Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Festival of Colour!

We have had 2 days of public holidays here in India during the 4th Week of Book Bus, this is for the Holi festival, also known as the festival of colour. It is the time when winter ends and summer commences and is always held at full moon in March. It also symbolises the triumph of good over evil and is a time when social barriers are broken down as all people come to together to celebrate, throwing coloured powder and water over each other, reaffirming the idea of one brotherhood.

On Holi eve, men and boys parade through the streets beating large drums and dancing with sticks, they lead the people to places where bonfires are built which then are lit to symbolise the legend of the burning of Holika: the triumph of good over evil.

''The legend says there once lived a devil and powerful king, Hiranyakshyap who considered himself a god and wanted everybody to worship him. To his great ire, his son, Prahlad began to worship, Lord Vishnu. To get rid of his son, Hiranyakshyap asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap, as she had a boon to enter fire unscathed. Legend has it that Prahlad was saved for his extreme devotion for the lord while Holika paid a price for her sinister desire. The tradition of burning Holika or the 'Holika dahan' comes mainly from this legend."

Last night we went to watch the burning of Holika in Mandore around midnight. All the woman placed flowers on the dry sticks before lighting them, then the young men had to tear the bonfire apart to save Prahlad. They place ears of wheat into the fire as offerings for the fire god and to signify the coming of a new harvest. Some people say the name Holi has been derived from a Sanskrit word "Holka", which means cereal roasted on a pan over the fire.

This morning was the part of the 2 day celebration that gives Holi the name of Festival of colours. The family that owns the Mandore Guest house,where we are staying, gave us bags of coloured dye which we used to throw at each other, later it was dissolved in water and thrown. It is a joyful and fun festival with all people taking part. Holi lowers (but does not remove completely) the strictness of social norms, which includes gaps between age, gender, status, and caste. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this day. No one expects polite behavior; as a result, the atmosphere is filled with excitement, fun and joy.
Several groups of local men playing drums and dancing entered into the guest house and encouraged us to dance with them. Celebrating Holi with the family here has given us a real insight into the festival that other tourists will not experience. How many chances in adult life do you get to cover yourself in multi coloured water and dance and sing?

 “The legend from which the tradition of playing colours started is full of colours in itself. The story goes that the very colourful Indian god, Lord Krishna was jealous of his soul mate Radha's fair complexion, since he himself was very dark. 
Naughty young Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about this injustice of nature. To placate the child, doting mother asked Krishna to apply colour on Radha's face and change her complexion according to his choice. Playful and mischievous Krishna appreciated the idea and implemented it. The game of applying colours thus gained so much popularity that it became a tradition and later it turned out to be a full fledged festival. 

During Holi colours are played in the morning , then people go home and clean themselves up, although some of us were “got” with the more permanent dye, leaving some faces and hair different shades of pink! Traditionally families go around visiting in the afternoon and evening. Here in Mandore there is a big parade of Men playing drums,singing and dancing which moves through the town, heading for Mandore Gardens. This is one of the few times when people are allowed to drink so things can get quite heated. Only men take part in the parade and woman watch from the rooftops. We also watched the procession from the roof of the guest house. It has been amazing 2 days and we really feel we have experienced an Indian festival in true Indian style.

Kelly 26 & 27 March 2013

Sunday, 24 March 2013


Week 3 of the Book Bus India pilot project is over, which means we are 50% of the way through. Time is really flying by and the pupils and teachers are becoming used to the sight of the yellow shirted volunteers and our methods of working.

