Michael McCaughan is currently in India producing a project for the Simon Cumbers Media Fund on seedsaving.
I asked for a show of hands; who would like saturdays off?
Not a single hand was raised.
There was a low murmur from the ranks, hushed laughter until one girl was browbeaten into replying; ‘Because if i go home on saturdays I would have to do farm work all day’ she explained. It was hard to believe that pupils might consider this place a refuge from hard work.
After a week spent staying in the school (the guest room is in the heart of the school, adjoining a classroom), visiting and watching, the secret of the school’s success seemed obvious; the teachers and principal, and their families, all live on campus and all share the work. The students are on first name terms with the teachers who seem to be more like aunts and uncles than mere educators. Discipline is tight, the children move smartly when the bell rings, but I failed to detect any sense of fear or anxiety as the days played out, from school to play to bedtime. The teenagers looked… untroubled.
At night I would stroll around the school gardens, finding students reading under the bright streetlights between the buildings, until well after 11pm. No mobile phones are allowed and television is rationed to 30 minutes per evening. A queue forms around a public phone at night as pupils call home to their families.
The school is run on a tight budget with low annual fees for boys, and almost no charge for girls, to redress the gender imbalance which sees parents often sacrifice their daughters education in favour of their sons.
I had been promised Internet access but the school system was down. After four days I was suffering withdrawal symptoms and asked Dhiren if he could sort something out. ‘Let’s go to the hospital’ he said and we took off down the road on a scooter. Dhiren tried to call ahead but the doctor was busy.
‘No problem’ he assured me. I followed my host upstairs and into an operating theatre where a woman was giving birth via C-section. It suddenly dawned on me; we were going in to ask the doctor for the use of his email on his laptop in his home in the middle of surgery.
The doctor approached, shook hands and apologised for being busy. ‘I’ll be done in half an hour’ he said.
The following day Dhiren once more took me to the hospital; ‘what’s it going to be today, brain surgery?’ I asked. We entered a room where the entire staff had gathered for a weekly meeting. The hospital director gave me a 15-minute lecture on the purpose and plans of the hospital; ‘Each week we meet to imagine better the hospital’ he told me, emphasising the role of the place as a service to the poor. There were 300 births a month and up to 25 surgeries a day. People travelled hundreds of miles for the low cost medical care.
On my final day at the Triveni Tirth school I was woken at 6am by a crowd of giggling schoolgirls gathered outside my room, all eager for autographs. One of the young women asked for a second signature, blushing as she explained it was for her future husband, already promised.
Please Note: The views and opinions expressed in blogs under the Simon Cumbers Media Fund are those of the journalist and / or their interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Irish Government.