The story of 9 amazing young people from Lewisham who joined us this summer in Himachal Pradesh, India for the journey of a lifetime.
The Basti Ram team are incredibly excited to be embarking on a journey of discovery with 9 young people who have experienced the UK care system and three staff from the London Borough of Lewisham. Our participants have been working extremely hard fundraising to join us in Dharamshala, India. Now with just 4 days to go before departure the anticipation is building. We have a packed two week program of cultural immersion planned, our participants are travelling to the other side of the world to immerse themselves in a culture that is a world away from their own. Our participants will be required to live and work as a team, they will learn basic Hindi language skills, Indian cookery, Mehendi and experience some of North India's most magnificent sightseeing destinations. The group will be supported to highlight similarities and differences between their lives and the lives of others their age living in similar circumstances. Participants will experience how in some countries education isn't a given and day to day survival can be hard. The next two weeks promises to be a journey of self discovery for everyone involved and Basti Ram are incredibly honoured to be part of that journey....... please watch out for more updates which will follow soon....
Wednesday 26th July
Yay we finally made it! On Tuesday morning we left a rainy Catford at 5:15 am all set for Heathrow airport with two stops along the way in the Middle East and India New Delhi, we finally arrived after 26 hours, tired but in good spirits in Dharamshala, India. Along our journey we experienced 4 different airports, and 3 different buses. We are very proud that all our participants showed amazing resilience and patience through what was a testing journey.
At our final destination we said a wholehearted hello to Pankaj, Basti Ram's local staff member and then piled into our minibus to make the steady journey up to the apartment in the mountains that will be our home for the next two weeks. The views along the way were out of this world.
On arrival we were met with a traditional Indian welcome of tika and rakhi tying before enjoyed a wholesome meal of homemade Rajma (kidney bean curry), Rice, Chapati ( Indian flat bread), cucumber, chips, and fresh pomegranate, followed by a nice cup of chai (Indian tea).
The rest of the day was spent settling into our rooms, unpacking, eating more yummy food (including pakora, aloo jeera (potatoes with cumin) and enjoying a game of cards before settling down for the night in preparation for our busy day tomorrow. It has been a satisfying first couple of days :)
Thursday 27th July
Everyone woke bright and early brimming with enthusiasm for a day of orientation where we would learn more about the area of India we are staying in, the Indian way of life and the lives of children in the region where we are staying. After a hearty homemade breakfast, everyone settled down to hear more from Pankaj about the education and caste system in India. We learnt about the social problems facing India and the type of education that young people receive. The group learnt that 70% of the people in India live in villages and it is there that visitors can experience the real culture of India.
After a hearty lunch, the group jumped in the minibus to travel down the valley to meet local residents. We toured a local village where young people learnt first hand how people live, in small villages with their own livestock and small local schools.
Our participants visited a primary school and spent time with the children singing songs and understanding more about the Indian children's experience of education.
After our community visit we returned to the apartment for a refreshing cup of Chai, a yummy dinner and a special birthday celebration for Candice.
Today marked the start of the Knitting craze that soon swept across the majority of the group. Deshaun (our professional knitter) and Cady, inspired everyone else to have a go and soon we saw that any spare moment of downtime during the rest of the venture was characterised with knit and natter groups taking place in every corner of our apartment.
Friday 28th July
After breakfast, and orientation, the group took some time before lunch to explore the local woods on the hillside near our apartment, Deshaun really liked the unusual bark on the trees. The rest of the group enjoyed spotting mushrooms and different types of plants and insects that they had not seen before.
After another home cooked vegetarian lunch, our participants visited the local school to learn about the English aspects of the Hindi curriculum. Our participants were keen to understand what words they could learn in Hindi to communicate with the local children and to get to know them better. They came away with questions about how to say a number of different phrases, which we would later learn in our Hindi Language Cultural Workshop. While we were there the group played games with the children that promoted cross cultural knowledge about each others animals, fruits and vegetables, they also learnt each others names and the meaning of those names.
