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October - November 2009
Scottish love in India in 2009
by Aline Dobbie
This year is Scotland’s Homecoming; this is the title given to a series of events that have taken place to encourage the Scottish diaspora to return to the land of their origins and also to mark the 250 anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s great poet Robert Burns. It would seem that over all it has been a successful series of events and indeed one of our own relatives returned for a visit after an absence of nearly 50 years. However, what has impressed me is that even now the Scots People are continuing to play a part in lands overseas, not least of which is India.
My own family had lived in and served India with distinction for generations and thus I have a great love for the land of my birth to which I return annually and in which I travel widely so that I may write about the great changes and the challenges that still exist. Two very different things happened to me on the days 14th and 15th August 2009. On the 14th of August Graham and I took our little grandsons aged nearly 8 and 6 and a half to a particular museum. We have the great pleasure of looking after them for a week in the summer holidays; the day we chose for this visit was rainy and grey and unpromising. However we went to the Museum of Lead Mining at Wanlockhead; this is in the Southern Uplands of Scotland about 20 miles away from where we live. It is an excellent museum and very well run and the guide asked our little grandsons what age they are to which came a prompt reply from each of them. Well she said to the one, so you are going to be 8 a week today, then in the 18th and 19th centuries you would have been set to work in these lead mines, and you would soon follow to the other wide-eyed little boy. Child labour was rife throughout the United Kingdom we all know during the 18th and 19th centuries but when you see the conditions and harsh realities and are confronting these in the company of vulnerable little people then truly it brings the awfulness and severity of it home to you in the 21st century.
I have written about the reality of child labour in India in my three books; in fact India has the largest number of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world engaged in hazardous occupations – 12.6 million of them according to Unicef figures. What I am saying is that in the past we in the developed countries were content to allow this form of ‘slavery and forced labour’ for centuries. Now in the 21st century India and other developing countries continue to have children hard at work deprived of their childhood. This happens because of poverty and destitution. This is a cruel fact. Those who come from the Dalit and Scheduled Castes communities pay an even great price. Since the recent Indian General Election it was yet again announced that Indian children have a right to education, but so many are still deprived of so much.
On the 15th August Graham and I were guests of the Indian Consul General to Scotland at India’s 62nd Anniversary of Independence. It was an enjoyable evening and I had the great pleasure of meeting Gillie Davidson MBE who is the founder of a most wonderful organisation called Scottish Love in Action. This year is the tenth anniversary of Scottish Love in Action. In July 1999 Gillie Davidson, a nurse from Edinburgh, and Brian Barron, a professor at Edinburgh University, led 23 members of the Qll youth group on a visit to the town of Tuni in Andhra Pradesh in order to help build a Home-cum-School for 120 homeless children. The children were being cared for by Dr Christopher Premdas, the founder of a local NGO called Nazareth Association for Social Awareness (NASA). He requested Qll’s help and they responded by raising over £28,000 for the project. Qll went to Tuni and helped construct what became the Light of Love Home.
On their return from Tuni, Gillie, Brian and some of the members of Qll founded SLA to provide ongoing long term support for the children in partnership with Dr Premdas. In 2007 they responded to an emergency request from Dr Premdas to care for 57 destitute children in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, whose Indian sponsor had been killed in a car accident. Together they are now enabled to feed, clothe, house, educate and give medical care to over 450 children in Tuni and over 50 in Hyderabad. Scots people are continuing to serve India even now.
50 years ago I had lived briefly in Andhra Pradesh and to this day I love Hyderabad as a city and last visited there in 2005. It is known that almost 70% of Andhra Pradesh’s population lives close to or below the official poverty line. In the East Godavri district of Andhra Pradesh the literacy rate for Dalits is estimated at 17% for males and 4% for females.
