Saturday, January 3, 2015

Taking a break from teaching

It reminded me of the scene in “The Life of Brian” when preachers standing in the town square attempted to convince passersby about their ideologies.  Okay, so this was no town square two thousand years ago, the preachers were not fanatical men with long white beards and this was definitely not downtown ancient Jerusalem. These “preachers” were five young women, volunteers and staff of our program, standing in the garbage strewn field in the middle  of a Mumbai slum. And although the scene was a little unorthodox, their message was anything but amusing: they were trying to convince children to come to class instead of being involved in child labor.

The event was an impromptu and heartfelt attempt to address the heart of the problems that children face in the slums of Mumbai. Day after day, GPM staff and volunteers walk through the slums on their way to teach informal education to the children in the slums who attend school at REAP. On their journeys, they invariably pass by hundreds of children outside of class. And many of them, sadly, are working. Even children as young as four or five years old can be seen sifting through garbage for discarded “merchandise” – pieces of plastic or metal that someone might buy for a few rupees. (Anyone who has read Behind the Beautiful Forevers is familiar with this tragedy.) Last week, during a one-hour break between the classes they taught, volunteers and staff decided that they wanted to do something about this: they took it upon themselves to spend the break to try and persuade these children to join the classes and receive an education. They marched out into the center of the slums during the heat of the day and began their real hard work of convincing children to go to school.
Leya, Rose, Bassie and Debra talking with the children in the slums
The women approached children, the ones sifting through garbage, and told them that by going to school they would receive a hot nutritious meal every day. The woman approached children who were working as rag pickers and sewage cleaners, and stressed how valuable a good education was for their futures. They approached children who were sitting down on the street, and emphasized how much fun they would have in class.

Dozens of children listened and joked with the GPM staff and volunteers, but the work was not easy. The women had some doubts. Can they really convince children involved in child labor who bring a few cents a month to their starving families to sacrifice all that for the long term ideal of an education? Can they convince a group of kids that society has continuously designated as beyond hope that they indeed do have a chance at a brighter future? Was this one hour dedicated to recruiting children in the slums to come to school just an act of futility? These were some of the questions asked by staff members and volunteers later in the day.

After the weekend staff and volunteers returned to teaching. They were told that four new students enrolled over the weekend.

One hour, four futures… 
asking questions about school

Welcome to class

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