Saturday, 10 April 2021

Report from the Moravian Institute in Rajpur

The Moravian Institute in Rajpur has been isolated and under lockdown since 13th March, especially after two Forest Officer trainees in Dehradun returned from a study tour to Europe and were found positive for Covid-19 on their return. As the months have progressed the virus has continued to spread because of insufficient testing, tracing and isolation. Here is a brief history of our lockdown, etc.

4th March - Class 11 final exams were completed, followed by annual break. Most Class 11 boarders left.

7th March - Class 9 final exams were completed, followed by annual break. Most Class 9 boarders left.

14th March - Lessons were cancelled for Class 8 downwards (along with other schools in Uttarakhand) up to 31st March. Boarders remaining were not allowed to leave campus and under strict Hygiene Protocol. Visitors from outside were discouraged except for essential work. All persons were required to wash and disinfect their hands and to cover their mouth and face. Boarders' parents / guardians began to withdraw their children in increasing numbers.

19th March - CISCE postponed remaining external exams for Classes 12 and 10 until further notice. Eleven more boarders left, numbers went down from 36 to 25 - these being children whose homes are too far (and risky) to travel to. All teachers from outside have remained at home. Hostel and Support Staff from outside were sent on leave from 20th to 31st March. Hostel rations inventory showed that we had already stocked rations for over one month, which would now be sufficient for 3+ months due to lower numbers. Changes in duties of Campus Staff were put in place, with new timetables, including games and recreation for pupils, and extra campus security and hygiene.

20th March - 8pm Prime Minister announced national 'people's lockdown' from midnight the same day for 5 days.

Sunday 22nd March - Full day national lockdown.

Tuesday 24th March - Headcount showed we had 81 persons on campus consisting of school level pupils, college students, Campus staff and family members. 8pm - Prime Minister announced a national mandatory lockdown from midnight for 3 weeks up to Tuesday 14th April. This was the first of 5 lockdowns up to now (October).

Campus staff were able to get groceries, medicines and other essential supplies. Vehicles on Campus were made available to take sick people to the hospital. Hostel Staff and pupils assembled daily to pray for themselves, their families and others in India and around the world. This has continued over the months.

On 13th April, anticipating an extension of the lockdown, we introduced even stricter isolation within Moravian Institute (MI) between buildings and houses on campus. We arranged a greengrocer to come to MI gate twice a week, so that staff or families would not need to go out to shop for vegetables/fruits. However, emergency travel for medical treatment was still available. On 14th April, the Prime Minister announced an extension to the Lockdown for another 19 days through to Sunday 3rd May, although a few relaxations were given to some parts of Uttarakhand. Now we are under Unlock No.5, and many people have become careless, indifferent or fatalistic.

On 20th April we began Online Lessons for our school pupils. It was a big challenge, but we arranged training of our teachers in the use of video conferencing platforms. Mr Simeon Kamei (our ICT and network administrator) has been our main trainer. Not knowing that a pandemic would cripple our traditional methods of teaching-learning, in March 2019 we had already started discussing ways of changing our methods and using technology and Internet based resources. In December 2019 we already began getting resources ready for the changes we felt were necessary. When the pandemic struck, we were already half-prepared, and we simply had to accelerate our preparation, organisation and delivery. I joined the other academic administrators in teaching online. The Online Lessons have been well received, although quite a few children are in homes without enough funds for a smartphone (let alone a tablet/computer/laptop). A significant number of boarders went back to their homes in the high mountains where there is no mobile/cell phone network (let alone Internet wi-fi). They are lagging behind the others, and we are trying to bring them back to the Institute campus, if their families allow it. In our neighbourhood, it seems that word has spread about the good quality of our Online Lessons and a number of new pupils have joined us. Moravian Institute was able to register free of charge with Google for their G-Suite for Education. This suite has helped us a lot. The teachers have been working very hard indeed and were given a 'summer' break from lessons 1st-15th July. They are in the midst of 2nd Term Assessments in October, using G-Suite for Education for testing pupils and not just teaching.

On 13th May six of our Ladakhi boarding boys in Classes 8, 9 and 11 left for their homes in Ladakh, with escort arranged by the Ladakh Union Territory Administration.

On 22nd May our affiliating and external examination board (CISCE) announced 1st-15th July as dates the remaining external exams for Classes 12 and 10, but after cases in the Bombay High Court, on 25th June in the Supreme Court, the exams were cancelled, only due to the tremendous transmission of the Covid-19 outbreak in many parts of the country.

