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Sholai School, Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu, India

By Yvette Vignando - 19th July 2010

After three days of workshops at Kodaikanal International School, I received an unexpected invitation for a courtesy visit to Sholai School, located in a valley area 1000m below the Kodai hill station. I knew very little about the school except that it is often called "alternative" and was started by Brian Jenkins about 20 years ago.

It took about one hour to travel the 20 km or so into the valley: I was very grateful that we were in a four wheel drive as we made our way down into the valley along roads that would have been considered undriveable in Australia. In another blogpost I will share the lovely photos I took in that lush valley of coffee bushes, pepper vines, jack fruit trees, banana palms and cherrywood.

In amongst a few square kilometres of valley and hills, Sholai school hides, with dorms, workshops,.dispensary, worm farm, dairy, schoolrooms, dining room and an auditorium-in-progress. All the buildings are nestled quietly among the trees and on either side of a river, and are routinely raided by the monkeys that jumped around in the branches above us. I have promised Brian Jenkins, Sholai School's founder, that when I write a longer post about his school, I will check my facts first with him - so honouring that promise, I will just share some initial impressions.

My western-nurtured eyes saw a combination of paradise and hardship around me. Running the school looks like very hard work. All electricity comes from solar energy or micro hydro-energy; the school is also experimenting with the use of bio-fuel. Sholai School engages in organic farming and also runs its own dairy producing organic milk and cheese.

The living quarters for the approximately 60 students plus about 10 staff are rustic and quite exposed to the elements but still comfortable in a kind of adventurous way - at least that's how I saw it. But I am also very aware that by the standards of road workers living in tents with their young families along the road on which we travelled, or by the standards of some of the dusty villages I had passed, these dorms and buildings are actually of a very high standard.

Over a small steel cup of sweet mango drink and then a earthenware cup of delicious organic coffee (harvested and roasted there) I had a long and interesting chat with Brian Jenkins, a man of (I am guessing )over 60 years of age. I only mention his age because of the immense amount of physical and intellectual energy that would be required to keep Sholai School running. I will share more details of that conversation and my conversations with two of the teachers in another post with the photos.

A last impression - when I arrived Brian was not yet there - he was over visiting another part of the School's property - he gave it a name something like "Elephant Land" (no doubt I will have the correct name in the next post). He arrived in a vintage 1934 Austin Seven car with slim wheels that I am simply astounded were able to navigate the riverbank-like roads we had travelled on in our 4 wheel drive. I was told that the students are reconstructing a second vintage Austin (as a school project) from a collection of parts.

Comments (5)

YvetteVignando's picture

So wonderful to hear from you

Brian, it is so wonderful to hear from you, thank you. I have made those corrections above also and I am grateful for the extra information. I feel bad that I have not done that additional blogpost yet as my visit to your school was so utterly fascinating. Please email me your contact details again via the Contact Us tab on this website so I can ask you some more questions to ensure blogpost 2 is correct. Please also give my best wishes to those lovely teachers I met - and wave to the monkeys for me (yes, the ones in the trees).

Best Wishes

Yr Blog

Dear Yvette

Yesterday we were looking for material to send to the Hindu (Frontline) a quality publication in India, when one of my staff gave me yr blog to read.

Thank you, an enjoyable and mostly correct read. I have made a few corrections below. We have students from India, Scotland , Thailand, Bhutan, Germany and Spain. Previously USA and UK. Maybe some other countries too. We had 2 first rate teacher-volunteers from Australia (at different times): Gabrielle and I have forgotten her name for the present.

But why did u not tell me about yr blog! Glad now Ive read it. Yes I do think my teachers have an understanding of EQ.

Rgds Brian

YvetteVignando's picture

Hi Lisa

The school is for any student and includes international students - some local students attend also. Look forward to exchanging impressions with you when I return at the end of the month.

India Dreaming

Hi Yvette,

I'm so thrilled to hear about your experiences over in the land I love the most, can't wait to chat to you at length when you return.

Is this school for local children only?

Lisa xo

An Indian experience

Sounds like you are having a wonderfully stimulating and exhausting experience Yvette. Could you tell us a little more about these schools, the teachers and students. Do many of them already have an understanding of Emotional Intelligence? Looking forward to your next blog.

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