Alex – Summer 2014 and Winter 2015
14:22 Sunday, 9 November, 2014
Yesterday, Saturday, was a simple day at the Foundation. After yoga, lunch, and Rowan’s massage, ourselves and Verinderji made our way to the Foundation. We arrived slightly after two as is our usual time of arrival on Saturday’s. As Rowan’s time in India is coming to a speedy conclusion, the day was spent doing a great deal of painting. With smiles and excitement, a majority of the children frolicked in the ground thrusting their artistic selves at the walled canvas. My time was primarily spent resuming my chess rivalry with Rinku and Lallit.
For the several hours I was there, Rinku, Lallit, and I went back and forth laughing in triumph and despair over our metaphorical battles of logic. None of us exclusively won or lost and a sense of joy had returned to activity day at the Foundation. I have missed these days. Previous weekends have been overshadowed by holidays, but this weekend jovial juvenility was to reign supreme. After what felt like such a short time, the day had ended and Rowan and I were off, back to Civil Lines.
The evening concluded as most do. We attempted some shopping, enjoyed dinner, and made every effort to watch a movie. I look forward to Monday as an opportunity to build on the sentiments of yesterday.
10:37 Tuesday, 11 November, 2014
After a deep sleep, I awake for another fantastic day at the Foundation. I’m a bit disappointed that the morning didn’t hold more for me, but after yesterday I couldn’t be more pleased with returning to the Foundation as soon as possible.
Though the day began slowly with a shortened teachers’ session due to Geetaji’s late arrival, the subsequent day was quite fantastic. I spent much of the day in Payal’s classroom. Her company seems best for integrating our grammar curriculum productively and continually. With the assistance of one another we engaged the children in exercises relating to “Has/Have.” I structured the lesson so that each of them would engage in question and answers with one another. Though I my greedy heart desires them speaking exclusively with me, I arranged the oral session so that they could laugh and smile with each other as well.
The first batch in particular was of enormous reward. The numbers have dwindled to Fallak, Pallak, and Fiza thus providing a small yet intimate class. All three of the girls are catching on to sentence structure and conversation incredibly well. I’m happily worried they will be talking about me in English all too soon. After giggling over asking questions about what it is that animals have, I arranged a written exercise so as to really cement in their minds what we had covered. Today’s batches will be a marvelous opportunity to build on the success of yesterday.
Having been suggested the idea expanding my role as a sports teacher, I am left to ponder what exactly I should engage in. The sports of my choice were always rather martial in nature. Having no mat surface to utilize, I’m not sure what would be safest. As my thoughts brew, I am left to ponder sumo. It was always a nice game to augment my wrestling or judo practices. It’s not quite judo, but it is much simpler, shorter, and safer. Normally it is even practiced without a mat. We’ll have to see. For now, it’s back to “Has/Have” and maybe even adding “Had.”
10:19 Wednesday, 12 November, 2014
Another day done; another day begins. Yesterday was a bit of a success and struggle, but most days are.
After enjoying a slow start to the morning, it was off to the Foundation per usual. Rowan and I took the bus and arrived promptly around half past noon. The teachers were assembled and, that day it was Priyanka’s turn to share about Andrew Jackson. It was fantastic to see the surprised faces as Rowan and I scolded an American president for his actions against Native Americans. As I had anticipated, the session did include some positive points regarding our seventh leader reiterating my point that all people possess and act on both positive and negative qualities.
From there it was back to Payal’s class. Having done a bit of work on “Has/Had,” it was then time to add some question words and review the work from days prior. Complete with entertaining oral exercises and comical written work, the first batch could not have gone better. Payal saw the way I was able integrate speaking with the book work and the smiles which came to each of the four girls faces.
Little Palak has been rather quiet since she arrived at the Foundation several months ago. Every time I, or another teacher attempts to work with her, the little shy girl puts up the barriers that anyone in her situation would. Over the past couple days of speaking with her, joking with her, laughing and encouraging her she has blossomed into a bundle of enthusiasm. Obviously not everything changes overnight, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the self-progress she’s been making just this week. In no time, I can picture her joking in English with me like the other students.
Unfortunately, midway through the second batch just as I was getting on a roll, I was approached by Rahela and Geetaji with the news that there was a “feast” which required Rahela’s presence at home. Her decision to leave had already been made and it was now a matter of persuading me to substitute teach her class. It felt wrong to be pulled away from Payal’s class where we were making so much progress, but at the time I did not feel it was my place to give or deny her permission to leave. So I descended into the realm of the little ones. I was left told of nothing that they were working on and did my best to carry out the day, head held high, and making smiles grow with the youngest students of the Foundation.
Just prior to leaving, I hinted to the teachers that I value my work and love to share that with them. I explained that sometimes people have to leave work, that’s life, but sharing the camaraderie in a common goal brings people so close. I love having that with them and want it to continue to grow. I think they could see that I was peeved with the approach of some of the teachers, but the message of love and growth in what I had said resonated with all of them. Rowan and I left that day confident once again that through our continued work and dialogue, more good remains to come.
06:50 Thursday, 13 November, 2014
Good morning. Thus far it has been a great start to a brisk day. Yesterday began slightly different than most in that yoga was cancelled, I enjoyed lovely conversation with folks back at home, and Veenaji returned to the office. Due to accumulated work in her absence, she was not able to join us at the Foundation that day, but Rowan and I made a success of the Amer nonetheless.
