Our Lady of Rosary High School – Another Perspective

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As next door neighbours of Helen in England, and just two villages apart in Goa, both Tracey and I wanted to see how the money raised in the UK benefits the children and people in India. Tracey works with Helen at the shop in Cobblestone Walk in Steyning helping to raise some of the funds that help here in India.

On Monday, Helen took Tracey and I to the very north of Goa to a school at the village of Mandrem that Helping Elsewhere has supported for the past 6 or so years.

We were made warmly welcome by the Headmistress, Jacinta, and Fr Dominic and the other members of the staff. At the beginning of the relationship with Helping Elsewhere, it was a school of 120 students, just a few dedicated teachers being paid one fifth of the average teachers wage, no Government recognition or funding and nothing more than the students and staff enthusiasm to hold it all together.

What we saw was a different story altogether. The school has a roll of 170 pupils up to standard 10 (our fifth form in the UK), the teachers are now being paid a living wage by the government and the school has been officially recognised by the Education Department. There is a library, a science lab, a computer room and classes full of enthusiastic, polite and charming students. They even refrained from going into hysterics when I said “thank you” in Hindi to the class. That’s polite!

We were also told that some very generous benefactors from the USA had donated funds for some more books for the library and some sports equipment.

However, this is not the end of the story. The school still has basic needs that the Government cannot provide and the one Helen was there to discuss was the installation of a intercom/tannoy system. There is no assembly hall at the school and as soon as the monsoon starts there is nowhere for all the pupils to gather as a group for the headmistress and Fr Dominic to hold assembly. The intercom system into all the classes would overcome this problem.

Helen and Jacinta at work

But because a 7 year old girl has just been raped whilst in school in central Goa, the Government has now decreed that all schools must be fitted urgently with CCTV to help protect the pupils. The Government is not putting up the money for this work though, the schools have to find the funds themselves. A system to cover the school and play ground will cost in the region of £2000. Not a vast amount of money by UK standards but by local Goan standards this is a monumental amount. Helping Elsewhere can provide about half the funds needed but the school management will have to raise the rest. I wish I was a rich man because if I was they would have the system tomorrow. Any rich people out there want to help these kids and keep them safe?????? …You know who to contact!

More to follow from me soon from another school Helping Elsewhere supports in Sirsi, Karnatika, just south of Goa.


From Oak Wood to Palm Grove

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As I mentioned before, we now have a little flat as a base in a small village called Varca, nearly on the beach but not quite.

On the last flight over, I got to thinking that you might like a small insight into typical Goan village life (that is, not the tourist beaches). So here goes…

I shan’t bore you with travellers tales of the regular ‘commute’ from London – throwing ourselves across Europe, the Middle East and finally, the Arabian Sea; sitting not too cooped up in an elaborate cigar tube. It’s usually night-time on arrival these days, so you just have to imagine crossing the palm tree fringed coastline below as ‘home’ is neared.

Then it’s into running the gauntlet of porters, taxi drivers and the rest of human life that hangs out around airports. There’s one of our normal drivers and we’re on the way to the flat. The first thing you notice is the honking of horns – in India, cars, buses and trucks use a language of their own. ‘Thanks!’, ‘I’m coming past’, ‘Don’t pass, It’s not safe’, ‘After you!’, ‘Hello’ but very rarely ‘What the…’. Then you see the multiple-passenger mode of riding a scooter – dad steering, small child standing in front of him, mum sitting side-saddle holding babe in arms. Bonkers.

And there’s our first cows. They tend to roam free in India which means in the middle of the road, nosing unattended fruit stalls, ambling along the beach and, especially, on the edge of a market. They’re usually very docile, which means there’s no hurry to get out of the way of traffic, but drivers are used to it and do great slow zig-zag loops in the road with great humour. And now it’s a cut-through along a lane beside the paddy fields… and someone is drying their rice on a tarpaulin spread in the road. We sort of get past without ruining their crop though.

