Trip Report

 August 2004

Chitra Aiyar












Dhamma Dipa School visited by Chitra Aiyar in August 2004


How Asha can Participate:


1.  Accounting

Currently, an assistant of Dr. D does the accounting.  He appears to be bright and capable, but does not have any training in accounting and has many additional responsibilities. Consequently, DDS accounts are very disorganized.  There is confusion about how much money is in their possession and how much money is owed. There does not appear to be much separation between donor funds; rather, it all seems to land in a general pot and is used as needed.  Dr. D said that it was a priority to get a good accountant, but he was pessimistic about his ability to recruit a qualified accountant, given the remote location and low pay.



I really think that Asha should take action on this, the sooner the better.  I don’t think that there is any corruption, but I do think that there is a lot of money in various accounts, and the bigger the school grows, the more likely it is that some problem will arise.  I think that we should check with Asha Calcutta if they have any suggestions for local experts who could help to establish standard accounting procedures and do monthly visits to check up.  Alternatively, DDS could send one of their staff for some kind of accounting training.



2.  Teacher Training

Dr. D says that he has had a problem recruiting trained/qualified teachers due to the remote location of the school and low salaries.  He has ended up getting young unmarried women, but then some have left once they get married.  He has sent the head mistress for training in Hyderabad, but is concerned that with the additional training, teachers will have better opportunities at schools in Agartala, and he will lose them. Dr. D wants the teachers to be exposed to various pedagogical approaches; so far he has accomplished this through sending them for training.  But, it might be far more effective to invite trainers to stay at the school and offer training for the teachers. 



Again, I think this is something that we should talk to with our friends in Asha-Calcutta, because they will have a better sense of trainings or visiting teachers who are in the area.

I have a friend in Bangalore who is involved with an Alternative Education group.  She said that she would be interested in visiting the schools and talking to the teachers about alternative pedagogies.


3.  English

Dr. D is very committed to his vision of an English medium school.  To that end, he speaks almost exclusively in English with the staff and the students.  It appeared to me that the students were picking up some English, and the younger children benefit from the older students who speak English to them. However, the teachers are not very fluent in English and the students are not immersed in an English language environment.  They have English class and they watch 30 minutes of BBC every day and Dr. D speaks to them in English.  This is insufficient.   I know that Sriram referred to the idea of an English medium school as an elite concept. I am not so sure – Dr. D is introducing Bangla and Mog as languages in the 4th standard; currently the students are learning in English and Hindi.  Dr. D feels that if the students want to have any hope for gaining jobs, they must know English and Hindi.  The Tripura government schools are Bengali medium, which is not the language of the Mogs, Tripura, Chakma, and the other tribal students at the school.  So the choice of English medium is not a blatant rejection of their mother tongue. 



Especially since a guest house has been constructed, Dr. D really wanted international visitors to come and visit the school who could interact with the students in English. It is really a beautiful area and visitors could enjoy some kind of holiday while also talking to English.  I was envisioning some kind of tourist service project.

I also talked to Dr. D about the possibility of having an American intern stay 6 months or so, who could help train the teachers in English and speak with the students.  It would be a great opportunity for some young college graduate here who wants teaching and international experience and its something that Asha could advertise and recruit. In general, they want to establish a more cosmopolitan environment in Sabroom, which means more international visitors.  So we need to think of ways to do that.


4.  Religious Issues


I spoke directly with Dr. D about Asha’s commitment to only promoting secular education and our concerns about the perceived Buddhist emphasis in the school. He said that he views the daily meditation that the children do as a secular exercise.  He translated part of it for me as “I wish everyone well…May I be free from ill-will.”  Dr. D also said that they celebrate all major religious holidays, including Saraswati Puja and Christmas.  He also said that Hindu and Christian priests come and visit the school sometimes.



5.  Sustainability Schemes


Dr. D is very focused on making DDS sustainable.  He has not raised teacher salaries, because he feels that currently, he does not have a consistent flow of funds, and he does not want to decrease salaries later. His plan is to put one crore rupees in a fixed deposit and then only withdraw the interest, which would be enough for the operating costs of the school. He also would like to establish a pension fund for staff and have some life insurance with them.  His timeline for this is 2006, but he admits that is quite ambitious.


He also has several ideas about income generating projects for DDS.

Rubber Plantation – this is what we discussed in the last conference call.  He has now bought the land.

Dairy Farm – He would like to raise cows.  He thinks the milk is important for the children’s nutrition and that they could sell the surplus milk to the surrounding community

Carpentry/Handicraft – The children and local community members could weave fabric and build things that could be then sold in some kind of cooperative venture.


5.  Scholarship Fund


Dr. D spoke about establishing a scholarship fund for DDS students to go on to college.  I thought that there might be some possibility of the Support A Child to be implemented at DDS, but I need to know more about how the scheme actually works.


6.  Library


Dr. D would like to start a library at DDS which would be for both students and community members. He estimated a cost of 8 lakhs for establishing the library.  We talked about the possibility of getting books donated in the US for use in the library.


7.  Pen pals

This was an idea I had about improving the English of the students.  We could connect the DDS students with a local school in Stamford and the children could write letters to each other about their schools and lives.  Dr. D thought that we could start with the children who are in the 3rd standard. 


8.  Replication


Dr. D has received two proposals from other community organizations who are interested in starting something like the DDS School in their own locales.  He was curious if Asha was interested in these groups?