Our second visit to the Native Upper Primary School was as delightful as our first one in 2007.
Once again, after a life-risk 8 hour hazardous drive from Hyderabad to Chinamuthevi, we were welcomed with a floral chorus of joyful sound by children, teachers and parents. Passionately embraced by the children fluttering around us, soon after our arrival early in the afternoon of Monday 9th August we were accompanied to a well-prepared table, where we quickly tucked into what would be our staple diet for the next two weeks – rice and an assortment of meat, fish and vegetables embedded in spiced sauces of which we never tired. All quite delicious! We were thrilled to be back, crowded around the table in the tiny home of Pastor Sundar and Tabitha his wife and their daughter Blessy. The very simple living room contrasted with the spacious beautiful West wing of the completed first quarter of the new school building. This smart light blue construction, which we had seen on our way to the village, is fringed with tall coconut palm like trees and stands proudly above the splendid fertile green rice paddy fields around it. Our first week would be dedicated to preparing and planning the way for the arrival of the Italian medical team. This included the setting up of English classes which Paul and I were going to teach to the two top classes each morning while the medical team systematically examined the school children. The games, dancing, and school sporting activities would come later in the afternoon. The climax of our visit was to be the inauguration and dedication of the new school building on our penultimate day, Saturday 21st August.
Once again it was immediately clear that the high level of education had been sustained across the last 3 years. Most of the teachers were new and we were delighted to meet the three young ladies, all with degrees, who were now part of the teaching staff. We were shown the students’ work and English textbooks and one afternoon we interviewed more than twenty students who are going to High School who would like to go on to work training schemes. We sensed a genuine pride and hope for their future as they shared with us their hearts’ desire towards work choice. It was a very tender moment when Skekhar a young man of about 22 years came forward. He has been supported by one of our English students and very decidedly wanted to thank us personally for helping him become a qualified hospital lab technician. With deep emotion he said; “Thank you so much for changing my life”. He is concluding the last phase of his training and is an excellent example to the other young men. This is the fulfillment we desire for these young people. We were taken totally by surprise when 5 beautiful young ladies were introduced to us who would not be going on with their education – they were already married at 16! It doesn’t seem to matter in the villages that this is illegal. The child should legally be 18 years old before contemplating marriage! In India however this state of affairs doesn’t usually depend on the child but the parents. While thinking of this situation we were absolutely delighted to meet Phani again, she was the very first student to pass her exams and graduate from the school. She is advancing through the concluding phases of her nursing studies and practice, and in fact, when she assisted the medical team the following week, the doctors had nothing but the highest of praise for the quality of her work, her integrity, and her capacity to diagnose each of the patients. Phani is a wonderful model for the other young ladies. Her family made a courageously different choice to let her continue to study. She has become a lovely mature young lady with great potential for her future because of the wholesome foundations she received through Native Upper Primary School and her family support.
It was the first time for Paul to see how the school continues to function even when it pours with the monsoon rains. On Friday, as we did our first lessons, it simply poured with rain and the only way to move between the old school buildings was by sludging slowly through the heavy red clay which clung like icing to his shoes. To not ruin the cement floors on which the pupils sat he parked his shoes outside and went barefoot. I couldn’t bring myself to do that and continually got stuck. What is absolutely impressive is how, totally unlike cricket, “rain does not stop play”. Life goes on as usual even when the heavens open and, as on the following Sunday, Paul even had to ask the people to gather around him as he spoke because the sound of the pouring rain as it beat on the corrugated iron roof was almost deafening!
The following day, what a delight it was to make the one-and-a-half-hour trip to Vijaywada to pick-up our colleagues arriving from Italy. Although tired after three long flights, two layovers, completing what was more than a 20 hour-long trip, our 7-member Italian medical team stepped out of the tiny control building, some already dressed Indian style, smiling, thrilled to be finally on Indian soil.
On Monday morning, they too were treated to a royal arrival with colorful garlands and a noisy celebration in front of the New School building. With a few quick orders two beds appeared and one of the beautiful new classrooms was converted into a small clinic. Here, during the next 5 days, bodies were examined, temperatures measured, hearts listened to, eyes tested, teeth controlled, and the overall health of each child was recorded on a brand new personal medical card. News quickly spreads and the team was able to do many check-ups on other children from Chinamuthevi village and surrounding villages – there were nursing mothers and adults too! On Friday, the team went to two villages further away making the total number of check-ups completed well into the hundreds.
One of the major issues for these villagers is hygiene. With poor quality water and primitive housing conditions with no toilet facilities and the custom of washing clothes and bodies next to the water buffalo in the stream beside the road, the team’s effective power-point lit up the early evening darkness in Chinamuthevi and Nimodulo villages as simple lessons on hygiene were presented. Simple habits such as washing hands and washing food before its eaten, cleaning teeth with a brush and toothpaste, covering toilet waste, etc, can make such a difference in disease reduction. We were thrilled that the presentation, although already seen by a many villagers and children, is now in the Native computer and can be re-used to reinforce new habits where until now, hygiene and the treatment of waste has been totally neglected. During the week the children had each been given a tablet of soap and a toothbrush and tooth paste.
On Friday evening in a flurry of excitement and preparation the finishing touches were given for the important celebration the following morning. Trees were planted to border the entrance, flags and lights adorned the school and pathway in typically festive Indian style. It was fun to watch the children practicing their parade to the beat of a drum that to us seemed too somber so we intervened to step up the beat which they heartily approved of. Saturday 21st August dawned bright and clear and the official inauguration and dedication of the New Building took place. Town Authorities and District Education dignitaries joined Native’s founding director Edgar Sathuluri and Frances in the unveiling of the plaque celebrating the completion of the first part of the West Wing.
Just over a hundred meters from the village itself, the building stands proudly raised above the rice fields which surround it. It’s beautiful color gives it a sense of freshness and cleanliness that is only heightened by a soft breeze which very often wafts through the windows into the classrooms. The windows look out over the paddy fields which are vibrant with brilliant green colours. The views are quite beautiful! The long awaited new school building, partially completed, stands as a symbol of hope for all to see.
The large canopy under which the celebration took place was a wonderful protection from a cloud burst just as Frances was finishing her speech. Even so, no one moved, and the 4-hour ceremony including the presentation of prizes and school uniforms to the children, concluded with Edgar’s super speech. Pupils, parents, teachers, town authorities, even we on the team itself, were moved deeply to hear these foundation pillars of every society re-affirmed in such a powerful way. Frances had captured this in a beautiful picture which she gave to the school on this special occasion.
On Sunday, 22nd August, we all left Chinamuthevi with a deep sense of satisfaction and nostalgia. We had come to love these dear children who with their parents live so simply, remotely removed from the noisy city life. They are delightful! We are all committed to seeing this beautiful school building completed. The start has been thoroughly and splendidly done. The foundations are well laid! Now it’s to be completed and we’ve all returned to Italy praying that it will not be long before the funds come in and the entire School Building can stand as a life-giving tribute to God’s goodness towards the village of Chinamuthevi.