Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let Everybody Teach and Inspire You, No Matter How Young

As my time in India begins to near its end, I wanted to share some of the observations I've made about the kids I have been so fortunate to work with and help teach.

Almost every single one of these children is the very first in their families to receive an education. I applaud the parents so much that have chosen to take this new and unknown step and allow their child to attend school. They want their child to learn English, to be literate, to learn about the world, in hopes that they will have a better life than themselves. If their son or daughter does not go to school, it is more likely than not that they will never leave the slums; they simply won't have the skills necessary to hold a decent job. We are hoping that through our endeavors, our small contribution to this large issue, we can help to break the cycle of poverty in the Kalva slums. As well as the literacy and nutrition program our organization has for the kids, we are also implementing the creation of women's groups who not only are paid by the organization to cook and cater to the schools, but who will also receive aid in making their own arts and crafts to advertise, market, and sell. We are hoping that this enterprise will help uplift and empower these women, giving them a purpose and a job, as well as skill development. But that's a different story.

During my time her with Gabriel Project Mumbai, I have learned ever more that it's not always what you're teaching, but how you're teaching it - the way in which you come across to your students and the unspoken messages you are bringing to them. It had never really occurred to me before, but a few weeks ago, something profound was brought to my attention. Simply the few of us being here meant so much in the way that it is showing these people just how much education means. It is always amazing when walking down the street, someone will ask us what we are doing here and when we tell them, they are absolutely stunned and inspired. Although it doesn't feel like I'm doing much or really even working since it brings me such joy, the locals are always amazed and so incredibly thankful that we have come to do such a nice thing in their country.

The happiness these children have brought me is indescribable. I cannot wait to see their bright little faces every morning and the 20 minute trek through the 100 degree slums is always, always worth it.

After teaching Sunday school classes for a little while in the U.S., it is plain to see that there are huge discrepancies between  these slum children and the typical affluent American child. The amount of respect that these kids have for their elders in general, let alone their teachers, is awe-inspiring. It is something I have rarely seen back in America. Each morning, they all stand up to face us and say "Good morning, teacher," as each of us walks in, and then remain standing until we tell them they can sit. When someone asks them to do something, they do it. They are respectful in class, and it is easy to tell that they have a genuine love of learning.

The classrooms that these children are studying in are made of corrugated metal with cement floors. There are nails sticking out everywhere. The children sit on the floor. Some classes have a small, old ceiling fan to help dissipate the hot, thick air, but many do not even have that. One schoolhouse we taught in was about the size of a closet and was an entire half of someone's house. There were about fifteen kids crammed in this one room, and we all barely fit inside.

Outside of the classroom, I am equally amazed. A lot of the children I see on the streets have absolutely nothing. They live in tiny shacks with dirt floors, no refrigerators, and just enough food to survive on. They have no shoes, and their entertainment consists of walking around outdoors, chasing chickens and poking through trash. The interesting thing? I don't sense much sadness when I walk through the slums. If you read my earlier posts, you will remember I believe that limited distraction can seem like a curse, but actually be a tremendous blessing. These people don't NEED cellphones. They don't need tons and tons of money. These children don't NEED video games or fancy toys or television. They derive their entertainment and their pleasure from the tangible world around them - their environment. At times, the way they play may seem dangerous, sure. Many frollick in the trash-filled streets with no shoes on, digging, playing with sticks and anything else they can find on the ground, filling up plastic bags with rocks, chasing after marbles, and dragging each other around on dirty sacks. But the truth is, they're having fun. You can see it in their faces. They appreciate every little thing that comes their way, which is how I strive to be. They bond with each other, playing games together while shouting and laughing. So yes, these kids are poor, yes, they run around in the streets, but they get to keep those all-too-often-lost-too-soon things called "imaginations."

Because they have so little, the simplest things bring them so much joy. I gave Muskan, a little nursery school girl a small green ball the other day and the way her eyes lit up and that smile spread across her face, well, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. A couple days later when I saw her again, she immediately took the ball out of a small pocket of her bag and I taught her how to play catch, which basically kept us occupied for about thirty minutes. And may I say, it was one of the best thirty minutes of my life.

Two days ago, we taught them about fruit and we had brought some for them to try. Even after seeing the food we'd brought, they stayed calm, and when we passed it out, they would deliver it around the group to the others instead of keeping the first thing in their hand for themselves. They did not snatch, try to steal more, or lie about not getting any. From their behavior, one would never guess how well these children knew hunger.

Today, also, we had a lesson in which we introduced them to pizza. Only one kid out of probably 40 had ever had it before. There were some mixed reactions to it, so it was funny to observe the apparent taste preferences present in different cultures. However, nothing was wasted. These children were appreciative. And most of them loved it, ate their whole piece and said it was delicious.

While handing it out, we saw one little girl putting the pizza away in her lunchbox instead of eating it. When we asked her why she was doing this, she replied "I'm taking it home for my mom."

Lesson? These kids may be dirty... They may have no shoes. But they do have what it takes to capture all of our hearts with their sweet smiles, their integrity, and their hearts.
Erin is a GPM-Entwine Spring 2013 participant. This post is can be found in her personal blog.

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