After having had our little discussion at the end of the day on Tuesday, it was a wonderful surprise to see all of the teachers present and engaged in yesterday’s teacher’s session. The pros and cons of Joseph Stalin’s reign in the Soviet Union were discussed at length and at times, parallels were even drawn with modern Indian society. Seeing the girls really think to support their claims was fantastic. I think we all were inspired by Priyanka’s willingness to express and share. I look forward to Veenaji joining us today and seeing the progress that is being made.
The remainder of the day was spent with Payal’s class. This time, unencumbered, I was able to really carry my grammar lessons beyond any expectations. Each batch began with a great deal of conversation following my encouragement. Grammar was then broken down, piece by piece making a seemingly endless slew of words disappear into beautiful patterns of understanding and comprehension. At the end of the day, watching Sana and Nahid engage in their own conversation of “Has/Have & Had” made the work that much more worth it.
With a smile and heads held high, all of the teachers including myself left feeling quite accomplished. With a little luck and God’s blessings, I don’t expect today to be any different. If at all, I’m sure it will be better.
12:04 Saturday, 15 November, 2014
Today has begun in a rather leisurely fashion. After sleeping a bit later than intended, the day commenced with yoga, breakfast, and catching up with some of the week’s news.
Yesterday was truly a day to behold. Beginning Friday as most Friday’s do, I, Rowan, and Veenaji made our way to the Foundation arriving around half past noon. Following our program of bad actors in history, Rahela provided a wonderful presentation on Osama Bin Laden. It has been remarkable to see her open up and really using English in ways none of us could have imagined when she arrived only four months ago. Playing a bit of “devil’s advocate” I stimulated the conversation encouraging a discussion. Obviously, Bin Laden had been introduced through the project but I made the argument that he was a freedom fighter working with what he had. I knew in my heart of hearts that I was wrong but used this opportunity to allow the girls to passionately express themselves. Veenaji even took part until a new fried to Tushita arrived to see what it is that we are doing.
Ernesto is a young man from Mexico who holds a lofty position within a major publishing company. Most of his current work surrounds alternative education, and the Foundation seemed like the perfect place for him to come and observe. Having shared a lovely lunch, everyone went to their normal places and the day commenced. Ernesto moved around freely interacting with teachers and students alike as I concluded a fantastic week with Payal’s class. The results were beautiful.
All week, we have been working on “Has/Have,” “Had,” and the utilization of question words. Every step of the way, I begin each batch with jovial conversation intended to stimulate the minds of the children, paint smiles upon their face, and introduce the day’s topic. After usually twenty minutes of conversation not only between them and myself, but also amongst themselves, we normally get down and dirty in parts of speech. I am a firm believer in knowing the parts of speech as that is what truly reveals the majestic patterns of language. Once we reaffirm basic patters, I do my best to integrate the new words/topics into the existing structure. With each added word, I encourage oral one-on-one use of the new material so that every child becomes accustomed to not only seeing and recognizing the material, but also utilizing it to express his/herself. Yesterday being Friday, we concluded our week in high style.
Throughout the week I have exhibited my style to Payal, showed her and together experimented with new strategies, and each day integrated her into the leading role further and further. By the last batch yesterday, I almost exclusively observing until odd grammar questions arose. To my pleasure and the excitement the questions would not stop. Whatever we had been working through struck the curiosity of the children as they made every effort to express themselves. With fifteen minutes left in the third batch, I could no longer contain myself. With enthusiasm, excitement, and probably what looked like a bit of madness, I answered their questions and showed them the dynamism of grammar. With the simple structure we had learned, and only minor changes to that, they could change the perception and understanding of their audience both dramatically and subtly. That was education. That is the means to connect with a human being; to share with them the precise meaning of your thoughts.
Everyone in the room could see that my excitement was a tangible entity to behold. The children were captivated, Payal made sure nothing was lost in the discussion assuring me of their understanding, and the grand finale could not have been more gratifying. I was truly humbled when after the final bell on of the more shy and meek boys in the class approached me. Priyanshu’s words were simple and direct, but when he said to me, “Thank you, Alex sir. You are a really good teacher,” I thought I might die of happiness. I did my best to humbly take the compliment, but Payal would not let me back away from what he had said by further reiterating his point. She thanked me for the amazing week and all that she had learned. I’m sure Payal will carry what we have done much beyond anything I can fathom.
09:12 Tuesday, 18 November, 2014
And so another day, another week. The weekend was lovely though nothing of particular note. So begins Rowan’s last week in India, and Saturday proved itself a simple example of our time here.
We arrived at the Foundation around half past two, enjoyed lunch, and together did our best to make sure that she enjoyed her last days. I would like to embark on a new sporting project, but just as new thoughts seem best placed at the beginning of new chapters, this Saturday was not the proper time. I’m sure we will get to that soon. The focus was on maintaining a special level, and the results were simple and lovely.
Yesterday came quickly, as most Monday’s do, and it was back to the Foundation. Though entirely unintended, our arrival was a bit later than usual and the rare absence of Priyanka and Ruksar led yesterday’s teacher’s session to be technically skipped over. Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity for the teachers to engage with Rowan on a more personal level exacting as much as they could from her before her speedy departure.
The rest of my day was spent with Priyanka and her class. As a result of our fantastic teacher’s sessions, I’ve been inspired to engage in a long term debate project with her students. Yesterday was almost completely spent introducing the terms of debate, argument, discussion, facts, and reason. Together we broke down the structure of a verbal debate and how to properly engage and disengage.
