Life and Work

On a typical day, School starts at 7.30 in the morning for about 30 of us younger kids (most are between 3 and 7 years old) and about 6 older ones (12 to 14 year olds) who are learning different vocations in school (for the other 30 older ones school starts after 11 am).  

The earliest among us come to school at about 6.45 am and start helping with filling the water from the common hand pump for cooking and cleaning, picking the rice and daal (lentils), washing and cutting vegetables, grinding chutneys with the pestle and mortar or in our bicycle propelled food processor, sweeping the premises clean, giving the floors a fresh coat of cow dung paste if required, cleaning the bathroom and the rest rooms and periodically cleaning the cobwebs under our tiled roofs with a long bamboo broom.

By about 8 am, the cleaning is done and breakfast is being prepared. We now assemble in the little amphitheater to record our attendance.  Yoga, physical exercises, a short run, games that we invent ourselves, vocal music, reading books in the Library and English follow the attendance.  We break at 9.30 am for breakfast.

Breakfast usually consists of rice or kichadi (rice and daal cooked together with a few spices), daal , a vegetable curry or chutney, seasonal fruits and a glass of milk - all gobbled up hungrily before taking turns at washing and cleaning the vessels, cleaning the dining room and getting down to our post breakfast session.

After breakfast, we tend to our kitchen garden where we grow a few fruit trees and vegetables, enriching the soil with organic manure made from fallen leaves that we collect every morning, do Hindi, math, pottery and art, read books in the reading room and play games.  We love listening to stories, learning new poems and songs and enacting plays during our language classes in which we learn to understand, speak, read and write in English and Hindi, languages that are foreign to us.  We speak with our friends and teachers mostly in Halbi and Gondi, sometimes in Hindi and rarely in English.  

We do some of our work – like farming, playing games, art and pottery together as one big group and some work in two smaller groups.  We’ve named the two smaller groups Sapri (after a variety of fragrant indigenous paddy) and Semar (after the majestic Bombax tree).  Sapri is always a riot for they are the youngest amongst us all and Semar is an interesting potpourri of some not so young and some not too old ones.

During this morning session at school, 12 of us older ones have started working on projects of our liking.  We do our project work during the morning session until 12.30 pm and then attend school in the afternoon until 5.30.  For the project work, we’ve divided ourselves into groups of 4 each.  One group is learning how to teach at school and how to run a school.  The other group is learning how to run a library and a book shop.  The third group is learning pottery as a profession.  We work on our projects on two days every week.  Those learning pottery also take their wares to the farmers’ market on Fridays where they learn to sell their wares.

By about 10.30 some of us older ones (10 to 14 years olds) start arriving in school.  We start our day at school usually with art or pottery, or writing our diaries or reading library books or just playing games.  By 12.30 it is time for our younger friends to go home and time for us older ones to gather in the amphitheater to record our attendance.

Attendance is followed by a multi lingual poetry class and then English language classes, in which we listen to stories, learn to converse in English, act in plays, read textbooks and write.
After English we break up into two smaller groups Seetaaphal (or custard apple in Hindi) and Soorajmukhi (the Hindi name for marigold) for the activities of the rest of the day.  These activities get us learning with our eyes and ears, hands and bodies and with our heads and minds…

We tend to our little kitchen garden, plant new saplings during the monsoons, help build and repair our class rooms and temporary shelters, mend holes in our clothes,fasten buttons that are dropping off, embroider handkerchiefs, spin cotton yarn on the charkha or the takli, make and bake a variety of articles of clay (we love the pots and animals the most), play kabaddi, cricket, chess and carom, make toys, diagnose minor ailments amongst ourselves and treat them with herbal remedies, learn vocal Indian classical and semi-classical music, draw and paint, learn math, history, geography, civics and science, English and Hindi, listen to stories, discuss, question, chat and argue, choose books from the library to take home, write accounts of our days in our diaries and do just about everything that our fast growing minds and bodies can do…

Aren’t youwondering how we fit so many activities into a timetable?  Well, the best thing about our day is that there is no timetable at all!  We are free to do whatever interests us and whenever it interests us.  Yes.  So some of us just play through the day on many a day, while some spend large amounts of time doing art or just chatting.  And there are many who want to do a bit of everything, so they have made their own timetables and work according to them.

We learn from our textbooks and our laboratories packed in suitcases, from the plants and the insects and from our play and art equipment.  We learn from dictionaries and from each other and from our teachers who are all available for us all the time.  We work independently and together.  We are free to choose what to learn, when to learn it, and where, how and from whom to learn it.

We all take a break at 2.50 pm to have lunch together.  The lunch menu is the same as the breakfast menu, but there is a variety of curries to go with the rice in the afternoon, for each of us gets curry from home.  For those who haven’t been able to get curry from home, there is always some that has been cooked at school and what the others have brought.  We all share our curries passing them around the lunch circle, and that becomes the tastiest meal of the day.

Our day at school ends at any time between 5.30 and 6.00 in the evening.

Fridays are half days from 7.30 to 11 am and very different from the rest of the week.  All 63 of us are together that day.  We first sing together for three quarters of an hour.  Then after cleaning the school’s premises, we have a dry breakfast and take turns to go to the weekly haat (farmer’s market) in groups of 3 to shop for vegetables and provisions for the week.  We return to school the next day with the foodstuff.  Sometimes we get vegetables from our home kitchen gardens to school too.  Usually one of us goes to nearby Kondagaon town along with one of the adults to buy fruits and other supplies for the week and complete other odd jobs and bank work on Fridays.

Saturdays are different too. Most are spent on excursions away from school. Sometimes we spend the whole day playing in a nearby field, and sometimes we cycle to places that are as far as 30 kilometers away.   Sometimes it is just a short walk up a nearby hill, climbing trees and boulders, picking fruit and swinging on adventitious roots of the many banyan trees that dot the landscape and sometimes it is a visit to a nearby institution or government office to talk to the officials and understand their work.

Once a month on Saturdays we put up a show for all of us to enjoy in our amphitheater full of plays and dances, puzzles and speeches, poetry and jokes.  Saturdays are special for another reason too…everyone carries their home food to school in tiffin boxes and returns home with books borrowed from the library to be read over the weekend.

Sometimes when we have people visiting or staying with us in School, we make impromptu changes to our daily schedules so that we can spend time with them, chatting and working with them, getting glimpses of their life and work, and learning with them.

During the year we all go for a picnic somewhere far off and some of the older ones even go out for a few weeks to faraway places. Usually in March, we invite our parents to come and spend half a day with us. We put up a little entertainment show for them and also share with them what we have learnt through the term.

We come to School 11 months of the year and go on a month long vacation in May.  We do close school for a few days during the Deepawali festival and on other occasions for about 10 days during the year.

So now do you have a good idea of how we spend our time at School and our idea of fun??”

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