Ashgate’s Support for Topsia During the Coronavirus Outbreak
You may have heard on the news that the Indian government enforced a very strict lockdown on the country with only 4 hours of notice on 25th March. This is having a dreadful effect on those living in poverty in Kolkata’s slums, including Topsia where our link school is. Most people there earn very small wages doing simple jobs or running small businesses. Being unable to go out to work will mean families are left with no money and no food.
We’re sure some days you are finding it tough to be stuck inside, away from your friends and family. It is tough for everyone in different ways, of course. But have a little think about what it might be like in a Kolkata slum.
They will not have food stored in their cupboards and won’t be able to get a supermarket food delivery. They may have only one room for their whole family to live in and no outside space. They won’t have toys, games, TV and the internet to keep them entertained. They won’t have school sending them activities to do so they can keep learning and keep busy. They won’t have cleaning products or soap to help keep themselves safe. They won’t have doctors and hospitals like our wonderful NHS if they become ill.
The Cathedral Relief Service, which supports the teacher training programme we are involved in, have made a plan to take basic medical supplies and foods (like rice, lentils, sugar, milk and oil) to 1600 families in the slums but they needed money to be able to do this.
At Ashgate, we raise money each year to support Topsia school and, as we had some money saved up, we have decided to send some to Kolkata to help them in this time of need. This way, we can support our friends in Topsia and other children around the city.
We hope you think this is a good way to spend some of the money you raised on your sports day! Here are some photos of the support packages beginning to be delivered.
Keep safe and keep smiling!
Mrs Patrick and Miss Donnelly
Ashgate Primary School, with support from the British Council and Derby Diocese, is linked with two schools in Kolkata, India: St Thomas’ and Topsia.
This link, established in Autumn Term 2015, has resulted in much collaborative work between both Headteachers (Mr Seargent and Mr Debroy from St Thomas’). Miss Donnelly enjoyed her time teaching in the school in January 2017 and returned for a brief visit with Mrs Patrick in 2018. Most recently, Mr Debroy visited Ashgate in October 2019, as part of a longer visit to the UK. He spent time with a range of classes, particularly doing Q&A sessions about his school and pupils. This was really valuable and interesting for our Ashgate children.
In January 2018, Miss Donnelly and Mrs Patrick visited Kolkata again and formed a new link with Topsia school, an informal school in slum in one of the poorest areas of the city. The headteacher, Rabia, tutors up to 60 pupils aged between 2 and 10 in a room the size of a small living room. If they can learn enough English, they have a better chance of being accepted in a formal school. Money raised by Ashgate purchased full school uniforms, shoes, lunch bags, water bottles, a shoe rack and ceiling fans for the school.
In January 2019, Mrs Patrick visited Topsia again and was also involved in teacher training days for approximately 45 teachers from Kolkata's slum schools.
Saturday 1st February
It’s sports day! Our sponsored sports day at Ashgate helped fund today’s sports day in Kolkata. Over 520 children attended which is a huge deal as many have never left their neighbourhood. I’ll let the photographs do the talking for today.
Friday 31st January
A short day in school today. Not all the children come to school on a Friday but those that do finish at 12 and head straight to Friday prayers.
We started the day with toast and jam just like at Ashgate’s breakfast club. Then a quick maths lesson followed by me showing the children the video of you singing ‘walking in the light’. They loved watching you! They tried their best to learn the chorus. Do you think they’ve done a good job?
Thursday 30th January
Today has been a rainy day. I’ve lived in England nearly all my life and I have never seen rain fall so hard or fast. I’ll never complain about the rain in England again!
Another great day of joint planning and sharing ideas. My focus was on different ways of teaching emotions. It was very difficult to pretend to be sad or grumpy because I was having such a good time. Some of the Indian teachers were teaching me how to write in Bengali and in Hindi. The two words in the photo below say the same thing. Can you work out what they say?
Wednesday 29th January
Today we visited a rural area called Diamond Harbour. Despite the torrential rain, we received a traditional bengali greeting, watched some fantastic bengali dancing and watched two budding dancers in the making.
All schools in Kolkata have been closed today so that children can celebrate a festival in honour of the Goddess of Education. Can you find out the name of this Goddess?
Tuesday 28th January
Today I went into Topsia school to teach. A head teacher from the UK and the head of CRS came to observe my teaching - for 4 hours!!! The children and I soon forgot they were there and had great fun learning the value of numbers, shapes and colours, guided reading and we even had time for a song or two. The journey to school Is quite long and you see some interesting sites along the way. Can you find out which football team the goat supports?
Monday 27th January
Today has been a great day!