The best part of the day was probably during each batch when I encouraged the students to speak their mind and voice their opinion regarding anything I was saying. I began each session mentioning that I too am a student and that they are my teachers. I insisted that though formalities exist, for that hour I would prefer they think of me as an equal. As each batch progressed, the agreeability was palpable. Such sentiments do not best lend themselves to debate, so I decided to rile things up a bit. In no time, the children were all laughing as the children were blindly respecting “their elder teacher” and lying on the table as he requested. Priyanka, in particular, had a great timeencouraging all of this, knowing full well that what I was hoping for was some kind of resistance.
There are certain children who do provide that kind of resistance on a daily basis, and this was their time to shine. Abishek and Avesh, two students of note who are brilliant beyond imagination yet frequently know how to push their teacher’s buttons, came out of the wood work and stunned us all. They provided precisely the rebuttal I was looking for. I made them reason with me and prove their point. To the classes’ astonishment, I enthusiastically commended them for their logical refusal and pointed out how their reasoning was much sounder than my own. Formerly “problem children” are proving to be just the assets this project requires.
Yesterday fostered a new level of independence and critical thinking that I don’t think these children have ever experienced. I’m looking forward to the coming week building upon this and encouraging even the most docile children to speak their mind. These topics of critical thought, personal expression, and simply proper English speaking are all of essential importance to Priyanka’s classes. She knows it, expresses it to me, and together I’m sure this project will fly far.
11:10 Wednesday, 19 November, 2014
And so the week continues. It’s been a good one thus far, but filled with mixed emotions as Rowan prepares to leave.
Yesterday was another beautiful day at the Foundation. As I continued with my lesson discussing debate terms and logic behind argumentation, Rowan enjoyed her rousing bit of yoga-learning with the little ones. At some point midday, a group of French tourists joined our happy home and made use of the roof for embroidery related activities. One woman, however, was much more interested in interacting with the children. Rather than do a bit of needlework, she spent much of her time talking with my second batch.
Though I have spent much of the recent past making plans and following an outline, it was a nice day to just leave that all behind. From that point forward, I encouraged the children to talk about whatever they wanted with this woman; the focus of my current project is, after all, perfecting one’s speaking. It was a beautiful time to watch the children actively apply everything they have been learning. Some time has passed since I last worked with Priyanka’s class, but seeing Mahak continue to feed her curiosity with questions was a lovely reminder as to the importance of the work we are doing.
Today is Rowan’s last full day at the Foundation. Yes, we will surely enjoy the Foundation tomorrow but I know it will be a joyous occasion surrounding her departure. I’m really looking forward to today’s teachers’ session. I know there will be much to say regarding her stay, and for all of us it will be a wonderful reflection on the past four months.
10:33 Tuesday, 9 December 2014
Yoga has now finished as with so much before. It has been a while since my last entry for numerous reasons. Rowan left in a whirlwind of joyous emotions, despite a sincere sadness at leaving all of us in Jaipur. The weekend in Delhi, which I had intended as a period of rest and reflection, became one of the most heated health struggles I’ve had in years. Dengue fever is no joke, and after suffering in Delhi for several days, I was able to return to Jaipur. Back home, under the care and compassion of the most amazing Tushita staff I was taken to Fortix Hospital where for five days I recovered and reflected.
It feels amazing to be back to work at the Foundation, but the more I think about my most recent illness the more I smile at the way it helped my relationship with everyone grow so much further. In such a state, control was only a fleeting idea. I was forced to rely and depend on everyone who loves me, Veenaji in particular. With their support, my recovery was speedy and positive in so many ways. I have few words to describe the additions to my life that this has provided. Aurelien too became a friend unlike many I’ve had in the past.
Since then I have done my best to reintegrate myself back into the Foundation. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were all rather slow days for me, but with each coming sunrise I felt exponentially better. On Wednesday I could barely walk up a flight of stairs. By Friday I was able to play a few rounds of badminton with some of the little ones. Their encouragement and smiles at my improvement certainly have assisted in my quick return to normalcy.
Despite my normalcy, the Foundation is currently in the middle of exams; not exams administered by the Foundation but the children’s half year testing examination at their respective schools. Attendance is limited and most rooms are rather quiet. This seems to be the perfect way to keep me rested and not over exerting myself. Yesterday in particular, I commandeered my role as private tutor and took it as far as I could. I’m not of much help as some of the students study science or Hindi, but as for English, our personal one-on-one sessions could not be better. One of the new students, Asha, spent yesterday’s entire first batch working with me perfecting her already amazing knowledge of English. Whatever worries she had now appear washed away and a much more confident young lady appears to speak with a new found sense of authority.
I imagine today will follow a similar path in regards to the students. Nevertheless, I remain excited about the teacher’s sessions. I had hoped to do a great deal with them prior to being hospitalized. Aurelien seems to have read my mind and last week began a fantastic presentation project emphasizing the structure and method of argumentation. Since his departure I have continued his role as critique and discussion guide. Yesterday, Payal presented her findings on social media and posed the most interesting question: is social media a need in present society. Needless to say, the debate carried on quite effortlessly, and her presentation has served as a wonderful example of those to come. In a few hours, Priyanka will be presenting. I eagerly await!
