Nine years after she first began her quest to improve the lives of Indians living in one of the poorest areas of the world, Diane Kirwin is especially proud of a new school that serves 135 children of the lowest Indian caste who otherwise would have no access to education.
The new school is one of many projects accomplished through KIRFIndia, the registered Indian charitable trust Kirwin founded.
Now at 74 years, the Mount Shasta resident said she visited the parents of all 135 children during her last visit.
“Their parents are very excited,”?said Kirwin. “They never had the opportunity to go to school. The change in the children has been amazing. They went from wild village kids to students.”
She said, “The new school was built one bucket of sand and one brick at a time. All human labor with no electricity... The heartache is we can only take so many in the school.  A group of kids sat all day under a tree to try and get in.”
Additional accomplishments this past year include a women’s sewing center, a well with storage and immunizations.
Future plans include a health clinic in one of the school’s classrooms, a mobile health clinic that would serve surrounding villages and a vocational school.

Heartache and progress
Kirwin began her work in India nine years ago when she brought pipe cleaners as toys for the children and carried a vision of doing more.
Since then KIRFIndia has built schools, provided nutrition programs, medical care including club foot and cleft lip surgeries, wells, education materials, clothing and more.
Kirwin said the Bihar area of India is poor, has little infrastructure and was recently declared a drought area.
“Poverty is pervasive in Bihar. A typical village has no electricity, no running water or toilets, no medical care. There is a lot of sickness and malnutrition,” she said. “Shoes are a luxury. There is heartache and progress. One of the biggest hopes is the vocational school where carpentry and mechanical repair can be learned.”
To help with the drought, Kirwin said it’s hoped that the Bermuda Rotary Club will provide funds for a new well, a pond for cattle and  more extensive water storage.”
A positive side effect of the new school is students mixing with students from higher castes, Kirwin noted. A part of Hinduism and its belief in karma is that people are born into a caste system that limits their social standing and access to many educational and employment opportunities. Although it is illegal in India to discriminate based on caste, the practice is still pervasive.
Kirwin said many of the school’s children “had never seen an auditorium or stage before,” but now some are “competing at schools of the higher castes and winning awards in art and singing.”
She said volunteers are coming from India and other countries to help in a variety of ways.
“The children are so excited when a volunteer comes because they get to play,”?she said. “Playing is such a special time for them. They often just sit in rows for hours.”
Kathy Stovell from Bermuda volunteered at the school and brought ball point pens for kids.
“The children were so excited. Ball point pens are difficult to get,” Kirwin said. “Sometimes, the smallest thing can make a difference.”
Local citizens are also making a difference. Kirwin said College of the Siskiyous’ Weston’s knitting class students made hats for the children.
“It’s very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer,” she said. “The kids’ lips turn blue and they shiver. We hope to have a knit hat for every student this winter.”
Kirwin is returning to India in the near future and she said help is always welcome.
“Every little bit helps,” she said. “There’s so much need and so much to do.”
For more information on KIRFIndia or to donate,
visit the website at www.kirfindia.org.