All the English teachers and Indian teachers got together to share ideas and work together to plan some fun lessons for school tomorrow. I worked with a group of teachers looking at different ways of teaching plurals, a and an using the book Dear Zoo. Can you guess what animal I’m pretending to be in the photo below?
Sunday 26th January
Hello from Kolkata!
I have had a busy and tiring first weekend in Kolkata. I arrived at lunchtime on Saturday and it’s been non-stop since then. I’ve visited Kolkata’s newest tourist attraction to see models of the 7 wonders of the world, I’ve been to a special extended Republic Day service at St Paul’s Cathedral and I have been on a river cruise to see the Republic Day lights. Below are a few of the photos I’ve taken so far - RESPECT tickets for anyone who can name all 7 Wonders.
Saturday 19th January - 8pm
What a fabulous way to end the week! Today we organised a fun day for all the slum schools. There was a magician and a puppeteer who made the children laugh.
Then they joined in with loads of sports day style games! The children all dressed up in their finest clothes and had a wonderful time!
They were given breakfast and lunch too but, because they are kind and careful with food, many of them took their food home to share with their families. Fortunately, they didn't save their ice creams as they would have melted!
It was lovely to see the Topsia children having fun in a large, open space because they don't normally get chance to run around in the fresh air. It was sad to say goodbye to them and Rabia at the end of the day but I've had a brilliant week with them.
Friday 18th January - 7pm
I’m writing this sitting on a bus. It’s dark outside except for when we pass through little towns. In those places, market stalls line the road with light bulbs suspended here and there over their vegetables, clothing or other goods. It’s very busy with people shopping, meeting their friends, having their beard trimmed or travelling home. In fact, it’s so busy that we just had to stop for about half an hour because our big bus couldn’t squeeze round a corner at the same time as a truck coming in the opposite direction!
I’m on this bus because I’ve been on a day trip (most schools close on Friday and open instead on Saturday so today is the weekend) to the Sundarbans which is a five hour bus journey, east across the country towards Bangladesh. It’s a very long way on the busy roads but it was quite an adventure. Unlike Kolkata, here it is lush, green and quieter. The children have room to play, the adults farm the land to grow vegetables and rice and, although it’s still a very poor area, people have fresher air so a healthier way of life.
On the journey, I was wildlife spotting - I saw cows, cats, dogs, sheep, goats, chickens, kingfishers, egrets, birds of prey, ducks and a snake, mostly roaming free! The area is also home to crocodiles, monkeys and occasionally the Royal Bengal Tiger! We saw some of each but they weren’t wild - they lived in some enclosures.
When we disembarked, we took a walk for about 1km to get to a boat. We climbed aboard and chugged down the river for about half an hour. It was misty but I could make out fishing boats in the distance and there were mangrove trees on both sides of the river. Mangroves are swamp trees that grow in water and mud. The river is tidal because it’s near the coast so sometimes they’re in water and sometimes not. When the river floods, villages near the trees flood too. It’s one of these villages that we went to visit today, and specifically a primary school of 120 children.
The boat approached the river’s bank which was made of thick, gloopy, grey mud. At first, I thought we would need to take off our shoes and squelch through it, but then some men appeared with extraordinarily large bundles of straw on their heads. They laid the straw up the bank, forming a path from the boat to the flat area at the top. One by one, we jumped off the front of the boat and made our way up.
Next we processed in a long line through an area of dried, cracked mud, then climbed a bank and stepped through a hole in a high fence. For a while, we then walked past big-leaved banana trees, potato plants, rectangular rice paddies, houses made of straw or brick or wood, and farm animals tethered to their owners’ land. It was so quiet and peaceful.
Eventually the noise of children could be heard and we rounded a corner to see a large crowd of colourful saris and dresses and some older children in school uniform. Some children stood on either side of the path and threw petals to welcome us. Two little girls had wet clay on a flower head and daubed everyone’s foreheads with it as a traditional sign of welcome.
After a few short speeches, the hot and hungry children headed off home whilst we were led to an upstairs classroom with a large hole in its corrugated metal roof. I found out that, when it rains, school must stop. There were benches with tables attached but nothing else hinted that it was a classroom. The hosts laid on a generous feast for us and we ate until we were full.
Afterwards, it was time to head back to the boat and to the bus and that leads me to now!
It’s the fun day with 500 children tomorrow! I hope you have a great weekend too!
Thursday 17th January - 10pm
Day two of the teacher training was today. It was similar to the first day but with different English activities. One of my favourite was Twister phonics where different sounds or words were written onto the mat and you have to put your hand or foot on the right ones!
I enjoyed doing my One is a Snail activity again in the afternoon. At the end of the training day, it was time for some singing including the world premier of the Ashgate India Choir singing Just Like Me! The teachers loved it and I was really proud!
