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Visit to Rangammal School for the
Hearing Impaired

Thiruvannamalai:  October - November 2014

Dianne Ward


On this, my second, visit to Thiruvannamalai, the drive from Chennai seemed shorter, the colourful sights familiar and the roads much improved. So we travelled in good spirits, looking forward to our visit. A three hour drive in a comfortable car, a welcome overnight rest at the hotel eased us gently towards a busy schedule.

The ten days were filled with so many experiences and meetings, the Hospital, Day Centres, Nursing College, a visit to Father Saul in the Jawadhu Hills and of course, the focus of my visit, the School. It is difficult to know where to start this report.

Sylvia remains in good health and in indomitable form, working to a punishing schedule that defies belief. A visit to the Hospital was impressive. A warm welcome awaited us and the Assembly in the Chapel started our day well. The new Operating theatres and the Cathlab were the obvious improvements to this flagship project, delivering quality healthcare to the district. A recent renovation of the Finance offices and a conference room for Staff training and meetings, are testament to Sylvia’s vision of continuing improvements and planning for Staff and patients.

The fabric of the leased Day Centre premises is dire and provides a stark contrast to the vibrancy and care within. I will never forget the joy and laughter of the children as Mr Tony entertained them with antics that could win awards in the field of light entertainment!  The Staff at both Day Centres are committed and lovingly patient with the children in their care, providing quality care, social interaction and a stimulating learning environment. Each child’s progress is carefully recorded and milestones celebrated. Sylvia organises a birthday celebration for each child on their special day. We were fortunate to share in a birthday celebration and the cake and sweets were enjoyed by all.

The Nursing College goes from strength to strength. The standard of English among the student nurses was very good. It was very interesting to listen to the personal stories and experiences of the second year student nurses as they told us of their Community Health visits to the Villages. These young women, although not yet fully qualified, are already making a difference to the health education in the area.

I’ve left the school until last, mainly because of the amazing developments that are taking place therein. When we arrived at the School, on day 1 of our visit, a warm and an enthusiastic welcoming party was ready to meet us at the gate. We were presented with sweetly smelling flower garlands and anointed with oils and spices. An intricate work of art in coloured chalks had been drawn on the ground at the entrance to the grounds as part of the welcoming ceremony. Enthusiastic handshakes were exchanged with the Staff and the children. The short walk up the drive was enjoyed by all. The children had obviously grown a lot in the last year and it was good to see that so many of the children had the new digital hearing aids.

As a result of a substantial donation from the Hear the World Foundation, 87 children age 4 – 13 years had been fitted with new hearing aids at the beginning of October. It was good to meet Alice Alkins for the first time in the flesh so to speak, after having exchanged so many emails over the last couple of months. She was a big hit with the children and her expertise and help with the project cannot be overstated. She will fit another 25 children age 14 years with new hearing aids at the end of this month, purchased as a result of donations from the UK.

In my first visit report, I commented on the pressing need for new hearing aids. I am delighted to report that much progress has been made in the last twelve months, thanks to sponsors, supporters and the Hear the World Foundation.

The school is a lively place. Last year, I noticed the silence in the classrooms and the absolute concentration of the children. It was lovely to hear the younger children answering in class as well as signing. This is such a contrast to last year, although their focus in lessons remains good. The Teachers are very impressed and are very clear about the reasons for this progress. Although previously, the children could lip read and tried hard to make speech sounds, it was very hard for them, if they had never actually heard speech. The children now can readily imitate sounds and are learning speech patterns. In such a short time, this is very good news and will enable the children to learn how to communicate effectively with the hearing world. Instead of being distracted by all the new sounds, the children are thriving in lessons and eager to learn. They delight in their new found skills and encourage each other to vocalise, as do the teachers.

Alice has taken many photographs and short video clips, capturing the magical moments of the children when their new hearing aids were programmed. The surprise, wonder and absolute joy on their faces as they heard sounds clearly, some for the first time is truly humbling. It’s so easy for us who can hear, to take that precious gift for granted. We hope to publish these on the website very soon. One little boy, Sudhakar, signed to me in all seriousness, “the world is very loud” and he wasn’t complaining!

It was naive to think that just providing new hearing aids would be the end of the story. As the children adapt to the new sounds around them, some technological adjustments and aftercare will be needed. Not least how to place the hearing aid properly in the ear, as these are very different from the analogue aids. Alice is currently training five teachers in the basics of audiological care and maintenance. We will also have to provide replacement soft ear moulds for the younger children as their ear grows and batteries and tubing, which will need replacing regularly to ensure that the hearing aids give maximum benefit For me, it was a steep learning curve! So the fundraising will continue, to provide the consumables and ensure that each new pupil at the school receive the same chance of improved hearing.

I cannot end this report without mentioning the cricket match and the Annual day. We had three visitors who took to the field, prepared to give their all and one hanger-on, which was me. The school team had two Staff members playing. And they were very good, someone was heard to mutter  the words professional and ringer. Nevertheless, a good afternoon was had by all, despite Tony’s unbroken record of 100% losses. The older girls took me in hand and patiently explained the rules and we had a lovely afternoon signing to one another. They were very keen cricket supporters and were a tad disappointed with my poor grasp of the rules. Anyway, progress. At least I knew who won this time.

