Preparing to meet the pupils
Katherine and Lucy S gave the workshop group a tour of the school and introduced the four broad thematic areas that the workshop will be exploring: Safety, Sustainability, Culture and heritage, Learning Environments.
In preparation for meeting the children, the group considered what participation meant to them and shared their ideas. Sarah introduced the idea of Participatory Rural Appraisal – an empowering way to work in a community, where surveys are abandoned in favour of collaborative discussion and mapping of ideas.
We discussed how maps and diagrams can be drawn with the community, to locate people, families and resources, and consider density, topography and geography. The process is the first step to building trust with the community and making sure that information generated is shared, not extracted, and that we can find the answers to questions we may never have thought to ask.
We all introduced ourselves and our project to teacher Tsering Tashi and 15 of his pupils. A world map, a map of Leh, and an amusing collection of passport photos helped us all to understand who we are and where we had come from.
Tsering Tashi gave us an overview of the school day and the curriculum. We were interested to learn that it’s a six day week and there’s a long winter break when the school buildings are too cold for learning. Many of the children come from far away villages to live with extended family in Leh during the school terms.
Balloons helped the pupils to show us the things they really liked or disliked about their school. In small groups, warm coloured balloons were tied to good things, and cold coloured balloons to bad. We came together to discuss the significance and locations of the balloons. The children identified greenery and flowers, summer shade, and winter sun as things they liked. The negative they identified included rubbish heaps, poor toilet and sanitation facilities and the resulting bad smells, and the lack of light and space in the classrooms.
“We met with the girls from the school and conducted an exercise to determine areas of the school they did and did not like. All the girls said they disliked areas close to open drains.
The school is accessed through a gate to enter which it is necessary to cross an open drain. An offshoot of this drain then continues along the pathway towards the main class room buildings before turning to pass in front of the canteen. This situation causes an unpleasant smell, especially in the summer heat, and attracts flies. Not only does this create a negative first impression of the school, it also poses a health risk to the girls.
It was also interesting to note the psychological effect caused by a grey water channel that irrigates the plants. This channel is close to the water pump and the smell coming off it makes the girls fear the water provided by the pump which they say makes them ill.
As a member of the group tasked to look at safety we identified the water and drainage situation as an area for improvement. We are interested in the possibility of a reed bed filtration system which would also increase the greenery in the school grounds, or the idea of re-routing and covering the drains. [The following day on a tour of the Druk white lotus school we were advised that a reed bed filtration system was tried there but that the harsh winters killed off the plants, therefore this strategy might not be suitable in this region]” – Lisa Hunter
Lunch & volleyball
Over lunch some groups continued to chat and play together informally. The conversations evolved and the participants were able to get a better sense of the pupils’ lives in and outside school.
We said our goodbyes, leaving the school for the nearby Old Town for the afternoons’ activities.
“A great wakeup call at the Leh Government Girls’ School: the day begins with some rhythmic Ladakhi drumming, echoing across the school grounds. The girls perform marching band exercises every morning, while some skilfully play the drums. We had a wonderful demonstration, even though their instruments were falling apart.” – Mena Shah