Today the kids of 'Psi' group equivalent to grade 8 led by the teachers, Banu and Kanchana, and ably supported by the teacher, Ashwini , tried their hand at making Ragi Ladoos along with a Ramzaan special meal for their community lunch. In my opinion like the rest of the menu of Sherbet, Khichdi, Samosa and Chutney, the ladoos too were yummmmm.
Did everyone like them? We will know when the results of the poll conducted by grade 6 students come in. Roshni is coordinating this and it will be fun to see how many like /dislike and why! The idea is that kids design the survey, collect data, and then plot it for analysis. Banu encouraged a few involved children to illustrate the recipe in a week's time. A picture of teh same is posted above.
I missed Kanchana's rendition of Ragi Tandira while she and Banu cooked with the kids and they shaped the ladoos. I hear she sings very well and was explaining the meaning of the Kriti while cooking so I felt very upset at missing the opportunity. But then I cheered up as I connected with Vasu Dixit (who has composed this Kriti in a popular way and has sung it in public spaces-- Roshni had pointed me out to his work earlier) on Facebook. He has agreed to come and perform in school and get involved in this project! Roshni suggests we keep it a surprise from kids ( not much surprise since I am happily putting it up on the website- but hoping not many Poorna kids will be reading this and I can continue whooping in excitement online - Yayyy!)
Roshni, Vasantha, Madhu, Jalaja, Sreeja and I met quickly in the morning and agreed to do various soil related experiments over the coming weeks with different age groups. Laksha Kumar from Agastya International Foundation that works on hands on science with school kids agreed to come on board and help us with this soil testing activity when we go next week to the farm. Laksha has also visited the school last year when I had requested his help with composting at school and so the teachers knew him and enjoy his inputs.
We will source two soil testing kits from Vasa Scientific Company recommended both by Agastya F. and Poorna L.C teachers and Vasantha and Sreeja will try it out next week. This was a big relief personally for me. (The idea of going as a group to a soil testing lab was not exciting given my own memories of school trips where a bunch of us would go- some would not be able to see /understand and only some would be allowed to touch/see closely ) But in this process I found out that GKVK has a soil testing lab and Banu told me about the Soil and Land use Survey of India office in Sahakar Nagar, Bangalore. (*Definitely need to figure out how best we can use these resources in school education space. )
I got to attend Roshni and Jalaja's introduction of The Ragi Project to grade 5 kids. There were folk songs , a mind map around Ragi , discussion around Ragi and health, food items that kids know using Ragi, Ragi's success in drought areas and the Ragi and Akki folktale. Almost all of it was in Kannada. Roshni decided to get children to illustrate any part of the class discussion and most kids chose to illustrate the Ragi and Akki story. I thought that was a very nice idea! Jalaja picked up a really interesting book from the library- folk songs and ditties compiled by an activist theatre group in Kolar (see accompanying image). She sang two songs from there. The interplay of food and culture continues and how!
Jalaja has put together her lesson plan of introducing Ragi to 10 year olds in a Kannada language class for me to upload. It can be found here. I will also put up children's work around this by next week.(* How best to capture their work through the year still needs some thought. Edit: I have put up a page on this website for now to capture the children's work.)
It was a class in Kannada and the Kannada speaking kids were talking the most --eager to share their own Ragi recipes or hum along with some of the songs they knew.
Asha has also been introducing Ragi to a mixed age group in her cooking activity class. Asha has an ability to explain very well to kids (and adults) and her body language is a delight for anyone who responds to visual stimuli. She explained why it is also called a finger millet because of its shape and the role of Ragi in providing energy . The group is planning to bake Ragi cookies in their next class.
There is a word of caution for all of us who are talking about the role of Ragi in a healthy diet. We have to remember to not succumb to over glorify it as the only healthy food item in the children's minds. I thought of this when a child asked about red rice when the Ragi/Akki story was discussed and then when my own child came home and told me how if she has one Ragi dish a day she need not eat anything! The discussions around balanced diets need to continue
There was again a little but much needed discussion with Radha prompted by Sreeja over whether she really would like to lend her 1/2 acre to the kids. And what could we do with the produce if we succeed in growing. Also the logistics of water and use of tools. Indeed the actual farming is something we need to focus on but luckily Vasantha and Madhu are from a farming background and so are Asha and Sreeja. Nyla Coelho's manual, " Tending a schoolyard garden" is a very useful resource in alerting us to all the planning we need. Vasantha is also interested in going to the farmers' market where they sell tools and buy farming equipment for the kids. Which is fantastic!
Asha asked us to rethink the space to "Ali Uncle's farm" where we could cultivate Ragi. While her comments were very valid and came from experience - about having the land nearby and seeing the growth everyday as opposed to weekly along with having the farm's caretaker, Kadriappa, helping us out it was decided by all that it is something we could not explore. For this project and any school based experiment we need land and inputs on generous terms and the next door farm has been largely inaccessible. Also, If money enters the picture in terms of renting the land and costing for water and labour( which it most likely would with the next door farm) it will defeat the whole purpose of this agriculture based pedagogy focusing on self reliance. So it is Radha's farm for now.
(*Now I understand why the Gandhian schools in the 40s -60s were granted their own land to farm from state grants!)
Sujit who is my guide in this project cautions me again to not be over ambitious. He listens to all my downloads of the day and says, "dheere dheere, age appropriately you should go on. Not everyone can do everything! " He also suggests that at some point if it takes off well, we could look at redesigning the farm space better ecologically by calling in an a ecologist. But for now, even starting and digging/ploughing the field is an experience worth having.
In the meanwhile, Vanita's art class continues to experiment with Ragi. Here are some puppets made by Grade 4 kids decorated with Ragi.