Uncle Jake's grand tour continues
Asked if she knows where India is, four-year-old Sofia Macchi-Watts nods. "We've got a paper map," she says, proud of her nursery at St Margaret's girls' school in Edinburgh. "Uncle Jake has been to India."
Uncle Jake is the class teddy who visits the homes of the children on a regular basis and has been on holiday with some of them. He has travelled to South Africa and the United States, but his most recent sojourn was to India, on a 420-mile road trip, from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) to Kalimpong in West Bengal.
For most of the trip, he was sitting strapped to the front of a bike. Andrew Burridge, father of one of the nursery children, was cycling to Dr Graham's Homes, a school and orphanage founded by the Scottish missionary in the foot-hills of the Himalayas, to raise money for the complex.
The idea of taking Uncle Jake along came from Mr Burridge's four-year-old daughter, Charlotte. When she suggested it, her teacher, Sarah Ogden, immediately recognised it as an opportunity to enlighten her pupils not just about geography but also about the social differences of a developing nation.
"When Mr Burridge agreed to take Uncle Jake, I asked him to come and talk to us about India and why he was going," she says.
"Dr Graham opened the school in 1900 to give a home to Anglo-Indian children left destitute when their white fathers left," explains Mr Burridge. "A lot of the children there now are orphans or from families who are unable to look after them."
Mr Burridge was joining nine other riders, all of whom welcomed Uncle Jake to the group. Also along for the ride, but out of the dust in the support van rather than on a bike, was Scotland Ted, a teddy bear purchased by the nursery for the children at the orphanage. Mr Burridge also took out pictures and letters from St Margaret's children.
"We encourage the children to think about situations and come up with their own ideas," says Mrs Ogden. "I was really pleased with Charlotte coming up with the idea of Uncle Jake going to India.
"Another idea from the children was to have a T-shirt printed for Uncle Jake with a picture of the class on the front."
Fundraising is part of the culture at St Margaret's. Mr Burridge's eldest daughter, Olivia, 10, is on the school's charity committee, so soon pupils were working on ways to raise money for the Dr Graham's Homes. The nursery pupils decorated a box for reception, where parents could drop in donations. More than pound;100 was raised that way. Meanwhile, the junior school held a skipathon, raising pound;650 for Dr Graham's Homes, as well as funds for the British Heart Foundation.
All the activities helped make the thought of India and cycling 420 miles real for the children, but it was the photographs that Mr Burridge brought back that really captured their imagination.
"While Mr Burridge talked, some sat quietly, but others were rolling about on the carpet or getting up and wandering around," says Mrs Ogden. "You'd think they weren't listening. But the next day, all the questions came." What worried them were the pictures of children without shoes, the abandoned car wrecks, the people carrying huge packs on their heads and the room full of metal beds.
Uncle Jake is now settled back in the nursery, with his dusty, slightly faded T-shirt newly washed.
But Mrs Ogden is determined the knowledge gained by her pupils from the experience won't fade. One way may be to set up a link with the orphanage so the children can exchange pictures and letters, which she is investigating. Another is to refer back to Uncle Jake's journey. The map on the wall helps.
UNCLE JAKE'S DIARY
Charlotte Burridge, 4, suggests her father takes her class teddy to India with him.
Mr Burridge visits St Margaret's and gives a talk to 40 children across the three classes. He shows them his bike with a seat for Uncle Jake attached to the front.
Uncle Jake and Mr Burridge arrive in Kolkata (formally Calcutta). Dinner is cold chips and warm carrot sandwiches.
Group sets off on 420-mile trip to Dr Graham's Homes, a charity in Kalimpong in the Himalayas. First six days, the landscape is completely flat.
Group arrives at Himalayas. Final 10 miles includes a climb of 4,500ft to the school.
End of February
Mr Burridge visits St Margaret's, returning a very dusty Uncle Jake. Gives talk to nursery and junior school, accompanied by slide-show of pics taken in India. Shows Uncle Jake sitting on front of his bike for the entire journey.