Home at last and all is quiet for a few hours. Dawn breaks and the calls/honks/bells begin. The newspapers, the bakers boy, the fish woman, the guy that sells plastic ware – they all come trailing past, advertising in their own way at pre-set times – who needs an alarm clock?

Oh, it’s that Saturday! The recyclers are due to call. Like many things in India, ‘Infrastructure’ can be somewhat patchy whilst provision catches up with an expanding economy from a near-zero base. So this is how we dispose of cardboard, bottles etc. A bit of parcelling up, a bit of negotiation (we made 10 rupees last time!) and its all on those bikes and being wheeled away.

Goan Recycling

If you’ve never been to India or you’ve never moved off the beaches of Goa, then we’ve usually got a spare room here. Come and see! We only charge the running costs but contributions to Helping Elsewhere are never turned down!!!


Let’s Get The Party Started – Again!

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Well, after much pulling and shoving (mainly of the, ummmm, huge chandelier in the Grand Banquetting Room of the Brighton Pavillion) our Gala Dinner has been rescheduled  to take place on the 23rd March 2013. Put that date in your new diaries!

We’ve also been given some extra (very generous!) sponsorship by a special friend who insists on staying anonymous – and this means we’ve been able to reduce the ticket price to a much more manageable * £60 *. Anybody that has already paid the old price in full will, of course, be refunded the difference of £25.

All other details will stay the same – the same tour of the Pavillion, sparkling Regency entertainment and wonderful food in a glorious setting – at one of the few grand places in the UK that captures the vision of another Indiaphile!

Hopefully spring will have arrived in Brighton by then so the gardens will be full of new life, and the dinner takes place less than two weeks after Mother’s Day (10th March) so there’s something to potentially treat your mum to as well!

Our information page for this event has been updated and we’ll keep refreshing it as details firm up. Booking, contact and payment details are on there and we’ll always be glad to answer any questions by any means you can get them to us.

See you in Brighton!



A Measure of Christmas Spirit

Posted by Helen 
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At this time of good cheer, thank you once again to everyone that has supported our work out in Goa (and beyond!) this past year – whether it has been through a donation to a specific project or just supporting me through difficult times to allow everything to tick over ‘as normal’!

I would like to take the opportunity to mention a couple of people by name at this point.

The first is Lindsay of LK Lily who (as well as helping us to organise our Brighton Event in November March 2013) once again opened up her shop to sell our jewels and glittery things in the run up to Xmas. Through her and her staff’s efforts, enough money was raised to sponsor another three children in Sirsi through their 10th Standard qualifications!

And the second must be the Eaton family. We’ve mentioned Tracey (she co-runs our lickle shop) and family quite a lot in recent posts, but her daughter Gemma has really excelled herself over the past week or two – she instigated a bucket collection at work which raised enough to sponsor two more Sirsi kid’s education! One of her team leaders at Kenwood UK kicked things off by donating the money he would have spent on Christmas cards if he hadn’t been a typical man (!) and urged everybody else to do likewise! Well done the guys and girls at Kenwood!

It is these sort of ‘unforced’ gestures that really touch my heart. So thank you again everybody – as you know every penny you raise goes directly to the source of a problen in India, and it really does change children’s lives.

Here’s to a great Christmas for all, and a great 2013!!!


The Maharani of Farnham

Posted by Helen 
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Whilst 2012 has been a definite rollercoaster of a year for me, one of the absolute highs was our own Queen Claire’s birthay party!

Claire has been one of our greatest supporters over the years, and 2012 was a special landmark year for her, numerically speaking. To mark it, she threw a fantastic party at Farnham Castle with a ‘kings and queens’ theme.

Queen Claire

Claire asked her guests not to bring any presents for her, but instead to bring ‘gold’ for her counting house. She then divided out her haul amongst her favourite charities and causes – and. you’ve guessed it, Helping Elsewhere was one of the lucky recipients!

