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Published: February 4th 2008
View of the town center
Those are our trucks. The water is a pond, one of many about that size, divided by walls. The building on the right held the public toilets and a school which was in session but whose students all piled out to visit with us. The yellow building straight ahead is the Regional Office. The top floor is used by the doctor for his visits. It's also where the JU students "camp" when they come for a longer visit. Next to that are a variety of shops.
Wow, this was a very long day!
As one of our group commented as we ate dinner, we traveled longer today than we did to get from Dulles to London! None of it anywhere near so comfortably but much more interestingly.
I almost entitled this "And VDOT thinks they have something to worry about" but didn't know how many folks would get that inference.
We started off as near to 7 a.m. as we could, traveling SSE into the State of West Bengal. We needed two vehicles today as most of our exchange partners were with us, as well as a number of students and the Dean of Students (who coordinated the NSS effort that is described next for some time).
There is a program called the National Service Scheme (NSS--another vocabulary discrepancy--scheme here means 'program', not the negative that it carries in U.S.) through which students volunteer their time to a project.
About five years ago, JU adopted a village in West Bengal, Panikhali. Located in a remote, very poor area of fisheries, brick factories, a tannery, and rice paddies, the villagers live hand-to-mouth in the area they've habitated for centuries.
JU has provided
We took LOTS of pictures of the children, partly because they were so anxious for us to turn the screens around and show them their photos.
a brick road through the village, from the square to the public school and we rode down it, after visiting with the children in the town center. The school, through grade 10, is run by the government with 15 teachers. JU provides free-of-charge tutoring before and/or after school for the poorest children, those who would not receive help or encouragement at home. Some of them also attend during the day but some must work in the rice paddies. We then walked back through the village. On the way, the retired mayor joined us.
About once a month, the JU medical officer comes to the village, sees patients for routine items and distributes antibiotics. This visit, the students brought blankets for distribution to the poorest of the villagers (it's winter and a bit colder than usual). The (retired) mayor had a list of eligible recipients and we were asked to help distribute the blankets. The "new" mayor arrived part-way through and helped complete the job.
We bid all the smiling faces goodbye and got back in the car for the trip to the jetty to catch the boat for the ride into Sunderbans. Sundarbans, formerly SUNDERBUNDS, is a vast
Girls Still in School
Most of the children came out from the school and crowded around us--these stayed inside--they may be the teachers?
tract of forest and saltwater swamp forming the lower part of the Ganges Delta, extending about 160 miles along the Bay of Bengal from the Hooghly River Estuary in India to the Meghna River Estuary in Bangladesh. (see http:// www.wb.nic.in/westbg/sundarban.html).
We had about 45 minutes on a one lane, two way road, after we left a village with a Mother Theresa statue (she and her missions did a lot of work in the entire area). It wasn't many km long but the up and down (bouncing) added to the length, I'm sure. Pipe is being laid along side the road so it's under construction and was quite a ride!
The boat ride was about 2 hours each way to the Sajnekhali Reserve. To do Sunderbans properly, at a minimum folks stay overnight at this Reserve and then continue by boat into the thicker part of the forest. Obviously, we didn't have time to do that but this opportunity to see the Mangrove Forest and wildlife was once-in-a-lifetime for me, at any rate.
After our return boat ride, we had a long ride in front of us. The driver stopped for tea after we finished the long, unfinished
Kids, kids, kids!
School emptied onto us.
road. Needless to say, we were all exhausted when we arrived back at JU but what a day!
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