At this point in the trip we had only spent one full week with one another, but it felt like much longer. The entire group connect in a way that I have never experienced. And the students and teachers alike would need the support of one another as we entered into the most difficult leg of the trip. Traveling alone in the Himalayas is enough to wear on anyone who dares it. We however, were entering into a world completely foreign to the western way of life that so many of us were used to. Sanji village is one of many traditional tribal villages located in the lower Himalayas. Village life consists of subsistent living and rustic conditions that provided an important insight into the reality of many people in similar conditions throughout the world. Sanji is a village that for the most part has been left out of technological and cultural modernization. While village life came across to us privileged westerners as tough, many of the villagers showed their true character with their exceptionally warm hearts and hospitality.
This was no exception for our hosts Lori Mcfadyen and her husband Kumar. Lori is originally from Canada and moved to Sanji village after falling in love with Kumar. Kumar is a local leader who after marrying Lori brought her into the Sanji family. Together the two have worked to improve living conditions in the village, improving sanitation, farming techniques, and their most impressive achievement, starting the Garhwal English Medium School (GEMS). GEMS is their baby per say and has been a huge success in an area that desperately needs education reform. Government schools in the area suffer from excessive exploitation and lack of professional attention. This renders the students to situations in which they are happy to receive a passing grade of 33% before graduating high school. The school still faces many challenges from government corruption and abuse in the area. For more information, you can check out Lori’s blog which provides an impressive and comprehensive understanding of the challenges found in the Garwhal region.
For the most part, the kids adjusted well during the first couple of days. Even when we had another slight change of plans. Unfortunately, Lori and Kumar’s mother passed away. The small village would soon be overcome with the many mourners from other villages scattered along the mountain side. Coupled with the fact that they soon would have too many mouths to feed and a slightly overwhelming scenario for the students, the teachers made an executive decision to leave the village for a couple days and let the proper mourning ceremonies take place. Natraj came though once again and found us an alternate location a few hours down the mountain. Camp Taapu Sera turned into another great experience for the kids in multiple ways. Nestled in a river valley between two small mountains, the kids were able to explore the river next to the camp and the surrounding waterfalls. More importantly, they were able to reflect on the importance of adaptability and change. An unintended theme of the entire trip that while difficult, lead to many great adventures!
We returned to the village two days later and regrouped. Activities resumed and the kids were able to do some major trekking to make up for the cancelation of Nag Tibba. They also participated in smaller activities such as broom making, plum picking, jam making, farming, killing spiders the size of their hands, soccer and tag with the village kids. Scattered between activities, Lori and Kumar held some excellent Q&A discussions that gave us great insight into village life. At one point we even attempted to paint the GEMS and at least got a coat of paint on ourselves in the process.
Sanji village would be a growing experience for everyone involved. The kids got out of their comfort zones. They were at this point disconnect from the modern world and all its comforts. They were able to experience a life that might not otherwise cross their path. And throughout they developed a bond with one another that carried them through this difficulty. The teachers were no exception. As we lead and cared for the 21 eighth graders or strengths complimented each other’s slight weaknesses, creating a harmonious bond of friendship. It is a bond and affection that while subject to the effects of distance and time will remain. And as the last few days approached it all came to head. While I didn’t express my feelings as much in the previous posts due to focusing on the actual activities and events, the trip was very emotional for me in a way that I did not foresee. It would actually break a hardness in me through mechanisms I can’t fully explain, but will try in the next post. The last few days of the trip I found myself tearing up with powerful feelings. With that we prepared to leave Sanji village and return to the Canadian International School, all effected by the last three weeks in ways that would take some time to process.