: Summer in Dhablepuri…

school

SCHOOL IS BACKIt's 40 degrees plusand the rain is a month late in thisdry, arid landscape in rural India. The village of Dhablepuri is not so much a village but a spread-out, desperately poor, rural community.Most of Tree of Life's 110 sponsor children live in this village.We actively support an educational project, overseen with keen and attentive eyes by two friends of Tree Of Life, Wayne and Vicki Galler of the A Touch of Love Foundation who visit Dhablepuri village regularly. We rely on Wayne and Vicki to keep us in touch with the village, especially as we haven't been able to get there ourselves for the last two years. On that last trip, the rains had come to Dhablepuri and the school year was well advanced with a group of happy, healthy and playful students.We found this visit very different and very confronting.During the summer months, there is no school in the village.The kids do not come together in the community at all, and many go to stay with relatives in other villages. What this means is that the children do not receive the daily, wholesome meal provided by Tree Of Life during the school term.So during this visit we found a village of children who were having their almost three month 'holiday', which actually means two and a half months in a 40 degree hut with minimal or poor nutrition.And it really showed.The kids were noticeably thinner, more lack lustre and not so ready to smile and play.This was difficult for us to see.But this was a happy day.We were greeted in ceremonial village style with a turban for John, scarves for us both and coconuts.Dr Bande, who runs the regular free medical clinic which Tree Of Life provides each school month, kindly invited us to hand out the new uniforms to each child in the school.You can see how much joy that brings!Many members of the village had turned out for the big event as we all gathered at the school house on the verandah.This included the Sarpanch, the head of the village, a lady we had met on earlier visits.We took a gift of mangoes, bananas and dates to hand out to the kids and villagers on behalf of the Tree of Life community.We breathed a huge sigh of relief to discover we had managed to take enough for everyone - with some even left over for the next day. John and I took turns in the honour of handing out the new uniforms.It was definitely time for new clothes, their old ones being invariably tattered and threadbare.Most of these children have no shoes.We met the teachers who are obviously kind and genuinely engaged with the children and their welfare.The classroom is bright, cheerful, cool in this hot climate and visually stimulating. We asked to provide mats or cushions for the stone floors which Dr Bande undertook to acquire.Tree of Life is proud to pay for all the uniforms, slates, chalk, books and educational aids.We found it hard to get our minds and hearts around the summer situation.There is no easy solution.As Wayne reassured us:“ The point is to make the children have the best life possible with the funds we have.”THE STORY OF VIKASOne Of Our Sponsored ChildrenWe asked to visit Vikas in his home. He is the only son of two disabled parents. He contracted meningitis some years back and Tree of Life [through A Touch of Love] has been helping him and his family.Their tiny hut is completely basic. The one small tree which stood in front of it has died.Vikas looked noticeably bigger and quite well nourished.His father, who does not have the use of his legs, did not look as happy as our previous visits but was, as always, devoted to the care of his son. His mother who is mentally challenged looked as happy as ever.Vikas’ limbs were uncontrollable and his tongue protruded.We couldn't help feeling disappointed in his lack of progress.But his smile as always, is glorious, and he is clearly the sun and the moon to his parents.Wayne reports: “We have paid for extensive periods of hospitalisation and medical help. Finally, we were told that no further progress could be made as the damage was done from waiting so long to come for help. We are providing food to the family.”We spoke to Dr Bande during our visit and he said he would consult a neurologist one more time to see if anything further could be done for Vikas.THE MANGO PROJECTTree Of Life Mango PlantationTwo years ago we made the decision to create a mango plantation to create local jobs and food. We visited the site to find the mango trees we planted two years ago are growing... slowly!Although some have died and had to be replaced, the survivors are small and strong and look lush and healthy.The trees are cared for by a local farmer and provide a welcome splash of green in a desolate landscape and hopefully, one day, will provide the community with mangoes!Grass grows between the trees by design. It is used for animal fodder and hay.Two agricultural professors with experience in Kenya as well as India helped us in the planning and development of this project in close collaboration with the villagers.The trees are protected by a natural spiny hedge. None have been eaten.The biggest problem for this plantation is water.Over time, we have dug two wells and also had to rely on big tankers to bring in a water supply for the mango plantation. We have had deep water pumps installed - but there are now electricity issues.We are currently renting a generator to pump the water.Tree of Life has agreed to buy a generator and there is a plan to provide a drip watering system. You can’t imagine the soil.It is like rock.To plant the trees, we had to pay someone to blast each hole to get it 6 feet deep, then pay a backhoe to clear it out, then buy in good 'black soil' to fill the holes.New holes have now been blasted and back hoed in this way and it is planned to plant custard apple trees in them this wet season.Wayne tells us the rain has come at last so planting can go ahead.MOVING ONThe summer reality for the poor of India was hard for us to accept.We vowed to visit more often and try harder to make a difference.This would be completely impossible for us to attempt without the guidance of Wayne and Vicki who work closely and collaboratively with the village elders and Dr Bande, and who have wide and wise experience with the disadvantaged of this planet.It would also be completely impossible without the support of you, our loyal customers and staff.We greatly appreciate the response to our Mother’s Day silk sari bag promotion. The first of that money will go to buy the generator to keep the trees alive.And we will continue to consult with Wayne and Vicki regarding other genuinely helpful projects.Dr Bande has already suggested a hostel to support the children’s ability to regularly attend school.Dhablepuri is largely a goat herding community and without outside help, the children are included in the migratory goat feeding duties and cannot attend school in any on-going way.We believe that their only escape route from this grinding and dreary round of rural poverty lies in education and improved opportunities. And we feel privileged to help in anyway possible.For further information aboutA Touch of Love and their work in India, Africa and around the world, visit www.atouchoflove.com