I said earlier in the week that I would take some more photographs of the streets for you. I have been trying to all week so here are a few.
Every step brings something new and interesting to look at - good and bad. Fresh vegetables, varied market stalls and busy workers on the one hand. But, on the other, stray dogs, very poor or disabled people and lots of litter. It’s sometimes very sad to see.
The other thing about Kolkata is that it’s always very noisy. Even now, from my hotel room, I can hear lots of horns honking away, people shouting, crows squawking and, now and then, people playing very loud music. Thank goodness I remembered to bring earplugs with me!
Thursday 17th January - 6pm
I’ll send the day’s proper update later but I thought I would show you this photograph. It’s very said but it is reality: it is of some slum homes on a railway line near where one of the link schools is. It’s not the Topsia area - I think their houses may be a little better than this, although I don’t know for sure. Maybe take a moment to be thankful for what you have.
Wednesday 16th January - 11pm
It’s been another marvellous day! This morning, as I said, I was at Topsia. Again we did loads of songs and fun activities. They used their new buses on pencils to learn some prepositions. (Actually some of the buses didn’t last long because the children were so excited to have their own pencil!)
They played snakes and ladders and they absolutely LOVED the puppets we bought them which helped them learn to blend sounds.
I played them the video my class made of themselves acting out the story of Handa’s Surprise in with stick puppets. The children really enjoyed it!
One of my absolute favourite parts of the day was when I took some of the older/more able pupils to one side of the room for a while and did some maths with them. I used the One is a Snail book (which they could read!) and showed them how to add. ‘Harder!’ they said! So, instead of making the numbers bigger, I turned them into missing number additions like 4 + ? = 12. This blew their minds! They guessed all kinds of crazy numbers and so I taught them how to work it out. It was a lot of fun and I think it was probably their first ever attempt at problem solving!
If you read yesterday’s post, you may remember I asked if you thought the children would appreciate the gift of a orange. (I asked because I think that you would probably not be very impressed if that was your gift.) Well, I’m pleased to say they absolutely loved them! Their little eyes lit up very excitedly when we gave them out at the end of the day. They remembered that there were oranges in the Handa’s Surprise story. Some of the parents put their arms in through the bars on the windows to try to get one too.
It was sad to say goodbye to the children at the end (though I’m hoping some of them come to the fun day on Saturday).
This evening we had a very special time at St Thomas’ where I saw Mr Deb Roy who visited us last year. In a court yard of fairy lights, flowers and music, we were served a traditional Bengali meal. My favourite part of the evening, though, was that I got to dress up in a sari!
Wednesday 16th January - 2pm
I have just a few minutes back at the hotel before I head out for the afternoon. I have spent the morning at Topsia which was brilliant fun! I’ll tell you more later but I just wanted to show you this photo of the children smiling after just doing their first ever problem solving activity - missing number additions! I hope you smile this much when you do your problems solving this week!
Tuesday 15th January 11pm
Today was another long but very rewarding day here in Kolkata. We spent all day teaching the Indian teachers. In the morning, they were split into two groups: teachers who need help learning more English and teachers who are confident with English and ready to learn more about teaching phonics. Just like last year, they were all incredibly excited and focused and enthusiastic! It is great that this time last year they knew no phonics and they’ve tried hard to keep using them all year so that now they are ready to learn more. I’m fact some of our activities were a bit too easy for some people! I was responsible for keeping everyone organised, keeping everything running on time and, of course, taking photographs. Here are some photos:
Here’s a picture of the lunch!
The afternoon was maths. The teachers learnt activities for each of the four books I shared pictures of before I left. Mine was One is a Snail - remember all those little plastic animals? I focused on showing how they could add, take, times and divide using the animals and number/picture cards. Here, they don’t seem to do any problem solving so it was interesting to introduce the idea of missing number questions, missing operation questions, linked number sentences and some word problems. I think their brains were aching by the end! It was also challenging (for me) because my groups didn’t understand much English so I had to explain by showing them, using just key words. There aren’t any pictures really because I was delivering the sessions. Here’s one that someone else took.
I’m really looking forward to tomorrow when I will be back at Topsia. Mrs Clayton and I have been busy sticking their bus designs onto pencils for another Naughty Bus activity. We have also been to a market to buy 60 oranges as gifts for when we read Handa’s surprise! Do you think they will think they are a good present?
Monday 14th January - 8pm
Today was brilliant because I went to Topsia! It was lovely to see the teacher, Rabia, again and wonderful to see the children too. I recognised lots of them and they remembered me too. They were sad that Miss Donnelly wasn’t there but enjoyed her video message and liked meeting Mrs Clayton and Mrs Beckett who were there too.
