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01 Aug 2006
Learning in adversity

An upcoming Learning Station site in a school in Ladakh.
Tawang, Dras, and Ladakh are very different from each other in terms of geography, culture, religion, history, and even language. Yet they share many common challenges. They are hugely inaccessible to begin with - the nearest railhead or airport is at least a couple of days drive across some of the highest passes in the world (well over 4000 meters). Life is even more difficult once you get there - the cold and the altitude make even survival, especially in winter, an effort. Incidentally people in two of these three places have seen full-scale war. Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, saw action during the 1962 war. The war memorial in the centre of the town tells a story of valour, and a little further from the town you can still see hundreds of abandoned bunkers. Dras, Kashmir, saw action more recently, and you are welcomed by a road sign proclaiming "Enemy can see you". Driving past a ten-foot high wall, erected to prevent line of sight for the "enemy" soldiers doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

School girls at a Learning Station in Dras, Kashmir.
(This area is just opposite Tiger Hill.)
These three places share another common challenge - elementary education. It cannot be easy to convince good teachers to relocate to these remote and inaccessible areas. Educational material and resources are scarce - as are almost all things we take for granted. Perfect place to set up HiWEL's Learning Stations?

Disadvantaged children in remote rural locations! That is what we seek; the challenges are just a by-product. For instance, the only reliable form of transport available for the last mile for one of our Ladakh sites was, well, our own back. And it was used. The nearest electricity pole was across a river, so solar power was employed.

This winter the second-coldest inhabited place on the planet, Dras, will witness excited children playing and learning on a snow covered Learning Station, while most "sensible" people would likely be huddled indoors by a fire.
An upcoming Learning Station site in Arunachal Pradesh.

Doctors and professional mountaineers fear altitude sickness at altitudes above 3,000 meters and advise extreme caution. Some children in Tawang will soon be running about excitedly and using our Learning Station at an altitude close to 4,000 meters.

Some of us will be there to enjoy the excitement of children learning, while others would have moved on to a new challenge. And the spark of learning would have been lit in the minds of thousands of children in these remote, inhospitable places.

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A little one in a school classroom in Arunachal.

Work in full swing to complete a Learning Station in Ladakh.

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