I now have roughly a week and a half before returning home for a lovely surprise Christmas holiday. When in the hospital, I think my family was quite disturbed and in an act of extreme graciousness, my father has purchased a plane ticket back to the US for December 20th and a return on January 5th. I’m so excited to see everyone and enjoy the holiday season with my loved ones back at home. Obviously I have mixed emotions about leaving the Foundation, however brief that may be, but I hope to use what little time I have left in this month to the fullest. Veenaji suggested having a teacher’s “batch” where we all work together on some grammar issues and curriculum structuring so as to make all of our lessons a bit more coordinated. I imagine this will occur next week when she returns from Delhi.
In the meantime, I smile, embrace the beautiful day, and make sure to have a bit more fun in my work. Smiles are so easily contagious, and during this stressful time of exams, the children appreciate it more than ever. I can’t wait to leave soon and get back to the Foundation where studying is just another means of sharing oneself with another.
08:40 Thursday, 11 December, 2014
Good morning. Finally, I seem to be back nearly to normal. Up at seven, a cup of coffee under my belt, and nearly a shave all before yoga. If only Mahesh had been where I expect him. Regardless, a morning walk has a way of breathing life into a young day.
The past two days have been rather simple. When last I wrote, I was eagerly anticipating the fun at the Foundation. Instead, life pointed in the direction of the hospital where I went for my final check-up only to find that I now have more blood platelets than the average Joe. Thank goodness for quality care.
The rest of the day was spent embracing my current status in solitude and positive reflection. That evening I enjoyed the first of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s trilogy, Trzy Kolory: Niebieski. I’m still not quite sure what exactly it meant, but enjoyed it most fully. Such sentiments seem to be a lovely metaphor for my current status.
Yesterday was a fantastic return to the Foundation. Unfortunately, several of the teachers were absent from what was sure to be a delightful debate. As a consequence of this, Priyanka and Payal, later joined by Ruchi and Geetaji, and I marveled in fantastic conversation bringing our sprits higher and closer.
The remainder of the day followed a similar pattern to days of recent past. Most children were cramming their heads with Hindi, science, math, and the like. Unfortunately, I found few in need of English help. However, there always seem to be a few. Once again I worked with Asha whose understanding and memorization of grammar is astounding. Each day she works to embark on a new tense. I’m rather apprehensive about moving so quickly through the material, and to emphasize my point I always spend a great deal of time reinforcing the meaning of the learned grammar as well as speaking with her at length so as to really solidify her oral skills. Nevertheless, working individually with her for the past several days has done a great deal of wonder for her learning. Obviously working with more students has its advantages, but really working in depth with one allows such a connection and understanding. Life always finds a way to provide the most beautiful results.
Now brings the start to a crisp new day. Maneesha should be here shortly. Yoga will begin and end. Breakfast will be enjoyed, and the Foundation will be relished. Good morning!
11:04 Tuesday, 16 December, 2014
It seems winter has finally arrived. The past few days at the Foundation have been quite tame. Thursday and Friday of last week exhibited marvelous teacher’s session, however the children’s batches were rather uneventful. I’ve done my best to focus on individual work with children studying on English exams as well as with children who have now finished their exams.
Every day, the first batch has been involved a great deal of work with Asha, one of the older, new students in Priyanka’s class. She is incredibly bright and picks up new grammar in a flash. Like most of the children, her ability to memorize is amazing. In spite of this, her level of understanding and confidence in speaking isn’t the highest. I’ve utilized the past week to allow her a few minutes at the beginning of each lesson to practice a bit of writing, and then the speaking begins. I am always quick to differentiate between each tense so that she fully comprehends the various meanings. We often have a great time simply discussing the day’s events and children present at the time. Just in this shot week she has come so far. I must express great thanks to Priyanka for never translating. Asha often looks to her for help, but we all know she is perfectly capable of expressing her thoughts and usually does so in a rather articulate manner. Hat’s off to both of them.
I hate having so little to say, but the Foundation is doing exactly what it should. The children are focused on their exams as all prudent students should be. Each teacher seems to have a different area of expertise for which the children can come to for help. Priyanka insists on English; Payal, math; Ruksar, Urdu; Ruchi, Sanskrit and Hindi; Geetaji, arithmetic; and Rahela, Hindi. As mentioned before I usually find myself with Priyanka assisting with English work and even occasionally am able to help with the Social Studies curricula.
Veenaji has also just returned from Delhi to provide a new breath of life into the Foundation. As time goes on, the teachers and I can only encourage the students so much before they appear to be listening to a broken record. I’m sure with Veenaji’s smiling face and words of support this exam time will prove to be even better than years past. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to play an active role in the children’s schooling success and always have a hug and smile for those embarking on testing and those finishing with uncertainty. Whatever their marks are, they are all striving to do their best. American kids could certainly learn a thing or two at the Foundation.
10:02 Tuesday, 13 January, 2015
Good morning, from Jaipur, Rajasthan. I have now been home for nearly a week and the time change has taken its full effect. Two weeks with my family over Christmas and New Years was fantastic, but it really is wonderful to be back with the children doing what I love.
Much to my delight, the past week has been spent with a phenomenal new volunteer. Sharyn, a woman much my senior from Ottowa, Canada has so far proved to be an energetic passionate colleague with whom much can get done. I am very much so the type of person who feeds off of the enthusiasm of my surroundings. Having her here will do wonders for all of us.
