Life in India/The Verandah School

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The Verandah School.

A missionary in India, at the present day, need not wait until he has fully mastered the language of the people, before commencing his labours. In almost any mission station, while engaged in study and preparation for future increased usefulness, he may, in the distribution of tracts, in schools, and in other ways, to a limited degree, make Christ known to the people. To some persons this fact has proved a snare. In their haste to enter upon immediate efforts to do good, they have neglected a proper devotion to the study of the language, the foundation of the missionary's chief work, the preaching of the gospel. A moderate amount of such engagements, however, rather aid than injure his progress in this respect, by leading him to hear and use the language, while they relieve the weariness of continual study.

Upon taking charge of the Royapooram station, we found a small day-school for girls taught on the mission premises, and two boys' schools in neighbouring and populous parts of the city. In the care of these schools we found something to do at once, and, in our desire to instil the all-important truths of the gospel into the tender minds of the pupils, a stimulus to increased efforts to acquire the Tamil language. Our girls' school, to which the name of “Verandah school” was given from its being held on the portico of our house, was under the care of the missionary's wife. Though an humble and unpretending agency by which to benefit this heathen people, such schools must not be overlooked. They are one of the means by which the Hindus are to be raised from their degradation. The females are thus reached and influenced by the female missionary, when they could not be reached by the minister of the gospel.

Any one entering the house between the hours of eight in the morning and two, if he did not see, would certainly hear the group of girls, some thirty in number, that occupied one end of the brick-paved verandah. All, whether seated on the floor, or standing to recite, use their lungs most faithfully, and almost without cessation. The little ones, five or six years old, dressed simply in a skirt of calico reaching to the ankles, with their jet-black hair neatly combed, sit tailor-wise on the floor, with white sand from the beach spread on the bricks before them. One of their number sits opposite to them, and with her fore-finger writes a letter of the Tamil alphabet in the sand, at the same time singing out its name in a loud monotonous chaunt. The class then take up the sound and repeat it, as they write with their fingers the same letter in the sand. The monitor, with the palm of her hand, rubs the letter out, and smoothing the sand, writes the next letter, calling out its name. The class follow, and so the lesson goes on, the girls keeping time with their voices while they form the letters with their fingers, thus learning to read and write at once. Hour after hour, the sound of

А̄nă, ănă, ā-ā-ā-n-ă; ānă, ānă, (short a,)

А̄-věnă, āvěnă; ā-ā-ā-věnă, āvěnă, (long a,)

Eē-nă, eē-nă; eē-eē-nă, eē-nă, (short i,) and so on with the other letters of the alphabet, comes ringing in your ears, mingled with the voices of the spelling-class, and those of the readers, until you wonder what these little throats are made of, that they do not wear out with the constant strain.

The teacher sits cross-legged before the girls, giving the most of his attention to the upper classes, and appointing the more forward of these to hear the little ones. The studies in schools of this grade are to a very great degree religious—much more so than in any schools in America. The pupils read and study Scripture catechisms, the Gospels, Psalms, Scripture history, and hymns, with arithmetic, a little geography, and sewing.

Among the Hindus, learning is not a female accomplishment. “Why should women read," say they ? “They can boil rice, make curry, and take care of the house without reading. Moreover, if you give them learning, it will make them proud and wicked; they will not be obedient to their husbands, and we shall have no peace at home.” When we point to females from Christian lands, and show them their superiority to Hindu women, they reply that learning may answer for white women, but it does not for their wives. Poor creatures ! degraded they now are truly, and degraded they must be while kept in ignorance, and treated only as if made for the pleasure and service of man. They will not have self-respect, while even their own sons are taught to revile and disobey them; and they cannot have that delicacy of sentiment, refinement, and gentleness so characteristic of the Christian female, while treated as drudges, both by husbands and sons. The power of Christianity alone can raise them from their degradation. It is the privilege of the Christian female in heathen lands to gather into Christian schools the young of her own sex, who could not be reached by the missionary if alone, and to infuse into their tender hearts the elevating, purifying, and refining principles of the gospel.

