Laura Stovel has been in India for the last couple of weeks and visited the Garwhal English Medium School (GEMS) in Northern India, which has been generously supported by the Revelstoke Rotary Club for the last two years. This year the Indian children were quite excited to find themselves in touch with a group of Canadian pen pals at Arrow Heights Elementary School Here’s her feature story about this very worthwhile project:
By Laura Stovel
SAINJI, India — The village of Sainji, in Uttarakhand, northern India, is tucked away on a steep hillside in the foothills of the Himalayas. This village, home to people of the minority Jaunpuri ethnicity, shares with Revelstoke a mountain culture and a strong sense of community; in many other ways it seems a world apart.
Some of the favorite places in this village are the shared courtyards. Here, during the day, there is the steady sound of children at play. Women hang out their upper-level windows and doorways, chatting with their neighbours; old women sit together, talking quietly – one of them smoking a hookah – and one man sits on his balcony shaving another. A child kisses his little friend, a mother hugs her baby, and another scolds her child after play erupts into a quarrel. All this can be seen and heard from these common spaces.
Earlier this week a group of children from the Gharwal English Medium School (GEMS), which has been supported financially by the Revelstoke Rotary Club for two years (see Friends across the World), gathered in one such courtyard to read beautifully-illustrated and thoughtfully-written letters from Amber Thompson’s grade four class in Arrow Heights Elementary School. At first they looked at them timidly, but then ten-year-old Amisha took one written by a nine-year-old Arrow Heights student named Jade and started reading it out loud. As the other children listened they became very excited and started to sift through the letters to find ones that were at their respective levels. Little Rishka, who is in class one, bravely took on a letter and read it beautifully, with some help from her friends. Rishka is well ahead of many of her classmates because her father reads with her, something that is still uncommon among parents in the area.
I had presented photos and told stories of Sainji village in Ms. Thompson’s class before I left for India on May 20, so the Arrow Heights students knew something about the children’s school and community and they asked good questions about their pen pals’ lives. Ten-year-old Arianna wrote, “I was so excited to learn about India I felt like I was going to burst! I am looking forward to learn about you and your life.”
Unfortunately I arrived in Sainji on the last day of school before the five-week summer holiday so teachers did not have time to arrange replies in kind – a disappointment to Amisha who immediately asked if she could write back. While written replies will be arranged once the GEMS school is back in session, the children gave me a video-taped tour of their village as a way of responding.
Reading the thoughtful letters of the Revelstoke students and watching the way the children of Sainji related to them, I was reminded that distance is a small thing when people are willing to engage and connect. I’m sure that some of Ms. Thompson’s class will go to India one day and they will remember their young friends to whom they so carefully crafted their messages.