Over the past week, the two of us have been acclimating as best as possible. Many of the children are still only just returning from a brief winter holiday. Every day that we are here classes fill further and further. Yesterday was the first day that I was really able to resume my grammar sessions with the children.
Though their midyear exams are now complete, a number of the older children have expressed concern to Priyanka about end of year English exams. I witnessed their stress firsthand last month, and they have already taken it upon themselves to begin preparing now. As such, she has asked me to work with the oldest children apart from the rest. Alex-sir’s grammar extravaganza has taken a whole new form.
Vedpaul (sp?), Abishek, Rajni, and Minnie in particular are ever so eager to take advantage of my presence. Earlier times had plagued me with a perceived lack of purpose, but this is certainly no longer the case. Addressing their concerns, we have formed our own little class in which higher level grammar and speaking is our focus. Everyone appears very worried about Vedpaul in this regard. He’s very quiet and, as I have been told, this is an attempt to cope with stress. Not in my class. In the few days I have already worked with him, he is speaking more than ever. With his best friend being Abishek, most of my examples poke a bit of fun at him, Priyankaji, and myself. This certainly appears outside of Vedpaul’s norm and with a smile he responds quite quickly. After a little patient waiting, he almost always has a wonderful response to my queries. I’m sure time will tell more, but I truly cannot wait.
In the meantime, I have been focusing on the upcoming kite festival with the rest of Priyankaji’s class. Continuing on the theme of debate, which I began some time ago, the students and I have all taken sides on the pros and cons of Makar Sankrati. Many of the girls see the ecological damage of so much sharp thread flying willy-nilly. On the other side, the boys love to stress the importance of “donating” other flying kites to the community by cutting them from the sky. Friday and Monday were spent formulating and writing these ideas. I hope today we can discuss them a bit more in depth today and even enjoy a bit of back and forth arguing. Obviously there is no right answer to the question of whether or not the holiday is a good thing, but it will be wonderful to see them engage with one another in such a manner.
It is now nearly time to begin our day at the Foundation. With a little extra sunblock, kite flying should be magnificent. I spent the entirety of Sunday in Amer with some of the boys practicing my skills. I hope they come in handy over the next few days. Until next time.
20:22 Tuesday, 20 January, 2015
It’s been a rough few days to say the least. Thank goodness for the Foundation and the amazing people within.
Over the past week, I’ve received incredibly troubling news from home which I’m not entirely sure how to deal with. I’m doing the best I can, and have been relying heavily on the children, volunteers, and Veenaji alike.
Makar Sankrati last week was a lovely way to spend the day. Puru, Bheem, Lalsingh, and I shouted, laughed, and flew kites as long as the sun allowed. With cut hands and broad smiles, we retired into the night knowing it was back to reality the following day. Thursday and Friday then came.
I arrived at the Foundation with Sharyn and Veenaji determined to get back to work as quickly and diligently as possible. Much to my surprise, and later delight, very few children were present on those two days. I made the most of my time with my advanced grammar session during the first batch, however further learning was mostly done over kites on the roof. Initially I had done my utmost to keep things within the classroom confines. Minds however were clearly elsewhere. It seemed the only way to reach the children present was at the end of a kite string. I then did my best to demand English during our two days of added fun which then carried over into the Saturday’s activity session.
Much to the surprise of each child at the Foundation, Friday brought with it an added surprise. Federico has now joined us. He appears to be working on a developmental project outside the normal volunteer curriculum, though everyone greatly appreciates his presence on a near daily basis. Ever since his impromptu arrival Friday afternoon, students old and young rush to his wisdom.
For good and bad, the past two days have been a personal struggle. Though these issues exist outside of my work, we and the teachers assigned presentations on Monday and will begin tomorrow. Yesterday’s class work was slightly more back to normal as I once again continued my grammar lessons and activities with Priyanka’s class. Today however, I spent at home. All night I was video chatting with family members a world away, and all day I wished I had not over slept our departure time.
Especially in troubling times, the children have a wonderful way of leveling one’s head. Yesterday, after all work had finished, the teachers, children, Federico, Sharyn, and I enjoyed a fantastic time in the playground. Somehow, thanks mostly to Payal, she and I managed to dominate the badminton court. Through the cheers of Surinder and friends, jolts to and fro, and Payal dashing everywhere, life appeared to be exactly as it should be. I can’t change what’s going on at home, but I can try to accept it. Being at the Foundation yesterday really helped remind me of how great things truly are. I’ll be sure to wake up early tomorrow so that today’s mistake does not happen again.
20:20 Wednesday, 28 January, 2015
Good evening from back at the office. I sit alone on this cool winter evening, bundled up, and uncertain of where to begin. It’s been a fun week, although I do have a sense of having hidden from some of my anxieties. As I mentioned last, my personal life has been rather troubled. Over the last week I’ve done everything in my power to work through that whilst enjoying Jaipur to the fullest.
Unfortunately, Wednesday turned out to be our last full day at the Foundation until just yesterday. As was the same today and yesterday, Wednesday’s activities were dominated by my advanced grammar session with Rajni, Minni, Abishek, and Vedpal. The progress which each of them is making is nothing short of remarkable. Rajni and Abishek are clearly continuing down the path of progress as anyone could have expected. Minni and Vedpal, however, have really began to surprise me. During our sessions, I devote a vast majority of the time to speaking. We cover new grammar topics throughout the week and as each one is worked through and understood, we talk. We talk about each other; we make fun of other teachers; we create tales of lunacy. I’m well aware of Minni and Vedpal’s advanced proficiency in English, but this new advanced course focused on speaking has developed both into orators I could not have dreamed even weeks ago.