The thing that made me SO happy was that, since our visit last year, the children have made such a lot of progress. This time last year, a few children knew a few colours and numbers in English and they knew some rhymes but weren’t necessarily singing the correct words. This year, there are several older children who can READ ENGLISH! They have worked so hard on learning phonics we introduced that all the children know some, even the 2 year olds! They have remembered all the songs that Miss Donnelly and I taught them and even the youngest children are able to recite Bear Hunt and Brown Bear, Brown Bear which we spent time learning last year. It was such a lovely day!
There were 54 children there today and they all loved the stickers and lollipops I brought them! I was amazed that, even though they were incredibly squashed, their behaviour was exceptionally good. They didn’t complain or push or get fed up with each other and they joined in every activity, the older children looking after the younger ones. We did some activities about a book called The Naughty Bus and we also taught them The Wheels on the Bus.
Don’t they all look so marvellous in their new school uniforms we bought? They are very keen to look after their shiny shoes - they name the tops, tie them together when they put them on the shoe rack and they definitely don’t play football in them!
After school, in the late afternoon, we visited a pottery village where there are hundreds of clever craftsmen who make statues for display in homes and for use in Hindu festivals. Inside, they make a structure of straw (or bigger ones are fibreglass and wood) then build up layers in straw mixed with mud. They mould the shapes over several weeks, adding more and more layers of clay mud. Eventually they are painted and sold.
Tomorrow is a teaching the teachers day! I can’t wait for them to receive the fantastic story sacks we’ve made for them!
Sunday 13th January 10pm
Well it has been a busy day! This morning we attended a service at the cathedral - a huge church like the one in Derby town centre.
As last year, we shared the service with some squirrels and pigeons! After that, I had a meeting then we went to a presentation made by the Cathedral Relief Service (the charity I am working with) which was very interesting. I learnt that they try to provide three services - education, health care and empowerment of women and children. They work in 9 slum areas (very poor areas where people don’t have proper houses or clean water) of which Topsia is one. Their big education goal is that they need their schools to teach children enough English that they will be accepted in a better school. This, in turn will give them a better chance of getting a good job.
After that, we had lunch with the staff of the charity then another meeting at the hotel. Then we enjoyed a sunset boat ride down the Hooghly river to a visit a temple. On the way, I saw a freshwater river dolphin, just once as it jumped out of the water! At the temple, it was incredibly busy with thousands of people, especially families.
Unfortunately, we were unable to go inside because a service was going on. A very weird thing happened though - lots of people wanted to have their photograph taken with me and the other members of my group. Here is one!
I also thought you might like to see some of the money here in India. Their currency is called the rupee. There are 88 rupees for each pound. Maybe you can work out how much some foods in England would cost in rupees.
Saturday 12th January 10pm
I’ve spent a lot of time on a bus today, looking out of the windows at the street life of Kolkata. Unlike us, people here live their lives on the streets even if they have a home. I was trying to think of the best way to describe it. Imagine a busy road in Derby - let’s say Ashbourne Road where school is - but then imagine that the traffic is made up of tuktuks, cycle rickshaws, bright yellow taxis, cars, mopeds, bikes, buses and lorries, all squashed together, honking their horns, trying to be the one who gets to where they’re going the fastest. But then, on top of that, imagine that all along the pavement there are people shaving their faces, people, eating dinner, people washing clothes, people buying and selling things, people washing themselves, people hanging out with their friends, people washing their dinner dishes, people drying their laundry... everything and everyone, everywhere! I haven’t got many photos yet to show you but I’ll keep trying!
We visited a Jain temple in the afternoon which was beautiful with colourful mosaic and mirror tiles on every available surface. Have you heard of the religion, Jainism? If not, why not see what you can find out about it. Out of respect, photographs couldn’t be taken inside (you may find some online) but there is a video of the complex where families - often dressed up, often in red - come to spend time together as well as worship.
Saturday 12th January 11am
Hello! I have arrived in Kolkata at last! We have been travelling for 21 hours! Here’s a picture of my aeroplane meal which was my first curry of the trip:
I learnt a cool thing on my journey...if you take a British clock and turn it upside down, it will show you the time in India! Maybe you can test if it always works and let me know.
I only managed to get 1 hour of sleep on the plane so there’s just time for a quick nap before we have to leave the hotel again - zzzzzz!
Preparations for this year's Kolkata visit!
On Friday 4th January, I met with the other 25 or so members of the team who are travelling to Kolkata this year. Everyone was very excited! We have spent all year preparing resources for the schools and organising a training programme for the teachers. I have been involved with the maths training mainly. The maths group have made 80 story sacks (4 per school), each including a book that links to maths and all the resources the teachers will need to help them teach the children! Here are pictures of each sack. Ashgate has been responsible for buying and making the One is a Snail sack including lots of cool little plastic animals! Don't they all look great?
