My first visit to the village was in 1991. Tragically Barbara Jennings who worked in the Glastonbury BTC shop had been killed just before Christmas 1990 on her way to work. Her husband asked for donations in her memory, to the work of the Link, and with this seed money we were able to set up a small play centre in KVKuppam. Subsequently further small versions of the play centre were established in several other villages in the area and I visited over the years to do further training with the teachers. When we wound up the Link in 2004, we decided to put the money remaining in funds towards building a purpose-built play centre which could later become a model centre for training in the play approach to early childhood learning.
Last January we visited for a month and during this time the play centre was set up, equipped and teachers selected and given rudimentary training. We have just come back from a second visit when we were able to see how well the work of the centre was going and to give some guidance for future development. As you can see from the photos, there are some very happy children clearly enjoying their play in the Patchai kili centre. The name incidentally means Green Parrot in Tamil. If things go to plan we will return next year to set the centre up for training other nursery teachers, and thus disseminate the methods more widely. Learning through play is not traditional in India but in recent years has begun to be practised.
In addition this year we opened the centre for a second use, thanks largely to a generous donation from the South Indian Rural Development trust, which is the charity set up by Bishopston Trading Ccompany and into which all profits not used to grow the business are put. The other room in the building is to be a day centre for elderly people who will come five mornings a week to meet together, to play games, to read the newspaper and to watch television. The ayah who looks after the play centre will also make snacks and hot milk for the elderly people. Just before we left the village we were able to meet those who have been chosen to benefit, six women and four men who seemed very happy to be offered this.
The centre is set, as you will see in the photo above, in a grove of coconuts. It is on the outskirts of Seetaramanpet which is near K V Kuppam. The other village from whom children and old people are drawn is Kamanchemanpet, and both villages share the management of the work of the centre. They are both traditionally weavers’ villages and many of the families are dependent on Bishopston Trading Co for their livelihoods. As you can see, and as is very obvious to us during our visits to the area, Bishopston Trading has made such a difference to the lives of many families over the years, in many different ways.Sally Whittingham