Myles Harrington

Posts Tagged ‘Sabuj Sangha’

Becoming a Member of The Village People

In India on May 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

Two Wednesdays ago I left my base in Nandakumarpur and headed south, deeper into the Sunderbans to Sabuj Sangha’s Brajaballavpur base. When I initially set off at 6am I thought I was only going for two nights so I was grossly under prepared for my eight day excursion; two t-shirts, one book and no phone or ipod chargers. Little did I know then how rural the area was. The electricity came from a village generator and there was absolutely no chance I was getting an English paper, let alone the latest Dan Brown. Hence I ended up reading The War of the Worlds twice and purchasing a deck of cards, so that in my spare time I could recreate the solitaire game I’ve recently become addicted to on my Blackberry.

While I was there I stayed with the friendly team of five staff members in their two room office cum home where they worked extremely long days (5am to midnight) for seven days a week. The house had no running water so trips to the well, that was luckily located outside the property, were frequent.

The three amigos; Aroof (sp), Goutam and Bhabani

We ate as they always did at a local lady’s house a short walk from the office. The two cooks took it in turns to conjure up delicious Bengali cuisine for every lunch and dinner. Some personal favourites were a sour fish curry and a spicy colcannon type dish (aloo chokha). The meals were very carb heavy but so good. A typical dinner was a mound of rice, a few chapatti, aloo chokha, potato and marrow curry and a fish and potato curry. Gillian McKeith would have had a heart attack at the sight of it. I also learnt how to eat rice and curry with my hands, which is easy when you know how, although my attempts on the first day caused many laughs.

Very handy

The village itself is a quaint place where everyone knows everyone and everything. The gossip spread about me being in town and rumours were aplenty, I was even the local photographer’s desktop background for a day. It was rather strange how the locals started talking to me in Bengali as if they expected me to know it and were often shocked when I told hem I didn’t know Hindi either. Only a handful of people knew some key English words so I could roughly get a basic conversation going in the tea shops with charades. Even though we couldn’t communicate verbally it was very easy to make friends with the villagers and by the end of my week in town I couldn’t walk down the street without being offered a Char (tea).

The working men's club

A little map I drew of the main bazaar

The work Sabuj Sangha is doing in Brajaballavpur is essential to the redevelopment of the area’s economy and the peoples’ lives after Cyclone Aila struck last May. The team there are mainly concentrating on rebuilding the area’s agricultural system because the economy is so reliant on the income from crops. The soil was polluted by the salty water from the Bay of Bengal making it very difficult for the rice paddy to grow as normal. The organisation is also operating a cash for work programme where the villages can apply to work for 100 Rs (£1.50) a day. The work is grueling hard labour, re-digging the ponds that are used as a water resource and fisheries, that were filled in by the mud Aila brought. I only did it for about half an hour and my hands were raw, my back hurt, my hair was matted with clay and I was covered in mud. The villagers were carrying three times the amount I did too. They definitely earn their money!

Don't give up your desk jobs

Scaring The Kids of Nandakumarpur

In India on May 27, 2010 at 7:23 am

No blog post for over ten days. Very poor form. But I have an excuse! I have been in the Sunderbans for most of the last two weeks working with Sabuj Sangha, a locally based NGO that specialises in health, education, water and sanitation, woman’s rights and micro-finance projects for the people in the Sunderbans area of West Bengal.

My first week with the organisation was spent at their Nandakumarpur HQ. It takes about three hours to get there from Kolkata. Firstly, by a packed commuter train for an hour and a half and then by auto rickshaw from the nearest train station for the rest of the journey.

At their HQ there is an excellent hospital with all mod-cons and a great primary school with just over 100 students. My primary objective at the school was to help out with the English lessons and to generally have fun with the kids. I was staying on the school grounds in their very cosy accommodation, which was complete luxury compared to some of the dives i’ve stayed in. They even provided me with soap and mineral water on demand. The chai was also one of the best i’ve had and the food was delicious for the whole of my time there, all thanks to the attentive canteen manager and his two wonderful cooks.

When the kids finally came to me

I managed to sneak into the compound on my first day without the pupils spotting me. When they eventually did at home time they were so scared! I couldn’t get within 50 metres of them for the first twenty minutes. No matter how much I chased or put out my hand, smiled or waved.  Eventually they all got the courage to come to me so I showed them my Blackberry and all of the photos of people back home and played them a selection of songs from my ipod. Bill Withers, The Corrs and Bob Marley featured on the playlist. I thought Digitalism would have blown them away so steered clear of anything too abstract for their innocent ears. Then I bought them sweets and took a few photos to their amazement.

Initially it all seemed easy enough until on my first day of proper teaching I was put in front of a class and told to teach. Having never taught anything in my life before I was a little uneasy and managed to blag my way through teaching them basic questions and answers such as “how are you?”, “What food do you like?” and “What is your favourite colour?” etc.

I scored five! If only I was that good against people my own size

For the rest of my time there after my dodgy first lessons I just asked to help the other teachers and we seemed to work well as a double act. I would write on the board and pronounce the words while the teachers would translate for the children what I wanted them to do.  I also taught them rhymes before lunch time such as Baa Baa Black Sheep and Humpty Dumpty which the children loved.

The P.E teacher sings his heart out for the students. My rhymes weren't quite that impressive