Special report: Project Mala

Special report: Project Mala

IndiaGBnews.com special correspondent Aline Dobbie provides an insight into the work of Project Mala, a British charity working to end child labour in India’s hand-knotted carpet industry.

Last evening at the Nomads Tent in Edinburgh we had the pleasure of listening to Robin Garland the founder of Project Mala. For me this was very satisfying as I have written about this wonderful little charity since 2002 and in all my books about India.

It is worthy of note that Andrew Haughton who owns the Nomad’s Tent in Edinburgh, which specialises in wonderful carpets, rugs and lovely objects and is a cornucopia of tribal art, not only from India but he does go there annually, is mindful that some of the communities involved in making the fine rugs they sell are very poor. They try to help wherever they can by supporting good projects to benefit the community and weavers’ children. Project Mala fits into that remit very well.

Hungry young learners tucking into lunch provided by Project Mala
Hungry young learners tucking into lunch provided by Project Mala

I too was born long years ago now in Uttar Pradesh, that most populous State of India where the great city of Varanasi is on the banks of the holy Ganga. It is in the area surrounding Varanasi that the carpet industry of India thrives. Founded in 1989, Project Mala started as an action programme for the abolition of child labour in the hand knotted carpet industry in India. It now has 15 schools from pre-schools for girls to secondary schools. All the children are from under-privileged families and are given free education, a midday meal, uniform and healthcare. The charity is highly respected within the carpet weaving community and provides much needed education and vocational skills.

Project Mala is the oldest NGO working in the carpet weaving

Project Mala School children taking end of year exam
Project Mala School children taking end of year exam

belt and has 1,350 children in full time education. The 15 schools (5 pre-schools, 6 primary, 3 middle and 1 secondary school) are all concentrated in the Varanasi area. The work is financially supported by many carpet weaving companies, although they still rely on individual child sponsors for the core of their income.

Nearly twenty years ago we as a family decided to do what we could; my late Mother Barbara who had also been born in India, was particularly keen on this charity and together with her we supported four children through their education. It is not an onerous sum to give and think of how you open the world for that child the recipient and he or she will have that wonderful precious thing …. Choices in life with an education. Indian children normally are hugely aspirational and grasp every opportunity to learn and study and some of Project Mala’s pupils have been true stars. Not everyone has that mental acuity or academic potential but time and time again they have found wonderful youngsters eager to learn. After all, school is all about Learning how to Learn, which is just the start of life.




Playing cricket with new equipment
Playing cricket with new equipment

Foremarke Trust, the charitable arm of Foremarke Hall, the preparatory school for Repton, the English public school (in the UK public means elite private – I know it sounds curious) has offered another Mala child a chance to study in England for one year. The first boy who came was Jaivik, then Niraj followed him last year. These boys returned home to India as confident, mature English speaking young men.

Foremarke were clearly pleased with these two as now they have offered a place to a third boy.   Spare a thought for the excitement, fear and apprehension as the young boy contemplates living in England for a year. Before now the furthest he has travelled is Varanasi which is just 40 km from his home! He started learning English in Project Mala primary school just six years ago. Soon, the only language he will hear is English. All his lessons will be in English. His text books and every sign will also be in what is to him a foreign language. The food will be foreign – no more spiced curries! And, he will have to learn to use a western toilet that flushes and be mindful of the culture surrounding all his new peer group.

I think of myself in 1957 coming back to England to start boarding school; the difference was that thoughProject Mala card naturally I was fully bi-lingual with a high degree of English in spoken and written word, I had come from a privileged private school in Calcutta (now Kolkata) – I was a sophisticated child used to flying to and from India. This lad will start from the simplicity of village life in a poor village near Varanasi. How I would love to meet with him and talk – he would polish up my now very rusty Hindi!

Those who might like to help PROJECT MALA in their worthwhile commitment to helping severely disadvantaged village children in India can contact Robin Garland, Project Mala Tel: 01904 341004, robin@projectmala.org.uk www.projectmala.org.uk  registered charity number 801953.

Aline Dobbie

Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed travel writer, Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India, including The Peacock’s Call – www.thepeacockscall.co.uk


Latest news from Project Mala: 

Class-10 Group photo amended 2

Mala children excel in UP Board results again


One of the greatest pleasures I get is when the children do well in their exams as it shows that they are making the most of the opportunity that we give them. I hope it also gives some satisfaction to our sponsors that their money is being well spent.

Most of the credit for this must go to Anne and Karen, our Educational Advisers/Trustees and Mukesh (headmaster) and his staff who put in so much hard work to give these children the best education we can in this remote part of India.

The results the Mala secondary school children have achieved in the UP Board exams is astounding. This year over six million children registered for the grade 10 and 12 (secondary school) exams. In grade 10 all of our children were in the 1st division. In Grade 12, 3 children were in the 2nd division but only missed out by a few marks.

The UP Government was very strict this year as all exams were under the watchful eye of CCTV cameras to cut out any kind of cheating.

Of the children from Project Mala Jaivik in grade 10 boys and Kusum in grade 12 girls stood top of all our children taking the exam.



Kusum was not only first in the grade 12 exam result but she was also first in grade 10 two years ago. The first student to achieve this.

Kusum has two brothers who studied at Project Mala and both are also very bright. One has gone to Navodaya, a special Government school for gifted lower caste children.



Readers of these newsletters will remember that Jaivik was our first student to come to England to study for a year at Foremarke Hall. He has clearly benefited from this experience as he was first in the list of children in grade 10.



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