Amongst other things, we have also bought some lovely puppets for the Topsia children. I'm not sure if they will have ever seen one before!
My suitcase is nearly packed and I just have some Handa's Surprise lessons to organise this week and I will be ready to go bright and early on Friday morning!
This week we had the great news that the money we raised with our sponsored walk last year has now been spent on the children of Topsia school. They all have a school uniform (including a warm jumper, socks and shoes), a lunch box, a water bottle and a rucksack. We have also funded a ceiling fan and a shoe rack.
Today was Republic Day which is a national holiday. It commemorates the day the Constitution for a newly independent India came into effect so people decorate everywhere with flags, play loud music, parade around the streets and gather together with their community to celebrate. Some groups, like the band in this photo I took late at night, moved around crammed into the back of a truck! Schools are closed too!
Instead, we went on a veeeery long bus ride to a rural area. On the way I spotted some kingfishers and some giant water monitor lizards from the bus! (Google them!) A school has been set up here recently and the children who attend it are the first generation in the village to ever go to school! I found out that because the adults have never had chance to learn to read or write, they have to sign their name with a thumbprint.
The school was a bit like Topsia except the room was larger and, instead of being in a noisy, smog-filled city, it was in a peaceful, green village. Because it was Republic Day, the children were in their fanciest clothes and some wore traditional costumes.
When we arrived, we were given a rose and flower petals were sprinkled over our heads! Then we watched a ceremony where the children and some other members of the village gathered to pray for the country and to hoist the flag. This job was given to Reverend Anita who you may have seen at Ashgate. As the flag lifted, lots of golden petals fell out of it! The ladies in the middle of this picture then sang for us.
After this, we were invited inside to watch the children perform dances and rhymes in English and Bengali.
Later we had the chance to walk around the little village. There was rice drying out on the ground, cows wandering free, washing drying on the straw roofs, woman washing clothes and cooking equipment in pools and children playing. We saw lots of the local people too.
Before beginning our veeery long bus journey back, we took a boat trip in the Bay of Bengal. This photo was taken from the boat. I spotted some river dolphins but they were too quick to catch on camera!
I did lots of writing to explain these photos but then my web browser crashed and I lost it all! So enjoy the photos!
The streets near Topsia
Hello everyone! We're a little over half-way through the trip. Today has been very different to the others because we've been teaching the teachers.
The training took place at a large boys school (not a slum school). When we arrived, they were doing some kind of exercise routine! Do you think we should do it at Ashgate?
It was challenging since it's hard to explain things in another language. For longer explanations, we had very clever people who could translate between English and Bengali to help us. However, the rest of the time, we had to use actions and focus on the resources we were demonstrating with.
Here are some teachers using the number lines you raised money to buy. From tomorrow they will now know how to use it to teach maths to their children! Isn't that great?
Below you can see how the blackboards we bought each school have been used to help teach phonics:
The teachers were shown how to do actions to fit each sound, using the photographs of Miss Donnelly's class.
They were also taught how to use lots of other maths resources like numicon.
Both the Indian and the English teachers had a great time today as you can see from the pictures below. (In the second picture they are practising the 'o' sound and in the fourth, they're learning to mime eating an apple for the 'a' sound!)
At the end, they sung us a couple of songs to say 'thank you', led by these ladies:
Tomorrow we'll visit St Thomas' and then return to Topsia.
It's been another great day at Topsia! Guess how long it took us to get there? 2 whole hours! It's not far but there was such a lot of traffic! When we arrived, the children seemed delighted to see us and greeted us enthusiastically. I took a photo of Miss Donnelly going in so you can see the outside of the school.
We introduced a new story to the children today which you might know...Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The children loved watching the video of Miss Donnelly's class telling them the story! It gave us chance to remind the children of some animal names and colours. Later on, we gave them the craft materials we had bought for them and they created collages of each animal from the story.
Then they recited the story (with a lot of help from Miss Donnelly whilst I filmed it to show you when we get back).
Something we're not used to at Ashgate is that, during the morning, the call to prayer is made from the mosque and this is a time when the teacher - Rabia - puts her scarf over her head out of respect and the children quieten down with whatever they're doing.
We practised the phase two sounds again, adding a few new ones. The children were keen to join in. We played dancing games with the sounds too.
I then worked with a small group of children teaching them how to write some simple cvc words. They were good at it although it's hard to get them to say the letter sounds rather than the letter names they've been taught before.
The little boy at the back of this picture is almost completely blind so did a particularly good job with his letters!
At the end of the day, we gave the remaining children a giant game mat and showed them how to pay Ludo.
It was great for me to Skype my class at the end of the day! Don't forget any class can email questions if they have any.
