This summer, we have stayed in Mumbai and have been spending quite a bit of time teaching and playing with the girls at Sharanam Home for Girls. This shelter is located in the Dharavi Slum, providing a permanent, loving home for girls who were previously neglected, abandoned or homeless. It consists of 30 girls who each receive individual attention and have been able to attend decent schools. I have been seeing a lot of these girls every year for pretty much my whole life. But when we visit, the visits are short, ranging from 1-3 hours over dinner, and one can’t develop a good relationship with any of the kids. This year we have been going almost every day for 2-3 hours, focusing our time on the youngest 10 gals, who finish school by the time we get there. The July 22-23 weekend we took all of the girls to the Magic Bus Adventure center.
The Magic Bus Center is much like an Outdoor adventure center in the USA. It has a bunch of different climbing elements and a large field for team building activities. The center brings in revenue by charging the big corporations and private schools a fair amount of money to use the center and its facilities. And for youth nonprofit programs, like Sharanam, as little money as possible. We departed early, Saturday morning, spending the next two hours in a large bus with 30 energetic, loving girls. By nine o’clock we were at the center eating an idli sambar breakfast, which was pretty good?. We then spent the afternoon doing some rappelling and activities in the mud(aka rolling round in the muddy dirt). After that came dinner, followed by a pretty lit night at the dorms and then another day of fun.
During this trip, it was nice to see all the girls running around and playing in a larger space than they stay in. Since on a normal basis, the only place that they get to run around in is the apartment, because there are no gardens or large fields outside in Dharavi. I also really enjoyed getting to chat with a few of the older girls that I don’t get to talk to in the afternoon.
I talked with Simran for a while when we were waiting to do activities. She told me about her school and studies. She enjoys math. So I guess we have something in common. She also scored fairly well on the test, really well for Sharanam, and I think it sets an example for the younger girls. After the trip we have been talking every time we see each other. She does my hair and I’m going to the dentist with her this coming friday. I think that the best part of the trip for me was getting closer with the girls through the activities. Overall I would say that the trips was a success, the girls seemed to enjoy the refreshing experience outside the city.
This summer, our family and friends volunteered at Muktangan for 3 weeks. The Muktangan organization was founded by, Liz Mehta. She started by taking 7 teachers from a local community and trained them to teach in pre schools. Once the children had gone through preschool, the teachers had done such a good job, that the parents insisted that the school continues into primary school. By now Liz could see that the small pre school that she had started was turning into something bigger. She continued to get more teachers, more support and more funding to expand the school. Each year that that first class went up another year, the teachers, from the community, were also moving up in their education. So an 8th grade teacher, would become a 9th grade teacher and eventually 10th grade. Now several years later, the NGO is running seven government schools all with solid reputations.
During our time at the school we focused on three main topics. Arts, Reading and Sciences. Since we were there for quite a long time, we wanted to disrupt as little as possible of the core subjects as possible, so that the teachers could continue teaching the core curriculum. Hence we took over the less weighted subjects: Arts and Crafts, Library, PE and circle time. One of the first things that we noticed about the school, during those first couple of days teaching, was the control that the teachers had in the classroom. They used a couple of different ways of quieting the children down, much like in American Schools. The management and confidence that each teacher possessed as she would quiet down the teachers, just goes to show the impact that the 2 year teacher training program has on these women. The teachers and students were welcomed us with open arms and within a couple of days, the ice seemed to have broken.
During the science part of our sessions which the kids seemed to enjoy most, we would do a variety of experiments involving magnets, wires, lights and batteries. In each of my groups there was a different cohesion between the peers. One group was quite good at involving everyone and only needed a bit of help in allowing everyone to have a shot. In contrast my other group was very different. One kid was quite aggressive and would take the lead immediately. I would have to pry his hands off of the materials so that the other kids could get a shot. It was interesting to see the way that different kids reacted to the materials presented. As for the reading, it went pretty well. The first couple of times, the kids seemed to be excited to be reading, but as the book progressed, they go bored with it. It was something new to them, reading a chapter book, rather than a textbook, but it gave a lot of them good exposure and hopefully that will encourage a couple of them to continue reading. And finally the arts and crafts were always a success. It was a more relaxed session for everyone, either drawing, writing haikus, or making recipes. The kids always seemed to have a positive attitude towards all of the activities even though some weren’t as interesting as the others.
Being in a small group of only 5 kids per class, for 3 weeks allowed us to develop relationships with each of our students. I got to know all 10 of my students very well, some more so than others. I learned their likes, dislikes, hobbies and favorite foods. At the end of our stay I even go a few addresses to send postcards to on birthdays and cards with my favorite foods. The past 3 weeks volunteering has been an amazing opportunity learning with these kids, and while our time with them won’t have any significant impact, I think it was good exposure for them.