Timbaktu Badi is a residential school in Timbaktu. There are about 60 children; the youngest ones aged about 7 years (Since they want children to be able to do all their chores themselves). The school teaches children upto Std 7. After that they can attend the Prakruti Badi that goes on till Std 10, while staying at Timbaktu if needed.
The children in Timbaktu Badi mostly come from financially poor families, or have no parents or have parents are not in a position to take care of them. Children of people who live in Timbaktu or work in Timbaktu also go to school there. The families are charged a nominal fee of Rs. 20 (if I remember right) per month. This money is placed in an account for the child and will be given to him/her upon their completion of Std 10 to help them with their future plans.
The children live in a dorm, with 2 large rooms for the girls and 2 for the boys. The building has a nice corridor running inside where children read etc. One of the outer walls of the dorm was painted by the kids – its just amazing to see all that vibrant colour. Their classrooms are thatched structures that are pretty much open on all sides, except for the wall with the blackboard and the parapet wall that runs around – very pleasant due to the cross ventilation. There was also a nice, tiny room that the children said was for a little class or when someone wants to read. We later found out that this room was built when Anu, an architect who now has a resource center for children, Thulir, in Sittilingi had visited Timbaktu. The children wanted to learn some construction and they all built this! As Ramudu, one of the senior children there said, we learn something from everyone who visits us or we teach them something! :)
I spoke to some of the teachers about how they like it here. A few of them had taught elsewhere before and love it at Timbaktu. A lot of formalities are done away with and teachers are also learning with the kids. The children share a wonderful rapport with their teachers. I could not find the fear of school or teachers in any of them. I was chatting with Subba, who coordinates the education program there, and he narrated an incident about how the children are confident about getting along in life. Some students (I forget from where) were trying to gauge the impact of the education on the Timbaktu kids. Their concerns about future careers etc. Apparently they found some children saying not only would they have their own endeavor going, they would also provide employment to others! And they have some wonderful examples in the older children. One of the boys is really good with electrical circuitry, setting up solar panels etc and has been doing this kind of work for a few people while pursuing his own studies. Another, studying for his Bachelors degree, was training the younger children in making pen stands out of bamboo. He also talked about doing a course on screen printing. Another is currently working as a systems engineer in Bangalore. Their optimism was very infectious.
The children tend to the kitchen garden, and the chickens and goats that are reared in Timbaktu. The vegetables are used in the kitchen and a corresponding amount is added to the children’s accounts. I think it is awesome that such activities of primary production are part of their daily lives. That way one does not grow up alienated from these activities, that are not only important but also very much a part of village life.
Every Sunday evening the children have some cultural programs. Since Sanjeev, Krishna and I would be leaving by Sunday evening, they had it on Saturday. They had recently put up a cultural show at Timbaktu’s Annual Paryavarana Parasa (on June 5, World Environment Day) and did a nice chakka bhajana and sang many songs. I specifically remember two songs: Rela rela rela and Timbaktu Badi Pillalam (we are kids from Timbaktu badi) that they sang over and over again! :) It was very nice.