summer stories

choolgarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/2012-07-13-16.50.38-150×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ /> shigar through hira’s lens

Skardu is desert, mountains with snow peaks and glacial melt trailing down, lakes and fields of wheat and corn turned gold by the sun, rows and rows of potato plants with flat green leaves, mountains of rock and sand, old acorn trees and so much more. I’m continuously amazed at how much diversity this landscape (and skycape) has to offer in the span of one frame. Secondary school geography could easily become one of my favorite subjects in surroundings with such verdant possibilities.

I have been here a little over two works, volunteering at the Abruzzi Higher Secondary School, working specifically to develop the teaching garden. Ideally the school should just change its name to Abruzzi Teaching Garden School, and cultivate ecologically conscious learning as one of its goals. My tasks in the initial days were to get a sense of what can be done during late summer by way of planting in a school garden. As planting seasons are in November and in March, this time is slightly off season: this meant that we would have to transplant plants and take especial care to ensure their survival as opposed to planting seeds. As it went, there was much to do before we could actually plant. During last year, the school children had helped create a master plan of the garden, and had imprinted the main arteries of that map with stones to mark pathways and designate various aspects of the garden. We set to work in the marked area allotted for vegetable beds. The soil had to be raked, tested, and watered, and the areas cleared of small stones before we could apply organic manure to add nutrients to the soil. The children worked to prepare the beds, under the supervision of some of the teachers

and administrators, and on occasion volunteers who would stop by. They brought bags of manure from home, and brought small vegetable plants and flower plants to re-plant.

digging up the planting beds

 

Summer holidays began from the 15th of July, and go on till the 1st of August. Currim (last summers volunteer architecture student from Mcgill Unversity) had the bright idea of holding a summer camp for Shigars youth, in the school, and opening it up to everyone who was interested in attending for free. With lots of behind the scenes help from Tahereh, Mahera and Currim, I put together a schedule for a summer camp, with workshops, planned field trips, art and educational activities – the idea was to expand learning outside of the classroom, and incorporate outdoors garden activities into the curriculum that they are all studying during school hours. Seeing as the summer camp was open to all classes and was a series of collective activities and lessons, this would be good revision for the older students who have studied some of the concepts that we planned to develop, and a good introductory session for the younger students. I am interested in developing a peer mentoring/buddy system, where the older students can guide the younger students and can become resources for the younger students. It’s also a good way to build community and increase inter grade socialization.

I’m trying to incorporate reading activities into the schedule, as it’s become abundantly clear to me, (and as others have been suggesting all along) that the main area of focus has to be literacy and literary skills. Weak English and Urdu is what is hindering the students of these areas from competing on a level playing field with students that live in urban centers. Making the library a fun and accessible place needs to be made a top priority. Perhaps sharing language skills, English-Urdu-Balti workshops simultaneously – I tried this at my home stay, having the kids teach me Balti, as I taught them English. The summer camp so far has been conducted in all three languages, fluidly, switching between English to Urdu to Balti, as and when the occasion requires. I am trying to get them to write more in Urdu and in English, and explain the lesson to each other using both English and Urdu.

Involving the teachers in the summer camp is a great way for the teachers to see first hand the way that lessons can incorporate activities and experiments and be flexible in terms of location and site. Additionally, some of the students that go to Abruzzi are already comfortable and familiar with the teachers, so they make great adult supervisors, and of course, very importantly, they speak Balti so they can speak to the youth directly in ways that I, who cannot communicate in Balti cannot.

I’m excited to keep prepping for this and trying to incorporate ways of networking within schools and with organizations and individuals through a multitude of activities in the camp. I’m constantly learning and growing and continue to feel incredibly privileged to be here and to share with the school and the local community, and build friendships that will, I believe, last beyond my few weeks here.