Not to have access to books is shocking. When the children we met were first given a book to hold they loved it. They had been starved of the experience and they wanted more, so the idea of the children’s Travelling Library was born.
Some of the municipal schools have no books, and others have only a few, most of which are very out of date.
We pay the salary of a part-time travelling librarian, who visits seven of the poorest primary schools every week with a stock of books, to tell stories with the children, teach them related songs and craft, and help them explore literacy. Our librarian’s visits are so popular that children have been known to come back to school over the holidays just to take part!
Over the years we have built up a stock of donated books in English, Hindi and Nepali. There are now enough available for them to be able to borrow books to take home and read privately for the first time in their lives.
The children’s response inspired the idea of the Darjeeling Children’s Trust Story Telling competition, which took place in October 2010. The younger children were encouraged to draw pictures to illustrate their story and to speak rather than write. The older ones were encouraged to write as well as draw, but in all cases the Trust seeks to encourage children to use their imaginations and to enjoy reading and language.
The Darjeeling Music Festival
From day to day, the children in municipal schools in Darjeeling don’t get the chance to sing and dance. We wanted to give them the opportunity to experience the joy of performance, so in 2012 we launched the Darjeeling Music Festival, which brought together pupils from state and private schools (a rare event in itself) for a fantastic afternoon of singing, music and dancing.
We repeated its success in 2014, and again some of our Trustees were there to share the fun and enjoy all the children’s hours of practice and effort. Some of our students undertaking the Hospitality Training course helped to distribute snacks and drinks, and the afternoon was rounded off in great style by trustee Hugh Heron dressed as Father Christmas, aided by daughter Beth dressed as his elf, distributing sweets to the children to the sounds of “Jingle Bells.”
School repairs and supplies
We have funded a number of essential repairs to school sites and buildings, to fix structural problems which were affecting the ability of children to learn and enjoy their time at school.
At Bhanubhakta school, we installed a security gate so that the children can play safely outside, and provided an on-site a toilet to prevent them having to leave school in the middle of the day.
At Agam Singh we provided a water-harvesting tank on the roof, so that the children have access to fresh water.
Our most recent project was to install a fence along one side of the playground at Soom Secondary School. This essential safety measure means that children are no longer at risk of falling down the steep drop to one side of the school when they play outside. We have also funded glass for the classroom windows at Soom, and have this year agreed to mend a leaking roof. The school used the small amount of money left over from our donation for the safety fence to buy a kit for the football team; being able to meet this tiny expense now means their team can play competitively against other schools.
We have funds held locally to provide stationery supplies to a number of municipal schools. Our relatively small size means we are able to respond flexibly to individual requests for funding from schools, and the partnerships we have built mean that we are able to target our donations to the most urgent needs.