Here are a few more photos from today:
Tomorrow, we are going to spend the day teaching the teachers!
Today was a brilliant day because we finally got to do what we came here to do: teach! It was so much fun! Around 10am we arrived at a metal gate over a small doorway in a turquoise-painted building. Pulling aside the curtain over the gate, we stepped inside the little room.
It was not much bigger than the Respect room - much smaller than all the classrooms at Ashgate. The first thing we had to do was remove our shoes and add them to the big pile already by the doorway. About 50 children were squeezed into the room, sitting beautifully on mats on the floor! There were children as young as 2 or 3 and the oldest girl said she was 9. They were all so well-behaved even though they were squashed into such a small place together.
There was no furniture except for a few plastic chairs for the adults to sit on. A few pictures hung on the wall, teaching them English words for fruits and animals. That was it!
First the children sang us some songs and rhymes they knew in English, like I'm a Little Teapot. They have learnt these songs but don't really know what they mean and they can't speak many other English words. The main language they speak is Bengali. Their lovely teacher, Rabia, was there and we also had a translator named Lynda.
After this, we spent nearly 4 hours teaching them! They had no break time, no snacks, no outside space and, if they wanted to go to the toilet, they had to be taken outside - we're not sure where to. It reminded us just how lucky we are at Ashgate with our classroom equipment, our playgrounds and fields.
We taught them some phase 2 sounds for the first time which they were great at; we tried out the number line (remember Ashgate bought numberlines with pegs for all 16 schools); we sang some songs with actions; we played games combining flashcards and dancing; we read We're Going on a Bear Hunt and taught them the actions which they loved and we showed them a video of Mrs Patrick's class doing them too.
Gradually the children started to leave. When only about 10 were left, we gave them the books we bought them and they were so excited because they don't really have any.
We also let them eat our packed lunches because they come from very poor families.
Normally the youngest children attend school in the morning and the older ones come in the afternoon but, because we were visiting, they all came all day. As you can imagine, the little children were completely exhausted by the end of the school day. We were too but wcan't wait to go back tomorrow!
Although Hinduism is the main religion of India and there are a lot of Muslims, about 3% of the country is Christian. The charity we are working with is a Christian one and so our Sunday morning began with a visit to St Paul's Cathedral. It's a huge white stone building which opened in 1847 but was rebuilt in 1934 after an earthquake. Far bigger than St Barnabas church!
Inside were rows of dark brown wooden seats facing forwards and there were also carved pews on each side facing the centre of the room which featured painted shields to represent lots of cities in India. From the high ceiling, hung fans and lights. At the front of the church was a beautiful stained glass window showing scenes from the life of Jesus.
The service was two hours long and began with the choir walking down the aisle whilst singing. During the service, we had to join in with hymns and prayers and we listened to a special song performed by the choir and a sermon by the vicar. It was quite like being in a very traditional English church service except for two main differences: there were pigeons flapping around high up in the rafters and there was a pair of little squirrels chasing each other up and down one if the ropes used for opening the window!
Later in the day, we visited the Victoria Memorial - do you remember us showing you a picture of it in assembly? This photo is us with the group of teachers we are with:
In the evening, we enjoyed a very peaceful and relaxing boat ride along the Hooghly river (which eventually joins the Ganges).
Although we've had a great time so far, we're really looking forward to tomorrow as we are going to our new school - Topsia!
We're here! What a long journey! We flew 5000 miles on two aeroplanes to reach Kolkata, changing in Dubai. From door to door, it took us about 21 hours. The first plane was enormous and even had an upstairs!
This is the second plane.
When we landed, we had a very short rest at the hotel before heading straight out on a trip to visit a Jain Temple. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion and it's believers are usually vegetarian, are against violence, and believe 'the function of souls is to help one another'. Photos of the ornate, mosaiced inside weren't allowed but here is a picture of the outside and some flowers:
Outside the temple grounds, we met these children who were very excited to see visitors from another country.
Afterwards we had our first curry and tasty naan bread at a rooftop restaurant before heading back to the hotel for a much-needed early night. More exploring tomorrow!
Well, it's one week to go until this year's Kolkata trip and we're busy preparing everything!
Our Sponsored Walk to Kolkata raised £2500! Thank you to everyone who supported us. We have been spending it in readiness for this year's trip, starting on Friday 19th January. For each of the 16 slum schools participating in the project, we have purchased 8 pupil blackboards and a number washing line set for teaching maths. The other Derbyshire schools participating in the project have been raising funds too so you'll see a picture of all the resources they've shared with us, such as magnetic letters, early reading books, phonics cards, dice and counters.
