APS Assistant Head and Year 1 teacher Jan Bacon didn’t just relax and put her feet up in the last half-term break. Instead, she travelled to Goa in India, to experience - and teach in - a Don Bosco school for disadvantaged children. She explains how the schools and day centres were not only eye-opening, but completely awe-inspiring.
If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, you’ll know the scene. Children living in squalid slums, waste running past them in open gutters. And yet amid such poverty in Goa, there is a small room in which children absolutely love learning. As I taught Maths, played parachute games and read “we’re all going on a bear hunt” - the children are natural linguists and can speak Kolkani, Hindi and English - I was the one who felt inspired. These children are so eager and ready to learn, despite their circumstances. And it’s all down to an NGO in India which gives these children a lifeline.
Many years ago I worked in Kenya, and through the work of my school in Nairobi we supported a number of schools within its slums. This was part of our ‘Children for Children’ project that grew and developed over a period of time. So I was delighted to be asked to support the similar work of the Don Bosco society in Goa earlier this year.
Don Bosco is an NGO which provides education for the truly disadvantaged children from the villages and slums in Panjim - which is just around the corner from the famous Goa beaches to which so many tourists flock. ‘Education for all’ is their aim, and the Konkan Development Project in Goa includes two schools and day centres set within the slums, special needs staff for 25 village schools, vocational training and safe havens for homeless children and teenagers. Many of the children’s parents are illiterate migrants from Karnataka and Maharshta who seek work in Goa. I was told that Goa may be the smallest state in India but it has the biggest heart and this is absolutely the case.
Spending time in Panjim last month was more than just a case of observing the work Don Bosco do. It was an action packed week which included running workshops on phonics, reading and behaviour management for two full days, with over 60 teachers. The teachers are amazing, dedicated and creative and it made me feel very guilty when I thought of the resources that we all have at our finger tips - although Jolly Phonics is now being implemented in their schools and day centres! The teachers were a delight to be with and keen to share their work and it was an enriching experience for us all. It was lovely to see how traditional nursery and action rhymes travel and are valued in other parts of the world.
And then there were the children. I visited day care centres for young ones who are unable to attend any school at all. No words can truly describe the living conditions in which they are brought up. And yet they arrive in the day centre or schools as bright as buttons, in clean uniform, all provided by Don Bosco. These two day care centres provide a safe, caring sanctuary amidst the squalor - although it was so sad seeing the children who could not attend gather round the open door, peering in and trying to join in the fun and lessons that were taking place within these small, cramped school rooms. What these teachers in the day centres achieve is quite staggering.
The two Don Bosco schools bus the children in from the slums in rather rickety, old buses. Oxdel School is new and filling up rapidly. Class rooms are bright and airy but very basic - except for the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the staff. Dabolim School is bursting at the seams and they desperately need two new class rooms as they are having to turn children away. That is always the worry the Society faces: when you have to turn children away, what exactly are the children turning to? School, as well as a place of learning, is a place of safety and tranquillity. For as little as £2,500 this dream could be realised. The children in both these schools enjoy coming to school - they are so eager to learn and their desire is palpable. With the foundations set in these schools, I genuinely believe these children have a better chance in life.
The relationship with the Don Bosco Society didn’t end when I returned to start a new term at Altrincham Preparatory School: I will be continuing to support the staff and the society in the work they do. It was so awe inspiring, we are now are quietly working to develop links between our school and the Don Bosco Society. What I really hope is that it will be do more than just prick our social consciences but provide meaningful experiences for our boys as well. As much as we are privileged, we can also learn a lot from the amazing people who run - and attend - the Don Bosco schools.