one of the chacha nehru students looking on as sima's father works out the chair design

13.03.13 | completing the toilet walls

After a couple of lovely days off in Varanasi with most of the Visiting School participants, the core team (Alex, Kritika, Ivar, Leika and Clem) headed back to Hariharpur with Jostein & Litchi that will help out with the project for another few weeks. Having stuffed ourselves with ramen and tempura (weirdly, there’s a bit of a Japanese scene in Varanasi), and stocked up on enough pasta and floaty cotton garments to last the rest of the project, we were ready to get back to work on Tuesday morning. Without a construction manager to run things in our absence, activity on the site hadn’t been as productive as we had hoped, which acted as good reminder that finding someone local to share our role – and ultimately take over once we’ve left – is crucial to the success of the project. We’re also keen to involve many more parents in the construction, so that they are more invested in the project, and also to ensure the work becomes more meaningful – rather than just another job.

Communicating this was one of the aims for the Saturday workshop, along with initiating the process of designing and building furniture for the school. We had had a great meeting with a local carpenter about the workshop earlier in the week, and had bought the bamboo and mango wood in advance, but unfortunately the carpenter (who doesn’t have a phone) apparently forgot about the appointment and didn’t show up. Although frustrating, we’re learning to go with the flow and accommodate these hipups  – accepting that nothing ever goes quite to schedule or as planned! It soon became apparent that parents were thin on the ground too – the result of the intense work harvesting wheat which has just started and will continue over the next twenty days. It’s really vital that they become more involved with the project before we leave, so coming up with strategies for working with them – either on a part-time basis or outside of wheat harvesting hours – is crucial. Despite all this, the workshop was really productive and we were able to get a full set of measurements for the furniture, along with lots of good ideas for the design of the chairs. Sima’s father, who is an expert jute weaver, was a great addition to the team, and we’re really looking forward to involving him more.

We were joined on Friday by Aanchal Sodhani, the Senior Arts Project Manager at the British Council, who has been working closely with us throughout the project. It was great to be able to show her what we’ve been up to, and have an excuse to visit some of the village’s mud houses once again! On the site, the courses of fired brick are complete and it’s adobe bricks from now on. The new mason (we think he’s a keeper!) made a start with the Ronchamp-inspired deep windows – and it’s really exciting to see the toilet block take shape.