Since April, some people had been agitating for the cancellation of fees that parents pay to private schools. At the same time, the same people had been demanding that private schools pay full salaries to their staff. The private schools argued that they need to charge tuition fees in order to pay salaries. This matter was decided largely in favour of the schools in eight different High Courts, and in Uttarakhand implemented by the State Government on 22nd June, but some lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court. Moravian Institute was affected by this dispute because part of our revenue income derives from Day Pupils' fees, and our ability to pay full salaries depends on fees. The contribution of our sponsors is very important to our finances, especially to support our boarders (even though most of them are not on campus right now). However, there is variation in the rates of contribution, and overall, these contributions are not sufficient to cover the full costs. The Supreme Court heard the case on 10th July and ruled in favour of the schools as directed by the high courts. However, it continues to be difficult for us to collect fees from Day Pupils, and right now we are facing a major cash flow problem. We are not sure if the Uttarakhand High Court will not direct schools to reduce fees. In addition, the central government got Parliament to pass amendments to the Foreign Currency Regulation Act on 23rd September. This Act governs how charities in India can get funds from overseas, etc. The laws were made much stricter all of a sudden, and we have had to scramble to get expert legal advice and comply.

On 6th October, Moravian Institute hosted eight candidates from five other schools for a Year 12 External Examination of CISCE (our affiliating/ accrediting body) in Delhi. We were able to conduct the examination successfully and with all safety precautions in place - by disinfecting the building and the exam hall, sanitising all the furniture, entry and exit of candidates at 5-minute intervals, maintaining 5 metres (well over the minimum 2 metres) distance between candidates' tables, handwashing and using hand sanitiser, everyone wearing masks at all times, paper handlers wearing gloves, etc. It was quite a challenge for everyone, especially the exam candidates. We hope they did well.

In May our 16 College Students on campus did a free online course offered by Tata Consultancy Services. In July they did three more courses each offered by various universities in the UK and the US through Coursera. Four students had gone to Chennai and Bangalore for a 5-month Discipleship Training School. They were able to return to Dehradun on 7th June after the lockdown was partially lifted. Another Nursing student from Bangalore was able to return on 9th June. All had to quarantine for at least 2 weeks before being allowed to interact with others.

We also have nine alumni training as nurses: two in Bangalore and seven in Dehradun. Six have just started training as nurses in Dehradun this month [October]: and another five have got admission into other bachelor's degree courses.

Everyone is safe at the Moravian Institute Binnakandi Campus (Cachar, Assam). Most pupils do not have smartphones. Some are out of mobile phone range. A few pupils in the village visit the school campus or teachers' homes for lessons.

At the Moravian Institute Chiktan Campus (Kargil, Ladakh), everyone is safe. Some Shia Muslims from Ladakh contracted the virus when they went on pilgrimage to Iran. They got treatment in Rajasthan or Ladakh in March-April. Some were from the Chiktan area (where our campus is situated) and the whole area was in quarantine for a long time. Kargil district had 500 cases by the end of July. Some pupils do not have smartphones and/or are out of mobile phone range. But about 20 out of 89 have been attending Online Lessons. From August some pupils of Classes 6-8 have been visiting the campus on alternate days for in-person lessons with our 2 teachers from Manipur residing in Chiktan.

In-person services have been cancelled since Palm Sunday at Rajpur Moravian Congregation (RMC). Since December 2018, the congregation has been served by Br Bir Bahadur Rana (alumnus and student minister). The congregation committee recorded worship songs and Br Bir Bahadur Rana's sermon and shared these on WhatsApp every Saturday evening for each family to play the next day. Since Sunday 13th September onwards, the congregation has been meeting virtually on Zoom. This has enhanced the sense of fellowship. Only the sermon is pre-recorded and uploaded on to the congregation's Youtube page. 8th-9th July we participated in the Unity Prayer Watch.

Covid-19 is spreading day by day to alarming proportions in India, including in Delhi, Dehradun, Assam and Ladakh, even though the rate of increase has declined somewhat this month. In September, India became No.2 in the world, behind only the USA. By the grace of God, the fatality rate is lower than some other countries. However, hospital (and bed, ICU, and ventilator) capacity is limited. Most patients are being sent home to isolate and recover. At Moravian Institute: Rajpur, even though some people on campus feel confined, we are trying to take the necessary precautions as strictly as possible. Fortunately, we have a large enough campus with plenty of space and fresh air, with facilities for games and sports. Even with 80+ people, the campus feels rather empty sometimes.

A lot of poor people in India, especially migrant labourers and pavement dwellers, are facing severe problems due to loss of employment and lack of shelter and food. Most went home from cities, across state boundaries, even on foot. Some of them were unable to practise physical distancing due to panic and have spread Covid-19 without intending to.

Kindly pass on our greetings to all our sisters and brothers in the British Province (and in the wider Unity). We hope they are all safe and healthy. Please let us know if there are people for whom we can pray. Please pray for us, as we pray for you.

Br Thsespal Kundan

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Church House is the Headquarters of the Moravian Church in the British Province and is located in London at:
Moravian Church House, 

5 Muswell Hill, 
N10 3TJ


020 8883 3409

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