News from Dianne in India

News from Dianne in India

Here are some emails we have recieved recently from Dianne – a volunteer in India 

Pupils at Chitardai School


Feb 20th 

We thought we would update you on our first few days here at Deogarh. First of all, we are very happy with our accomodation at the Mahal. Everyone is very friendly and helpful and, although we have sometimes had to ask several times, any issues we have had so far have been dealt with easily. We have no complaints! 

We went into school this morning and we are starting our placement work properly tomorrow. This evening we have had a planning meeting with Devendra Singh (the Head) and the other English teacher. They have asked us to use the course materials Nick brought for years 3 – 5, but with years 6, 7 and 8 to use the schemes of work devised by the school as they need to prepare the children for exams within the Indian education system. Their main aim is that the children enjoy English and feel they can succeed in it so we will try to continue where Nick and Lorraine left off here. We have agreed that for as many lessons as we can the teacher and I will plan together, so that he/she can take a more active part in the lesson alongside me and can understand both the English and the teaching methodology being used. They also intend to stop lessons at 4.10 each day so that we can spend 20 minutes giving English lessons to the teachers. I have not brought any materials with me for this so to start with we will do roleplay and conversation lessons, although I have done some internet research this afternoon to look for resources and have emailed a friend who is a TEFL teacher for ideas on the best way to progress with this. I will certainly see whether the Wolfsons (next volunteers) can get hold of a course book which the teachers could work through to help them with their English. I also hope to do some training on lesson methodology with the teachers before I leave to enable them to use as many active learning techniques in their classes as possible. The Head seemed very keen to go ahead with all these ideas and the Rani attended the meeting, translated for us where necessary and also seemed to feel this was the right way to progress. 

Jenny has also been talking to various people about ways she might use her skills in the school and has come up with several ideas – more details to follow later. 

March 1st
This weekend is a festival weekend in India, the festival of Holi (pronounced holy) which celebrates the coming of spring. Tonight there will be big bonfires and tomorrow, judging by the pictures I’ve seen, everyone celebrates by throwing coloured paint over each other! School has been going well though it’s very hard work and it’s a bit of a shock to the system to go back to working all day and having to plan lessons in the evening. It’s also quite hard to make resources without the equipment we would have at home – for example coloured card is impossible to get here, though I’m sure it would be available in the big cities. 

I don’t think the teachers at the school do any lesson preparation – certainly Mukesh, the man I’m working with most of the time, doesn’t. His approach is to copy work onto the board and make them copy and learn it. I’m trying to make him see that it would be better if the children understood what they wrote but this is very hard for him to understand. I’ve also tried to show him more lively ways of teaching the children, which he does like, though I’m sure he thinks I’m insane. He looks at me with a puzzled look on his face and asks, ‘Madam, why are you doing this?’ 

With one class this week we had spent lots of time translating a story from their textbook which I’m sure they understood. I then thought I’d show him storyboarding (if you don’t know what that is, it means telling the story in pictures rather than words and is a good way of checking understanding). I showed the children how to divide their page into six squares and asked him to explain to the class in Hindi that they were to draw 6 pictures to illustrate the story. He said ‘Madam, this is good idea. New way of teaching for India.’ He then drew six pictures on the board and got them to copy them!! 

 The kids are lovely though and very keen to do whatever you ask of them. I’ve started taking a photo of each of them and labelling them with their name which is helping me to get to know them. I’m mainly working with classes 6 and 7 (anything from about 10 to 14 years old). I’ve done a bit with class 8 but their exams are this week and then they leave, so then I think I’ll be doing more with class 4/5, who are about 8-9 year old. Meanwhile Jenny has been doing craft work with them, getting them to make purses, bags, pencil boxes etc, with the idea that they can be displayed at the hotel and sold to the tourists to make a bit of money for the village.
The staff at the hotel are great and very helpful. They have helped Jenny find all sorts of resources for her craft project – and she has asked them for a huge amount of stuff. Yesterday I asked Devrath, who is a member of the royal family but whose main job is to make sure the guests at the hotel are ok, if he knew where I could buy an English/Hindi dictionary so I could write a few words of explanation onto the board in Hindi. Within a couple of hours he brought me a second-hand dictionary – just what I needed.
The weather’s got much hotter in the last couple of days and there’s not a cloud in the sky. I think it got up to about 28 degrees yesterday and today feels as if it will be even hotter though it’s cool at school. The evening meal every day is now on the top terrace as the dining room is too hot in the summer, which is lovely as there’s a breeze and a lovely view over the town. 

One final thing I thought you would like to know. I’ve discovered that Dianne (presumably spelt differently) is the Hindi word for witch! At school they call me Madam Dina – apparently Dina is a good Indian name but Dianne would be asking for trouble! 

Now I’m off to lounge by the pool. Hope it’s not still snowing in England. 