Our participants saw where the children collect their refreshments from at break time
and met the regular monkey visitors who enjoy spending their time on the school toilet block.
On the way back to the apartment the group took the opportunity to stop at the local shop to stock up on some creature comforts of back home and satisfy their urge for chocolate and crisps.
After our daily chai and another freshly prepared yummy dinner of aloo sabji (potato curry), rice and chapati the group eagerly took part in their first Hindi language lesson. They learnt how to make basic conversation, how to count and most importantly how to say the words in Hindi that the indian school children learn (as part of their curriculum) to say in English.
The group retired for the evening full of anticipation to practice their new language skills with the local community the following day.
Saturday 28th July
After breakfast, participants spent the morning planning activities to play with the community children. Keen to show off their new found language skills, the group split into pairs to plan activities for children of different ages. Planning this reciprocal learning afternoon gave our participants the opportunity to work in teams, use their new found language skills, be to creative and to feel the responsibility and empowerment that comes with sharing your own skill with others. In undertaking this activity our participants also learnt about how educators are viewed in India, they learnt about how small communities promote independence and self improvement and how they discourage dependancy.
An example of this is that Basti Ram do not promote the giving of gifts to the community, however small, and instead our goal is for every participant to share their valuable knowledge and skills, and in return benefit from what they themselves learn on the project. The group learned how physical donations can lead to complacency and dependency and when needed items are donated they are given to the school, so local people view the items as coming from within their own community.
After the activities with the local children in the afternoon, the whole group were brimming with enthusiasm. On the way home the group visited some local clothes shops, and a few of the group brought some traditional Indian tops so that they could blend in more with the local community. Shopping in India was another new experience.
After shopping and a stop off at the local ice-cream parlour for a yummy ice-cream the group made the 3k walk back up into the clouds to our apartment. We admired the view along the way.
We arrived home in time for Chai, rest, dinner followed by more Hindi lessons :)
Sunday 29th July
Today we visited Kangra Fort and Masoor Rock Temple. Kangra Fort was made by the Royal Family of Kangra in or around the 4th Venture BC. It is the largest fort in the Himalayas and one of the older forts in India. Masoor Rock Temple stands 2535 feet above sea level and is believed to have been built between the 6th and 8th Century. From the temple you get an amazing view of the Himalayas.
After first heading to the fort we enjoyed a yummy packed lunch of Kala Choli (Black chickpeas) and puri (traditional fried Indian bread) before making our way to the Rock Temple
At the Rock Temple we climbed to the top and enjoyed the incredible views. We met a man there who was in his 90s and had spent his whole life working in his family shop, before him the shop had belonged to his father.
After returning home and enjoying a yummy dinner of pakora, dahl (Lentils) and aloo chaval ( Rice with potatoes), Pankaj taught us all some bollywood dance moves in today's bollywood dancing cultural workshop.
Monday 30th July
Throughout the rest of the week our education project continued and our group continued to learn more about the reality of day to day life for children in rural India, they planning and delivered activities that helped both both local children and themselves learn more about each others lifestyle, diet, environment and animals.
The highlight of todays free time was our Mehendi Cultural Workshop (Henna) the group bonded and helped each other to create some fantastic designs.
Throughout every moment of free time the groups knitting craze continued.
Tuesday 1st August, 2017
After our education project today, we excitedly went Sari and Suit shopping to choose an outfit for our planned dinner out on Thursday.
All the girls choose something lovely and were measured by a professional tailor who will handmake everything in time for Thursday's dinner out. The boys took a trip to the local town Mccleod Ganj to be professionally measured for a mens shirt.
In the evening, our cultural workshop was Indian Cookery, today we learnt how to make Chai (Indian Tea) and Pakora's (yummy fried vegetable snacks), then later we ate them for supper.. yum.
Please read the next part of our blog series to learn more about the Lewisham groups Indian adventure with Basti Ram.