I returned from a trek in the Indian Himalayas, fundraising for St Margaret’s Hospice (to date the trek has raised £69,000!). As usual when travelling, one makes comparisons between the countries one visits and the UK. I was fortunate enough to visit a rural primary school in Northern India; the children get up at dawn, go out to help in the fields, home for breakfast, walk the steep paths to school on their own (sometimes as much as three or four miles), attend school, return home, go back into the fields and then bed! The contrast with our own children could not have been clearer. I am not saying it is an ideal childhood, but these children were all fit-looking, slim, attentive, independent, very happy; studying their work books, I was impressed by the standard of English and maths for nine-year-olds. Apparently every child in Himchal Pradesh is able to go to school, unlike in other Indian states.
We visited one of their villages, where they grow virtually everything needed to sustain their community; we admired the blankets the women made from their sheep’s wool, the hay and wood already stacked in the eaves for next winter, the racks that will be used to store vegetables and fruit in the autumn, and the gleaming pots and pans next to the wood fire, which provides warmth and heat for cooking. No supermarkets or even shops for them but complete self-sufficiency.
I also revisited the Disabled Children’s New Life Centre outside Kathmandu, and again the contrast is vivid. In spite of extensive fundraising by generous supporters in the UK their facilities are very limited, but the cheerfulness, love and support these children give each other is heartwarming and very humbling. It was wonderful to see the same children I’d met 18 months ago, growing up and becoming responsible young people in spite of their sometimes horrific disabilities.
And back to Mill on the Brue – the day after I returned we held a successful Open Day for teachers and their families. Visitors always comment that a) they didn’t realise the Centre was so large and b) that we had so many facilities.
We have had a school for deaf children from Berkshire staying for a week, plus our first camping group, Gillingham School, on 1 May. The very busy month is filled with schools from London and the Home Counties, and we are anticipating the ‘silly season’ from the beginning of June until August. Let’s hope the weather will be better this year, as we have many children from abroad booked in.
Weddings on Saturdays, plus a local prep school practising their team working skills, and our staff donning their running shorts to train for the Bristol half-marathon in September all add variety to our working life. In June we hope to assist Sexey’s in a sponsored abseil to raise funds to enable students to visit Zambia.
And so I will, I am sure, continue comparing and contrasting my recent experiences in those very different countries of India and Nepal; it’s good to be back in Bruton!
Apparently we live in the ‘VUCA’ world, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development magazine. I don’t know who first came up with this odd acronym but it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous! Organisations which can adapt and be agile in this new order, particularly with one very important dimension, the skills of our workforce, will gain hugely. Education does recognise that employers have identified various skills which are lacking in newly recruited young personnel, but I wonder how much attention is paid to interpersonal skills? With the internet, social networking and virtual ‘friends’, do most young people understand the importance of communicating face to face?
Just before Easter, as a school was about to leave, having had a very successful Year 6 residential trip at Mill on the Brue, a teacher remarked that the time away was so much more than learning how to climb, or canoe, or fire an arrow straight. It was all about communication, listening, decision making, negotiating , helping, encouraging, trusting, and of course at table for meals, sitting and sharing, passing food around, being aware of others. So much emphasis is placed on passing exams and teachers, quite understandably, may have assumed that developing interpersonal skills is a parental responsibility.
Writing this on 1st April I wondered as I walked over Tolbury Hill near Bruton whether nature was playing a great big April Fool’s trick on us which isn’t particularly amusing. The morning was again grey with that constant Easterly wind which brings tears to one’s eyes – bracing! It seems to have been like this for months and I am sure that our sympathies go out to the farmers who have struggled with torrential rain and floods, followed by biting cold and freezing snow. The weather in the UK as I write, is more like northern Scandinavia but of course the children who have visited all during March, unlike those in Norway or Sweden, are not equipped for the cold – we have had in many instances to bulk them up with layers as so much of their time with us is spent outside whatever the weather.
Meals are important to most, and even more so in an Outdoor Centre where extra carbohydrates are required for so much activity. However we have noticed over the last couple of years that children are becoming fussier and fussier over which limited foods they will eat, and our food waste was becoming heavier and heavier and eventually going to landfill. We used to keep a couple of pigs which devoured the waste, as did many people in the country, but sadly such delights as apple crumble and custard or toast and marmalade, are banned from the pig’s dining table and nowadays their diet is restricted to what must be very boring pig nuts. So the burning question became, what could we do about the food waste? We tried bokashi (a rather nice smelling mixture that is supposed to break down the food which is buried in trenches) but whoever had discovered this organic mix had not reckoned with badgers or dogs, the next was green cones but unless we applied chemicals which we were not prepared to do they were useless, we visited some anaerobic digesters, expensive, use electricity, have to have cover and someone who’s job would be to fill it proportionately, wormeries, but worms go deep down when it’s cold and unless we had millions would be overcome with food waste.
So we went back to our customers. This year, as last, we are monitoring and weighing the waste daily and now there is a competitive chart where they can see how much the previous schools have produced in kilograms and grams per person. The schools have entered enthusiastically into our ‘beat food waste’ campaign, to the extent that a new instructor arrived for breakfast and was about to throw away half a bowl of cornflakes when he was greeted by eight furious faces who told him in no uncertain terms that he had wasn’t going to be able to throw it in their bin or be named as “Waster of the month”! The lowest score so far from Year 6, St. Louis in Frome is 91 grams per person over four days. Not only are the children learning about where food comes from and distances, (geography), and where it will go if they waste it, they are doing maths with addition and division, and in some cases how to use a knife and fork for the first time!
April starts with our instructor training with a very great emphasis on customer care and interpersonal skills which are completely transferable to other employment, a large group of deaf children which brings its own challenges and experiences, followed by school groups throughout the month. We are holding an open day on Saturday 27th April for teachers and their families; their children and partners can try some activities while we show the teachers around and demonstrate the importance of experiential outdoor learning The phrase ‘lighting a fire, not filling a bucket’ can be used inside or out to encourage the passion for lifelong learning and I know that at Mill on the Brue we do the former.
Hopefully by the beginning of May spring will really be here – the camp site will be up (!) and we will forget the bitter days of winter and enjoy the warmth and vibrancy of the countryside.