Work in Progress - Little Stars of Varanasi
In 2017 an email from India pinged into firstname.lastname@example.org. It was an appeal for funds, no surprise in that, but the approach was different. It opened:
‘Thank you for promoting education based on spiritual values.’
The email came from a school for slum children in Varanasi, India. It was written by a volunteer there – a students from Yale University in the USA. He also sent us the school’s newsletter, which we loved.
Little Stars School educates 900 underprivileged children, aged 4 to 18, from the Nagwa slums of Varanasi. It is also home to 30 orphaned or abandoned girls. The school started with 10 pupils in 1966 in the home of Mrs Asha Pandey, the Principal. It gives free education to all children, whatever their financial situation, and it gets no government funding.
We invited Mrs Pandey to our international teachers conference in Lucca last July. Along with the Patron of Little Stars School, Pierre Sangin.
Pierre is a retired high school teacher. He lives half the year in his native Holland and the other half in India, helping the school in Varanasi. Pierre is highly practical, supervising purchasing, mending furniture and setting up a fund-raising foundation. The ERT trustees at Lucca really took to him. So we asked Paul and Penny Moss, our educational consultants, to visit the school to look at how we could help.
In December 2017 Paul and Penny spent a week in Varanasi, observing classes and speaking with school leaders, teachers and pupils. Usually, on these visits, they also run workshops for the teachers. But few Little Stars School teachers speak good enough, or any, English. Paul and Penny also went to the wedding of one of the teachers and took a sunrise boat trip on the Ganges.
Seasoned travellers though they are, Paul and Penny were still quite shocked at the squalor of the Varanasi slums. They left in no doubt that Asha Pandey and her colleagues are doing a wonderful job. The school is disciplined and ordered, it has a practical and moral basis, keeping to its aims of excellence and training good citizens. Its care of pupils and hostel girls is excellent. And it needs ERT’s help.
The trustees therefore have agreed to give 2 five-year grants to Little Stars School, totalling £50,000. To help the school attract and retain teachers. And to improve medical care, diet and accommodation at the hostel. Now we have received an ecstatic thank-you from the newest Varanasi volunteer, this time a Dutch student.
In June we look forward to showing Pierre Sangin around St James Junior School in London (where Holi is not celebrated with quite such gusto!).