March 8th 

Sorry my email’s a bit late this week – I went away for the weekend so didn’t have time to write it until today.  Luckily today’s another holiday – the Indian calendar seems to have more festival days than ordinary days.  When I first came I thought Indian teachers must work harder than British teachers as they work Saturdays as well, but I’ve discovered they only work 120 days a year rather than the 195 days worked in our country due to the many days off for festivals.  This weekend’s event is Holi again – apparently, in Rajasthan, last weekend is really too early to celebrate the coming of spring as it’s generally colder here than in other parts of India, but instead of postponing the holiday for a week in this region they celebrate last weekend with the rest of India and this weekend on their own.  So today’s another day to keep off the streets as the paint throwing will take place again today.  Yesterday all the shops had tins of powder paint outside in anticipation, and I even saw a pink cow who had obviously got in the way of some early revellers. 

Last week I learned a lot of the children’s names which really makes you feel you are getting to know them.  I have been making class books with classes 6 and 7, taking their photo (which they love) and getting them to write a bit about themselves in English.  Before I go I’ll print them and leave them with the school, but I also thought it would be a nice thing to keep myself to help me remember them as well as being useful for future volunteers to help them identify the children.  One problem in learning names is that none of the children have surnames.  In the caste they are in, the Rawat class, all boys and men have the second name Singh, all girls are called Kumari and all married women are called Devi.  So in class 6 there are four boys called Mohan Singh and three girls called Dali Kumari.  The teachers distinguish between them by using their father’s names, but it’s hard enough learning the children’s names without having to learn the names of their relatives!  I’m just working on the basis that if you call a boy Mohan you’re probably right.  On Thursday, which is my last day at school, Devender tells me he is inviting many people to the school to see what we volunteers have been doing.  This appears to be the fault of Nick, the first volunteer, who organised a performance in his final week and who has now set a precedent for future volunteers to follow.  Invited guests will be some parents, members of the local education committee, the royal family from the palace and probably some others as well.  Jenny will have had her exhibition of the craft work she has been making with class 7 at the hotel by then (that’s happening on Wednesday) so she’ll be displaying any work that’s left and presenting the money she’s raised to the village.  Devender wants me to demonstrate some of the different teaching methods I’ve been using so we’re busy practising.  Class 6 are doing a role-play which is going reasonably well and today I’ve been busy making resources to use in my class 7 lesson.  Luckily Bob and Penny, the next lot of volunteers, arrived this weekend and, as well as briefing them on what I’ve been doing, I’ve told them about Thursday and Bob is going to help me rehearse the children and be my glamorous assistant in the final performance which will be very helpful. 

Jenny was off work ill for most of last week.  She had a bad asthma attack which necessitated calling a doctor and was diagnosed with exhaustion and told to rest.  She’s much better now and I think will come back to work tomorrow.  The Rani, or queen, was very concerned, called her own doctor as well as the one called by the hotel and generally issued orders around the hotel that had everyone jumping to provide for Jenny’s every need.  As she said, it’s likely to be the only time in her life she’ll have royalty sitting at her bedside! 

Jenny Devender (school principal) and Dianne


This evening Devender invited us all to his house which is just round the corner from the hotel.  It’s interesting to walk through the little lanes which form the living area of the town – normally we just walk in the shopping streets – especially the bits where you have to squeeze by the cows lying in the road.  He introduced us to his wife and children and they served us with lots of bits of different Indian foods which were delicious.   For the main entertainment of the evening he showed us his wedding video, which sounds horrendous but was actually very interesting as it was a spectacular Hindu wedding, complete with horse, brightly coloured turbans, red and pink saris and vast amounts of gold jewellery for the women, and lots of music and dancing.  It was an arranged marriage which is the norm round here – he and his wife met for the first time at their wedding.  It’s interesting to talk to people whose way of life is so different from ours. 

I enjoyed my weekend trip to Udaipur, which is a large town about two hours away from Deogarh.  I had a driver to take me there and did a guided tour of the town, as well as spending some time shopping for souvenirs in the many bazaars.  It’s a pretty town, situated on a lake, which luckily did have water in it unlike the local lakes and rivers which are all dry following several years in which the monsoons have failed or been very sparse.  The City Palace is particularly spectacular, with many mosaics and frescoes on the walls, coloured glass windows, brightly coloured tiles, fountains and elaborate architecture.  I also did a boat ride on the lake which gave some good views back over the town, including the area where the local people come down to the lake to wash their clothes and where the cattle come to drink.  Yesterday I visited the temple of Jagdish, which is a beautiful Hindu temple in the middle of Udaipur. 

I’ve discovered that the portrait which is hanging on the wall of my room is of a former Prime Minister of India, Vishvanth Pratap Singh of Manda, whose wife was the sister of the Maharajah, and that they slept in my room when they stayed at the palace before it was a hotel.  I’ve also discovered that the name of my room, Badal Mahal, means Palace in the Clouds – I knew it was a long climb up all those steep stairs! 

This will probably be my last email from India.  My last day at school is Thursday, then I leave here early on Friday for my return trip to Jaipur.  I’ve arranged to leave early enough to give me about three hours in Jaipur, when I hope to see at least one of the famous sites there, probably the Amber Fort, before catching my train back to Delhi.  On Saturday I’ve arranged a day trip to Agra – it doesn’t seem right to leave India without going to see the Taj Mahal.  I’m also hoping to get a guide for a city tour of Delhi on Sunday morning before catching my flight home late on Sunday afternoon.  The time is flying by now and I can’t believe the trip will be over so soon.  

Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.  Brace yourselves for the many photographs I’ve taken

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