So what did we do with this windfall? Well we re-equipped the science lab at Mandrem School with two standard microscopes and two disecting microscopes and still had enough left over to add to the school library, update a few reference books for the staff, provide a subscription for some educational magazines and even to buy two new white boards for the classrooms.

Claire and her two boys joined us in Goa over half term so we could keep them informed on progress – and now it just remains for us to send a very public thank you to her and her guests for a great night and a wonderful contribution to Helping Elsewhere!


Goa and Elsewhere

Posted by Helen 
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We have always taken an interest in other projects in India – you never know when it’s time to dive in and get involved! So when my trusty travel companion, Barbara, suggested a trip back into Karnataka, it didn’t take much to persuade me.

This time we started off by going in a different direction, not directly south as before but due east. We would cross the Western Ghats via a pass through a National Forest and then go on to Hubli and beyond. So we bumped and wound our way through the most amazing scenery to Dandeli (in the middle of the forest). It’s the home of bison, king cobra, lots of monkeys and even wild elephants, which I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of (think “does my bum look big in this bamboo clump?” and you get the idea).

When you travel over the ghats, at the top of each peak is invariably a small shrine where everybody stops to give thanks for reaching that far safely and to pray for a safe passage on to the next peak. The offerings are usually fruit and flowers so, of course, the cheeky monkeys descend on the shrines to steal as much as they can.

Towards the end of our journey we encountered a fantastic scene – a procession of families with all their possessions loaded onto bullock carts lumbering off on an annual Hindu festival pilgrimage! I wandered amongst them fascinated as they looked back in wonderment at a white face – I really don’t know who was more curious! Apparently they were off to the Yellamma Devi fair which is held at the Yellamma temple located in Saundatti, Belgaum district. It’s the biggest fair in Karnataka attracting maybe 30,000 devotees and to outsiders seems like commplete madness!

Bullock carts on the road

After nearly eight hours hard travelling we finally arrived at a friend’s farm near Hubli where we thought we would spend a really restful night. Do you know just how loud peacocks are?

The next day we continued on, aiming to reach the same Don Bosco school at Sirsi that we visited before. This time I had more time to get to grips with how it all worked and whether we could ‘plug any gaps’.

The first project was easy and instantaneous to solve. They were trying to organise a local football tournament but hadn’t got any footballs. They knew they couldn’t afford new ones so were clubbing together to buy secondhand ones (cost 50 rupees each – 75p – with no guarantees there were no punctures!). A quick donation to Fr. Avin  to buy them, and a “keep the change!” saw that one fixed with a lot left over for buying books for a library that still has plenty of space to grow.

Now onto our second project which, no doubt, some of you will be jumping to help with!

There are plenty of kids in Sirsi that want to complete their schooling (ie pass their Grade 10 exams). Many are from very poor homes and some are from the scheduled castes and tribes. We discussed it with Fr. Avin and came to the conclusion that twelve ‘scholarships’ was attainable and very desirable. Each years schooling for a student costs 50 pounds and the ‘hole’ in their education takes three years to fill. Here’s a picture sent to us by Fr. Avin of the initial twelve we’re hoping to help:

12 kids from Sirsi

Stop Press. Our neighbours in Sussex have already pledged to cover the costs for seven ‘scholarships’ before I could even finish writing this post! So thank you to the Eaton family (Tracey is my partner in our Steyning shop and she and Pete are not only our direct neighbours in the UK but also only live a couple of miles away from us in Goa, and their daughter Gemma and her man Stuart are real indiaphiles), the new Mrs Wilson and family (you know who you are!), and two of our regular Steyning friends and customers. Only five left to fund now!

As a background, Sirsi High School is multi-denominational and caters for kids in the last four years of their basic schooling (so up to Grade 10). Many of the teachers work for not much more than their expenses and a stipend (they really believe in the job they do – it really is a vocation!). Sirsi is a small town where visitors are very far and few between (so being white I was a great novelty!), but the welcome is warm and genuine and, as my last post from Sirsi indicated, the school is fostering hopes and dreams that give real possibilities to pupils.

