We have always seen education as critical to enabling the children to escape from a life in poverty, and the trustees have always made a point of visiting the school and encouraging the teachers to raise their standards. This has been greatly enhanced by the work of Stuart and Claire Brown, who have been visiting each winter for several weeks to improve the English of both the staff and the children, few of whom ever hear English spoken by a natural English speaker. We are keen to see others volunteer in a similar way, but in reality it needs to be a significant commitment, it is not possible to achieve anything useful in a visit of a fortnight or less.
During our visit in 2007 Babu declared his desire to convert the school from teaching in the local Telegu to teaching in English, so-called English Medium. This was significant in its own right, but also a step in the direction of cross-funding the education of the Bapatla children as the school's reputation reaches the point that wealthy families will pay for English Medium schooling. The project started small: an English speaking teacher was recruited and the following entry into Year 1 and 2 (combined year group) were taught in English. A second English speaking teacher was recruited the next year, and the second entry was started in English Medium. In 2015 they completed their Year 10 and took their public examinations in English with 75% success. In 2016, with the benefit of some re-takes, 100% success has been achieved. Registration as an English Medium is the next step, but there are a number of bureaucratic hurdles to be overcome before that is achieved.
As mentioned earlier, CHIT cannot take the full credit for this project, as we chose to sustain the intake into the homes while pressing Babu to find additional resources to pay the higher salary commanded by English speaking teachers. Nonetheless CHIT continues to fund most of the school costs and is proud to be associated with the initiative.
Among the current challenges are to equip the physical and science laboratories laboratories, the computer centre, and the library with improved facilities, equipment and resources.
Care, welfare and health
With one exception, we are not pursuing any major developments in this wide-ranging area at present, although there is a constant stream of small isolated projects, like the appointment of a nurse at Nidamarru, renewal of latrines, wider use of mosquito netting, etc. However we keep two questions under review:
- Whether care in a children's home is a better option than providing care within a family or other local community setting. To date, the difficulties of controlling resources placed outside the control of Christiana Children's Homes staff have put this question on ice.
- Whether the social fragmentation will make new demands of Christiana Children's Homes and hence CHIT. For example, care for the elderly seems likely to spread the resources of, for example, single parent facilities even more thinly, and addressing this need may create a better environment for children growing up as well as helping another vulnerable grouping.
The exception is the management of the growing proportion of children in our care who show HIV+. At 2016 they number 16. Strongly encouraged by CHIT, Christiana Children's Homes tried to integrate HIV+ children in the homes, but encountered resistance from the parents and guardians who came to hear of it. Also with misgivings among some staff members, it has been necessary to revert to support the children at home, whatever circumstance that is.
Today, children are given practical support by way of a monthly allowance of money (about £7.50) and fresh food, and have access to broader support, for example medical needs that fall outside the specific treatment of HIV that is managed by the government, or help in getting a place at school.
CHIT is determined that this work should continue to develop, not least the removal of any residual stigma felt by these children. It is a specific subject items for our annual review with Christiana Children's Homes.
In 2014, the state of Andhra Pradesh split. The north-western part became known as Telangana, while the south-eastern part retained the name of Andhra Pradesh. The state capital Hyderabad, now in Telangana will continue to provide administrative services for both states until 2024, but the location for a new state capital for Andhra Pradesh has already been identified, adjacent to Vijayawada. It has been named Amaravati, and its proposed footprint embraces Nidamarru, which makes it of special interest for us.
There have been some early scares of compulsory purchase, with compensation in terms of alternative land in another location, which is hardly attractive for our purposes, but it seems that the discussions and deals have snarled up somewhat and progress is not going to be anything like as quick as initially thought. Nonetheless it remains a risk area that we need to watch. On the upside, if spared compulsory purchase there may be some significant upsides, including the value of the land, and new opportunities for Christiana Childrens Homes in an increasingly urban environment.