…The day after I arrived, our students suited up in their new winter uniforms and set out for their special class while regular school is still out of session for winter break. For the winter season, we purchase our students new uniforms, including sweaters, sweater vests, blazers, and long pants or skirts to stay warm. They look terrifically handsome and beautiful yet striking against the background of their foggy homes and surroundings.
Our students rarely go anywhere alone. As I expected, they have become best friends over the past few months. Hand-holding even among men is common in India and our students walk everywhere hand-in-hand.
For those of you just joining us, these students you are looking at live in a slum and are members of the lowest castes in Indian society. No one has believed in them enough before to give them the opportunity of a world-class education, or any education for that matter. Even now, many people here are skeptical about their abilities to succeed.
We, however, do believe in them. Over the next few months, I’m going to prove to you why. These students first started school 10 months ago. At that time, they knew only the English alphabet and how to count from 1-100. They could not read, write, or speak to any greater extent. Even in Hindi, their native language, the could only recite the alphabet.
For the past 10 months, they have been studying 7.5 hours a day (2.5 hours longer than regular students) and six days per week at the Carmel Convent School, a well-renowned English-medium private school near their slum. Before I left, our students and I could hardly communicate at all beyond body language. Now, they understand much of what I am saying and can even translate for me when people approach us on the street to ask me questions.
When we walk places, they call out and spell the names of everything they see. They will point at, for instance, a picture of a elephant and yell, “Elephant…e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t!!!!” or see a rickshaw passing by and yell, “Rickshaw…r-i-c-k-s-h-a-w!!!”
They also happen to have spectacular senses of humor. They have always made me laugh with their actions but they do so now with their words as well. When passing a field where many people go to dispose of their human and material waste, the children point and yell, “Park…Dirty park!…Very dirty park!!” as they wiggle and rotate their hands back and forth to signify ‘do not enter.’
The vast majority of our students can now read entire pages of books out loud and without any hesitation, even material they have never seen before. I brought “The Cat in the Hat” along and we were able to read it together for the first time.
They also understand that they’re all in this together. They help one another when they are struggling and congratulate those who receive high marks on tests or homework. They are like a large 21-person family.
Every class begins and ends with a prayer thanking God for the ability and opportunity to study. It is a precious sight to behold.
When school ends, the children return to their dwellings in the slums and change back into their tattered clothing. Many of them return to bare feet and quickly become indistinguishable from the other children in the slum. They begin their chores and often perform most of the work to maintain their homes. At about 8pm, most of the students begin their homework and study for 1-2 hours before going to bed.
These kids are among the most fascinating and inspiring I have ever met. They lead two completely different lifestyles now and yet fit into both of them remarkably well given their circumstances. I am proud of them and hope you are too.