version of Gujarati (Vasava), almost a new language in itself so learning pure Gujarati is one of the first things they learn. So in total they speak 5 languages. By 10 years old! The kids are humble, extremely hard working, kind, always happy, sanskari, eager to learn and SO clever. The amount they do in a day is awe-inspiring.On top of that, they always ask if I need anything. I was just told that as some have board exams coming up, some kids wake up at 3:30am to revise! What!? It’s insane how dedicate they are.

I ask them if they prefer home or here and they say here because at home, they don’t have as many friends around. The parivaar atmosphere that Vidhya Bharti creates within its schools is really beautiful to see. Other than the three vacations a year, the kids meet their parents once a month who come on site with home food in a tiffin. The kids obviously look forward to this a lot! They are also getting very excited about Holi.

I asked Ashadidi if Madhav Vidhyapeeth tracks the kids once they leave 12th standard (the equivalent to secondary school, the last year offered here). She said a few attend college but not university. The fees required are too extortionate for the average tribal family to afford. This is why the chief minister’s plans to build a university nearby is so crucial. The kids are psychologically very aware of this fact too. Kids that are getting 100% in their 10th standard more often than not fail 12th standard because they ‘know’ they aren’t going to go any further.

Just being around these kids is so humbling.

Dinacharya (Timetable for the Day)

The Timetable for the day is pretty packed. There’s so much going on 247/365 for these kids. They only have Sunday ‘off’, but even then must wake up at the same time for pratah smaran, work some of the schools farmland and then rest. Most spend it studying. They have three vacations a year, 21 days during Diwali, May 10th – June 10th for exams and finally a week back at home for Holi. Their day to day reminds me of a SSV day.

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4:45 am – Wake up, the kids wake up like SSV with a whistle.

4:45 am to 6:00am – Pratah Vidhi – Wake up, shower, wash their clothes. Most are up before this. Only a few need encouragement

6:00 am to 6:15 am – Suryanamaskaar – It’s still dark at this time at the moment so it’s a whole new experience to suryanamaskaar to the most amazing skyline full of stars.

6:15 am to 7:15 am – Pratahsmaran / Yogasana, morning prayers and yoga for the younger kids and Balika Shikshan for the elders

7:15 am to 7:30 am – Dudh (Milk)- Fresh cows milk, straight from the farm.

7:30 am – 8:15 am – Seva Karya – The kids spend the day cleaning the school, their rooms, the bhojanalaya, the mandir, gaushala, karyalayas.

9:00 am – 12:05 pm – Vidhyala (School). For three hours, the kids have four classes that rotate. They study Hindi, Sanskrit, Maths, Science, English, Economics, Psychology and much more. In their first year they are also taught a few life skills (more details to come). Only for the morning school do both the shikshartis and shikshaks where uniform.

12:05 pm – 2:45 pm – Bhojan – Lots of good, healthy food is cooked. They then study, relax, play….

3:00 pm – 5:00 pm – Vidhyalaya – Back to school!

5:30 pm – 6:30 pm – Shakha

6:30 pm – 7:00 pm – Mandir and Dhyaan

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm – Bhojan and for me it’s listening to a Bhagavad Gita recitation.

8:30 – 9:45 pm – Vaanchan (Reading) – This is the kids time to read, study and catch up on anything they haven’t already during the day. As today is Saturday and tomorrow is a day ‘off’ (minus the early start), they are watching episodes of Shivaji on the projector.

9:45pm – Deepnirmalan (Bedtime) – A well deserved rest time for these seriously busy kids.

Blown Away (figuratively of course, it’s too hot!)

I’m so overwhelmed, I’ve been thinking about this blog for the whole day and I’m still unsure about where I should start. Overwhelmed in a, this-is-amazing way!

So, I thought before I start writing about the kids or even the project, I’ll write about the location with it being the first thing you see upon arrival, to give a foundation. First and foremost, I must say I’m so surprised as to how big the campus actually is. There is just so much space to roam around. There is 36 staff, from the teachers, to the kitchen staff, to the farmers, to room keepers, gaushala staff and finally the administrators. To give you a little idea of what is where I drew a little map before I go into a little detail about each sthaan.

Map of Madhav Vidhyapeeth

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Hanuman Mandir

This one is self explanatory, but unlike most, it’s self sufficient. When I asked where the Pandit was, they said the kids look after it! They light a divo in the mornings, say bhajans at night and also clean it themselves – on a daily.

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Vidhyapeeth

The whole campus is in the middle of a large piece of farm land and the school reflects it’s surroundings. It’s open and cool and offers some beautiful views. The sound of the kids talking and laughing run through the school. The classrooms all have names linked to Hindu Dharma. Classroom etiquette is also along the same lines, no shoes, sitting cross-legged. Artwork also is pasted across the school, all with a moral, Hindu Dharma or farming related image painted on. The lower ground is for the primary school, second floor hosts the secondary school and top floor is home for some of the elder boys (where they sleep). The second floor also hosts the karyalaya (teachers lounge) and pustakaryalaya (library). In between the floors there are plants and openings letting a lot of light in. I often wonder what it’s like during monsoon season! The school hosts only tribal children from the surrounding areas. I’ll go into more detail in another blog :). Enjoyably, the farmland and open corridors allow a lovely breeze to flow throughout.

Sangha/Samiti Sthaan

Shakha happens once a day in the evening, whereby the kids organise and take everything themselves. Both the sthaans are large and open, offering the kids freedom to go where they want. This picture on my left is the distance from my ‘house’ to the Vidhyalaya, which can be very hot even on that relatively small distance during the course of the afternoon.

