A Visitor’s Notebook

Posted on September 10, 2015 by Chandra No Comments

“A Visitor’s Notebook” by Deborah Fleming-Prins

Nabadwipa Town

Nadia District

West Bengal, India

Weather: Hot and steamy, with more rain than expected.

The school is in session six days a week, with Monday off.

We are now in the “wet” season, and it is very aptly named “wet.” The low-lying fields are under water, and dwellings are submerged. This town has over 180,000 inhabitants, lying three hours inland and upriver (along Mother Ganga) from Kolkata.

This season brings great hardships for families of former refugees from Bangladesh, living in a shanty-town by the railway tracks. They barely survive, with minimal government assistance, being stuck in limbo with limited prospects. They have been in this limbo for years and years. The wet season means flooding of their strapped-together dwellings. It means that any employment they may have been lucky enough to get in the dry season is washed away with the rains. This has dire consequences for them.

I saw this directly, and it was confirmed by the staff of the Golden Avatar Gurukula (school, to most of us). They told me that significant numbers of their students were finding it very difficult to concentrate on their studies. Many tummies were rumbling, because their fathers could not work during the flooding and rains.

I could not sit by and do nothing. The solution seemed obvious and simple – if only for symptomatic and short-term relief. I would buy some rice to be distributed to those families in greatest need.

Magical Dalia of course had the right contacts – she always does! The father of one of the students is a rice merchant. A good price was negotiated, and on the birthday of the school, Sunday the 18th of July, we gave rice to the families in greatest need.

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I know this is only a short-term solution to a much bigger problem. The Golden Avatar Foundation is doing as much as they can. Running only on donations, they provide education to students from the refugee shanty-town, students too poor to attend even government schools. Most of the teachers volunteer their services, so that they20150719_095324 can help greater numbersof students. It seems to me that if others can help in a similar small way, we can alleviate some of the suffering and hunger here, and Golden Avatar can continue to offer the children of these “misplaced” persons a chance to break out of poverty, with the power of education— a chance to realise the same kinds of dreams held by kids all around the world: to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an engineer, a Dolphin Lord, an ecologist, a vet…… and many other such dreams. These children number among the leaders of our future world. We owe it to them to help them achieve their dreams. Who knows what wondrous solutions and discoveries they may herald?

Footnote: The children come to “school” at the home of Dalia, Banti, Chandra, and the other members of the family, every day except Monday. I was staying with the family and saw firsthand what attending the school means to these children. I had a chance to speak with them and hear about their dreams.

School at the hom20150719_095909e is a temporary situation. There is a new school building under way, the building delayed by the rains, of course, but it will provide a permanent and durable place for learning. On the new land, there will be more opportunities for visitors to volunteer their skills and capabilities, and to share those skills with the students. There will be a garden to grow their own vegetables and fruits, and a kitchen to learn food preparation and other life skills. The rice I bought cost only 8,000 Indian Rupees – less than $200. In the future, I will  return here with delighted anticipation to see the next phase of the Golden Avatar School.

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