“Aapka naam kya hai ?” must have been the question I have heard the most from the Children’s mouths. It means “what is your name?” in Hindi.
When I have met my students for the first time, it was probably a real question, but then I think it was just because they liked hearing a foreigner speaking in Hindi, as they did not expect me to, but I was answering in Hindi, “Mera naam Laura hai”.
I still remember the feeling of all those children gathering around me, like bees, really, in the street in general, and in the Slums where I was working. In the morning, my students knew at what time I was supposed to arrive and were waiting for me in front of their Slums, near the street, waiting to see my rickshaw on the road…
They often did not even wait until I was out of it to grab my hand and take me inside, all the way to the “anganwadi” (day care centre, in Hindi): in my case, just a corridor.
In India, just being a foreigner brings people’s attention and they will ask a whole lot of questions about you, your family, what you do at home etc. They might even ask how much you earn in your job, you might get a little surprised, but money is not taboo at all in India. It is not impolite to ask such things.
Amongst the first questions also, there will often be “are you married?” – Just because it is so important in their society, they want to know. If you are volunteering there, and you are a Woman like me, I think it is important to explain to them that where you come from, Women are more independent, they can work, travel on their own, have their own activities. Put yourself in their shoes: it is generally not like that for their Women, so it might take a little more time for them to understand the concept.
But I think the whole thing is just an exchange of Cultures, and that makes volunteering such an enriching experience!
Coming back to the Children, I had never seen such a thirst for learning in Children’s eyes before that. They want to learn. Anything. From you. And those little eyes made me feel guilty remembering when I was a child myself, complaining about school to my parents. The Children I had in front of me would have given anything to be sitting facing a blackboard. I was not aware at the time how lucky I was.
In my group of students, I had 4 girls really involved in what we were doing, Krishna, who I felt was understanding things quickly, she has an outgoing personality, always happy to help her classmates, she was actually helping me, translating my explanations in Hindi, when something was not clear, her best friend Karuna, Tara (it means “star” in Hindi) and Anju, a younger girl, about 7 or 8, who did not know much at the start but who made giants’ steps learning English during those few months. Among the boys, Ravi, such a smiling face, and Vishal were my more regular students.
Letters, Numbers, Colors, Shapes were the 4 main subjects I needed to repeat with the Children every day, so they can have the basics. The funny thing about it is that as I was trying to teach them those things in English, they were trying to teach me the words in Hindi.
As I knew most of them, I could translate those myself in Hindi: Neela-Blue ; Peela-Yellow, Gulabi-Pink, Hara-Green… because I remember my aunt (who was raised in Spain) telling me that he used to learn English with the 2 words, in her own language followed by its translation in English in a song that goes: “Pollito chicken, gallina, hen, lápiz pencil y pluma pen, maestra, teacher, puerta door, ventana, window y piso floor”, which she still remembers decades later…so I thought it was helpful for the children to remember, even after I’ve returned to Europe.
I was also preparing some counting exercises with my “natural drawing talent” (irony!) and had to reproduce about 20 times for all the children at home, during my free time, asking them to draw lines of a, b, c… (starting at the very start, as Hindi has its own Alphabet, called “Devnagari”), or just asking them to draw something and color it in such and such colors.
I have also taught in a real school, I mean there was a proper building, inside the slums, a courtyard, a tree growing in it. Inside, carpets, a blackboard, and a teacher’s desk. When I got there, the teachers had the children all around them, and they were having a chat. No teaching happening really. Some of the kids were drawing in a corner of the room, others drawing on the blackboard, others playing.
On my first time in that school, a 14-year old boy, called Shankar came to me, I think he had the best English of all the people in that school, including the teachers. He was not very happy being in the school all day long to do nothing, he would have wanted more productive days and loved a proper class to be given….by me. “What are we going to do now?”; “What are you going to teach us?” were his main questions to me.
I had class VII to look after, and as the first impression they gave me was to be very shy about speaking the little English they had, I decided to do role-plays with dialogues from their scholar books (which they did not seem to be using a lot). At first, no one volunteered, but then everyone was having fun, reading the texts, trying to act a little bit, and in the end a good time was had by all! I left that first day in the real school with all its students around, making it difficult for me to even walk!
My host family told me that (I quote) << Government teachers are hopeless>>, they only come and wait for their salary, to get free food at lunch time: the Indian Government provides day care centers and schools with a lunch, usually some daal (lentils soup) and chapatis (Indian bread).
The lack of energy from the teachers, I think is a real loss to the children, they could learn so much in that amount of time and be more confident in who they are. However it seems the teachers sometimes do not know much more than the children, most of them being Women and probably not educated themselves. No diploma is required to be a teacher in schools like the one in Katputali Nagar. If you know a few words of English (hi, goodbye, what is your name, thank you…), you already know more than some people and can be appointed for this kind of position. And here starts the vicious circle…
That is why, middle class families in India do not hesitate to pay something and send their children to proper schools. My little Indian brother, Sushant (the son of my host family) was going to one, and a very good pupil, indeed. His parents were looking after him, his homework, could help also, and he is on good tracks now for the future.