Welcome to the next instalment of our five month trip around south east Asia. You join us in a rattling second class train bound for volunteering in Kolar Gold Fields, India. The heat is kept manageable by the dusty breeze rushing through the window bars. Mr Fluskey has a small child squeezed between him and the window, drawn by the wind and curiosity about the unusual commuters.
Kolar Gold Fields
Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) is a town with an identity problem. When the gold mines were shut down in 2001 due to increasing costs and poor yield, a huge number of people lost their livelihoods. At it’s peak, the town had a population of 300,000 but now that has dipped to below 100,000. There are plans to reopen the gold mines but as yet, this hasn’t happened. The older generation is waiting for this, but the younger generation are seeking training in other jobs. En masse, they are moving to Bangalore, a short train ride but a world away. You can read more about Kolar Gold Fields here
India Ministry Fellowship is a Christian organisation in India. It has set up several projects to help young people train and improve their chances. The Kolar Gold Fields location offers general education and job specific skills. We saw computer workshops, medical classes, a clothing design studio and a nursery. Mr Fluskey and I were visiting to see the great work they do, and to give the kids a few workshops. Honestly, we weren’t 100% sure what we were doing, but we thought we would give anything a go.
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Light filtered through the light net curtains and the sounds of children filled our room. The nursery children were sitting themselves down in the courtyard below our window and preparing for the school day. I poked my head around the curtain to watch as the teacher announced that it somebody’s birthday. The lucky child stood up at the front and they all sang a riotous verse of Happy Birthday.
However, as a result, another child became quite upset. Evidently they wanted it to be their birthday too. So, to be nice, the whole class sang to them as well. It was after the third child, this cutie in the dress, was serenaded, that the teachers called time on the whole affair. It was clearly going to get out of hand!
The Little One’s Workshop
We threw on some clothes, drank some Javan courage (coffee) and then it was our turn. Downstairs, we spent a little time singing songs with these teeny, tiny tots.
The wheels on the bus went round and round, we floated merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily and then we decided to ruin the teacher’s lives forever (maybe). We had the children facing each other in pairs, pretending to row, row, row their boats and recklessly, we taught them the “if you see a crocodile, don’t forget to scream!” version, which had them squealing at the top of their voices.
On that bombshell, we left to meet some of the older children.
The Older One’s Workshop
Mr Fluskey and I had graduated with Performing Arts degrees in 2008 and so we thought it would be nice to do a drama workshop with the girls who had been excused from their normal lessons for the occasion. We did a few warm up games and then Mr Fluskey started what we thought was an easy drama exercise.
“Imagine you are getting up in the morning and act it out”
He was met with a courtyard full of teenage girls looking at him blankly. He started to mime waking up and yawning, stretching, that kind of thing. The girls began to copy him movement by movement.
“That’s great, but how do YOU do it?”
Again, blank stares all around.
He mimed brushing his teach; they did the same.
Then he mimed eating breakfast; they did the same.
It was honestly a little excruciating, but they seemed to enjoy it by the end.
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Then it was my turn. I stole one of my dad’s dance games. It involves going around in a circle in a funny sideways walk whilst singing a funny little song. I thought I’d make the singing easier and rewrote the words
“I want to dance with you, because you are my friend”. Easy and on message. So you go around once, then you hold hands whilst you go around. Next, you hold elbows, then shoulders, knees, and finally ankles which leaves everyone giggling, shuffling whist bend double and trying to sing; all very silly and fun. This seemed to go down a little better than the first few games and so the workshop ended on a good note.
Later on, it was their turn to teach us. We saw some of the oldest pupils hanging out in a classroom and they called us up. It was a dance party! We boogied to some awesome Bollywood tunes and chatted to the teens about their future plans. They had dreams of being nurses, secretaries and engineers. It was really nice to see them relaxed and having fun.
A Trip Into Kolar Gold Fields
After they had gone back to classes, we decided to head into the town and spend a bit of time on the internet sending emails, catching up on Facebook, that sort of thing. It was remarkable how different it was to be in a small town when compared with the madness of Bangalore. People stared, sure, but the gaze was pure curiosity. We got friendly smiles that demanded nothing and didn’t hold that, “You have money” edge. We sat and ate kulfi on the steps and watched the traffic on the dusty streets flow by before heading upstairs to the internet cafe full of old PCs.
Although Kolar Gold Fields was the third city in India to get electricity, its supply is still a little unstable. Every fifteen minutes or so, the power would fail and the generator would take a minute to kick in. The regular put-put-put of generators kicked into gear all the way down the road, sounding like world’s least cool motorbike gang!
After another five minutes, the power would come back on and we would restart the PC. I would ask to start in safe mode, do a scan of the PC for bugs and then finally start up. Two minutes of browsing and the whole thing would repeat. I don’t think we actually got anything done but it was a mildly amusing way to spend two hours.
By the time we left the internet cafe, it was dark and we left into a world of generator splutters. The school was in darkness and we had been kindly left some dinner and candles. Sitting on the floor we shared chapati and spicy dahl by candlelight. It was all very romantic (almost).
The following day saw us bedecked in jasmine flowers and the special guests of the show! The school put on a wonderful performance for Mr Arles, the rest of the pupils and us.
I don’t think any of these young adults were planning to stick around in Kolar Gold Fields, which must be such an exciting prospect for them. The town, however, will continue to struggle. It is heart-breakingly possible that it may never retain it’s former glory. All I hope is that these bright young things continue to push for the stars!