Kids are kids the world over and all deserve their chance!



The Elsewhere Shopping Extravaganza…

Posted by Helen 
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I am sure most of you by now know about our lickle bijou shop in Cobblestone Walk, Steyning, West Sussex which we share with another fan of Goa, Tracey.

The Gallery in Cobblestone Walk

The Gallery, as we’ve named it, sells all things Indian – our famous imported jewellery, silk dressing gowns, cushions, bags, handmade paper items, leather goods and not forgetting a huge amount of ‘bling’ too. We’d love to see you there as all our profits go towards our Indian projects.

You can find us on Facebook (we are Shop Elsewhere) and even a mini-shop on this blog called Our Indian Marketplace.

Steyning is having an Xmas late night shopping party tomorrow (5th December) so, if you’re local, please feel free to pop in to claim a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine. Just to keep us busy, we have also bagged a stall at the Spirit of Christmas night on Friday 7th December at Henfield, West Sussex (outside Barclays Bank) and a sparkly selection of jewels will appear at LK Lily in Gants Hill, Ilford, Essex on Wednesday 12th December from 3pm till late.


Track to the Ghat!

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On Saturday, for the first time, Colin made the journey to the villages in the Western Ghats where we have been providing solar lighting.  Vavurla is one of three villages that we have been helping and in terms of first impressions it is probably the most spectacular. It is a small tribal enclave of 31 families (or 250 people) living in very simple mud-built houses with cow-dung floors and it clings onto the edge of a ghat 370m (Colin measured it by GPS!) up from the coastal plain. Access is only possible because the villagers have made a dirt track road which is just passable in the dry season by a sturdy vehicle (in the monsoons you might just make it in a 4×4).


When we entered the village they were preparing for the Shigmo festival which is celebrated around March every year – the dates vary according to the Hindu calendar that is based on lunar cycles. It is a Goan festival that exactly coincides with Holi (you have probably seen Indians throwing coloured paint and water over each other?). In the villages it is celebrated in their own way with special dances and merry-making.

Preparations for Shigmo at Vavurla

We arrived just as the sun was setting and the whole place had a very atmospheric feel – smoke from the rice fires hung in the air. The villagers were just arriving home from their work in the fields; this was after having made the trek down to the nearest proper village to vote in the State elections which were also happening that day. The ladies were preparing the feast dinner which would have been rice, dahl, and pumpkin served with coconut, also sanna, which is a steamed rice patty made for special occasions. Some of the ladies were elaborately decorating hats which would be later used by the men in the dances that they all join in later after much drinking of feni!

Father George introduced us to a blind lad from Vavurla who all his life has found his way around the village without a stick and with supreme confidence. He now goes to a specialist school where he learns Braille and is the proud owner of a talking watch. The other village kids treat him really well and love asking him the time – out it comes in an American accent which he then translates for them. His English is getting quite good and he made sure he told us the time rather than let us listen to the watch.

Discussions of Braille at Vavurla

Colin, being Colin, entered into a technical discussion with Fr George and this lad on how blind people cast their votes in the era of EVMs (the current elections in Goa are using Electronic Voting Machines for the first time) – Fr George seemed to be interested in Colin’s proposal of Braille overlays or stickers for the EVMs but we soon learnt that they had been learning about voting at school and they apparently use paper Braille voting slips.  The old ways are usually the best!

I always feel a real connection to these people when I visit and it makes me realise why I do our work in Goa. I think that connection also happened today for Colin [indeed so! C], because it is not until you see and spend a little time up on the mountain that you understand the difficulties they face but also the quality of life that they share – and that I envy!


The Road to Sirsi…

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Never ones to sit still, my mad friend Barbara and I decided to embark on a road trip…

Nothing strange in that, I hear you say, except that it involved leaving at 3.30am to be on the road out of Goa before the rush hour. We were heading for Sirsi in Karnataka, a small town about four and a half hours drive south of Panjim in Goa, to visit a school where we were to run a workshop on grooming and empowerment  for the young ladies who were about to leave school.

