Thursday, June 27, 2013

Slum Reality - challenges in education and opportunity

The following blog post is copied from a GPM summer 2013 participants' personal blog. Brianna Fisher is a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corp participant with Gabriel Project Mumbai. She is also the first Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Fishel Fellow. We are grateful to her for sharing her ideas and feelings with us:

Imagine a typical day of elementary school.  For me, it started with waking up in my own bed, eating breakfast that my parents prepared for me, and then getting driven to my school.  When I got there, I went to my class, which consisted of kids my own age, and sat at my own desk which was filled with an abundance of crayons, markers, paper, and other school supplies.  If a classmate couldn't keep up with what we were learning, they would get some extra help, maybe in the form of a tutor or an after-school program.  I would eat the lunch my parents packed me and play handball or on the playground during recess.  After school, my mom would be waiting for me and would ask me about my day and what I learned.  She would drive me to soccer practice and then to art class or a play-date with a friend.  I would end the day with dinner with my whole family.

Now, back to India.  I’m teaching 2 classes of elementary school-aged children.  While I had all of the tools I needed to be successful, these kids lack most if not all of those tools.  They wake up in the morning, usually in a one-room shack with their entire extended family and walk up to an hour through trash and fecal matter (often barefoot) to get to their classroom, which is a small, dark tin shack filled with kids ages 3-14.  There are no desks, and the only school supplies they have are little chalk boards or a small notebook.  Most of them are malnourished and will not get much to eat that day.  After class, they either work or they wander the slums looking for some entertainment, even in something as simple as a stick.  I had people who believed in me, but many of these kids, especially the girls, don’t have that kind of support system.
This is the reality here. 

Some photos from our walk to and from the classroom:

A lot of people have been asking me, “How can you handle all of that?” “Isn’t it just too sad?” “How do you not cry?” etc.  But believe me, when you walk into the classroom and are greeted by a chorus of “Gooood morning, teacha!” and these huge, adorable smiles, it’s impossible to feel sad. 

I also feel fortunate to be able to not just see and be made aware of these issues, but I have been given an opportunity to do something about it.  I’m thankful every time I see a student’s face light up because they got the answer to a question correct or when we successfully teach the class an English song.  You can tell that they love every minute of it and are so eager to learn, and that inspires me. 

You come to quickly accept the reality of life in the slums when you see how the people living there don’t dwell on the hand they've been dealt.  They go about their lives and work hard to provide for their families.  And for the parents who agree to send their kids to school, they work hard to provide an opportunity for a better life for their children through education.  It’s admirable and provides a flicker of hope for the future of India.

Some photos of the classes we are working with:

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