Surendra at school
Here in Rajasthan we are staying about 15km outside the city of Jodhpur, in a place called Mandore at the Mandore Guest House. It is a great place to be based, a welcoming oasis of calm that has quickly become home. It is thanks to the owners that our project has been successful so far and so well received in the village communities. Surendra and Raj Gehlot started this guesthouse 23 years ago with just 2 rooms, they are pioneers of tourism in this area, but much more than that they have been involved in social development programs for years. They are both  very well connected and highly respected men in the area. It is through their connections that we have started working at the the 5 villages and have been so well received in the communities. Before we arrived Surendra had laid the foundations for this Book Bus India Program and during the first week he accompanied us to each school introducing the project to the communities and vice versa, ensuring the program could run smoothly. Raj has looked after our every need at the Guest House and is always on hand, making us feel part of the family. They are passionate about helping people living in the rural areas and are always keen to see what we are teaching and discuss our day’s experiences. 

We are extremely fortunate to have an honorary project manager, in Surendra, here in India with so much passion and experience, helping this project to be a success.  He is also a fountain of knowledge about local customs and traditions

Each day we are driven to school by Surendra's son Sanjay, another person who is well known and respected in this area. It is of great benefit to have him working with us. He helps to ensure that things are running smoothly at school, where he is more than happy to join in with our activities. He is always on hand to answer questions, show us the local villages, translate and teach us useful words of Hindi. He is an integral part of our team, without whom we wouldn’t have such a vivid experience or so much fun.

This week we have been teaching about parts of the body, with the youngest we read and danced the Animal Bop, sang an interactive version of one finger, one thumb and they made birds by drawing round their hands, which they loved. With the older students we made flashcards and played the game where you have stickers with parts of the body and you have to stick them on a person, this caused great amusement. The children are so willing to learn and keen to participate in everything. They are relishing the small group work, the access to the books and materials and the attention of the volunteers.


Monday, 18 March 2013

Book Bus India - First impressions

A report from Sarah on her first week in India.

After a brief but fascinating stopover in Delhi, including a traditional rickshaw ride in the maze of chaotic and narrow market streets of Old Delhi, I was greeted by a friendly and familiar face at Jodhpur's small airport; Kelly, my tour leader from my Book Bus trip to Zambia in 2010.

I met my fellow Book Bus volunteers during the afternoon and heard the experiences of the first week of school in India over a cup of local chai tea. We're working with five village schools on the rural outskirts of Mandore, which we reach by jeep (avoiding the many many cows which wander freely anywhere and everywhere - roads, motorways, markets - due to their sacred status in Hindu religion), and we've been welcomed with unfailing enthusiasm and excitement by the children and teachers at all of them. During the current winter term, school starts at approximately 10.30am and the children break for lunch at 1.15. We split that time between classes one to five, varying the books we're reading and exercises we do afterwards to ensure we're building the children's confidence and ability in English while introducing them to new words, games and ideas.

This weekend, we're taking an early morning tuk tuk ride to the imposing Fort and museum of Mehrangarh and then a trip to the ancient Rajasthan city of Osian, an oasis in the Thar Desert, inclusive of a camel ride for those daring enough to try it!

- Sarah Morrissy, Mandore, March 2013

Friday, 15 March 2013

Book Bus INDIA - Week 2!

Week 2 of Bookbus India is over. It has been great going back to the same schools for a second time and seeing the children and teachers again. We even got some excited children escorting us to school, in true Bookbus style.
This week we decided on a theme of numbers and animals. For the younger classes we read Walking through the jungle, which we brought to life with giant pictures of the 6 animals featured inside and then acted out. It was a great success and we really managed to bring the story alive, with all volunteers even learning the Hindi animal names so as to help the children in classes 1 and 2 who are just beginning to learn English. Many of the teachers watched our performance and really enjoyed seeing the children’s participation.
This kind of interactive learning is something new for them too. We then made snakes with them which were a massive hit, especially when we showed them how they could run along making their snakes twirl in the wind. One of my favourite moments of the week was when 2 very shy ladies who look after the preschool children at school on Friday came over to join us, with sign language and shy smiles, they signaled that they wanted to colour too . When we showed them how the flat piece turned into the twirling snake, they were amazed. It was a genuine moment of happiness and enjoyment that cut across all language and culture barriers!


