Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Israeli Diplomat in the Slums of Mumbai

When Mr. Matan Zamir, the Deputy Head of the Consulate General of Israel in Mumbai joined Gabriel Project Mumbai volunteers in the slums, it was a learning experience for everyone.

Mr Zamir’s first stop in the slums was the central kitchen used by the women from GPM’s grassroots partner, REAP as the base of GPM’s Nutrition Program for the children in the slums. Here Mr Zamir joined the 30 women, and GPM volunteers, in preparing chapattis (flat bread) and vegetable dishes for the 500 vulnerable children attending REAP classes in the slums. Mr Zamir showed exceptional talent in rolling the chapattis and the women were quiet impressed. (It took many days of practice before any GPM staff or volunteer were able to roll a chapatti that passed the quality assurance test of the women in the kitchen; Mr Zamir succeeded on his first try!)

After a 20 minute walk through the slums, Mr Zamir joined one group of GPM volunteers in teaching two classes. Upon entering the class the teacher asked the children if they remembered how to say ‘hello’ in Hebrew as Mr Zamir was from Israel. Having been taught a few words in the many languages of over 50 international GPM volunteers, it took just a little prodding for the children to scream out “Shalom!” Mr Zamir had a big smile on his face when he replied ‘Shalom, Namaste!’

The session was in art appreciation. The children were looking at pictures of famous sculptures, paintings, music and film, and learning to express their own impressions of the works. In addition to opening the children’s eyes to a world of beautiful artwork, the session also had an important message behind it. The children learned that they each have a unique and authentic voice, and it is completely legitimate and valid for each of them to express their own feelings and ideas about how they experience the art work. For vulnerable children this concept is very powerful because it is not a message that they often receive in their lives. But it was also difficult for the children to express their feelings. The children wanted to know what is the ‘right’ answer. They were eager to look at the art work before them and say this is good or bad. Faced with the challenge of trying to get the children to express their subjective and personal feelings, GPM volunteers tried many teaching methods but it was Mr Zamir who really brought out the children’s ideas. Mr Zamir simply asked the children, ‘Why?’ That is, ‘Why do you think the art work before you is good or bad?’ Slowly, the children expressed the reasoning behind their answers. “The dark colors of the painting makes me feel cold/lonely/sad…” or, ‘The smiling face makes me smile and feel happy’. Suddenly the children were excited to express their thoughts and feelings. For children immersed in an environment not conducive to self-expression, this lesson inspired and encouraged the children to value their feelings and opinions.

Mr Zamir had a memorable impact on the children, and we hope that the children had a memorable impact on him as well. He is always welcome to return for a visit to make chapattis and teach a few classes!

Matan Zamir preparing Chapattis

Mr Zamir outside one of the classes

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