While grammar has been the phenomenal focus of my first batch, much of the rest of my time at the Foundation has felt a bit hollow. Batches are incredibly thin at the moment, and at times if feels as though there might actually be a surplus of teachers. In the coming days, with Priyanka’s marriage arriving in no time, a few of them will be absent for some time and I’m sure this worry of “too many cooks in the kitchen” will come to pass, although I am a bit worried about attendance. I’ve just learned Vedpal has begun a new tuition course and will no longer be joining me. I worry as to where everyone else seems to be going.
With the preoccupation of Priyankaji’s marriage and increasingly shortened or nullified teacher’s sessions, I’m struggling to find out how best to implement desired developments. There has been much talk of utilizing a new set of English language learning material published by Oxford Press, but none of us within my Jaipuri home seems sure of where to begin. There is a lasting expression of hope and drive from everyone involved, but we seem to be at a crossroads demanding of prioritization. Neither Sharyn, Federico, nor I appear to understand how best to do this, but at the classroom level we are all doing our best. We will manage, and I remain excited as to what will come.
In these days apart from the Foundation, all of us have been enjoying the Jaipur Literature Festival, Republic Day, and a wonderful weekend with our guests from Delhi. Dheeraj, Khartik, and Sumehda arrived at the office on Thursday and for the next three days we not only enjoyed every drop of academia possible, but also collaborated and built relationships necessary for both parties to blossom in their respective fields. They will be sorely missed.
For now, life seems to be returning to a state of normalcy. Both I and the Foundation seem to Flourish when we can expect something of one another and deliver. I can’t stand not being there, and when things go as planned, I and the children quiver in anticipation of the next stimulating lesson. I’m so excited for Priyanka’s marriage in the days to come and remain steadfast that with due attention everyone will benefit most fully.
10:38 Thursday, 12 February, 2015
It’s been a while. Life has been filled to the brim with activity and celebration. It does not appear to be even close to the end of jubilation; however a brief pause in the activities of late is upon us. We have danced for weeks in preparation for Priyanka’s wedding, we have witnessed the joyous agony of her departure, and we most recently shared a marvelous celebration with Maneesha who’s own family seems now to be at ease. The days have been moving quickly, but the time for reflection has returned.
Amongst everything, the Foundation remains strong and full of purpose. Over the past few weeks, as well as those before, classes have been thinning. For the time being, our decline appears to be slowing. Federico, Sharyn, and I continue to make every effort to reach out to students near and far.
Having spent a lengthy duration with the Foundation thus far, my eyes have become finely tuned to children present and equally absent. With the whole Sharma family having been occupied by recent marriage celebrations, I have been keeping a close eye on the attendance register. As for recurring absences, they are met with my keen concern and communication. Vedpal, Abhishek, Aasha, Anjali, Avesh, Suraj, Satyam, and a number of former regulars are missing in action. Every day I mention to their class mates my desire to speak with each of them. In the case of Satyam, Fazil, and Gourango, I’ve been careful to convey my attention not as worry but as concern for their personal loss of the Foundation. The Foundation is a place meant to serve their needs. It is those needs that are ours. I’ve communicated this as well as that we are making every effort to provide them with much more than any tuition can provide.
I’m proud to say that my lasting diligence has begun to produce results. My third batch of advanced grammar students began with roughly three students; Anjali Mishra, Fazil, and Gourango. In the past three weeks, Satyam has returned to nearly fulltime status, and my encouragement of everyone has brought their friends in to join us. Each week, a new student has joined my class. Three weeks ago came Kush. Two weeks ago came Loue. Last week came Akshay. I’m very clear with the students that they are to come regularly, they are to enjoy minimally one hour of time in the playground, and that by coming to the Foundation they will do better at school with less work and the relief of any anxiety by relaxing in the ground as all children should. My work continues to be reaffirmed even outside of the class room.
Within the beautiful celebration that was Priyanka’s wedding, Federico and I took the opportunity to meet with several educators in the local community. Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit a local government school and speak with the headmaster directly about his work and the impact of Tushita. There was no doubt in his voice as he spoke of noticeable positive differences we were making on his students that spent their afternoons at the Foundation. Though our visit lasted for a mere hour yesterday, Federico and I are confident that a dialogue will continue, hopefully utilizing the headmasters voice as a testimonial to the community of the Foundation’s affects. The two of us plan on discussing what we have found with the teachers in the near future so as to ensure that our work is carried on by the teachers, whose village influence is certainly more than our own. There’s no reason students should be departing from the Foundation at exam time. Our goal is to reverse this trend and make the Foundation that children flock to at such an important time.
I continue to write and think of big plans, however my confidence for such thoughts emanates from the everyday work at the Foundation. Though our teacher’s sessions have been put on hold as a result of the wedding preparations, each batch of children has received special attention from Federico, Sharyn, and me. All of us have fostered this time into moments of direct connection with the children. Months ago, I spent a great deal of time with Payal’s class and took a notice to quiet, reserved, shy, little Pallak. Federico now rejoices in his time with her and has carried her smile even further. As his time allows, he has been studying geography with what was formerly Payal’s class. I’ve provided minimal input and grammar has been integrated into their studies and prepositions have become no problem in regards to countries and cities. It makes me so happy to see geographical grammar induced smirks as the children learn and speak at an even higher level.