Many of the schools which we are visiting don’t have enough teachers for one per class so often classes are combined or the teacher will write some work on the board and then leave the pupils to get on with it. In some of the schools, the brightest students of the upper classes are used to teach to the younger ones.

This was the final week of winter timetable in Rajasthan, where the children start school at 10.30 until 3.30pm. From Monday Schools will begin at 7.30 until 12.30 to avoid the heat of the day. Every day in India, every school child gets a meal provided free of charge. This is delivered each day by truck; this is an amazing feat of logistics, which is hard to get your head around, when you think there are hundreds of millions of school children all around India. It encourages school attendance and ensures that the children get at least one nutritional meal a day.


Last week we found almost all of the pupils can recite one to ten in sequence but that very few know the written words and they get easily confused if the numbers are out of sequence. So this week we based many of our activities on this theme, with a word and number matching worksheet, colour by numbers, word search and memory games. The book we used was Handa's Surprise, which combines counting with a brightly coloured and funny story. It also allowed us to reiterate the colour theme of last week. It was great to see how many kids had brought back their colour worksheets from the week before. The small group reading is a big hit with the children and teachers because they have neither the time nor resources to concentrate on a group of 3 or 4 pupils.

All the children at the five schools are enthusiastic and really keen to learn new things. We can even see an increase and confidence and willingness to try and speak English after just 2 weeks. Roll on week 3!!
Kelly - Mandore - 16th March 2013

Book Bus India has begun!

Day one of week one of a brand new project finds 5 eager, yellow shirted people in the back of a jeep heading out to school with our bags of books and supplies, not really knowing what to expect.

We pass through dusty dry farmland, spotting the occasional gazelle and camel and attracting the stares of other drivers and pedestrians but the stares soon turn to smiles and waves when we smile back
We could never have imagined the welcome we would receive! We arrived at the small village where Monday’s school is located. We were asked to get down in the village centre and were greeted by traditional drums, which when beaten, tell the villagers that something is happening. We were soon the centre of attention with village elders in white clothes and turbans, women in beautiful brightly coloured saris and children of all ages crowded around us. Almost all the villagers don't speak English but their smiles and handshakes told us that they were happy to have us there. In this area of Rajasthan, Hindi is the common language, and the medium of teaching in all rural schools. English is taught as a second language, as we would learn French or German at school.

We then followed the drummers in a procession to the school, Jajiwal Brahumana. It is a small school, with 3 teachers and 79 pupils in classes 1 to 5.

We then had to dance together with some local people in the middle of a circle of curious onlookers and all the school children. Everyone was extremely happy and I think our dancing was the source of much amusement, especially when all the professionals disappeared and left just the yellow shirted visitors dancing!

It was then onto speeches, tea and flower garlands. What a wonderful, colourful and vibrant welcome.

We decided to work together as a group for all sessions in week one and we based all activities on the theme of colour. We wanted to be able to gauge the different levels of the various classes and at each of the 5 schools. 3 of the schools are class 1 to 5 and the other 2 are class 1 to 8. The largest school has only 115 pupils and the smallest 57. All schools are government built and run.

We had a fairly basic book about a dog involving a high level of repetition and various colours and we adapted this book for the different age groups, from interactive storytelling to individual reading. We used visual aids, worksheets and multi coloured paper to make the lessons fun and lively. Over the course of the week we adapted our technique and refined our activities according to what we experienced each day. It was a steep but very enjoyable learning curve.

At all 5 schools during the week we were warmly welcomed by the teachers, many of whom don’t speak English but all of whom are happy to have Book Bus in their school. The children we have met are enthusiastic and curious. It has been a very rewarding first week and we have all come away with a better idea of how these rural schools operate the needs of the schools, the level of English of the pupils and now we can use this knowledge to plan for the coming weeks.

- Kelly, Group Leader, Book Bus India