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Indian villagers have high regard for Bermudian’s school

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A school set up by a Bermudian in one of the poorest parts of India is now gaining such a positive reputation in the region that people in nearby villages are willing to pay to get their children to the school.

Founder, Diane Kirwin, who currently lives in California, was in Bermuda this month. She gave

The Royal Gazette an update on her charity Kirwin International Relief Foundation (KIRF) India.

A couple of years ago KIRF India decided to open its own school on its own land after one of its first successful schools, operating out of a dilapidated building, was claimed by the government. In 2009 the Kirwin James International School was opened in Shekhwara, Bihar, India. It now houses around 120 students and includes a sewing workshop for young women in the village, a medical clinic and a deep well.

“We had this wonderful school in a village called Savodaypuri,” she said. “It was a poor village, but the villagers were appreciative. They really supported the school. We put in one well and then another. The District Commissioner came to the school and he liked the school so much he said we had to leave and he would run the school. Everything is complicated in India. He made it into a government school. It was in a rundown building and they immediately blocked the windows that were letting in light.”

As it turned out the light situation made little difference to the children as the teacher never turned up. This is fairly typical in this region of India as teachers are paid for the number of students signed up, not for actually turning up and teaching the class.

“We felt really badly for the villagers, but we couldn’t do anything about it,” said Ms Kirwin.

This year, the situation finally resolved itself when a village elder from Savodaypuri asked KIRF India if the Kirwin James International School would take the village’s students if Savodaypuri paid for their transport by rickshaw, a small van.

Savodaypuri was about eight miles from Shekhwara, too far for the students to walk especially in the high heat of summer.

“It was a huge step for me to think they were willing to pay for a rickshaw six days a week to get the kids to school,” said Ms Kirwin. “We were going to try to arrange it at one point, but we were told it would be an expensive undertaking and it was complicated. If they are paying they will make sure the children will come. To me that was a big happening.”

The village elder told her they would be transporting about ten students in the rickshaw, but 19 showed up crammed into the little vehicle.

“He assured me they were perfectly comfortable,” said Ms Kirwin with a smile. “But you know it must be cramped for 19 children to be in the rickshaw. But that’s how much they want to come to school.”

The village is very poor, so paying for the students to go to school in another village is no small undertaking for the people of Savodaypuri and demonstrates the faith they have in the worth of an education at Kirwin James International School.

In India all government schools must be paid for, so many poor people simply don’t get any education at all. Schools that do exist for the poor are often operated under a tree or on the veranda of a broken down building. The Kirwin James International School and other education centres operated by KIRF represent tremendous opportunities for the children in the area, who otherwise probably would not have received any education at all.

“Our goal for the future is to add another much needed classroom and maybe a carpentry centre,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is the higher education of poor children.”

Like all charities in Bermuda KIRF is struggling with the current economic climate.

“Donations are down,” said Ms Kirwin, “and as usual, we are grateful for any funds that can be offered.”

For information on making a donation to KIRF e-mail Ms Kirwin at dikirwin@gmail.com or see KIRF India’s website www.kirfindia.org. The donation path on the website through Walter Cook is no longer valid.

Nineteen students cram in the back of this rickshaw van to get them to the Kirwin James International School in Bihar, India.
Nineteen students cram in the back of this rickshaw van to get them to the Kirwin James International School in Bihar, India.
Students at the Kirwin James International School dressed in their winter uniform.
Making a difference: Students and villagers in Savodaypuri, India, crowd around Bermudian Diane Kirwin as she arrives on her moped 'Bermuda Girl'. The villagers are paying to transport their children to the Kirwin James International School eight miles away in Shekhwara.
Diane Kirwin
Students and staff at the Kirwin James International School in Shekhwara.

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Published May 29, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm)

Indian villagers have high regard for Bermudian’s school

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