Friday, December 24, 2010

The Journey 4

Kolbung Primary School comprises a single wooden building perched on the edge of the side of the mountain. Inside, there are no walls dividing the room. All seven classes sit together on wobbly benches and tables, squeezing tight to make room.

Some of the benches are so low, the students prop two benches, one on top of the other, to get the bench to the right height. This, of course, at the high risk of toppling over!

As soon as we arrive, little faces start popping out from all over the compound. The children look Chinese/ Tibetan/ Mongolian/ Korean... anything but Indian! And each little face has a big, wide smile to greet us.

Our team will descend to the play/ meeting area (a big sandy lot) and put our bags at the side.

Then it's a quick briefing time as our four buddy groups - EA, SSBD, Bandito and Happy - are assigned to do either Primary School, Pre-Primary School or Infrastructure.

Oh, and one person gets to do Kitchen Duty if they wish!

10a.m., the buddy groups climb back up towards the school building (for Primary School), tug the littles to the playground (for Pre-Primary) or march off to get gloves and paraphenalia for Infrastructure.

What did we teach? Oh... anything and everything! Balloon-sculpting, Origami, English, Math, Shapes, Colours, Numbers, Dog and Bone, Skipping rope, Sign Language, Duck Duck Goose... even Scissors, Paper, Stone!

The biggest surprise was the day we tried to teach the kids 5 Stones... and found out that not only were they better than we were at the game, they had variations that we did not have! I guess it's an international game!

The youths picked up a good smattering of Nepalese, but whatever language they spoke it didn't matter, as the kids adored our youths!

Bob looked like a Christmas tree with kids dangling off his arm, back and neck as Christmas decorations!

Azhari's little girl, Kritika, was so attached to him, she would hold his hand and drag him round and round the playground every day.

Effa was always surrounded by at least 3 kids chattering away happily to her.

And Nuraini would perch on the pile of logs for infra at the side of the playground, patiently feeding the tinies as they opened their little mouths wide for the next spoonful of rice at lunch.

12:30p.m. is the kids' lunchtime, and they would let us know that it was lunchtime by racing to get their lunchboxes as soon as they knew it was time to eat. Because the families in this mountain region are very poor and live so far away, the government entices the kids to school by providing a free lunch for the kids.

The children will patiently line up outside the kitchen - a tiny wood building with a huge wok/ pot cooking over a wood fire located right in the middle of the floor - and collect their food in their own plates.

The amounts of food the children ate has to be seen to be believed... we were all shocked! Even the champion eaters amongst us could not compare with the mountain of rice that the kindergarten children could eat!

Our youths would scatter all over the playground and feed the tinier kids their lunch. When they had to stop though, the kids would pick up their own spoons and keep going! We couldn't stop gawking some days as the rice disappeared into tummies that appeared too small to contain it!

After lunch, lessons would continue for a short while more. Infrastructure would be busy at work digging ditches, carrying piles of wood and other building materials up the side of the mountain, painting wood.

By 2:30 p.m., the kids would come pouring out of the classroom and the playground to meet in the sandy lot. Hands tightly clasped in a prayer position, they would close their eyes, and sing a beautiful prayer song at the top of their voices.

With a loud 'Namaste', the song would end, and the children would wave cheery goodbyes with their beautiful smiles before starting the long treks back to their homes.

All the four buddy groups would gather, drink tea provided by the kitchen, and laugh and chat about what we'd done before packing up to leave.

Then... a long, long, LONG tramp back UP the mountain! Everyone would be panting and struggling as we made our way along the same path we had just taken down, except with a steep gradient upwards this time.

This was the point when Shufen would cheer us all up by telling us "We're reaching already! Around the next corner!"... like, long before we would reach the camp!

Phi Fern would try to get us to sing a song, but as it's kinda hard to sing and pant at the same time, only the fittest would join in!

And the Team would encourage each other up by asking eg., "Bellah, okay?" and Bellah would reply, "All right! Tank okay?" and so on and so forth until EVERYONE had asked 'Okay' and answered 'All right'!

Sweetest of all were our guardian angels! Little ones! The children from the Primary School often met us on the way and would wait for us to catch up with them, much to our shame! They would stop when we would, and stare at us with puzzled expressions as we gasped for air. They never moved until we were ready to.

When they reached their houses, the children would wave goodbye and disappear inside, no doubt to tell their parents about the strangely unfit visitors from Singapore!

The last lap was the best, as we would be able to see the girls' bedroom chalet in the high distance, often with somebody's CampVision t-shirt drying outside! We'd haul our heavy bodies up the last slope and slap high-fives as we finally reached the driveway.

Inside, we had to do cool-downs, and suppress snorts of laughter as Bob always tried to crack us up at this time. It is really hard to cool down cramped muscles and laugh at the same time, seriously!

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