It is always a pleasure to chat up with Vidula. Aakash, my co trustee at Peepal Tree, Jammu, was visiting Pune. Took him to over to Garware Bal Bhavan for a chat with Vidula. We were promised half an hour of her time. We ended up staying on for 1.5 hours. We moved around the beautiful campus. Aakash spent time in the tree house.
Like PTP, Garware Bhavan also has a problem with dust rising as the humidity levels drop in summer. Surprisingly one part of the ground does not have that problem – which is below a huge tree. We hypothesized that if we mix dried tree leaves with the soil, the dust problem would reduce. It is an experiment worth trying at PTP.
The water problem was not there till a few years ago at BB. The reason: a 400 year old water distribution system featured above. This draws water from the Katraj lake and feeds it to Pune city. Till last year, BB used to draw water from this pipeline. This year though it has run dry.
What is interesting about the building of BB is its shape – an octagon. And of course an octagonal skylight at the center of the building. It eliminates the need of lighting during the day.
Children at BB indulge in some 80 kind of activities under supervision of their Tai’s. The most fun one seems to be eating jamuns under the tree. Another that the kids enjoy the most is “Simon says” or its Marathi version “Shivaji Mhantos” Each activity has some meaning – it is just not fun. There is a learning objective attached to it – which comes out most often through discussions once the activity is done.
BB as a policy allows students to continue till the age of 12. After which they have to leave. One issue that they face in any case is that students seem to be leaving much sooner – as soon as they enter grade 1. Parents want them to spend time on specialized activities – instead of the general play that they end up doing at BB. One more cause of attrition is that the Tai’s are not geared to dealing with older kids. They have been through a two week training program – but it does not seem to help beyond KG years. My advice to Vidula was that she needs to look at college kid volunteers – as also the older students to guide the younger ones.
Though both genders are equally represented at BB, Vidula finds more boys coming up to chat with her. She has hypothesized that girls do well in any case at school – they know how to manipulate their surroundings. But boys are rebels – and find school difficult. BB’s open atmosphere helps these rebels communicate better.
Peepal Tree Child at play on the slide
Talking of training, the Tai training is held twice a year – in Feb and Jul. The fee is a reasonable 2500. They manage to get great speakers to come. One example is Milind Watve, Professor of Biology at AISSER. In these training programs, Tai’s are also made to do work with their hands in stuff like origami. They are also trained in the art of story telling using hand or finger puppets.
The aim of BB is to inculcate the right values in children. The tai starts the class by making students talk about their experiences at home and in school. The first 10 minutes of a ‘Taas’ are devoted to this activity. This is followed by group games. BB believes that these values would stand the kids in good stead for the rest of their lives – especially in times of crisis.