May 312011

Today was such a brilliant day at ‘work’. So much so that I was walking on sunshine while I ran my errands after school.

Remember in elementary school when you’d write your name vertically on the left side of a piece of paper, then describe yourself (without a trace of modesty, of course!) using phrases or words which corresponded with the letters of your name? Praise whichever teacher introduced me to this project, because it provided a fantastic day with the women and children!

As I have said, part of the struggle of this teaching atmosphere¬† is the wide spectrum of established knowledge (I’d like to refrain from calling it a spectrum of abilities). This is particularly true with the women. For this reason, we have worked one on one or with two students in order to supplement each individual learner. This is especially frustrating for students like Gora who feel left out. I also think it’s important that the women work together and socialize in this environment. A small art project which suited all levels worked very well. I was so happy to watch Gora beam at the words she learned in order to explain herself, and as we oohed and ahhed at her drawing! Mamta helped Ganga (who is just mastering her ABC’s and beginning to sound out words) to write words like “nice”, and even searched through our Hindi/English dictionary for her. I think I have mentioned that Mamta is likely the most bashful and self-conscious person I have ever met, but today was a different story. She completed a worksheet regarding location words (upon, inside, between, etc.), barely asking for help, and today hen she spoke she did not cover her mouth in her usual manner. Small steps…

To be honest, I think that knowledge of English is of secondary importance to self-confidence and world-awareness improvement for these particular women. Of course their English education, like all education, does this in a magnificent, powerful way, and goes hand-in-hand with more education. But, I am also a big believer that encouraging the women in other ways will have a direct positive impact on their lives. We have discussion topics one day a week. We pose some questions and give a bit of information and then the women discuss amongst themselves in Hindi. We hear as much as we can, but so much is lost in the translation. Last week we talked about the importance of education for their daughters. All the women encourage their daughters a lot in education, and I know that a small amount of girls are completing a bit of college before getting married now. The women in this way are like mothers/parents everywhere… wanting better for their children than they had for themselves.

The conversation branched into the topics of their daughters’ life before marriage. Before coming here I assumed that the people would recognize some aspects of their traditions are taboo in the Western world, and that they would shy away from conversations about them. But, this is absolutely not an issue. They are straightforward. The women are completely assured and open about the fact that they prefer sons to daughters, and one has even justified that to me because when Raksha Bandhan Festival occurs their daughters would be sad without a brother. (Raksha Bandhan signifies a brother’s lifelong protective vow over his sister and a sister’s wish for his well-being) Our group of women forthrightly said that it is “part of the culture” to, if their daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, either have the male’s family pay for an abortion, or “chop” the daughter up and tell everyone she is away at college or with relatives. They even said that if they didn’t want to kill their daughter, the culture reigns and they would have to follow tradition. It wins out in all situations. (I want the reader to know that I am not making generalized comments about all Indian women, just our small group in Ambedkar Nagar!) I know this topic is of lots of interest, but expressing it may be best done in person…

We were told that the reasoning behind recruiting international volunteers is that it means more to the locals to know that a Westerner would travel with the purpose of helping THEM. Now, to be honest, I don’t see the truth in this. While the justification of this philosophy was apparent to me on our church’s building trip in Mexico, here there are factors which don’t support it. A mix of the fact that our students don’t have a concept of the world around them (we taught the seven continents and most didn’t know they lived in Asia), and that volunteers from all corners of the world are in-and-out constantly, seems to make for a lack of any thoughtful consideration, on the students’ part, of the volunteers’ motivation. I’m sure a lot of this has to do with the stereotype that all Westerners are wealthy. If students perceived the magnitude of effort many volunteers have to put forth just in order to come here, or that they choose the only vacation time they have to help Indians, wouldn’t there be more punctuality and attendance? But, around here we go with the flow… to put an Indian spin on things: the Taj Mahal wasn’t built in a day!

Our girls class has expanded and now regularly houses 10-15 girls aged six to twenty. It is a blessing that our youngest, Monika, is exceptionally bright and eager to learn- she surpasses the older students in some ways! Everyday she comes early with her cousins Shivani and Radhika (two intelligent sisterns who come from a family who affords their private education). Monika plops down and asks, “Brooke-mam?” while she holds her hands out ready for a clapping game. We play hand games to speedily count by odd and even numbers, and by five, and name all the English words we can under any chosen category. She always wants to learn- and I hope she is given as much opportunity as possibly to continue to utilize her potential.

Like clockwork as we walk to a tuk-tuk every afternoon, Susana says, “What a pity, so much wasted potential here.” She’s right.


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