After a long and intense preparation period, the time had finally come in February 2020 for a group from the Tagore School Berlin to visit their partner school in Shantiniketan, in the Indian state of West Bengal, accompanied and supervised by Sebastian Keller from the Indian Forum.
It was a journey full of interesting experiences and exciting adventures. At the same time, it was also a time of intense and productive exchange.
To provide those who were not there with a better impression of the trip, the India working group of the Tagore School has compiled a detailed report, enriched with numerous photos. Please note that the report is only available in German language.
You can find the pdf file under the following link:
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of our association’s official founding, we conducted a long planned members trip to India in November 2018. Seven new and old members visited different places in this amazing country, with a focus on our project area in the state of Jharkhand.
Member of the Indian Forum and participant of the travel group Christian Schumacher wrote the following short travel report for us (translated by Roman Bansen):
A travel group of the Indian Forum set off for India in autumn 2018. Our first destination was Ranchi, where we were warmly welcomed by Mukut Bodra and Alex Nitschke. Mukut and Alex live there; they know the language and can introduce us to the lives and problems of our partners in India in detail. The YMCA Ranchi, one of the local partners of the Indian Forum and Sarjom, arranged a trip to a slum school. There, we saw a lot of misery, but also encouraging approaches of help for the slum dwellers.
The next day we went to Gowindpur, where we visited a farm school and got insights into rice harvesting – it is a strenuous activity. After visiting a Martha kindergarten (run by the Gossner Church in Ranchi, founding and construction took place according to concepts which are widely applied in Germany), we went on to Chaibasa, where we actually wanted to inaugurate “our” kindergarten. But our Indian partners had not finished the work yet. So we helped on the construction site for two days. Despite a lack of equipment, this was very successful (the kindergarten was inaugurated a few months later).
We also met all the students from the sponsorship program that we could reach, who have been supported by the Indian Forum for years. A large group of children and young people came together. We were made familiar with some of their tragic fates, but also played and ate together and had a lot of fun.
back from Chaibasa, we went on to Chennai under the excellent planning, implementation and guidance of Sebastian Keller. From there we visited the coastal town of Puducherry, went by train to Madurai, and then saw Hyderabad and Delhi. At all stations we saw the touristically important temples, churches and points of interest. Everything was well prepared.
It was exhausting, but beautiful and unforgettable. When we were sitting in the plane back to Berlin, it was clear to us: The trip had been worthwhile in every respect. We are motivated to continue the support for our partners in India.
For 19 days, from 25th November until 13th December 2013, a group of 12 students and teachers of the Tagore School travelled to India, accompanied by our member Sebastian Keller, to visit their partner school in Shantiniketan in the Indian state of West Bengal. In the following, a short excerpt from one of the participating Tagore students’ report is presented (English translation by Roman Bansen):
The Visva Bharati University and the Patha Bhavana School are works created by Tagore himself and they both operate according to Tagore’s philosophy. So it is, for example, completely normal to hold the lessons outdoors, which I personally enjoyed a lot, found it very authentic, and it gave us to a deeper understanding of Tagore’s way of life. Beside the Patha Bhavana, we also got to know numerous villages, for example the Santal villages.
But most of the time we were occupied with our projects and the students in the school. Every morning we were looking forward to go back to the school and see our friends again. This way the day for the farewell came closer day by day. After 10 wonderful, eventful and enjoyable days we had to leave the school and Shantiniketan and go by train to Kolkata. On the day of departure I realized how dear the girls and boys had become to me and how much I would miss all of them.
In October 2010 a group of 11 travellers went to Northern India, some of them especially to visit their sponsored children. Renate Kümmel has written a report about it, of which excerpts are shown in the following (English translation by Roman Bansen):
We are being welcomed warmly on the campus with little flower bouquets. After some smaller snacks we stroll through the town and get a few balls and games for our trip with the children tomorrow. Our “half Indian” Basti has left early on the next morning, to pick up the children from the sponsorship programme in the vicinity of Chaibasa.
Everything has worked out well, the children are here. I finally get to know my sponsored child Hemlata. A girl like a light breeze, so fragile – but surely tough as well – with a serious and sad look on her face. The children (altogether 38 of them) are being brought to the picnic area by jeep and the required items by truck. We are the last ones to arrive, people are already working diligently … cleaning vegetables, peeling potatoes etc. I join and help them, others play football or badminton with the children, amongst others.
The fireplaces are set up. We are astonished on how all of this works with the most primitive means and how it all boils down to a delicious meal in the end. We eat together with the children and are amazed by the huge portions that are eaten by all of them, no matter if girls or boys. Who knows when will be the next time they can eat as much as they want?! After the meal we distributed some sweets. The children were standing there staring with open mouths and were so happy about such small things like pencils, erasers and candy.
The wrapping however was thrown to the ground, which we of course could not indorse. So we motivated the children in a playful way to pick up all the paper packaging laying around. The children did actually really enjoy to put everything they could find into our garbage bag. The day went by extremely fast and eventually we started to clean up. The remains of the food go to the numerous dogs having showed up by now. Everything else is loaded onto the truck, only the garbage bag does not fit inside and is thrown into the bushes!!!
