Current developments on site

Summer 2023

A diverse selection of topics awaits you in the following. First, we present an exciting interview with the Swiss primary school teacher Armin Stocker, who is committed to our partner schools in an extraordinary way. Lukas Dold had the opportunity to interview him after his stay in India.
Furthermore, we will keep you informed about the latest developments of the environmental project "Environmental Care", which we already reported about in the last newsletter. In view of the gratifying progress, we would like to bring you up to date in this regard.

Armin Stocker together with teachers in a workshop

Interview with Armin Stocker

Armin Stocker traveled to our partner project in December last year and supported our partner school in school development. In an interview he tells us about his experiences and his contribution to the project.

When exactly were you in South India at the two Shanthimalai schools?
From December 17, 2022 to March 12, 2023, so for about three months.
What were your tasks on site?
Rüdiger Hoppe and Werner Nickl asked me in the summer of 2021 if I would be willing to work on school development in Shanthimalai after my retirement. My school in Sarmenstorf generously financed didactic material last year.


I was able to bring some of them with me from Switzerland. I tried to introduce these teaching aids to the subject teachers in workshops. In pedagogical questions I was consulted by the school management. I was also asked to accompany the school development. Ultimately, however, my main task was to coach teachers.

What did a typical day look like for you?
In the morning at eight o'clock I was in the office of Shanthimalai and checked my mails. Occasionally I received phone calls or had conversations with staff members. Before nine o'clock, I cycled to the school and visited the classes of individual teachers, followed by counseling sessions. This was primarily about advisory support and showing appreciation. After lunch, the next lesson visit followed. Sometimes there was also a meeting with the school authorities. After sixteen o'clock, discussions with teachers or the school management were usually the order of the day. In the evening I tried to improve my English.

What was the most exciting experience for you?
It was certainly the teachers' meeting in the multipurpose hall. The preparations in the team were intense. Many teachers had to overcome their prejudices and fears about feedback. In the end, it was a successful event. Not least because of the performance of a funny sketch by two teachers. By the way, these two were former godchildren of this school. Which of course made me particularly happy.

What was difficult?
The communication in English. Since my vocabulary was limited and Indian English is sometimes difficult for me to understand.

Was there a situation where you were stuck?
Several! One Saturday afternoon, I was supposed to prepare a workshop for the math teachers. But the rickshaw I had ordered didn't show up. So I had to rush to the school on foot with all the teaching materials. Fortunately, the teachers helped me to set up and the workshop took place after all, but delayed of course. My wife Eva and I experienced and supported the founding and development of the school. When I heard about the long lasting lockdown in India, I knew of course what this meant for the students and teachers: no classes, no free lunch, loss of wages, etc. Thanks to the sponsorship money, our schools were able to finance at least half of the teachers' salaries, in contrast to other private schools. On the other hand, this year's mid-term exams were unsatisfactory. After all, not having regular classes for more than a year leaves many children and young people with a large deficit. Ultimately, for me it is a thank you for everything I have received in my life. And a thank you to the founders of Shanthimalai, Hugo and Anne Maier, and to all the people who have put their heart and soul into building this aid project.

What touched you the most?
The joy of life and the children's willingness to learn, as well as the openness and willingness of many teachers to learn. Above all, I was pleased that out of 63 teachers, about 11 had been students here before.

Was there anything you learned?
I have made progress in English. I have also become a bit more relaxed. Because a lot of things work differently in India than they do here. For example, many things turn out differently than planned. On top of that, people in India don't take time very seriously.

In what way were you able to support someone?
First of all, I have to make it clear that I have received a lot of support myself. Above all through Rüdiger Hoppe, who has been the advisor to the two schools for five years. He works at the strategic level and has set up the new school development with five teams of teachers. The hybrid teaching of the upper school, but also the employment of a Montessori teacher in the kindergarten, starting in June, is thanks to him. With this appointment, we intend to orient our kindergarten according to the pedagogy of Maria Montessori. Of course, the school management and other staff members have also given me helpful support. I myself have mainly supported the teachers and the school management. 

What was your motivation to get involved?
My wife Eva and I experienced and supported the founding and development of the school. When I heard about the long lockdown in India, I knew of course what this meant for the students and teachers: no classes, no free lunch, loss of wages, etc. Thanks to the sponsorship money, our schools were able to finance at least half of the teachers' salaries, in contrast to other private schools. On the other hand, this year's mid-term exams came out unsatisfactory. After all, not having regular classes for more than a year leaves many children and young people with a large deficit. Ultimately, for me it is a thank you for everything I have received in my life. And a thank you to the founders of Shanthimalai, Hugo and Anne Maier, and to all the people who have put their heart and soul into building this aid project.

What is the most important difference between your experience in the Swiss school system and English Medium Schools?
As a primary teacher, I am trained in most school subjects. Therefore, as a classroom teacher, I can teach holistically, i.e. across subjects. This is not possible at the English Medium Schools. Here, subject teachers teach from the first primary grades. English is also taught here from this age.

Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers?
This coming winter I intend to work on the school project again, this time together with my wife. We will again take didactic material with us. Although I am in regular contact with the staff via chat, I am already looking forward to seeing them again.
Finally, I would like to thank all donors very much for their support. Education is the only way for poor children and their families to escape the poverty trap and have a decent life.

Dear Armin, thank you very much for the exciting interview and your extraordinary commitment!

An employee of the environmental project harvesting flowers

News from the environmental project
"Environmental Care"

In the last newsletter we already gave an overview of the environmental project. In the last six months, two of these projects have been significantly expanded. "Girivalam Seva" is one of the first environmental projects of our partner organization. It aims to rid the streets of garbage and dispose of it responsibly. Over the years, the project has grown in scope and numerous collaborations with local authorities have been established. Now a new initiative has been launched to put biological waste to good use. Coconut milk and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice are popular refreshments in southern India. However, they generate large amounts of biowaste. Coconut husks take many years to decompose completely, and scorpions and snakes find refuge in the leftover sugarcane waste. However, since this waste is located near busy roads, it poses a hazard. Therefore, a machine was purchased that can crush this waste. Afterwards, the mass is mixed with cow dung to produce biological fertilizer. This fertilizer mainly benefits the reforestation project "Green Earth Movement".

This project has also grown considerably in the last six months. First, a large greenhouse was built to grow seedlings of native trees. Then, ways were sought to involve as many people as possible in the reforestation effort. There are two reasons for this: First, planting seedlings in the sometimes barren and rocky soil requires a lot of work, and the more people who help, the more trees can be planted. Secondly, one of the main goals of the project is to inform as many people as possible about the importance of trees and forests. When someone digs a hole for a seedling with great effort, the question of the purpose of this effort inevitably arises.
Creative initiatives have been launched to achieve these goals. There is the possibility to take over tree sponsorships. In this way, 2500 trees have already been planted. Students have planted 1000 trees on the school grounds in an extensive project. Local authorities have also been won over to the project,
so that an additional 1500 trees have been planted in public areas.
Foundation board members Thomas Koehler and Immanuel Stocker planting a seedling

The Aruna Foundation has been supporting our partner organization for many years. What has made a lasting impression on us is the fact that our partners have been continuously launching new projects for over 40 years in order to meet the constantly new challenges. Over the years, projects have been launched in the areas of education, health, poor relief, and environmental and climate protection. Employment opportunities for disadvantaged people in the labor market have been created, as well as sheltered housing for those whose livelihoods are threatened. Thanks to this flexibility and openness, our partners have been able to make a significant contribution to improving the living conditions of many people for over 40 years.