Adhikari Kaksha/ Shikshak Housing

To be honest, I expected nothing like this. Truly. I have AC (though I don’t use it), WiFi, a lovely, clean toilet, lack of mosquitoes, even hot water! My view from both my front and back garden is spectacular. Two  shikshikas live above me on the second floor. My roof offers some AMAZING views of the stars at night. I have another volunteer staying with me called Aartiben from Kutch who was raised herself in a school run by Vidhya Bharti and wanted to give something back.

Bhojanalaya (Outside)

This is used for early morning breakfast, late night dinner, dinner preparations and also, for late night readings under some wooden propped up lighting. It’s recycling to another level (with the use of nearby wood).

Bhojanalaya (Inside) – Including the main Karyalaya

This bhojanalya is used for lunchtimes, as it’s 40 degrees now so offers some shelter from the direct heat. This building is also home to admin karyalaya, the home of the WiFi, printer and trusted manager Nileshbhai. The second floor is also has a few more shikshaks staying there including Ashadidi, who is in charged of the syllabus for Vidhya Bharti for the the entirety of Bharat.

Gaushala

Home to 34 of Bharat’s best cows, offering the kids much of the dairy needs. There are plans for a new gaushala with 100 more cows, meeting their full dairy needs all on campus.

Chattralaya (Hostel)

This is where the majority of the kids sleep (300+). Some adults stay here in case of any problems over-night. They bring a small metal suitcase from home with the few items of do possess.

Water Tower

There is a nearby tank of water that comes from a long line of pipes along the farmland. Eletricity then pumps that water into their taps.

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Scorching heat, Swollen feet

Landed in Mumbai and made it to Surat. I’m staying with family for a few days to adapt to the climate before going to Madhav Vidyapeeth, the school where I have been allocated.

At the moment all that I can think about is how hot 37 degrees actually is. More specifically it’s the affect of the heat on my feet. I currently have no site of my ankles! 🙂 It’s not a lovely sight so I’ll save you from a picture.

My first few days have had other challenges, to serious plane delays, my phone not working, no access to wifi, or access to another phone and no AC (haha). This has meant that plans to go to Kakadkui (where Madhav Viydapeeth is located) aren’t concrete as of yet. Still staying positive, hoping for a fan in my room at Kakadkui though! I’ve never realised how much I take the cold for granted in England. It’s so hot that my thoughts (other than that of my swollen feet) are for the working class of Bharat who are still indeed out working all the while gaining direct exposure from the Sun.

Whilst my feet have rendered myself unable to walk for long, I was doing some reading online regarding the school and came across this piece of good news:

Gujarat Information Bureau,
Government of Gujarat,
Ahmedabad

PRESS RELEASE

Gujarat Govt to set up Sainik School at Madhav Vidyapith in Bharuch district
“Proposed Tribal University in Narmada district to be linked to colleges in the remote tribal areas,” says CM Vijay Rupani

Ahmedabad, February 2, 2017: Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani today announced to set up Sainik School at the Madhav Vidyapith campus situated in the remote forest area at Kakadkui in Netrang taluka in Bharuch district.

Inaugurating the tenth anniversary of the Madhav Vidyapith, he said that his government will set up a series of Sainik Schools, Eklavya Schools, Medical College, Hostels and Skill Development Centres to develop the specific needs of the tribal youth. Donors from Surat have announced Rs.2-crore grants for the Sainik School. He said the proposed Tribal University to be set up in the Narmada district would be linked to colleges in tribal areas to uphold the tribal culture and heritage.

The Chief Minister said that it is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream and imagination to build a strong nation for all round development of the tribal youth to ensure every school in the tribal areas earn the reputation of Taxashila.

He exuded confidence that with the sincere efforts of Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan would result in raising the educational standards of the tribal community, the efforts initiated by the then Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The government has decided to give tablets to all college-going students in Gujarat after the HSC. He thanked the trustees of the Matrushri Godavariben Gandabhai Zadafiya Vidya Sankool affiliated to Vidya Bharati Vanvasi Shikshan Samiti for organizing the decennial anniversary of the Madhav Vidyapith.

Vidya Bharati Gujarat President Dr Subhash Dave gave details of the activities of the organization. Managing Trustee Dhanjibhai Zadafiya welcomed the guests. Sangh Sanchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s message was read out at the function.

The donors felicitated Mr. Vijay Rupani and Mrs. Anjaniben Rupani. They felicitated the Vidyapith founder and main donor Godavariben Zadafiya.

Those present at the function included Ministers of State Ishwarsinh Patel and Shabdasharan Tadvi, MP Mansukhbhai Vasava, MLAs Motisinh Vasava and Arunsinh Rana, and Gordhanbhai Zadafiya.
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There are also a few YouTube videos about the school should you wish to look at it:

And this is where I’ll be located for the next five weeks, as you can see its 70km from Bharuch in the middle of a forest:

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Preparation for Bharat

Namaste all,

Saying goodbye to old habits, friends, family, generally taking yourself out of your comfort zone is always hard. I find myself thinking that the dream of doing Seva is finally becoming a reality and I have never been more apprehensive. Due to my own personal reasons, this has all been a little dis-organised and find that a lack of knowledge about the area is somewhat daunting. This on top of the looming reality that its going to be incredibly hot, and I’ll be placed in a small village. Yet another foreseen thought is that this is the first time in my life that I’ll be alone for so long. I’ve stayed at home for most of my life apart from three years where I lived with my brother.

Obviously these “challenges” are nothing in comparison to how excited I am as well. Being able to give back has been a dream that I have only been able to put into plan recently. I’ll try and keep up as much as possible but I am yet unsure of my duties so I can’t commit to updating my blog at specific times of the week. As soon as I have my routine I’ll be in a much better place.

Any hoo, on and up as they say. You take something positive from every experience and while I’m sure that this placement will be hard, I will learn a lot from it. Back to packing for now.

Reena 🙂