‘Rush hour?’ I heard you say. Not the one around Panjim or any such town, but the one where the lorry drivers wake at around 5.30am and start to clog up the mountain road across the Western Ghats and down into Karnataka! But we had made good time to the Goan border at Karwar and, as the sun began to rise, the scenery was amazing. Dawn, as we crossed the bridge over the river, is a sight to behold! I had never been into Karnataka before – this western bit of the state is lush and green with many rivers flowing through it.

We arrived at the Don Bosco School in Sirsi at about 8.30 – the children were just arriving and taking their places for assembly. Sirsi is a small town with not much there but what was noticeable to me was that the school was way more under-resourced than any I had seen in Goa.  Father Evan, the principle that Barbara knows well, was so pleased that we had made the trip and, whilst the children were shy to start with, they began to relax as the workshop started.

Barbara at Sirsi

We talked about body language, appropriate dress for interviews and how to handle life in the work place. This was a first for these young women as the emerging aspiration for them is to have a job and a life outside of the home – not just be married off to have children. They all had dreams to be professional people and many wished to go and study in Bangalore.

Whilst Barbara finished off the workshop, I wandered around the rest of the school. It has a lovely feel about it, and the kids are clearly happy, but it is woefully under-provided with things like books and computers. In fact Barbara and I had carried down a donation of books with us that Claudia and Andy at Elsewhere had brought out from the British NGO, Give a Book.  In this part of Karnataka there are no support organisations like Bookworm that can aid and support teachers.

Give-a-Book at Sirsi

Barbara and I left Sirsi at the end of the school day to make the long journey back across the Ghats. We were glad to do that part of the journey in daylight as the mountain roads are quite rough and full of road works! Eighteen hours after we had started out, I was home; but I am very glad to have visited Sirsi, driven through some spectacular jungle, seen the betel nut forests and given thanks at the temple at the top of each ghat that we had made it so far safely!


‘Give a Book’ to Mandrem!

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Two exciting things have happened at Our Lady of Rosary School in Mandrem this trip!

Firstly the money we raised back in the UK has enabled them to buy a photocopier that they have long set their heart on. This will enable them to vastly reduce their lesson plan running costs – no more trips to the copy bureau in the next village! Something our schools in the UK just take for granted isn’t it?

Secondly was meeting Claudia and Andy Burn from the UK at Elsewhere. They visited Mandrem School last year and spoke to Jacinta, the headmistress. They have a deep love of books themselves and so immediately noticed that their library could do with a few additions.

Now as Claudia told me “You don’t need many clothes out here and it’s easy to buy anything you need” so they filled their two suitcases with carefully chosen children’s books arranged through ‘Give a Book’ (which is a charitable project set up in the memory of Simon Gray, the author, playwright and screenwriter that helps people to arrange book donations to many needy causes) and flew back to Mandrem.

I had been asked to help in choosing the range of books and then was invited to join Claudia and Andy to go to the school to meet Jacinta and watch the kids unpack them. Jacinta found a class that were doing scouts and guides duty and the science teacher joined them all. What a scene! The kids fell upon the pictorial encyclopaedias (especially anything to do with animals or space) and both Jacinta and the science teacher were equally enthralled. Later this teacher told me how much these books would transform her teaching, especially at Standard 10 level (our GCSEs). I realised how few Indian textbooks have illustrations and so why these books were so important.

Give a Book at Mandrem

I took the chance to have a chat with Jacinta about the progress of the school. This is now the third year the school has been hosting its own Standard 10 exams and the pass rate is extraordinarily high. They now get some government aid (eg the teachers’ salaries) and the school is gaining a good reputation in the area.

I think this is a success story!!!

PS We’ve just discovered that Claudia and Andy reported back to Give a Book about their trip to the school and they wrote it up on their blog. Excellent!


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