The Shiva Ji Mission School lies on the outskirts of Varanasi, bordering the rural areas. There are no public schools available for the children from families unable to pay for education in this area. This school was built and is funded entirely by a retired English teacher with the desire to ensure all children of this area have the possibility of a basic education.
The school has 320 registered students who come up to 20km (12 miles) for the opportunity to receive a basic education. These children all come from families with extremely little, and this can be seen in the clothes they wear. Although clean, the clothes are donations from other schools in the area wearing the basic blue color, and are mostly ill fitting and many are frayed at the edges from too many washes. Uniforms are a necessary part of being a registered student in India, but here at Shiva Ji Mission School the implementation is lax given the circumstances of the families.
Just One has arranged to provide 4 food deliveries to these children each month. For 3 weeks the children will receive fruit, or another similar nutritious food on a random day. On the fourth week a hot meal of vegetable curry, puri (fried bread) and kheer (milk rice pudding) will be served on the Saturday. Because of their home situation many of these children do not receive adequate nutrition on a regular basis. The teachers indicated that sometimes children are even too weak to concentrate due to poor diet. With this circumstance and wanting to encourage children to attend in mind, it was decided to distribute the fruits on random days so that students do not just arrive on the day that the food is distributed and skip class the rest of the week! This is a very real possibility as attendance is already problematic. Children are regularly forced to work or attend to household activities rather than receive schooling, as well as an inclination to play rather than study arising at times.
Today was the first distribution of the program and each of the 250 students present received an apple and orange to celebrate the new year. The program was first introduced by the creator of the school before the distribution was done by the older students. Older students helping and directing the younger students is part of the curriculum, teaching the students service to others. Initially there was surprise and uncertainty about what to do with the fruit received, especially amongst the younger children. An apple or orange is a luxury that these children rarely have the opportunity to enjoy. But with a little encouragement from their teachers the youngest were soon enjoying the fruits and smiles began to appear across their faces.
We will be continuing this format of program for a month before sitting with representatives of the school to determine the next steps for the Just One and Shiva Ji Mission School relationship.