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I first visited Awake and Shine School in April 2014 at the start of a tour of Sikkim, which General Jimmy Singh arranged for a group from Benalla and Bairnsdale , Australia.
I met the teachers, children and community members and after three days, I vowed to return to work with the teachers and children, particularly in the kindergarten classes. I did return with colleague, Margot Sherwill, for three weeks in October of the same year. Margot has extensive experience as a former school principal, literacy consultant and literacy & numeracy program author. My background is in primary schools as a classroom teacher, music specialist and Early Years Literacy and Numeracy consultant. I am now retired from teaching, but am not ‘tired’.
After talking to Jimmy Singh, I realized his vision for a broad, quality education for the students has become a reality over the last seven years. The development of the school has been a major focus for the Rotary Club of Benalla in Victoria. The club has provided sponsorships for students over the seven years of their primary schooling, as well as donating goods and services, such as water harvesting and filtration units to provide safe drinking water.
Scholarships are vital for the school to continue its work. Since returning to Australia my husband, Ken, and I have secured 9 scholarships from our area. The total number of sponsorships this year is a 52, mostly from Benalla. The village families have a meager source of income, if any, and without the generous sponsorship from those who are able to contribute, the educational outcomes and successful administration of the school will not be sustained.
For a large portion of the school year, Maureen Blake takes charge of the teaching as the visiting Advisor of the school. She returns from London each year and with a steady hand and enthusiasm, leads the teachers in implementing the curriculum. The teachers at the school show dedication and a willingness to learn as much as they can about best practice teaching approaches. Gradually the senior teachers are taking more and more responsibility for leading the school and are helping the less experienced teachers.
The children are also keen to learn and education is highly valued by both the students and their parents. It is an English medium school and the children learn in English from the nursery class. Some of the parents are learning English from their children. By the time the children are in class 3 & 4, their English is very good and they are keen to carry on a conversation with visitors. They asked us a multitude of question about many topics which we were happy to answer. One class 4 boy wanted to know about our Australian Government!
During my three week stay at Samthar, I observed a school dedicated to the development of a broad curriculum which delivers a balanced social, physical, environmental and intellectual program for all students in a very happy and encouraging setting. Jimmy Singh has a deep interest in each child’s development and achievements as seen in his relationship with each one. He hopes their successes will mean that they are able to contribute to their society in a meaningful way. He is just as keen for the teachers to develop their skills and teaching methods so that the children’s outcomes are continually improved.
It is a pleasure to provide time and resources to a school where steady improvement is the aim, and where teachers ask for assistance and ideas for their teaching. The whole Samthar community made us feel welcome through their hospitality and friendliness.
Our accommodation was at The Farmhouse, a special place to stay. It is run by Jimmy Singh and his staff and is more like a home away from home than a guesthouse. It is a wonderful place where guests from many countries enjoy lively conversation, and Jimmy’s stories and his enormous knowledge of India and its history make for a very interesting dinner table conversations.
I am looking forward to returning to Samthar , for three weeks to see how the teachers and children are getting on, and help them with new ideas. The General keeps in touch with Margot and me and it is pleasing to read his progress reports on school matters which are always positive and encouraging.