Saturday, May 27, 2017

Gov. Board meeting at Dehradun

27th May (Saturday): We had a fruitful meeting at Central Hotel, near Barista, in Dehradun. Rachit, Rekha, Belam, Sultan, Dhaneshi and Sachin.

We talked about programs - ongoing and upcoming: Sarigad Watershed project, Digital literacy program, Swajal etc. We also talked about our heartaches: pending renewal of FCRA!

we also talked about the need for SMTA to take a little risk, welcome new talents, teach young people and move forward, instead of living in the past... which of course was great and has brought us all the way here: As Kirkegaard says: Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards...

What is this flower called?

Do you know what this flower is? I dont, unfortunately! A few days back, during teachers' training, teachers came to me and asked me the names of the various plants and trees on our campus. Alas, I did not know any- beyond Rose, cactus and Marigold! Shameful!

With the first shower of monsoons, many more flowers will bloom on our campus- and I will have to memorize many more names, I guess!

Oh, yes, we had had some early showers and some unexpected hail and thunder storms - when black clouds came tumbling down almost to the ground- with sheet lightening lighting up its belly suddenly and with a deep rumble. Some thing like this:

We are looking forward to a glorious monsoon. Here is a recent picture of our Jakhadhar campus:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jogio Mela

Bangles for women
 Jogio is a village at about 6000 feet in Chakrata mountains. A dusty unpaved road connects it to Chakrata, 25 km away. In the month of May, a Mela is organised to celebrate a local deity. The deity (Devta) is brought in a palanquin, carried by four men (from families traditionally playing this role) and the palanquin is made to dance..
This year it was on 14th May. On the long brow of a mountain, people gathered in their colorful dresses. Vendors offered colorful sweets and salties- ice-cream too - while everyone waited for the Devta.
I met some children from our SMTA school. All dressed up for mela!

Most fairs in Himalayas are meant to honor some Deity- and offer a chance for women to get out of their villages, away from the daily drudgery. A great time for socializing in the hills where time moves slowly...
Pakodi shop

Crowd  gathers by 12 noon..

SMTA school

Story of a primary school:
This small primary school started in August 1995. First few children belonged to SMTA staff itself and couple of neighbors in this sparsely populated mountain community. Then, nearby villages began to participate and send their children. Class 5 got recognized by state education services around 1997 or so. At that time there was no school on this road from Chakrata to Lakhamandal. Vijay Laxmi, Shanti Karki and Champa Karki, were some of the early teachers - sort of pioneers. The school was affiliated with nearby Tungroli government school initially, to ensure that children would be able to sit for exams and get an acceptable certificate. UNICEF gave some aid and the school was upgraded to class eight.

SMTA was also running primary schools (APNA school) in over 100 villages. This idea was based on couple of stark realities of the last century: The state would not run a school for less than ten children at that time. The mountain villages being small, could not produce more than five children aged 4-10 years. The children being too young, could not walk daily to the bigger villages with a primary school. So, primary education for these children often began very late - and there were many such villages all over Himalayas; it was common to see a ten year old lad sitting in class one! Many children just dropped out of the educational system and were pressed by their families into other tasks: herding animals, helping on farm etc. The other option was for the family to migrate to a city for the sake of child's education. Few families could afford it and when they did migrate, it meant ruining of farm and homestead left behind in the village.
School campus on a beautiful evening
In this scenario, SMTA implemented a new idea: A class eight or ten pass student, was given a basic understanding of caring for and teaching other young children in his/ her own village- and it was called APNA school (our own school). This older child was given frequent refresher trainings, was supported by a network of supervisors and was given regularly provided with excellent Teaching learning aids and books etc.

Apna schools flourished since, those who have been denied the fruits of education for centuries, know its value too well. Decades later, state government adopted the idea as "Shiksha Mitra". APNA schools got absorbed in that government scheme. A time came when, SMTA was left with just one school: the one at Jakhadhar, near Chakrata. SMTA continued to nurture it, since local community found it useful. Many teachers contributed their precious years to this school: Sohan Singh, Satyaprakash Chaudhary, Kesri Chand, Shurvir Singh Chauhan, Hariman Pandey, Mangat Ram, Belam Das, Chain Singh (who has rejoined recently), Dhaneshi, Sultan and others. (Please let me know the names I am missing! And there are MANY, I am sure!).

This is the story of this SMTA school in brief. And some pictures of its current students. If you ever want to volunteer and spend some time with these children, in these mountains, you are welcome to get in touch.

