On Thursday I went to visit the Oriya Basti school located in one of the water contaminated slum areas of Bhopal.
The neighborhood is very small, very poor, and surrounded by many other poor communities. What sets the community aside from the others around it is the ethnic composition of it’s people. The people from Oriya Basti are from the Eastern Indian state of Orissa and they have a different culture, language and look to them.
In the 1980s increasing employment opportunities enticed many people from Orissa to move to, and eventually settle in Old Bhopal, extremely close to the Union Carbide Factory.
The Oriya Basti school is very small with many young students and a few older ones. Tasneem and Triveni are the teachers at the school. They really love the kids and it’s clear that the kids there love them a lot too.
Teachers: Tasneem and Triveni
Just this past summer, a Sambhavna volunteer named Stephanie spent 6 weeks working at the school with Tasneem, Triveni and the students. Her goal was to use the space behind the school to plant ayurvedic medicinal plants and flowers, and educate the children on their uses. Over the course of the summer, they successfully planted Tulsi, Henna, Hibiscus, Aloe Vera and some other plants. The students took a field trip to the herbal medicine garden at Sambhavna and learned all about the values of ayurvedic plants.
Unfortunately, after Stephanie’s departure, the garden was neglected and it became overrun with weeds, making it difficult to even find the medicinal plants. When I went to visit the school the first time, the teachers told me that the kids had not been in there due to some snake rumors. So on Thursday, when I went back to the school with Salman, a Sambhavna Community Health Worker, my intention was to get the kids excited and motivated again to use their garden, and encourage them to take responsibility for its upkeep.
Garden ‘before’ photo
While at the school, I also got to meet someone named Ganga Ram. He’s one of the senior elders of the community and commands a lot of respect and authority. From my impressions he seems like the acting principal/grandfather/judge at the Oriya Basti School. Ganga Ram also put his two sense in about the snakes.
But despite the multiple snake warnings, I still wanted to check out the garden…
On Thursday, garden was so overgrown with vines and weeds that none of the actual ayurvedic plants were easily visible within the space. There was also a lot of plastic and trash that had been discarded and tossed into the garden.
So Salman and I sat down with the kids and had a talk about keeping the garden maintained, and caring for the herbal medicine plants. We arranged to go back on Saturday and work with the community health volunteers to help get the gaden back in shape.
Salman had to leave me at the school for a couple hours so he could make the rounds in the community, and I spent the rest of the time with the kids practicing english, playing games (hangman) and of course having a serious Danielle Taylor style photo shoot:
Naturally, I couldn’t resist getting in on the action as well…
After Salman picked me up, before heading back to Sambhavna, we went to visit a woman from the community who grows ayurvedic plants for community members in the small garden courtyard of her home.
On Saturday I went back to Oriya Basti with Salman to meet with the Community Health Volunteers and get started clearing up the garden.
I was delighted when I arrived at the basti and ran into my best buddy Sham Babu! Who greeted me even more enthusiastically than he does at Chingari Trust.
When Salman and I got to the school, we waited a bit for the community volunteers to arrive. Several women from the community came by and a lengthy and heated discussion took place about the possibility of snakes. The conversation was so exhaustive that I was almost relieved when the topic somehow got switched to the fact that I’m unmarried…
After some time, everyone was finally able to get started in the garden!
After a couple of hours of hard work in the hot Bhopali sun, the garden was looking great–not only was it all cleared up of weeds and garbage, but we could actually see where individual ayurvedic plants were located.
And then we all had chai!
By Melanie Hadida