This summer, we volunteered at the GMP school of Muktangan and Sharanam Center for Girls for a period of 3 weeks. We had a fairly large group of 6-8 volunteers across the entire 3 week period. Overall, we had a great and fulfilling experience. It was also quite tiring both physically and mentally.
Our day typically started at 6:30 am with a quick trip to the local gym by a rotating cast of characters. We left for school at approx 8:30 am, had classes with the students for approximately 4 or 5 periods a day (each period is 45 minutes long). We were at the school till 1:45 pm most days and were at the girls shelter from 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm. We reached home at 9:00 pm or so nightly and did a bit of prep for the next day.
At the school we interacted with two sections of the 6th grade class. We did a book reading and comprehension, art projects related to the book, a haiku book and poetry slam and some hands-on electricity and magnetism experiments. The children also taught us how to play the Indian sport of kabaddi. Each volunteer had a small group of 5 kids from each class and thus built a good relationship with their group over the 3 weeks. Overall the kids were very well behaved, excited to be working and interacting with the volunteers and curious about what we had to show them. They were excited to be doing science experiments and loved connecting the wires to the batteries and the light bulbs. We would give the kids the various elements and then as a group they would figure out how to get things to work. In general the boys would be aggressive and want to do everything first, but having small groups ensured that we could give the girls equal time and half the time get them to lead the group. Classroom management was the biggest challenge for us at the school since most of us are not experienced teachers. We did learn over 3 weeks but did not come close to the Muktangan teachers who really excelled at classroom management. The english comprehension and communication skills of the kids was relatively good, probably more at the 4th grade level compared to an equivalent US student. The discrepancy of the level between various students also seemed quite high, at least 3 grades between the highest and lowest performing students. The teachers were super supportive and curious about what we were doing and were an active participant in most of our classes. We did do a fair amount of prep work before each day and planned each class fairly nicely to ensure that we kept the kids energized, excited and busy 🙂
Sharanam center was a lot more relaxed for us. This was partially due to the fact that it was a much smaller group of kids (we primarily interacted with 8 of the younger children on a daily basis). The ages of the kids varied from 5 years to 13 years old. We met the kids @ 3:00 pm just after they finished their lunch. Most of their physical activity takes place at the shelter and the group is fairly high energy. So the first 30 minutes we would spend time playing their favorite games: duck duck goose and kho-kho. Thanks to the efforts of an earlier volunteer, we had a well organized library that the kids could use for their reading. We did 45 minutes of reading with the kids on a daily basis and each kid had one volunteer with them for the most part. After some more games, the roles would revert and the kids became our dance teachers. The kids have an excellent sense of movement and dance and thought our group a few cool moves. After dance, we did a combination of science, robotics and board games. We ended the evening with another round of physical games before the kids headed off to tuition. Overall it was great to hangout and spend so much time with the girls. We have known them for a long time but this time we really learned a lot about them, their likes and dislikes and saw them having fun and letting loose. We spent a weekend with all the girls and the staff at Magic Bus Center and also took them on a lunch + beach / movie outing on a sunday.
This was our third summer volunteering and in the past few years I’ve started thinking a lot more about what are the potential medium and long term ramifications of the work we are doing and what we want to see. In isolation, the work is just a drop of water in a bucket, but in a larger context and setting up processes for volunteers that follow us, we could make a much larger and substantial difference. At Muktangan, we hope to improve their volunteer coordination and focus for future volunteers, we also hope to see steps towards incremental improvement at all levels now that all the schools are at capacity. At Sharanam, working with Nirmal, Sharda and Karen we hope to expose the girls to regular reading and get them to aspire and reach for the stars. We want to get them to have a good academic education and strive to be better starting from an earlier age.
Haiku by Lobo
To India we flew
To read, build and play with kids
Who schooled us too