The Perse School

Perse team make a difference at Christel House School in Bangalore

20 Sep 2018

The Perse has been working with the Christel House foundation since 2011 and raises money throughout the year to provide resources to support both the teaching of children and training of staff there. In July, Perse teachers Ben Wingfield, Jessica Summers and Carl Cerny, along with pupils Nancy Wang (Year 11), Jacqueline Chesher (Year 9) Camillo Padulli (Year 10) and Neil Sardesai (Year 10) travelled to Christel House School in Bangalore.

Ben Wingfield shares an insight into his summer experience.

The aim of this year’s visit to Christel House’s school in Bangalore was to forge ever stronger bonds between the school and the Perse through the mediums of English and Music. While Ms Summers and I worked on a singing project mixing English folksong and popular Carnatic music, Mr Cerny worked with teachers and pupils in the English department supporting their drama and ICT provision.

The Christel House pupils used creative writing and imagination to conjure up a love story flitting between India and England, in which we weaved these songs. The pupils in the choir were very enthusiastic and eager to learn even more challenging pieces, which we arranged in collaboration with the music staff at Christel House – the wonderful Thomas Joseph and his choirmaster Sarah. We also worked with a 30-strong recorder ensemble, playing simple rounds including London’s Burning and working on harder music such as Ode to Joy.

Perse pupils were given free rein to explore what else the school offers. Jacqueline and Nancy spent time with the art department on some exciting projects, while Camillo and Neil helped out in computing and English. Neil also used his coding expertise to create a platform in which the music staff could demonstrate different recorder fingerings.

A walk from room to room wasn’t complete without a volley of high fives from the pupils who made us feel really at home, showing us around their classrooms and even braiding Jacqueline and Nancy’s hair!

During the trip we also visited the beautiful city of Mysore, four hours away from Bangalore.

We enjoyed a tour around the Brindavan Garden, with its lit fountains, a walk around the magnificent palace of the maharajah and consumed the vibrant colours, smells and noises of the Deveraja market.

Our visit to one of Bangalore’s estimated 820 slums, where some of the Christel House children live, was a difficult experience. After a day at Christel House, pupils return to home to live in very basic accommodation. While some of the houses were built using breeze-blocks, others were simply corrugated iron shacks, covered with tarpaulins or waterproof advertisement billboards to keep out the rain.

There was no electricity supply (residents are instead dependent on solar power) and only a basic water supply (only installed six months ago). Food, from the limited stock seen in the houses, was prepared using firewood with the smell of acrid smoke pervading the air of each house.

In general, the father of the family would sleep on the one available bunk, leaving mothers and usually up to three children to sleep on the floor. There was no privacy for anyone. We visited on a relatively warm dry morning, but we were told that the heat of summer is stifling in these small dwellings, and that pupils will often come into school unable to stay awake because rainwater has rendered the floor unusable for sleep.

Our visit was a shock to the system. Parents of the Christel House pupils were keen to show us their living spaces, and their generosity of spirit in allowing us to explore their way of life was incredibly humbling.

Christel House pupils betray none of the hardship of their home-life when at school. Nowhere was this clearer than in our afternoon concert on our last day – the culmination of our collaborative folk-song work with the choir, recorder group, and kindergarten students. Whether in the audience or on stage, everyone enjoyed themselves.

On our way out, we met one of the school’s first students, now an alumnus who had relocated his family to a comfortable home and was managing a company with 500 employees. Over our whole visit, we witnessed the miraculous work Christel House does to break the cycle of poverty and the determination of its pupils to take full advantage of this chance to do so.

Friendships were forged during our time at Christel House that will hopefully last a lifetime.

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