Scouting for Schools…

…As I continue to interview with families throughout the slum, I am amazed by the lack of emphasis on education. The children of illiterate parents are especially at risk. When I ask illiterate parents about their children’s education, all I get are blank stares. Most of the families have no idea that their children show enormous potential.

In these cases, we can’t really blame the parents. When both parents are illiterate and have never attended school, it is impossible for them to evaluate the potential and capabilities of their own kids. Education was never a part of their lives and most of them have no idea what school even entails. They simply do not understand the benefits of knowledge. Therefore, most of these children will not go to school even if they are incredibly intelligent and their parents can afford the remarkably low tuitions. Recently, I have learned that much can be achieved with just a little initiative. For many of these people, all we have to do is open their eyes and show them the way.

–Soni (center, in green) is 16, beautiful, and smart but has never been to a day of school–

To accomplish this goal, I will be starting a program this week to incentivize families to send their children to private schools if they can afford to do so.

Of the few slum children I have been meeting who attend private schools, the vast majority go to one of two institutions: the Public High School or Nehru Academy. With tuitions starting at only $3 to $4 per month, both schools target low-income families but still provide many more resources than the government options. To better understand the resources at our disposal, Mitlesh (my trustworthy translator) and I visited both schools and talked with many of their administrators and students.

–A group of boys that always greets me on my way into the slum–

–A bank of the canal–

Our first stop was the poorly named Public High School. It is neither public nor a high school. It is a Hindi medium private school with 13 classrooms providing classes from pre-school to 10th standard. There are 250 students here with a boy:girl ratio of 4:1.

For a tuition of only $3 per month, I was highly impressed by the conditions as well as by the respect and politeness of the students. Most of the students aspire to attend college.

The girl closest to the camera in the photo above used to attend our slum school. She is now a successful student in 6th standard. She is a perfect example of using the slum school as a pipeline into the private or public school systems.

The next stop was the Nehru Academy. Although classes had ended for the day (keep in mind, this is Saturday), there were some after school programs underway. The tuition here was slightly more expensive: $4 per month for Hindi medium and $6 per month for English medium classes.

We then went back to the slum and I spent the rest of the afternoon playing with kids and sitting with numerous locals to people-watch and enjoy the beautiful day.

Disciples of Hope…

…At 5 o’clock last night, with the sun beginning to set, I received a call from an unfamiliar number. It was the convent. The sisters were wondering if I could show them where I have been teaching and take them on a tour of the slum. Four minutes later, I was sitting in the convent dormitory talking with all four of the nuns. I could not have felt more spirit in the air if I had been sitting with the Pope in the Vatican. After a short talk, Sister Pushpa, Sister Prasanna, Shri, and I set out on foot toward the slum, leaving the other two sisters to watch over the convent.

Although classes were already over for the day, the single empty room of the school seemed to humble even the sisters. I could tell their minds were busy thinking of additional ways they could help.

As we continued our tour of the slum, an atmosphere of hope and safety encompassed us everywhere we walked. The sisters greeted and placed their arms around nearly every child we came across. The locals, who seemed to understand who and what the sisters represented, welcomed them with utmost reverence and respect.

–Sister Prasanna (left) and Sister Pushpa (right)–

These two little children captivated all of us. They were working with their mother to thread holes and insert screws into casings for ceiling fan mounts. The nuns were impressed by such an initiative as well as by the children’s dexterity and work ethic at such young ages. The sisters told me that children like them sometimes grow up to make the best students. They will, no doubt, have great dexterity and work ethic.

–Previous student of the Carmel Convent School evening class with her mother–

After about an hour of walking, a teenage girl in a government school uniform came running out of an alley. Sister Prasanna and the girl recognized each other immediately. Years ago, the Carmel Convent School had an evening program for slum children up through the fifth standard. Funding, however, dwindled and the program was shut down. This teenage girl had been a student in that program and will soon become one of the few women in the slum to have graduated from 12th standard. With tears in her eyes, the teenage girl graciously thanked and praised the sisters.