Now if you will bear with me I want to tell you about life for the miners at Wanlockhead here in Scotland who were so dramatically brought to life for us the other day; unlike the coal mines of the period, where women and girls often worked underground, it was only males that were to be found working and around the mines at Wanlockhead. Boys aged 8 would start their working life as lead-washer boys. This job involved the youngster standing in the icy water of the stream, washing the lead particles to separate them from other rock and dirt. The boys would not have any shoes on, summer or winter in Scotland’s appalling weather! They would then progress into the mines to work as ore-sled boys. As the men extracted the ore and rubble, the boys would load it into their sleds for transport to the surface. It should be remembered that all this was done by the light of meagre candles, there was no electricity; it was a narrow mine shaft, wet and cold and extremely hazardous and requiring the obligatory hard hat on each visitor when we visited. Education however did play a significant role in the development of this area and there was a school by the middle of the 18th century. Subsequently the local great landowner the Duke of Buccleuch funded the building of a new and better school. The Duke also paid for a full time teacher and thus the Miners’ children were able to receive an education. The ‘Three Rs’ of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic were the main subjects for children at school in the village, but the older pupils also learned Greek, Latin and French. Through education those youngsters would have been able to make choices.
Now in India it is through education that the children being supported and nurtured through the work of SLA will grow and make choices and find opportunities. Education is the greatest opportunity any of us can have. In India thankfully young people grasp that fact and most especially their parents in conventional families try to give them the opportunity ‘to learn how to learn’, whereas now sadly there is a whole tranche of society here in Scotland that appears to undervalue the idea of education and advancement and have very little aspiration because a benefit culture has perhaps robbed them of natural aspirations and ambition to better themselves.
Gillie told me about her thrilling and joyful return to Tuni in Andhra Pradesh just before Christmas 2008. She and the Charity’s Development Manager Colin McRae returned to Tuni for the first time in three and a half years. Here is what she said
“Over 500 children in their bare feet and tatty play-clothes lined up either side of the dry, earthen track, greeting us with clapping, singing, petals and sweet-smelling garlands. Words cannot describe the intense joy of seeing the children of SLA again, nor the ecstatic welcome we received.
Over 500 children – the last time I was in Tuni there were only 370 – how the SLA Family has grown! The housing conditions have been greatly improved, especially for the boys. Also there has been great progress in standards of hygiene at the Home in Tuni, which is vital for the children’s health, with ten more toilets in the main School campus. It was so rewarding to see how the general health and nutrition of the children is improving due to medical care.
SLA has embarked on an ambitious immunisation programme, providing protection against a whole range of common illnesses. It was so good to see all the boxes of vaccinations, now fridge-stored, ready to start the programme. There is now enough money to carry out this programme for all SLA children and to extend it to children in some of the poorest villages in the surrounding area. This has been made possible by something called ‘Fiona’s Immunisation Fund’, established by Dr Fiona Strachan, an Edinburgh doctor who lovingly asked her friends and family to establish the fund after her death.
The visit to the Hyderabad Home-cum School was fascinating. Despite poor housing conditions the work being done there is excellent and we are determined to improve the housing conditions. A local doctor goes to the Home when he is needed which is hugely appreciated. All the children in the Hyderabad Home speak very good English due to the fact that there is a rule that they are only to speak English during the School day.
Educationally there has been great progress; two highly experienced and motivated part-time headmasters joined forces with Sony our Administrative Director. Both come to the School at 7 am every day to oversee morning study, and then return in the evening to supervise the tutors, teachers and pupils. They also work during holidays and set timetables and study programmes, organise staff and pupils as well as dealing with the tutorial programme for intermediate college students. They are determined to raise the standard in the SLA School which is getting a good reputation in the district. Now, most exciting of all, there are five students in High Education. They are dignified, intelligent, liberated, young adults determined to work hard and contribute to a just society. What fine role models they are for all the other children! Their example says ‘You are a Dalit rejected by society, you can succeed!’…this is what our work is all about.”
Those of us reading this take literacy and our education for granted, but truly it is education that will the solutions for India’s poor. One may ask how will there be enough jobs to employ everyone should they have the abilities and aspirations, to which I reply India has the ability to find ways of employment for those who become educated. At Diwali when we celebrate the ancient wonderful story of good overcoming evil, when families come together to rejoice in their kinship, when those in business look to the promise of a new financial year…that is indeed the time for people to say to themselves What Can I do for INDIA…..let me Give or Give Back.
Scottish Love in Action would love to hear from you and receive your financial help with their inspiring work. Gandhiji said, you may recall ‘If we each do a little then we together will achieve a lot….’ Happy Diwali.
Scottish Love in Action, Box 123 44-46 Morningside Rd, Edinburgh, Scotland EH10 4BF Tel: 0131 558 7395 firstname.lastname@example.org www.sla-iondia.org
A registered Scottish Charity Charity No: SCO30516 Company No: SC280397