The boarding-school, which removes the child from the influence of heathen friends for a series of years, and places her constantly under the influence of the Christian teacher, affords the most favourable opportunity for training girls to ways of piety. But this involves a necessity of expense, accommodation, and teaching which cannot be incurred at every station. Yet, the day-school, though an humble, is not a useless, effort to benefit the women of India. Certainly, no Christian could look without pleasure upon the group of girls daily collected upon the verandah at Royapooram. Gathered from the houses of the poor, and stimulated to cleanliness and neatness by little rewards, their appearance formed a pleasing contrast to that of the girls of the same class met in the streets. In their faces, too, there was a brightness, vivacity, and refinement that showed the blessing of God upon the teachings, conversation, and prayer of a Christian woman. On the Sabbath, the higher classes of girls, dressed in clean skirts and jackets, and a light white robe thrown over one shoulder and wound around the waist, with their glossy black hair neatly turned up and filled with flowers, formed a most attentive and intelligent part of the missionary's audience.

It is a matter of great regret that these girls are taken from school usually before they are twelve years old, and often are no more heard of by their teachers, as they are married at about this age. Yet the seed sown will not wholly perish; though we see not the fruit in them, it may appear in their children. We cannot doubt that God will use the truth thus sown in the tender heart of childhood, and bless it to them and to others.

We know not how many of these little ones enter the kingdom of heaven. In many instances they give good evidence of a simple faith in Christ. In the school just described, a pleasing instance of this occurred. Two daughters of a poor woman living in a mud-walled hut near us were regular attendants at the verandah school. One of them, Sevaley by name, had been noticed by Mrs. D. as very constant in her attendance, and uncommonly gentle and mild in her demeanour. Unlike many Hindu girls, she was retiring and modest. When unkindly treated, instead of the vulgar abuse and revilings common among them, her answer was sorrow and tears. One day, while we were at dinner, little Sevaley came to us, leading a blind beggar by the hand. When we asked her what she wanted, with infantile simplicity, she put one finger on each eye, and said, “Pitchey-karen eiyah! erey pitchey-karen eiyah! (a beggar, sir! a poor beggar, sir !") and looked at us imploringly, but without asking us to give any thing to him. He had come to her mother's house for alms; but as they were too poor to help her, Sevaley had brought him to us. She went away with a light heart, leading him by the hand, delighted at finding her hopes realized.

We were naturally interested in the little girl, and when she was absent from school for several days through sickness, we went to see her. We found the family living in a street near us, in a little hovel with mud-walls and a thatched roof of palm-leaves. Her father was out of employment, and her mother, a coarse, complaining woman, showed us the handful of rice she had received for a day's labour. Sevaley came out of the house, looking thin and weak, but greatly pleased to see the minister and the lady. After some conversation, we left the mother, promising to aid them. We sent Sevaley little comforts from time to time by the catechist, (native preacher,) who said that “she spoke very well.”

Returning one morning from the examination of a boys' school, I found little Sevaley lying upon a mat that had been spread for her on our verandah, with Mrs. D. seated beside her making her a jacket. She was now much swollen with dropsy, and very weak; she also coughed very badly. When asked whether she read at home, and what, she answered that she did; that she read "Matthew, and Psalms, and Scripture history, and Spiritual Milk.'” She told us too, with much simplicity, that when sick at home she loved Christ, and often thought of him; that she was going to die, but was not afraid, because Christ died for her. How astonishing to us, the thought that this poor diseased child, now pining away, almost destitute of food and clothing, in a miserable hut on the shores of heathen India, might soon be casting a crown of gold at the feet of her Saviour God in the kingdom of glory!

It was but a few days after this that her mother came to ask us for money to bury her daughter. Little Sevaley was dead. Released from sin, sorrow, and suffering, she had gone, we trust, to that world where the inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick. Females of America ! it is not in vain that Christian women dwell among the heathen! Remember your happy lot, and do what you can for the daughters of sin and sorrow in other lands. And, youthful reader, let me ask you, will this little child in the judgment rise up as a witness against you, and ask, Why you, in this Christian land, never forsook your sins and gave your heart to God? Unto whom much is given, of them will much be required.