Visit to Lady Khatun Marium Navik School
India Trip February 2013 – 51st Edinburgh (Bonnyrigg) Company Boys’ Brigade
Ten hardy souls set off on a cold and damp Saturday morning in February, starting out on the long journey from Bonnyrigg in Scotland, to Mumbai in India. A not inconsiderable distance of approx 4,642 miles as the crow flies, or if you want to drive – 6,650 miles according to Google! The group comprised of 4 BB officers, 4 members of the company, and 2 teachers from Midlothian Council.
The reason for the trip was to visit the Lady Khatun Marium Navik School in Nhava, just south of Mumbai. The 51st Bonnyrigg Boys Brigade Company has sponsored 4 children in the school for eight years, and there has been an open invitation to the Company to go over and visit for a few of these years. Following the retiral of the Company treasurer, Mr Eric Lamb, it was decided to make the trip as Eric’s swan song for the Company as it was he who set up the link with the school through his work as a maritime communications lecturer and examiner.
After a long trip, flying from Glasgow to Dubai, and onward to Mumbai, the group arrived on the Sunday morning. Met by one of the teachers from the school and a tour guide, they spent part of the day taking in some of the sights of Mumbai – the Gateway To India, Banganga Tank (a tranquil reservoir sheltered from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, surrounded by Hindu temples) and the Hanging Gardens – before weariness took over and they took the two hour drive from Mumbai to Nhava.
The school is situated within the campus of the maritime college TS Rahaman on the island of Nhava. Surrounded by mangroves, the island is connected to the mainland by a permanent link road. The school began as a small off-shoot of the college, looking after orphans and children of the shipping company that preceded the college. It grew from the handful of children to now almost 1,000 from Nursery to Junior College (3 – 17 years).
Having met the Chair of the School Management Committee, Elizabeth Yusuf, and the school Principal, Daisamam (Daisy) Paul, the previous night, our group toured the school on the Monday morning. The whole group were overwhelmed by the politeness and friendliness of all the children. Whenever, we walked into a classroom, the whole class automatically stood up and said “Good morning Ma’am” to the principal and “Good morning Sir” to the rest of us. Later the members of the Company – Lewis Houliston (12), Michael Daniel (15), Blair Wright (15) and Jay Aird (17) – met with groups of the pupils during their break period, and were taken to their classes to see where they worked. We were also treated to songs and recitals as we went round the classes as well.
We also visited the onsite hospital and visited the “tank” – a reservoir constructed to supply the school and adjacent village, built in memory of one of the founders of the campus. Later in the day we took a walk into the local village, and also visited the Maritime Museum on the campus, which gave a history of shipping in the local area and also the history of the founding family behind the original shipping company and then college.
The following morning, a special assembly was held where the group were formally welcomed, and honoured in the traditional Indian way with the Tikka mark. The children conducting the assembly gave a very interesting and informative presentation on India and its culture. This was followed up by a presentation from our group on Scottish culture, culminating in teaching the children the song “You Cannae Shove Yer Granny Off The Bus!”
During the morning we were also introduced to the children we have sponsored for the last eight years –Ajit Prasad (15), Irfan Ansari (14), Divja Jamble (14), and Harshada Deshmukh (13). They showed us their school work, and talked about their hopes for the future and their interests. Their schoolwork was very neat and tidy and their artwork excellent. We also presented them with gifts for them, and also 100 pairs of socks for the school and a donation of funds to the school. The formal part of the day over, we were taken sailing and Kayaking by the Captain of the campus. In the evening, a barbecue was held where we were introduced to the senior staff/officers of the college. An honour indeed.
On the Wednesday, we were guests of honour at the school sports for the nursery and younger primary age children, where there were also gymnastic displays by the younger children and dancing performed by older pupils. This was followed by a tour of the farm and bio-gas facilities, where the college and school are trying to be as self sufficient as possible by recycling as much waste as possible. Any hard waste such as cardboard, metals or glass are sold, and soft waste such as food and farm waste are fed into their bio-gas plant, and the gas used for cooking in the kitchens, which we also visited to see the production process for the chapattis they make daily – around 6,000 each day ! We were also shown around some of the college training facilities, where we had the chance to steer a container ship (OK, it was only a computer simulation!).
The school arranged for us to take a trip to Matheran, an area of natural beauty, on the Thursday. The area is accessible by road, but the scenic route is by train from Neral. It is a narrow gauge train that winds its way up the hill side and takes around 2 hours (as opposed to 20 minutes by taxi!). It is a very picturesque route, albeit in “compact” carriages in stifling heat! Our time there was slightly limited as our planned 9am train was full, so we had to wait on the 10.30am train. Unfortunately this train left over an hour late. There are many areas to walk in with scenic views and we took in some of them, including Lake Charlotte, leading to some stunning views down the valley. Once back at Matheran, we walked to Dasturi Naka and took taxis back down the hill to Neral, and then made the 2 hour journey back to Nhava.
Our final day was another morning visit to the school to say our goodbyes to the children and the staff. Having said our farewells and presented “thank you” flowers to Elizabeth and Daisy, we headed back to Mumbai for a little more sightseeing. Our first stop was to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. It was an interesting visit, which also had a special exhibition Mummy : The Inside Story (on Egyptian mummies, not motherhood !).
Our final visit was a guided walking tour around one of the slum areas, Dharavi. Not really knowing what to expect, we entered the slum with our guide. He took us around the various zones – recycling, industrial, pottery, leatherwork and residential – and explained about the slum as he went. It surprised us in many ways – it was much cleaner than we expected, didn’t smell as bad as we expected, and the amount of industry and work done in the slum was very surprising. The whole area is easily described as “high density” meaning the paths between the buildings were very narrow and quite dark in places. The tour company we used, Reality Tours and Travel, was chosen as it works with the local community and profits made from the tours are used to fund a community centre in the slum. This provides activities, training and some healthcare advice for the community and is a fantastic way to give something back to the people who live there.
One thing not touched on throughout this report is the traffic. Unbelievable, scary, mad – add your own adjective here! The roads in and around Mumbai are among the most congested in the world and really have to be seen to be believed. That coupled with some of the roads being in poor condition made a few of our journeys quite “interesting”. So much traffic fighting for the same road space was scary and amazing to watch all in one go. To our amazement, we did not see a single accident, although most vehicles did display “battle scars” ! And the less said about our experiences crossing roads the better !
After having a final bite to eat we then made our final journey back to the airport to fly home. Thankfully we had plenty of time, as we were caught in very heavy traffic heading out of Mumbai – the rush hour still in full flow after 9.00pm at night! The 45 minute journey took double that and we arrived at the airport at 10.30pm. From then, it was wait, queue, and wait some more. Check-in started at 1.00am and we finally got through immigration and security by 2.30am!
We flew back to Dubai and were hurriedly escorted to our waiting flight bound for Glasgow. The time passed relatively quickly and before long we were back on Scottish soil, with the minibus waiting to take us back to Bonnyrigg.
It was a long way to go for a relatively short visit, but everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We met so many amazing people, and experience a culture very different to our own. Politeness and respect was the norm unlike back home (unless you were driving!). The children we met were all hugely enthusiastic about school and all seemed to WANT to be there, and WANT to learn and do well. The kindness and generosity of our hosts who put us up and fed us so well was also overwhelming. We can look forward to continuing our sponsorship and friendship with the school, and possibly another trip in the future.