An Appeal

Serkong - 1

SERKONG SCHOOL, TABO – AN OVERVIEW OF THE NEEDS OF THE SCHOOL AND THE ADJOINING REGION OF SPITI VALLEY

The Serkong School, Tabo is a school located in the Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh. Spiti is a remote cold mountain desert, situated close to the Chinese border, with a difficult terrain and tough climatic conditions. The winter temperatures can plummet to as low as -30 degrees C, and during those times, the valley is as good as cut off from the mainland.

The school was established in 1999 by the local 1000 year old Tabo Buddhist monastery to ensure that the children from this remote part of the country get access to a quality, well-rounded & modern education, in conjunction with keeping their fast dwindling local culture alive.The ultimate objective was to facilitate the passing out of well-educated youth with relevant qualifications and skill sets to allow them to pursue higher education in any area of their choice, with special emphasis on children from economically constrained families of the Spiti region who otherwise could not afford the same, and hence would have to give up on their dreams of higher education & a promising career of their choice.

Due to the remote location and problems in accessibility, the school is in constant need of funds & resources. Couple this with the fact that the school has consciously chosen not to go down the ‘education for profit’ path (they do not charge children from poor backgrounds any fees), and you have them often struggling to cope with their day-to-day functional needs. As a result, unfortunately many aspiring children belonging to the region have to be kept on a ‘waiting list’ as the school simply does not have the resources to shelter and feed the new aspirants, despite desperately wanting to do so.

Currently, the student population is a sizeable 300, attending classes from UKG to Xth standard. I have been associated with the school since 2013, and when I visited them last year (2017), the headmaster & school authorities fervently appealed for help in various areas, to carry forward the good work they are doing (I can personally attest to that, having seen them do exceptional work for the last 4 years I’ve known & worked with them). At the moment, there are mainly two ways to help:

  • One, a donor can sponsor a needy child for a year. There are kids who are from exceptionally poor families, and/or have lost one or both of their parents (in most cases, the father). All it takes is a pretty manageable sum of Rs. 12,000 per year to sponsor one such child. This will take care of the needy child’s books for the academic year, a set of uniform, and, of course, boarding and lodging.
  • The other way is sponsoring or donating materials/equipment the school is in urgent need of; things such as benches, desks, computers, blackboards, stationery, play kits, teaching aids, laboratory equipment, storybooks/novels, etc.

Currently the school is somehow making do with the extremely limited resources they have, and most of it is in pretty worn-out shape, due to constant passing down from one batch to another since the inception of the school. The school is also seriously mulling expanding the hostel wings and constructing few more classrooms (as it will inevitably have to, to accommodate the ever growing student population), but funds crunch is proving to be the greatest stumbling block.

  • If anyone in your social/professional networks wishes to go ahead & help in any of the above ways, we’ll help them coordinate the donation/sponsorships with the school authorities.
  • If anyone decides to sponsor a needy child, we will arrange to send them the photo and the details of that particular child.
  • On the other hand, if anyone (individual/group/organization) wishes to sponsor some critical equipment such as computers, science lab equipment, or school infrastructure such as a hostel wing/classroom, arrangement can be made to facilitate the same, with the provision of a plaque/nameplate to commemorate the generous donation.

A Photo Journey Of Spiti Valley

Furthermore, if anyone wishes to visit and personally check the veracity of the cause, we will be happy to facilitate the same through our Meaningful Holidays. This school is doing such a commendable job giving the kids from this remote area a decent education (most of them from very poor economic backgrounds), in spite of the overwhelming odds and a constant shortage of resources.Maybe the exposure we give them will help them find more partners who can assist them in sustaining and carrying forward their wonderful endeavour, and help give these kids a better shot at life! And if this endeavour gathers enough ‘critical mass’ and momentum, maybe several other such schools can be assisted in the same way, to brighten the lives of many other economically constrained kids in various corners of the country… that’s our big hope & ultimate dream! 🙂

THE POWER AND INFRASTRUCTURE PROBLEM IN TABO (AND SPITI)

The Spiti region is an ideal candidate for an alternative, ‘off the grid’/microgrid solution, for meeting its power needs. This is because the power supply to this area is extremely erratic and sporadic, particularly in the winter months. Since the region experiences quite heavy snowfall, many a times it results in taking down the power lines. Due to the harsh weather conditions & difficult terrain, the local electricity department has a hard time troubleshooting/detecting the fault, and subsequently rectifying it.

The town of Tabo & many parts of Spiti literally go for days without power on several occasions, thereby severely impacting the day to day life of the locals, in ways such as: absence of electricity for heating, charging phones/appliances or light for people to go about their chores in the dark, or for children to study. Further, no power for lengthy periods means that the handful of mobile towers in the region too go ‘down’, thus rendering the place literally ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world! A similar situation takes place with the phone lines too (landlines), which see frequent outages during winter, resulting in communications blackouts from the rest of the world. However, we have tried to remedy this situation by getting in a satellite Internet connection. We are awaiting to see its performance during the coming winter; hopefully it will provide a link between the town and the outside world, despite the heavy snowfall and adverse weather conditions in winter.

Hence, we are looking for some way to overcome this power problem, by means of an appropriate technical solution and funding, which can help this region tide over the poor power supply situation, especially during the winters. Tabo village itself has around 100 houses, and has around 500-600 inhabitants during winter and about 800-850 during the summers. As mentioned, any such reliable solution will go a long way towards improving the living conditions & quality of life of the locals, especially in terms of heating, charging communications equipment and in the study of the students of the nearby residential Serkong School. At the moment, any lengthy power disruption forces the locals to go about their day to day activities with the help of firewood or kerosene lamps, both of which are considerably polluting in nature. Additionally, the high dependence on firewood leads to further depletion of the already scarce vegetation cover in the region, a highly undesirable trend for a place like Spiti. The situation is even more exacerbated in winters, when the inhabitants have to spend their days cooped up inside their houses, and the smoke and pollution caused by these ‘dirty’ fuels adversely affect the ambient air quality, and resultantly the health of the house residents.
An alternative off-the-grid power source can also provide a much needed solution to the local agriculture sector as well as to the villagers & the school to improve their water procurement system (by means of solar pumps, etc).

A reliable power source can also provide a boost to the local tourism industry, one of the leading sources of employment in the region, as reliable power will attract more visitors for longer duration stays. Currently visitors often tend to shorten their stays due to the power paucity, and head back to the main regional headquarters of Kaza, which has a slightly better power situation due to the availability of generators, better technical manpower, etc.

Incidentally, Spiti lies in a high solar insolation & high wind pattern area of India, owing to its geographical location (altitude > 3500 meters), and this advantageous factor can be harnessed towards alleviating the power scarcity problem in the region, by generating power from the abundant solar radiation & wind available in the region.

To sum it up, we would be really grateful if you and your friends/acquaintances from your professional or social networks would like to come forward to lend a helping hand, in any fashion, to help us overcome the above mentioned hurdles & help improve the lives of the gentle, simple folk of this remote region, especially the little ones, the future of Spiti. On behalf of the Serkong School, the Tabo monastery and the inhabitants of the Spiti Valley region, THANK YOU, in anticipation of your kind
cooperation!

For any further details/queries, please feel free to contact:
Priya Asthana (Singapore)
maths2art@gmail.com / +65 8189 3856

Siddhit Tamba (India)
siddhit_tamba@yahoo.co.in / +91 9850 462427

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