Things at Vidya Vanam are going along as usual, but I thought I would update you on what has changed since before the summer.  I am no longer the single science teacher as we now have a much more proficient lady to take over! She is a very good teacher with a strong understanding of science. I still assist in her lessons but she is more than competent. Instead, my new role is as Vocational Agriculture teacher. We’re in the midst of planning a new vocational school to begin next summer, this will include courses on computer technology, agriculture, dance, music, textiles and more is still to be decided. At the moment, we’re integrating the idea into our regular curriculum for the two senior classes with 3 agriculture periods a week and additional dance and music classes for selected students after school.

As far as I’m concerned, my lessons are to be practical, hands on lessons with as little writing as possible. This pretty much translates to ‘gardening,’ or has done so far.  I’ve divided the ground up and split it between small groups. Each group has a topic; flowers, medicinal plants, herbs, spices and vegetables. Obviously there has been a little mixing between the groups with the Ganga flower team also growing spinach and those who have medicinal plants dedicating full beds to lady’s finger seeds or so on. We’ve prepared the ground by digging and weeding and watering and planted seeds and shoots. It’s amazing to see students who are bored to sleep in the classroom just come to life when they get outside. Many of the kids have a much greater knowledge of the plants and earth than I ever will, and I feel a bit of a phony calling myself their teacher!

At the moment we have quite a few flowers growing, as well as some chilly plants, onions, coriander, tulsi (a variety of herb which they compare to basil), aloe vera, mint, tomatoes and multiple types of ‘spinach’ or in Tamil – keerai. We have also planted and have little seedlings for beans, pumpkin/watermelon (nobody is quite sure), lady’s finger, more chilli plants and God knows what else! We found that when we put the seeds in the ground it took such a long time to grow, so as a replacement for little pots we used halved coconut shells and made holes in the bottom. No easy task as my pen knife is now very blunt! These seeds are growing much quicker and I think we will have to transplant them into the ground pretty soon.

Teaching a subject like this is very relaxing because all the work is fun and practical, it’s also so interesting because I learn just as much as my students. We’re in the middle of trying to dig a compost pit, but struggling to find somewhere without rocks, roots or pipes. Hopefully this will be the next stage of our classes because the soil quality is so poor it’s important to do something about it. The new science teacher, Vidya, also just helped me with assembling a structure for climbing plants, like beans and pumpkin/watermelon. Apparantly if you tie rope around the seedling and to the top of the frame then the plants will grow faster. I’ve never heard of this before in my life! My Grandad has also been a great help, giving me all sorts of information regarding the garden. But unfortunately he has no ideas on our most recent addition of a banana tree!