After two weeks of staying in Sukma, Chhattisgarh, I travelled to Korra Porta Cabin, around 28 km away from the town. On reaching, I could see about 400 students gathered together for their evening prayer. I was introduced with Sambit who is working here at Shiksharth since last 9 months. He teaches English and Mathematics to the students of class 5th to 8th, and has built a strong bond with these children.
Also read: Everyday Life At Porta Cabins Of Sukma
Korra Porta Cabin is well decorated with a wide variety of plants. This is one of the reasons why there is fresh air all around. Students welcomed me by greeting with a Namaste. I roamed around the cabin and observed silently, without disturbing students as exams were going on. There are children studying in class 1 to 9. In the next academic year, the current batch of 9th class will become the first batch of 10th Class at Korra Porta Cabin.
I was told that there is scarcity of water and they don’t have bathrooms. Everyone has to stand in a queue to fill their buckets. Sometimes, they even have to walk 1 km to fetch water. I noticed that many children avoid taking bath which leads to multiple skin diseases. I wanted to talk to them about it but they were really shy. One morning, as I was standing in a queue for water, one child snatched the bucket from my hand and said, “हटो, हटो सर को पानी भरने दो” adding “सर आप क्यों आये हमें बता देते”.
But, I made it a point to be in line everyday, also to start conversations with kids, and it worked. The first obvious question was about where did I come from. The moment I mentioned Mumbai, they all gathered around asking a series of questions. They were eager to know about the lifestyles of actors and other celebrities. They wanted to know about the everyday life there, which I never really valued. We all tend to do that, right!
But yes, the Mumbai factor has always helped me initiate and build upon conversations here, even during discussions with teachers and other staff members.
One afternoon, we (people working at Korra and I) were talking about the cuisines of Bastar, subsequent to which they invited me for a special dinner. ‘Chapda Chatni’, a local delicacy was offered to me saying that I must try it and that it will prevent me from malaria. After having its first bite with rice, I asked, “What’s so special about it?” They all laughed, paused, and replied saying that it’s made of Red Ants and their eggs. I tried not to appear shocked, and rather smiled with an “Okay!”
Every evening, I walk around the hostel rooms. After continued interaction with students and teachers, I figured that they take exams casually. Syllabus is not completed and many concepts remain unclear. The main reason for these could be shortage of teachers, and I thought it best to ask students to reach out to me for any questions they may have.
Slowly and eventually, they became comfortable to approach me. A lot of them came with questions on Math and English, which I enjoyed solving. Rahul Madvi from 6th class showed a pretty picture drawn and painted by him. Sahdev, a student of 9th class asked about career opportunities and took me to the nearest pond. It’s a lovely place at walking distance from the Porta cabin and at the same time, it’s disturbing to know that even after having a water resources so close, there was water scarcity.
Sahdev expressed that he will be the first in his family to complete high school. He aspires to become a Doctor because he has seen multiple people suffering from diseases and dying due to unavailability of healthcare facilities. He said that Doctors are afraid of Naxal movement in the area, and hence unable to sustain in these villages. I could see a spark in him to challenge the difficulties and overcome them. With this heartfelt conversation and mixed experiences, I tied my shoe laces to return to Sukma.
The blog was originally published in India fellow blog. The blog is written by Sandesh Bhingarde who is a former India fellow working in Shiksharth Sukma.