I’m Bip Ling and for the past five years I’ve been writing my blog, DJ-ing and modelling for Storm Artists. My mother and I recently flew to Calcutta in West Bengal, India and I wanted to tell you about my trip. Both my grandparents and my mother are Bengali. I myself am half Bengali and half English and I was born and raised in London.
On a visit to Calcutta in 2011, my grandmother introduced me to the Piyali Learning Centre, a school for girls in a village outside of Calcutta. I was both curious and excited to visit the school and meet the students. Most villagers in Piyali live on less than £1 per day, which means that school is not an option for the local girls. Most often these young girls work to support their families. Girls may work as domestic servants farming in fields, many suffer abuse and in most cases they are married off while they are still children.
The PLC school was founded by Deepa Willingham in 2003 when she founded PACE Universal, a charitable organisation that works tirelessly to provide education and improve the prospects of girls in Piyali. PACE stands for: Promise of Assurance to Children Everywhere, and they partner with the Rotary Club International.
I sponsor five girls in the school, and last week I caught up with them as they celebrated ten years of PLC school with the opening of their new school building. I first visited the Piyali Learning Centre in 2011, when the school wasn’t a proper building as you can see. The girls looked absolutely happy to be studying.
When I arrived in Calcutta I couldn’t wait until the celebration to see my girls. I set off to Piyali two days before the big celebration from the busy city of Calcutta. On the way we passed many people selling flowers, spices and vegetables on the sides of the roads.
The teachers who work at the PLC take the train from Calcutta. It’s a big commitment for the teachers to commute everyday, and the journey can take up to two hours each way.
When I finally arrived at PLC after an hour and a half drive, the head teacher Kristine Perdersen welcomed me. I was absolutely amazed by the new school building! It was really like a dream, like an oasis in the village! As soon as I arrived it was the girls’ lunch time. The gorgeous Bengali girls filed up into the new canteen, waiting for their food. They were all so well behaved queuing. This girl was one of the youngest pupils at the school. So cute!
The girls of PLC were so thrilled to have guests, they really did give me lots of attention before they had to head into the brand new assembly hall for the celebration rehearsals.
After lunch I took a tour around the new classrooms. There was a very exciting atmosphere in the air. PLC have provided new desks, white boards and chairs and they made the girls so happy!
I asked the girls that I sponsor to show me their homes. I was interested to see how they lived. All of the girls live in huts without clean water and only two of the five girls that I sponsor have electricity. It was humbling to see the reality of how they live.
It made me sad to see young children in the village who clearly do not have the privilege to be educated. Walking to each of the girl’s houses I realised that sponsoring five girls meant so much to their lives, which hardly cost me anything to donate! It brought tears to my eyes, learning how often a girl’s birth is considered a burden to a family and they may be forced into marriage at a young age. Some girls are often abused too. That’s why it’s so important to educate the girls, so they have a voice.
The day of the celebration, Sunday 2nd December 2013 was an absolutely beautiful positive day. Everyone who has been a part of the school came. A group of the American sponsors attended as well as the parents of the girls. Most of the parents of the girls are illiterate. The school really needs their encouragement and support to keep the girls in school. I was so pleased to see so many of the parents and siblings attend the event.
So the celebrations began. It was so adorable to see the young girls perform a song and dance. The older girls performed a light show, about the history of the school. The new school is now in fact the third location of PLC. Deepa thanked the teachers for their hard work educating the girls of PLC. The girls at the end of the program all came out with huge bright signs, with one of them saying “Hear my voice”. It made me cry, it was so beautiful.
After the performance I caught up with my girls that I sponsor, in the outfits that they wore for their dance routines. They looked so beautiful.
Deepa was born in Calcutta, She told me that she was privileged to be educated and she wanted to give back to the world so she started PACE and the PLC. She also caught up with the girls after their performance. Deepa showed the guests the plans for the school so they can educate more girls. We ate, whilst the younger girls were so excited to play on the “Jungle Gym” playground set up for the first time! I even had a go!
To sponsor a girl at the Piyali Learning Centre it only costs £215 a year. That covers their education, food, medical and school uniform. Education is key to beat poverty. It is so important that the girls learn how to look after their community and about personal hygiene too.
Thanks for reading!