The Welcome of a Lifetime…

…Tonight, we are packing our bags for an early morning bus ride tomorrow to Agra. I figure there are few better ways to start off the New Year than to watch the sunrise on January 1, 2012 over the Taj Mahal. I will try to post daily although internet access may be difficult to find. If you do not hear from me, I wish you all a Safe and Happy New Year. I will be back on Sunday.

After helping at the hospital this morning, I went to the slum school alone for the first time. Over my last few visits to the school, I have struggled with how I can best help these precious children. Although the three full-time teachers have good intentions, there is little structure and seemingly limited progress. One teacher teaches the 12-14 year old girls how to sew. The other two teach the 50 students ages five to twelve. However, before today, I had only seen the children re-write and recite the English and Hindi alphabets as well as numbers from 1-100 over and over.

As always, my walk through the slum to the school incited a slew of emotions and reactions, both for me and the locals. Work stops and inquisitive glares come from nearly everywhere. I am now familiar to most of the people and many even know me by name. Children call out “Hi John!” from their homes and little kids swarm me to shake my hand or give me a high five. Men and women stare but then break into smiles at the slightest nod or “Namaste.”

As I approached the open door of the school, I could see the excitement on the kids faces building as the word spread that I was coming. As I stepped up into the classroom, the entire class jumped sky-high, saluted, and said “Hello Johnnnn!” To know that just by being present you brighten the day of 50 kids is all the motivation I need to go. However, to get a welcome like this just stops me in my tracks. You can’t beat a feeling like that.

Today, I wanted to see if they could apply their knowledge to reading, writing, and speaking as well as determine their understanding of mathematics. As I had suspected, there was a wide variety of ability levels mainly dependent upon age. I sat on the floor to watch class for a while, but little instruction ensued. As usual, the kids started to come to me one by one with their miniature blackboards with the letters of the alphabet practically chiseled into them. With marbles and the little chalkboards, I started to establish basic addition and subtraction. The kids speak only as much English as I speak Hindi, but the progress was noticeable and fun for all of us. A group of about ten kids gathered around as I continued to determine what they knew and did not know.

I became positive that everyone knew the alphabet as well as basic numbering but came to the conclusion that nobody could write or read and only very few could perform basic addition and subtraction.

Then, I began the most rewarding teaching experience I have ever had. I asked to use the larger chalkboard (about 2ft by 3ft in size) and the teachers thought I wanted to teach the entire class. All 50 students moved eagerly to face me. I couldn’t turn back now. There was no way that all of the kids could see the chalkboard on the wall, so I took it off of the wall and walked around with it. We started with “Hi” and worked our way through the words I knew they were familiar with. I would say a word and then we would spell it out together. Then they would write it on their little chalkboards and show me with more enthusiasm than I have ever seen in a classroom. We went through simple words like boy, girl, bye, hello, book, and shoe. Then I would go back, have them identify objects by name, then write the word and show me. Some would get it right, some would be a little off, and others would be totally lost. However, all had enormous smiles on their faces. Toward the end, I had the older, more capable students help explain to the younger students what to do. The students can’t understand most of what I say, so class was like a two-hour game of charades.

Today gave me hope that I can go back and really make a difference in their lives. Over the next 4 months, I plan to volunteer at the hospitals in the morning and then school in the afternoon. I wonder what they will be able to do and understand by May if I can build their knowledge just a little bit every day.


5 thoughts on “The Welcome of a Lifetime…

  1. Oh John, this brings tears to my eyes. I am so very proud of you! You are truly making a difference!
    FELIZ ANO NUEVO! Enjoy your adventure!!
    The pictures of the chicken in your previous post actually looked very delicious! Mom is cooking chicken and dumplings today for Alex. She is doing great in New York CIty!

  2. What school supplies do you think they need? I teach an education class at a Community College in Tennessee. As we begin our semester in January, the students may be interested in a Service Learning Project. I know that the students would learn a lot about India from your blog. Your photographs and writing about the every day life there is fascinating. Let me know if you would be interested in the joint project of sending school supplies to the school.
    Susan Brandt (I am a Lausanne classmate of Mary)

    • Hi Mrs. Brandt!

      Thank you for following my blog and commenting. It’s exciting to know that people back home want to help and I would love to work together to improve the school. Feel free to have your students follow along or ask any questions they wish. The school and daily lives of the children are very different from our perceptions so what we often think of as necessary elements of a school would not be as helpful here as one might imagine. Making productive advancements requires significant planning and thought. Prioritization is essential.

      For the past two weeks, I have been gathering information about the school in preparation for setting up a way for people back home to donate and actually make a significant difference. I will be posting about the school at a later date, but I will tell you a little about it now.

      Even private school students here seem to only attend school for 2-4 hour every day. At the slum school, each student is present for only 2 hours. As you can see from the photos, there are no desks, few books, only rare notebooks, obviously no computers, and lights and fans only when the power is working (power is usually out during the day).

      To give you an idea of how far money can go here, the teachers each make Rs 4000 per month ($80). Desks to seat three children would cost Rs 1000 ($20) each. A large shade structure with bamboo walls and a tin roof which my host father wants to construct to nearly triple the educational space would cost Rs 25000 ($500).

      From my experience at the school, the lack of space is one of the largest setbacks. The students range in age from 5 to 13 but sit together on the floor. The inability to cater to each capability level usually means that productive learning essentially comes to a standstill.

      Implementing a structured curriculum that can be maintained with as little effort as possible after our departure is, in my opinion, the number one priority.

      Both the teachers and students need goals to aim for and incentives to achieve them. Like I said before, the purpose of this school is get the students excited about learning so that they will enroll in the public school. I think that the providing a feeling of achievement is a vital way to incentivize learning.

      These students come from a place where the importance of education is not understood and from families that are themselves uneducated. More than anything, they need to understand the benefits of learning so that they can make the decision themselves to commit their time to academics.

      Many of the kids are very smart and are eager to learn. They will learn on their own if we just give them the resources. They need more math problems and books to start reading. I think your idea of donating books is a fantastic one. I will investigate where I can find children’s books in English here and update you once I have found a store.

      Sorry for such a long response. I am excited you want to help. To recap, I think these are the top four things we need at the school:

      1. A way to implement structure that can be maintained after our departure or without our oversight

      2. More space to be able to divide students by ability level and teach the groups individually

      3. Books that are meant to teach students how to read. They cannot even read “hi” or “hello” at this point.

      4. Ways to provide large amounts of basic math problems that the students can use to teach themselves.

      Thank you again for commenting and your interest in helping. As we progress, I will send photos of the advancements we make.

      Yours truly,

  3. Hi John!
    I am student in Mrs. Brandt’s education class and I just wanted to say that I have enjoyed all of your entries and your pictures so very very much and that I plan on following your blog till May. I really look forward to seeing India through your eyes and being apart of your adventure! I know that I may never experience another culture like this, but thanks to you I will have some feel of what it would be like. Best of luck!
    Rachel J.

    • Hi Rachel!

      Thank you so much for your inspirational feedback. It is incredibly rewarding for me to know that people back home are engaged, entertained, and educated by my blog. You say you may never have the chance to experience something like this on your own, but I bet that you can. All it takes is some commitment, a little bit of saving, and a willingness to take on uncertainty. Thanks for following! If you have any specific questions or requests of subjects to cover, feel free to let me know!

      Best wishes,

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