The Annual Day celebrations were great fun, attended by many supporters. The children performed intricate dances of many different styles from traditional to contemporary. Alice’s young trainee ballerinas did her proud, enthusiastically performing their routine in colourful dresses. I was honoured to be able to take part in the prize giving section of the proceedings. Particularly as our sponsored child Chinnaraj won first prize for his studies. The last two events did make me very glad that I was not responsible for the risk assessment. The show stopping finale of gymnastics by Standard Nine boys was electrifying, daring, powerful and faultless.  The day ended with a bonfire and fireworks, generously provided by Mr Subash from the Rangammal Rehabilitation Society. He works tirelessly for the SWT in India and is a great asset.

On our final day at the School, Tony and I were asked to open two gardens in the school grounds. We were very touched when we unveiled the banners, proclaiming them to be Mr Tony’s Herb Garden and Dianne’s Jasmine Garden.

Our visit came to an end and it was time to set off at 3a.m local time for the long drive to the airport. It was refreshingly cool and I was surprised to see out driver arrive wearing, I kid you not, fleecy gloves, hat, coat and gillet!

I cannot close this report with saying a big thank you to everyone who has supported the Hearing Aid Project. You have made a huge difference to the lives of these children.

 

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Visit to Rangammal School for the Hearing Impaired

Thiruvannamalai:  November 2013

Dianne Ward
As we travelled by minibus from Chennai to Thiruvannamalai, I was quickly aware that India is a land of many stark contrasts; from the quick stream of motorcycles with too many passengers, women riding side-saddle, to the steady plod of the carts pulled by oxen. The noise of the horns and traffic was certainly an experience.
The journey lasted approximately three hours over roads that varied from smooth dual carriageways to bumpy narrow lanes, often over quite short distances! I was amazed to see so many cows tethered for grazing in the central reservation or wandering along the roads. The wonderful views as we travelled toward our destination made the journey pass quite quickly.
Welcome
Having been told that we would receive a warm welcome at Rangammal School, I was still unprepared for the sheer enthusiasm that greeted us. A beautiful and colourful design had been drawn on the ground at the school gates and we were each presented with a garland made of many beautiful flowers and a ceremonial dance and anointing of our foreheads. The children eagerly greeted us with warm, genuine smiles and enthusiastic handshakes. It was an emotional moment as I had wanted to visit the school for many years.
School Visits
Over the next 10 days, we visited the Rangammal School many times and also had the opportunity to visit other local schools. As a fairly recently retired High School teacher, I found this very interesting indeed.

  • State Schools:  Whilst the attitude of the children in the State Schools was friendly and very polite, the facilities were very basic in some and minimal in others. I was struck by the lack of children’s work on display and the lack of facilities in general. My lasting impression of those schools will be of dark classrooms and large class sizes but also of children keen to practice their English greetings and eager to learn.
  • Rangammal School: My overwhelming memories of Rangammal School will be of the sense of family and love within its walls and of a dedicated Staff. As most of the children are boarders at the school, this loving care is just as important for the children as their education.  The classrooms are bright and airy, with many examples of the children’s work and teachers’ materials on display. I was fortunate to be able to observe or join many lessons across the age range. I have no doubt that the hard task masters of Ofsted would rate Rangammal School as Outstanding. Each lesson tested the children’s prior knowledge and tracked progression as well as encouraging independent learning. As the students rely on hearing aids, their concentration in lessons is remarkable and very impressive. They are eager and confident learners. The teaching of English across the School shows great progress, reflected by the children’s eagerness to communicate with their visitors, inside and outside of the classroom. The teachers work very hard and produce imaginative materials for their lessons from very little. Their joy in teaching, dedication and pride in their students was clear to see in every aspect of their work.

Rangammal School’s Annual Day Celebrations
We were privileged to attend Rangammal School’s Annual Day Celebrations in the main hall of the Nursing College, which is next to the School. We were royally entertained by enthusiastic dance performances from each year group. Whilst the audience were treated to accompanying music, the children’s attention was on their teachers who kept them in time with gestures and a drumbeat. My description here does not do them justice. Skilful, rhythmic complex routines were performed with joy. The concentration of the students was very impressive. This is a great achievement for students whose hearing is impaired.  Credit must go to the Staff, as they had all obviously spent a great deal of time bringing all aspects together. A great time was had by all!
The Rangammal Teacher Training School
This is within the School’s boundaries. Many of the trainee teachers were in school during our visit. I observed one lesson where the trainee was observed by her fellow trainees, the Class teacher and also visitors from England. The Headteacher then asked the Class teacher for a report on the lesson in front of everyone!  A daunting experience for any student teacher! But one which offered many learning opportunities for all concerned. In terms of good teaching practice, this school really is a centre of excellence.
New IT Suite
The provision of the new IT suite will be a great asset to the school, enabling the students to develop skills that will aid their education and allow them more successful integration into the (hearing) world of work. Teachers and students have eagerly awaited its completion and I have no doubt will make very good use of the facilities in the years ahead.
Farewells
As we prepared to leave the School for the last time, the day students were waiting for their school bus to arrive. We all waved reluctant goodbyes, each taking special memories home.
Conclusion & Target
I can honestly say that I was very impressed by all that happens at the school. All financial contributions from supporters in the UK are used wisely and to good effect. My only concern is that not all the children have digital hearing aids at the moment. Some children wear amplification aids, some of which are Government Issue; these are not of the same quality.
I feel that this is “a target for improvement” which we could work to address here in the UK by more fundraising for digital hearing aids for every child.