Last winter, I came to India as a Study Abroad student through a program run by the University at Albany, USA. I am back this year for six months as a volunteer at Vedike Eco-Residential School. I am working with the ten boys who currently live on the Vedike campus. At the moment these boys live in temporary accommodation. However, the organization has completed the blue-prints and is ready to start the construction of permanent facilities. While I am here working at Vedike I hope to add to the campus as much as possible. I hope to impact the lives of the Vedike children as much as they have impacted mine. I hope to raise funds to build a community kitchen with adjoining laundry facilities as I feel this is the most immediate need.
Vedike Eco-Residential School is focused on the growth and development of India’s rural children and youth. The school focuses on sustainable living in rural villages and empowering the children to become global citizens. It aims to create a platform for those who are dis-empowered to thrive, specifically children as well as women from the local community. Currently there are ten boys between the ages of six and thirteen who live full-time on the campus. Another ten will be joining in June 2014 at the beginning of the new academic year. Vedike's longer-term vision is to have 120 children living on campus full-time and 400 students from neighbouring villages attending daily classes at the school. I believe that the campus has the potential to grow very quickly once the community kitchen is built as it will provide food security for the current and future children of Vedike.
The community kitchen and laundry facility that I hope to build for Vedike will be divided into several sections. There will be a utility kitchen which will hold all of the cook tops, pots and pans, and a large oven to prepare every meal on campus. There will be two storage rooms, a cold store and an open store, where all food and drinking products will be held. The main floor will be a buffet-style serving area, where students and visitors can serve themselves. On each side there will be wash stations for the children and visitors to wash their dishes and holding areas to store all dishware. Finally, directly off from the kitchen there will be a laundry with storage space, where all things laundry-related will occur and be held. The costs of this building will total to an estimated $5,800 including all supplies. The community kitchen and laundry will be built by international and Indian volunteers who will work alongside local skilled masons from neighboring villages.
The community kitchen will not just serve the children of Vedike, but also children from neighboring villages who regularly use the playground and park at Vedike, other visiting villagers, national and global students and volunteers/visitors and Vedike employees. At least once every two months, Vedike hosts a program on its campus and provides food for all of the participants. These events range anywhere from hosting international student groups, sports days for public schools, or workshops for women from the surrounding villages. The kitchen space will also provide an indoor dining room. There are currently no covered dining spaces on campus, leaving the children, staff and visitors at Vedike exposed to the hot sun and the cold nights while having their meals. During the monsoon season the boys eat in their compact rooms because of the lack of sheltered spaces.
Building the kitchen storage rooms will create a healthy and hygienic alternative to traditional storage ideas. The walls will be secure in order to keep away any pests that could contaminate the food supplies. The Vedike children currently take part in an activity called 'kitchen gardening', where they grow some of the food (including green vegetables) that they eat. A majority of the meals prepared at Vedike contain the corn and finger millet that they harvest annually. It is currently a challenge to keep these harvests dry and fresh due to a lack of proper storage facilities on campus. This challenge will only grow, as this year we are expanding our 'kitchen gardening' to include several new fruits and vegetables. As a result, the need for these new kitchen storage facilities is great. Another advantage is that there will be a cold store that will allow Vedike to hold the curd and milk its cow produces, allowing the children to consume it safely over a longer period of time. Additionally, the storage spaces will be important as it they will provide clean holding places for all of the kitchen utensils and serving ware.
The laundry facility will also be an important addition to the Vedike campus. Five loads of laundry are currently required every week. This is doubled or tripled when the campus holds workshops and events for children, women, villagers in general and national and global students and volunteers/visitors for extended stays. At the moment there is only one small space on the edge of campus to properly wash clothes and blankets and it becomes quickly congested with any increase in quantity. A larger facility with proper drains and faucets would allow a much faster turnaround of clothing and blankets needed at Vedike.