Our speaker on 18th September was Robin Garland, Founder and Chair of PROJECT MALA a charitable action programme for the abolition of child labour in the hand knitted carpet industry in Uttar Pradesh, India putting education to the fore with its 4 R's Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic and Respect'.
In 1986 Robin established Project Mala and set up the first flagship campus to be opened at Guria. There are now 6 campuses in the general area, between them offering education at 4 levels: 5 Pre school, 4 Primary, 4 Middle and 3 Secondary plus 1 Intermediate College
Over 30 years more than 10,500 children have been enrolled, nearly 1500 are currently studying with over 100 staff. All students get 2 sets of uniform, a cooked lunch daily, all books and medical care including eye tests. Attendance, from over 40 villages in the area, runs at 92% and there are 4 parent teacher meetings each year for each set. All Sponsors get regular reports for their allocated named student(s) Sponsorships personal or Corporate, cost from £8 to £25 per month. Running costs are about 1/4million pa.
Robin was motivated into doing something to improve the lives of poor, young and often work-abused children by offering an education chance with welfare back up, and he and his team, here and in India have made Project Mala a great success story. Mala in Hindi means a sort of floral garland! The MBE he was awarded in 2016 for “Life changing work for children in India” was well deserved
He explained that the schools were open for applications at any level from Pre-school (some for girls only) upwards, and with places limited to about 300 per year, and many more than that applying, academic selection testing was necessary, but a few children with obvious IQ or potential talent in non-academia were welcomed too. At the moment more boys than girls apply, and one early problem is that many are not even fluent in their native Hindi language!
Secondary level includes Sciences and Computer Studies, and one very talented student called Javid took up, and flourished at an all costs covered year at the junior school for Repton. Alas a “have to pay” offer for Repton itself which followed could not be afforded. Sponsoring individuals is not a Project Mala policy
What of the future? Robin would like to see nearer a 50/50 boy/girl ratio, more varied classes, boys boarding, and up to University Level available, but he was concerned that that the chances of any local work in such a poor area for future e.g. Accountants, Solicitors or many other graduates would be small. Robin then signed off, back to another Fund Raising challenge for some Digital Touch Screens for some classrooms
The sight of happy, smartly dressed students in the photographs of the pseudo-classic PROJECT MALA logo'd entrance portal at Guria, and many more enjoying their daily midday meal, seem to make it all so rewarding! The challenge continues