It has been a very nice, eventful day with lots of gleaming children’s eyes, even Hemlata’s eyes were gleaming from time to time! […]
From 21st Oct to 8th Nov 2009 a small delegation of students and teachers from the Tagore school in Berlin Marzahn and the first chairperson of the Indian Forum, Heike Haupt, travelled to various locations in Jharkhand and West Bengal. Their guides in India were Alexander Nitschke, Sebastian Keller and Mukut Bodra. Here come a few excerpts from a students report in the school newspaper of the Tagore school, regarding the stay in Chaibasa (English translation by Roman Bansen):
On the next morning we were welcomed with an official reception of almost 3000 students. It was an amazing and touching moment, when so many faces smiled at us and cheered when we introduced ourselves. We were even so *famous*, that we had to give autographs into the exercise books of the Indian students. On the same afternoon we went on a bicycle tour with about 100 students from our partner school to a lake called Lupu Gutu, the not even 5 km away. […] It was a very nice trip, as we were able to speak even with the younger students in English and got to know a lot of the landscape around Chaibasa.
Another pleasant experience was the possibility to visit classes of the primary, middle and high school on the next day. The youngsters in the primary school were very curious and had lots of questions. They were interested in our lives in Berlin, in our everyday school life and in our skin colour, but also the teachers wanted to know how the lessons are structured in our school and what we think about their way of teaching.
We organized a painting competition and a sports day for the students of our partner school. Three students from each class took part in the competitions. Former students of the school supported us a lot in the preparation and implementation of these events. With watercolour, wax crayons and coloured pencils the children started enthusiastically into the painting competition. They needed some guidance however, especially in dealing with the watercolours, as the children don’t have any arts or music lessons as we were told. Nevertheless some excellent pictures were created on the topics “friends and family”, “the life in my village” and “my dreams for the future”.
And so a week in Chaibasa came to its end – much too fast we had to say good bye to our new friends. We will miss the evenings in which we often talked to them and laughed with them until late at night. And of course we will miss the children, with their smiles and laughs and liveliness. We shall also never forget the meeting with our sponsored children.
In March 2008 some of the sponsors from the sponsorship programme took the wedding of our executive board member Alexander as a chance to visit their sponsored children during a journey to Jharkhand.
Here some impressions from the travel report from Anke Keller (translated into English by Roman Bansen):
On the way to Chaibasa there is wonderful natural countryside to marvel about. The roads are partly in very bad condition and we were shaken thoroughly until we reached our campus in Chaibasa.
Clerks from the campus greet us heartily. We are served tea and a small snack. The welcome ceremony was really moving then. Many women and children came to greet us. Now we are here in Chaibasa, the place of which we have already heard so much. Never, in all my life, we had imagined to ever come to this place. And just now it has happened, we already think about the meeting with our sponsored children. Everything here reminds us a bit of a summer camp from our childhood. The huge premises, surrounded by little huts and in the middle a large square on which the boys are playing cricket right now. The campus is located at a little distance from the road. Here even the typical India noise is missing.
The sponsored children have just arrived and have gathered on the compound. We went out to them and have greeted all of them heartily, after the initial shyness was overcome. As it is quite hot outside on the school compound, we go into the building, where we have already prepared some delights for the children. We start to introduce us. As we want to know with whom we are dealing, the children did also introduce themselves and talked about their favourite subjects in school. They don’t even touch the candies, that we have put there specifically for them. The children are really very reserved and shy. Basti then asked them to take something from the plates. Only then they started eating. Afterwards we had the possibility to talk to the children individually. Our translator was with us after all.
In the end we used the time to take some pictures with the children. We had never dreamed, that one day we would embrace our sponsored children. Perfectly wonderful. Time has been flying and now it is time for the children, to set out for their long way home. We have to say good bye and can hardly keep our eyes from filling with tears. A very touching feeling.
One more thing seems worthy of mentioning to us: the often by India travelers bemoaned persistent begging, we encountered it only at the tourist attractions. In the small villages no one was begging. We have seen a lot and even more we have not seen. But we have experienced much from the “normal” India: life in rural environments, small towns and impressive landscapes. India is a fascinating country. It was good to be here. And maybe it was not the last time, as have not yet experienced all facets.
In autumn 2006 there was a students journey to Chaibasa again. We want to point out at this point, that the journey was financially supported by ASA EPJA and the BMZ, for what we, the Indian Forum “Mahatma Gandhi”, want to say thanks once again.
In the following a short firsthand report by Linda Hübner (translated into English by Roman Bansen):
In autumn 2006 we, five students and two teachers from the Mahatma Gandhi School, went on a big journey to India. In almost three weeks we travelled to the cities of Delhi and Varanasi and visited our partner school in Chaibasa.
Already at our arrival in the metropolis of Delhi we got a feeling for what the Indian way of life is like. Everything was new for us in hectic and noisy Delhi. Unknown food, exciting rikshaw rides, sightseeing in Old Delhi and non-stop hustle and bustle.