In addition, we decided to buy an MP3 player and mini-speaker for our second link school - Topsia - which we are in the process of filling with nursery rhymes and stories the children will enjoy listening to. There are bilingual versions of some of our favourite stories (and more arriving in the post any day now!) so that the children can read them in Bengali/Urdu as well as English!
Let's just hope there is enough room in the suitcases!
January 20th - The last day at St Thomas'
To finish what has been an amazing and productive visit to Kolkata, the final day was spent reviewing what had been achieved with the Mr Debroy and further team teaching with Mr Seargent and the Junior School teachers. Teachers were keen to see how teachers at Ashgate adapt how and what they teach so that all children can be challenged and succeed, and plans were put in place to see the Kolkata team return to the UK, hopefully in September. One of the most delightful things to see today was the staffroom blackboard - which had a diagram explaining how Miss Donnelly had been teaching the children to write independently; it had been put on there by the Indian teachers, who had clearly been impressed with what they had seen and wanted to discuss this. This is huge step forward.
Miss Donnelly (Sweet Mam) had a very different day. As a part of the wider project and link, she spent the day visiting the Cathedral Relief Schools, many of which are in the slums of the city. This was an inspirational and emotional visit, with some hard hitting realities of the differences between our school and the most needy. Seeing the challenges faced by other children and teachers really brings home how lucky we are at Ashgate Primary School, and drives home the need to take advantage of everything we have. We are so lucky.
Tomorrow will be spent in Kolkata city centre and a visit to the bust Saturday markets to look for resources we can bring back to school to help teach RE. Buying in India is very different to the UK. There are rarely set prices and you must 'barter' (make a deal) with the seller. This means that you can spend a long time trying to buy an item and you are never sure if you got a good price for it. It can be fun and frustrating at the same time.
January 19th - Miss Donnelly gets her new name!
Today was warmer again in Kolkata. It is an 'odd' warm - whilst it is hot, it is also humid and feels sticky. This makes it a little uncomfortable, but baring in mind that it is winter in England, we had better not complain! The heat also makes the litter in the streets smell and as there are no bins on the streets there is a lot of litter. It can be unpleasant.
Today I spent time with the teachers of some of the poorer schools trying to help them build up some basic understanding of what things they can do to help children learn. In India, some schools ignore children who cannot understand and there are occasions when they are forgotten about or allowed to do nothing. This is not always true, but as many of the schools have no trained teachers, it is understandable that they do not know how to help all children. We also showed then some basic ideas of activities they can do to make learning fun - a lot of the teaching is simply copying from the blackboard, which means that the children have work in their books, but do not understand what they have done.
It has to be said that the teachers who came to the training were amazing! They joined in, worked hard, and we know from what we have seen in schools, that it is working.
Miss Donnelly has a new name, the 'Sweet Mam'. The children call her this as they have loved working with her and enjoy the way she teaches. They have learned so much from her, and today continued the literacy work they have been doing by story mapping. They have never done this before! Tomorrow they will be writing their versions of the story of the 'Three Little Pigs'. This will be a new experience as the writing they have done in the past has been copied from books or the board and not from their own mind. Many have not understood what they have written in the past, but now they will. This is a big step!
I want to say what an amazing job Miss Donnelly has done with these children. They have been transformed and the teachers have been very impressed with her work, as have I.
We hope all is good at Ashgate and that you are working hard for your teachers. We look forward to coming back to England on Monday and seeing and hearing about what you have been up to!
Hello to you all.
Another very productive day here in Kolkata and St Thomas' School.
The children were very relieved today to see Miss Donnelly, as they have been sitting some early morning exams. It was wonderful to see them working outdoors again as Miss Donnelly carried out some talk for writing activities around the 'Three Little Pigs'. Acting out the story and then retelling was very new to them, as was using arts and crafts to make puppets. Chatting to the children, it was clear they are well set for the up and coming planning and written work later in the week.
I enjoyed spending time with the children I taught last year as I met them in the secondary school. It was great to speak to them and see how they were doing. They recalled the science activities from my last visit and we talked about their next steps. As well as seeing the older children, I ran a workshop for the teachers in the afternoon. The differences in the way we teach are very big, and we discussed why we teach the way we do and why this is different in England to India.
Many of the teachers who have come over from England are very ill with upset tummies. The food and water here is very different and it is hard to stay well. We have been lucky so far, and are eating very sensibly to avoid being ill. Not everyone has been so lucky. It has been much hotter over the last two days and we are having to drink lots and lots to stay hydrated, although the local people can not understand why we think it is so hot.
I hope you are all good and well and working hard for your teachers. India is great, but we look forward to seeing you all when we return.
Tuesday Jan 17th
Today was a long day, so the blog was delayed a little. It has been much hotter today and very humid. What is the weather like in the U.K.?