School Meeting at Jakhadhar

Today, we had a staff meeting. The two teachers and two admin staff- myself and Sultan. The two teachers are Shri Chain Singh and Shri Kedar Singh (extreme left). Chain Singh ji is taking the charge of the campus as well as the school, so a little discussion was in order. The total children at present are about 40. A small number. But when I look at a child as this, and think of her parents, I think we are offering a valuable service.  This is Jaunsar Bawar, a tribal area of Uttarakhand. Government subsidy, reservations and confusion of identity has led to apathy and lack of enterprise among the local community. The only hope is children.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


 After a long gap, I was going back to Jakhadhar again. I could notice many new developments; Road was so well made, that I almost overshot the turn to SMTA! Our campus has a nice gate now. Buildings look clean and painted recently.

Children, as usual, were angelic. We had a group photograph with children under the same iconic tree- under which many Canadian students had got themselves photographed.

I also fondly remembered and missed Maggi, who was quite good at the miracle of 2 fishes and five loves and hungry hoards.. and Ruben too was missed in that little garden in the middle of nowhere..

We gave some sweets to the Children, and made them recite poems, sing songs, recite tables etc. etc. Lot of FUN. How time flies!

Sultan and I, plan to spend sometime here sorting things out and welcoming Chain Singh ji, our old teacher, who is joining us again after a small gap. Keep checking this space for more updates and pics from the field. Peace!

Why dogs?

In a study in the west, it was discovered that old people staying in well furnished and serviced homes were, never the less, suffering from depression. The psychologists gave half of them a small indoor plant to care for. Other half was given some other treatment. Six month later, the "plant group" was doing better- they were more cheery and social- and had less complaints about aches and pains. The conclusion was: caring for others, being responsible for others, somehow sets us free from our constant preoccupation with "my aches, pains, health, heart ache" etc.

But these two dogs are also a sensitive indicator of another dimension of our abilities as a team: Are we good at multi-tasking or not? Do we remember to pour water in their bowl? Move them around to shady part of the campus as the day advances? while doing all other things in SMTA? etc.

We hope to stand all these tests because we do love Moti and Leo!

12th May

Sameer Ghsosh,  Gourav Datta, Vaibhav and Gambhir Singh ji came for a little chat and counseling. While they went through their activities involving communication, presenting, discussing and summarizing- Sultan ji practiced his presentation skills: What is SMTA? What does it do? Why? etc.

Sachin offered a structure to the meeting and some insights and feedback. The group made a small voluntary contribution to SMTA in recognition of its social service background.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Mukul Sharma, who is a UN volunteer, coordinating youth skill development programs in Sirmaur district - and an old friend, visited us recently (23 April 2017). Fakru and Cyril sahab visited us a few days back- sharing some ideas as to how SMTA can apply for small funds, trainings, demo agri plots etc. Finally Marian came, to check on dogs and rest of us. Dhaneshi ji took her around and they discussed what flowers or plants can go to which corner or plot. The team of (us) four has been sitting under Bodhi tree for discussions and for envisioning exercises. Everything is quiet in this Eden!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

6-7 May

 Vaibhav, a person who stammers (pws) came to SMTA campus. He interacted with Sultan ji, Dhaneshi ji and Kundan ji. He analysed one positive experience from the past and discussed what were the possible factors behind his success and how those factors could be mainstreamed into a desirable life style.
Vaibhav has done his class twelve and is making up his mind about doing B. Tech - from India or abroad? We discussed various pros and cons of each option.
Finally we organised a mock interview for him. His father ( a teacher at Rikhaad) and Mother also came and were counseled by sachin. This can be a difficult time for the whole family when an adolescent child wants to go away for career or training. About this time, the child begins to see himself as an individual (and not a satellite revolving around parents) and wants to take decisions in THAT light. Parents expect the child to behave in the same old"dependent" way. This opens up a chasm of mis-understanding and lack of communication. We hope that this family will soon come to grips with all these issues. Vaibhav also spent some time with the two dogs- Leo and Moti- and seem to have enjoyed it. We concluded the workshop on 7th.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

SMTA Annual Report

Here is our new, 2017-18 Annual Report as free pdf download (4 mb).
Here is 2016-17 Annual report (pdf, 1.7 mb).
And here is our 2015-16 Annual Report as a free pdf download.

Friday, May 5, 2017

How to reach us?

Some new comers may have problem. But it is easy.
Reach Bhimawala Village on the outskirts of Vikasnagar and ask anyone about "Samta campus". It is a tall yellow building in the middle of fields. Here is the Google earth coordinates (Copy paste them):
30°27'59.12"N ,  77°45'31.66"E

A good landmark is: Dr Anil's Eye Clinic, which is on your right, as you approach Vikasnagar from Herbertpur/ Dehradun. Opposite this eye clinic, a lane is branching off on the left. Take it and enquire about SMTA campus.
If any problem give us a ring:
9412174911 (Sultan ji)
9412152249 (Kundan ji)

Keep exploring!