Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF) visits some schools in the tribal heartland of Sunderban Islands in West Bengal where India 800 works to help the welfare of the people who get little help from the Indian Government
It’s a four hours’ drive and then a boat journey to the Sunderban islands from Kolkata. But it was all worth it as on arrival at a girls school on this Protima island we were greeted by cheerful children with Namaste’s and Salamalekam’s. Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s India Headmistress, Ms Simmi Kher, went with the India 800 team, Lord Bhatia, Dr Krishna Sarda, Simran Kaur and myself, to evaluate the possibility of exploring the more difficult areas like the tribal heartlands to see if they can help the children there to view some of their curriculum studies from the added dimension of their own faith.
TBFF works with schools across the globe now where children are taught to add the dimension of faith to their studies. It is not however to teach them faith or any religion but simply to ask children to enquire a subject from their own faith perspective. Then what is really valuable is that a Hindu child in India may talk to a Muslim child in Pakistan to discuss their individual faith perspective on the same subject, for instance in Geography the environment, and lo and behold, in most cases they find at a practical level they are talking from the same hymn sheet. This is a wonderful initiative so that children can learn the practicalities about their faiths through their own enquiry rather than solely depend on others sermons.
The schools we visited had no electricity, telephone or internet, and very few books, no laboratory. In fact when we asked what is the one thing they would really like, all the children shouted, “Electricity, Sir!” In a mixed school the girls asked for a girls changing room as when it rains they have to stay in wet clothes because there are no private and secure changing facilities. These are so very basic needs.
India 800 is arranging to get solar light available for them and bring solar powered computers but it is sad that the Indian Government does nothing much to improve these people’s meagre standards. When TBFF questioned on the faith mix the headmistress said that they have Hindu and Muslim children as now there is a separate Christian school on the island by the newly built Church where all Christian children go but on any faith matter she was sure they can all work together.
27th July 2011