As planned, Miss Donnelly worked with their class on a literacy activity, designed to get the children to learn in enjoyable ways. As you can see from the pictures I have added, the children very much enjoyed it, and are looking forward to tomorrow. She taught across three clssses and was extremely busy. We are lucky to have Miss Donnelly at our school, and I know that the Indian children would want her to stay. Don't worry, I will bring her back!
My day was spent working with schools across the link, including Mr Debroy. The training was a great success and we will find out on Thursday how the teachers used what they had learned. They were very engaged and we learned a lot from each other.
Hopefully tomorrow, I will be able to blog a little earlier so that you can see our continued work.
Monday January 16th (Evening)
Hello to you all! Great to see the picture of you all in assembly looking at the link page. Miss Donnelly will show the picture to the children at St Thomas's tomorrow.
It has been a great but very busy day. We got to meet all the children and spent time getting to know them. Miss Donnelly has a bear hunt lesson planned with her class tomorrow. A lot of the learning in class is spent sat in rows, copying from a blackboard, so we want the children to learn by role play and re telling the story.
Tomorrow I will be working with a group of teachers and headteachers, looking at how we teach in England and what we can learn from India. All very exciting.
The weather is hot in the afternoon but cooler in the morning and evenings. Did you see the picture of the child wearing a hat and gloves? The Indians think it is very cold and are wrapping up warn; for us it feels warm anyway. They think we are a little crazy wearing short sleeves when we turn up to work!
I am sure you are all working hard and behaving well. We will post more pictures each day if we can and write about what we have done. If you like, your teachers can arrange for you to respond, or maybe ask some questions. We will try to respond each day if you do.
Take care, work hard and LISTEN TO YOUR TEACHERS!
Day 3: 16th January
Today we started work at St Thomas' school. Miss Donnelly was introduced to her new class and began spending some time getting to know them. Mr Seargent re visited his old class and met many children he had worked with last year, and time working with the younger class' teacher on how to include all children in lessons. A meeting took place to give feedback on our observations and to plan the work for the rest of the week.
A great start to the school week.
Day 2: January 15th (Sunday)
Today was Sunday, and we were invited to the Cathedral of Kolkata for a service. Afterwards we visited the Victoria Memorial and Hindu Kali Temple.
Being a Sunday, the Victoria Memorial was busy with tourists and locals taking advantage of the vast green areas and beautiful structure. Miss Donnelly and others from the group were often stopped to have their photos taken with visitors. Clearly, westerners are a novelty in Kolkata and many of the people were keen to have their photos taken with us. I would be lying if I said Miss Donnelly enjoyed all the fuss!
The Kali Temple was crammed with Hindus waiting to worship inside what was vibrant and colourful Temple. Many jostled and pushed to get as close to the fire inside, where offerings were made to the Goddess of Destruction. It was very busy and a challenge to keep together as a group.
Finally, we had a visit to the Saint Mother Teresa house and tomb, before returning to the accommodation for evening meals.
Today was very enjoyable, with amazing sights to see. However, there are many children who are poor and living on the streets; begging is not uncommon and hard to face as visitors. Many have their homes on the side of the streets and live on the pavements.
Tomorrow we are off to St Thomas' School, our link school where we begin the work. Miss Donnelly will spend time with her class of infant children, whilst I work across the courtyard to support the Junior children and their studies. I can't wait.
With luck (and a good internet connection), I hope to have uploaded the pictures in time for assembly for all of our children to see.
Day 1: January 14th - Saturday
After a long trip (14 hrs), we landed in Kolkata, tired but excited. The traffic was crazy on the bus into the city, horn blowing by noisy, but friendly drivers; clearly a favourite driving style.
The noises and and smells are intense, a mixture of sweet fruit, charcoal fires burning on the side streets and fumes from cars and highly decorated buses.
It was great to be met by Mr Debroy, our link headteacher from St Thomas' Day School and other local Headteacher's. Being a Saturday, the school was closed, but we look forward to our official start on Monday.
After a brief lunch (oddly being a 'Chinese meal') we took a ride out to the Jain Temple, deeper into the city. A beautiful building with very friendly people. The trip back was noisy, bumpy and thrilling, owing to the sights, sounds and the frantic driving of the city residents.
Tomorrow will see a visit the the Kolkata Doicese Team at the Cathedral, where we will be officially welcomed, and to finalise the plans for the week. This will be followed by a visit to the Victoria Mamorial and hopefully, a trip into the city to see the Hindu god statues being made. Keep an eye of for the pictures and videos.
The first pictures of the trip are attached below. Visit the school Video Stream on the home page to see some clips of a crazy drive in the city, including clips of the tut tut taxis and street sellers.