In my own classes, I have been covering tenth class material (clauses) in the first batch and eighth class material (past tenses) in the third. Their advancement is truly phenomenal. Rajani and Minni are speaking with lengthy, grammatically correct, sentences in deep detail and personal satisfaction that they are now able to convey their own thoughts with even higher precision. The third batch’s advancement might actually be beyond words. What began as eighth class material has grown so quickly that they are now covering material similar to that of Rajani and Minni. Their progression is indescribably fantastic. Even as children join, we do not slow down. I pay added attention to those for whom the material is a bit challenging, but it seems to hold no one back. Their knowledge of tense and its proper usage is staggering. Just two months ago, Gourango was hesitant to respond to “How are you?” Today he is speaking in full sentences as I struggle to contain Fazil, Anjali, Satyam, Kush, Loue, and Akshay. I am so proud of all of them.
As I mentioned initially, celebrations are by no means over, but a respite of normalcy has descended upon the Foundation. Attendance of children is beginning to hold, teachers are finding their place, and the remaining Sharma sisters have returned. All of us, Federico, Sharyn, and I, are making an active effort to show the teachers what it is that we are doing. At times if feels like we have a surplus of educators, however I believe it’s helping so much. I’ve been allowed a degree of free time during the second batch to move between classrooms, assist teachers as needed, and even spend some more time on the playground with everyone. As exams approach, children are frequently seen to run off without ever setting foot in the ground. This does not occur when Alex sir is on the watch. I do my best to provide understanding and leniency when demands do actually dictate their early departure. However, if a satisfactory reason cannot be conveyed to me or another local teacher, I’m sorry but we have to play football, badminton, or house (as the little girls frequently do).
I fully believe that the Foundation can and does provide more than these anxiety inducing tuitions do. We educate with laughter and enthusiasm and make sure such feelings are exacerbated on the playground so that each child might carry them throughout the day. Just yesterday, Payal pulled me aside and said something to the effect of, “wow, if only we had more teachers like you.” I stopped her there and continue to show her that everyone in the Foundaiton is like me. It’s a matter of expressing it to the children in a language they understand. I was so humbled by her compliment and will continue to share all I have with teachers and children alike. For now, it’s onto another day of education masked in enthusiasm. Let’s go have some fun.
20:52 Friday, 27 February, 2015
Good evening. It’s been some time now, but the days do have a way of blending together. Much of the past few weeks has been a struggle to understand the decline in students. I find myself observing numerous challenges on a daily basis despite always striving to make my time with the children worthwhile. It’s their smiles and the love that they express toward me that will always make what I’m doing one of the most fulfilling chapters in my life.
One of the struggle’s I’m doing my best to face head on regards a decline in attendance. Thanks to the forward action by Federico, as of this time last week Mahak is back. Some time ago, he and Ruksar decided to take action and meet with Mahak’s family directly at their home. He received a lot of positive feedback and ultimately was reassured that Mahak will return on a limited basis. So far, that has been untrue. She arrived last week Friday and has been at the Foundation every day.
I’m so happy to see her jumping straight into my advanced grammar class. Initially I was a bit worried with Rajni and Minni having accomplished so much in the past few weeks. I knew it would be a challenge to catch her up. Once again, I’ve been proven wrong. Due to Minni and Rajni being absent on Monday, Mahak and I utilized our one-on-one time to the fullest. The rust is clearly there, but her grin grows wider and wider as she sees herself no longer making the mistakes of the past. What used to take a couple minutes of jogging her memory is now right back. It’s clear from my experience that what Mahak’s mother told Federico is true: Mahak’s marks in English declined during her absence. Through our diligent work as of late, I know the trend will be reversed and her coming exam should be a breeze.
Each day that I have with Rajni, Minni, and Mahak is filled with grammatical games and tales of ridiculousness that guarantees at least a few laughs. Today we worked on passage comprehension and grammatical analysis. This passage did not come from a book; it came from my mind. Mahak and Federico sir were the evil antagonists. Mahak could not stop giggling at the thought of cursing Minni and Rajni as they fought so hard to no avail. Involving the children directly in comical ways has proven to not only engage them further in the particular day’s lesson but also push them to return tomorrow. No one likes wondering how they might fall into the next day’s tale of absurdity knowing they won’t be there to defend themselves.
This tactic of classroom humor (and at times, self-deprecation) has shown through the difficulties as a means to engage all of the students in a lasting way. Two weeks ago Avesh was nowhere to be found. I’ve begun very actively asking about any missing students and this case in particular has produced rather fruitful results. After badgering Bony and Areeb, I carried my message in the most unrelenting manner toward Payal. Several days later she was able to assure me, Avesh would be coming again soon. Upon his arrival he explained to me his desire to stay at home due to Priyanka’s departure, friends no longer attending, and his belief that he had better things to do elsewhere. I agreed with him on all fronts but asked that he give my class a shot. If he didn’t enjoy it, he had my permission to search out fun and knowledge wherever he wanted.
Since then, Avesh hasn’t missed a day. We’ve had our points of minor difficulty in class as he is a student that enjoys a rather rowdy time, however this hasn’t stifled either of us. Several days ago, a pattern of continued disruption began to rear its ugly head once again to the point that very little was accomplished in class. It was as if he fed off of my discomfort and there was very little I could do to control the situation as I had before. That day, I asked Avesh to stay after class so that we could speak a bit more about the past few days’ activities. He immediately understood this as a disciplinary session and immediately after all other children had left, he was quick to begin apologizing. I stopped him mid-sentence to let him know that it was I who was apologizing to him. I had made an agreement with him that class would be fun and knowledgeable and I was failing. I asked for his input.