Excursion into the rice paddy fields
During the following 30 hour train ride to Chaibasa we had enough time to work through the first impressions. But when we arrived in Chaibasa after this long journey, there was no time to rest again. The church community was just celebrating a festival, to which we were invited immediately.
In the following days we explored the city and visited the different schools of the Lutheran Compound. Everywhere we were welcomed very warmly and the students peppered us with questions about Germany.
One highlight was our cycling tour to an Adivasi village, in which we got insights into the culture of the native inhabitants of India, that was totally unknown to us until that day.
While our arts teacher Mrs Seifert organized a painting workshop with the Indian children, we investigated and worked on location on our projects (“Women in India”, “Water and Environment in India” and “Religions in India”) within the framework of the financial promotion program.
Every day we were pampered with typical Indian meals by our hosts and we spent the evenings rehearsing our performances for the Indian German cultural programme, which was to become the crowning finale of our visit.
The end of our journey to India was the stay in Varanasi. At dawn the holy city at the banks of the Ganga river showed itself from its brightest side, so that it was really hard for all of us to go back home.
In autumn 2005, once again a group of students from the Mahatma Gandhi School visited the partners in Chaibasa. During this journey the preparations for the first year of the sponsorship program reached the final stage. Some impressions of this journey will be described in the following text from Heike Haupt (translated into English by Roman Bansen):
After a short city tour in Delhi we took the train to Ranchi, from where we went on via road to Chaibasa. There we arrive in the middle of the night and first of all came to realize, that we had to deal with a totally new quality of darkness here. We were lucky if we could see our own hands. Fortunately people with candles came immediately to help us find our way.
On the next day the official welcome celebration of the schools of the Lutheran Compound was held. With singing and dancing we were led to the put up festival tent, where we handed over the presents for the hosts after a short introduction. Afterwards we got a first glimpse of the Indian culture, as the students made our day with creative performances. Suddenly we were asked to get active ourselves. After exchanging some glances, longing for help, and after some whispered agreements the Indians finally got to hear some German songs.
During our stay we were invited by all schools on the compound and visited many church communities in Chaibasa and the surrounding area. Furthermore we helped in the cultivation of a field on the school or respectively church compound, which were to be used for the practical biology lessons. We also handed over painted T-shirts from our German students and animated the Indian students to let their creativity play on other Shirts that we had brought with us, so that we could bring them home to those students that were not able to come with us to India. With the help of our Indian friends we explained the use of the microscopes, which we had also brought over from Germany.
We did not only visit the schools and churches, but did also explore the hilly landscape of Jharkhand, which is covered with forests, as well as the lively markets of the towns and cities. Finally we completed our visit with a German Indian cultural program, that we had initiated.
In spring 2005 four members of the Indian Forum went to India. During their visit to Chaibasa the met little Nitish again. Unceremoniously Sebastian Keller decided to pay for Nitish’s school money, for his school uniform, his books etc. So Nitish became the first child of the sponsorship program, that had been founded with that.
In early November 2003, Mr. Buntrock, Mrs. Küstermann and four former students visited Chaibasa again. Among them was, once again, Alexander Nitschke, from whose travel reports some shorter extracts follow (translated into English by Roman Bansen):
The whole school and all inhabitants of the church compound were afoot to see us. As simple, usual people from Germany we felt quite honoured and flattered by all this furore. The best of it was the honest joy as well as the curiosity, that could be seen in countless faces of the children. As four of us had already visited Chaibasa in the year before, there was also the meeting with the friends from the previous year. We were especially impressed by the enormous improvements, that some of them had made in their English skills. The essential motivation for them was mainly the personal contact, that had been made with the visitors in the year before. Insofar the success of partnerships are probably to be found especially in the small and often personal things.
Again we visited the classes in the four different schools, that are located on the church compound of Chaibasa. The youngest seemed to be very interested in us white people and asked many questions, e.g. what we eat in Germany and how we celebrate christmas. Our accommodation was part of the old missionaries house from the late nineteenth century. In this “guest house” we were usually in private, but at all mealtimes different women were cooking for us.
Some trips we made from Chaibasa, visisted other schools, other church communities and enjoyed the wonderful, somehow romantic nature with its fields and hills during all the tours. The quality of the streets is absolutely uncomparable to the European standards. Every few meters there is pothole beside pothole.
In Chaibasa itself we examined the work on the computers, that were installed by our group here the year before. Meanwhile many students use the computers for learning. This means at lot of theory for them at first, but like everywhere in the world it’s the younger, who learn fast, especially in terms of technology. Two of the eight computers we brought to Khunti, a place about 50 kilometres away from Chaibasa, so that interested students here could learn how to work with computer technology. When we inaugurated the small PC room, many small faces beamed all over with curiosity. To ensure the work with the computers, a young man named Pawan Toppno, an expert on this field, cares for the whole project on location on behalf of us since last year. The new school building is under construction for some time now, but the progress is very slow, as there is a lack of money, just as everywhere else. That this construction is really necessary we already realized last year, when we visited the overcrowded class rooms in the old building, which is in danger of collapsing. Unforgettable times we had with the students on the compound, e.g. when we played soccer or cricket together on the school yard or just horsed around, without understanding just the slightest bit of the other’s language.