What did he want to do? What made class fun for him? Why was the current situation not working as it had before? I was surprised to know that he not only had answers for me, but also was prepared to offer solutions. I gave him a huge smile to show my happiness that we were now working together. I asked him to come early the next day so we could plan our class together. Sure enough, Avesh arrived a few minutes before other students, I spoke with him about what material I wanted to cover and he told me what kind of fun he wanted to have. Together we managed to morph compositional writing into a charades exercise ensuring that different clauses were discussed and everyone had a great time laughing at and with one another. His lasting input has made a world of difference as we conclude the week.
The method I have used specifically with Avesh and witnessed through Federico’s interaction with Mahak’s mother continues to prove itself most useful as I work through my challenges at the Foundation. I’ve mentioned time and time again that numbers are declining. Students I used to see on a regular basis are no longer there. With Rosenda ma’am’s blessing I carried my question and answers session outside of the Foundation doors.
Losing Vedpal and Abishek to tuition classes has been difficult for me to accept. This week, I asked Rinku if it might be possible for Payal and I to speak with his mother so as to understand Vedpal’s situation a bit better. I really miss his presence in class, especially as I was witnessing such a transformation of character regarding his speaking participation. After having spoken to Rinku on Monday and received feedback about our meeting on Tuesday, I was able to meet with his mother at the Foundation Wednesday afternoon. It was quite strange for me to be sitting in the office across from a parent with whom I couldn’t speak directly, however Payal made the situation flow flawlessly.
That afternoon I spoke with the two of them about how much the Foundation values Vedpal and will continue to do so regardless of his attendance. I inquired as to why he was focusing so much on tuition classes now as opposed to the past. I was very surprised to find out that his tuition classes are not what his mother wants them to be. Currently, he waits by the phone for a call from a particular teacher who only teaches math. He is spending sometimes more than four hours a day on math alone and then comes home to stress over other subjects he hasn’t been covering in the meantime. Vedpal’s mother seemed rather unsure of how best to help her son, but reassured Payal and I that she thinks the Foundation is a necessity for him. I conveyed to her my own struggles of academic anxiety and that sometimes a breath and change of focus is the best thing. Payal and I explained that we can offer that, and even if our offer isn’t feasible he’s more than welcome to join the children with a few games in the ground.
After our meeting had concluded, Vedpal’s mother left with a smile on her face knowing that we had reached out to her. Just as my heart soared with satisfaction that I may have made a difference in their lives, I turned to see Payal smiling just as wide. It wasn’t just me sitting in that office speaking in a professional capacity to Vedpal’s mother; she played a far larger role than me. That day, combined with her Avesh experience, seems to have left Payal feeling even more empowered than before. I’m very excited to see where she will take this new sense of authority.
Having accomplished what felt like a great deal with Payal, that evening in the ground I spoke with Ruchi. For the past two months, I’ve noticed the continued absence of Vikas, his sister Payal, and his younger brother Gunu. I know that their family situation is not ideal, but I do also know that they are the children of Sitaji who had formerly worked within the Foundation. Noticing them gone all the while observing them play at home mere meters away had resonated with me for too long. Feeling a bit of empowered myself, I asked Ruchi to accompany me and together we had a conversation with his father at their home just outside the playground. Their situation is much different from Vedpal’s and the conversation clearly showed.
With Ruchi’s help, I was surprised to find their father playing dumb to all of our questions. We quickly found out that not only had the children not been coming to the Foundation for nearly two months but also had not been going to school for some time either. I didn’t want the conversation to take a harsh turn, but in some ways it seemed a bit necessary. Ruchi questioned their father adamantly. I did my best to insert myself into the conversation to make sure the message was not one of condemnation, but rather an extension of help in a difficult situation.
With what limited knowledge of Hindi I have, I was slightly reassured to hear most of my words being translated effectively. Just as the conversation was nearing its conclusion, the children’s father demanded Vikas’s presence for what was clearly to be a scolding. Using my position of distance and comfort with Vikas, I interjected periodically to make sure he was smiling. Finally, his eyes couldn’t leave the ground as his father demanded he produce an explanation to Ruchi. I really felt as though it wasn’t his responsibility to do so, and inserted myself by speaking directly to Vikas asking if he needed help coming to the Foundation. He seemed confused, along with his father, and I made sure Ruchi translated my words precisely. The moment he looked up with that baffled sort of look, I reached down picked him up over my shoulders and started to walk toward the Foundation. I laughed and explained that if it’s difficult to walk so far, I’m happy to help. He kicked and laughed hysterically, and both his he and his father assured us that the children would be back at the Foundation the next day. So far, that has been entirely the case. It was only three days ago that our conversation was had, but for the last two days all of the children have been in attendance, uniform and all.
The past few weeks have really been a time of empowerment at the Foundation. I’m doing my best to show the girls that if there is a problem, we have the power to fix it. Ruksar is regularly finding children in her neighborhood and ensuring their return. Payal is now having conversations with families in her neighborhood. The children across the road are back. I continue to observe so many challenges on a daily basis. I’m quite happy to know that I’m making more of a difference at the moment. Let’s hope next week has even more to behold.