Zaynab Zaman, Markus Specht and Kate Hodkinson
Monday 11th July
After a lovely week settling into Jaipur, it was finally time to start teaching. We had a very packed week beforehand, visiting all of the sights Jaipur has to offer, including the Jah Mahal, the City Palace, and Amer Fort. It was great to get to know the other volunteers. We were all looking forward to teaching, although slightly apprehensive about getting started.
We started with the teacher sessions, where all the volunteers introduced ourselves and our families, and asked the teachers to do the same. This led to various enjoyable and interesting conversations, and managed to fill the teacher session.
I was very happy about my allocation with the oldest class – I feel like this best suits my abilities, and is very rewarding. I have three batches of varying strengths. On the first day, all the children were incredibly welcoming and kind. Payal teaches with me, and is very kind and friendly, which has made fitting in very easy.
I began each class by introducing myself, and describing my family, my home and my background, and asked the students to do the same. It was great to learn more about the children, having met most of them at the Saturday session. I explained my desire to create a Tushita newsletter, which is a project they all seem interested in.
We began to think about the purposes of a newspaper, and the different types of writing it contains. We began this by splitting the class into two, and looking through some English newspapers I brought with me, and searching for different articles I had chosen for them. Hopefully this gave them a sense of the different aims and purposes of different articles.
We looked at the different ways articles are written, focusing around the acronym GAPS – Genre, Audience, Purpose and Style. We applied these criteria to a Tushita newsletter, discussing who we would wish to read it and what style we would like to create. I then gave an overview of the different types of creative writing I intended to teach them: writing to inform, writing to describe, and writing to persuade.
Tuesday 12th July
Today’s teacher sessions consisted of various role-plays, where a volunteer would create a situation for one of the teachers to respond to. These included giving a rickshaw driver directions, explaining to a waiter that they had provided the wrong food, and explaining Diwali to someone new to India. This was a great way to improve the speaking skills of the teachers, and proved a very enjoyable exercise.
With the students, we began learning our first writing style; writing to inform. We began this by each discussing what we had done with our weekend. We then imagined that the students were celebrities, and someone wanted to write an article about what they had done with their weekend. I taught them about the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when and why. Each student wrote this formula down for their weekend, and converted the answers into an article. We then discussed how a newspaper journalist may make these articles more interesting, and talked about techniques such as photographs, headlines, taglines, bullet points and quotes. Each student added these elements to their articles. I believe they now understand ‘writing to inform’ and what this entails.
Wednesday 13th July
For teacher sessions, we began with more role-plays, which were again very pleasant. Following this, we shared the poem ‘And still I rise’ by Maya Angelou. This is a poem that myself and the rest of the volunteers agreed we loved, so it was great to share a poem we were so passionate about. We discussed Angelou’s style of writing, and discussed the potential meaning of the poem. The poem proved very rousing, and resonated with everyone in the room.
To begin the student sessions, I recapped what we had learnt about ‘writing to inform’ to check everyone had retained what we had covered. Following this, we moved onto ‘writing to describe’. After getting the students to articulate the difference between ‘informing’ and ‘describing’, we discussed literary techniques to help the reader create an image in their mind. We discussed onomatopoeia, alliteration, adjectives, similes, repetition and short sentences to aid description, and each of the students came up with their own example for their book. Following this, students began to plan and write their own articles, describing ‘My Favorite Place’. The articles were all incredibly interesting, with many students using very sophisticated imagery. I am very happy with how this project is progressing.
Thursday 14th July
Today, I chose the poem for teacher sessions – unfortunately Zeynab was unwell, so it was just Markus and I. I chose ‘The Laughing Heart’ by Charles Bukowski, who is one of my favourite writers. The poem is about pursuing your dreams in life, and not letting others dictate your future. The teachers seemed to really enjoy it, and we compared the writings of Angelou and Bukowski. We discussed examples in our cultures where other people may try to encourage you to do something you don’t want to do, which proved incredibly interesting. I am finding these sessions to be a wonderful part of my day.
With the students, we continued our study of writing to describe. Once the students finished their description articles, we discussed how description and persuasion differed. We used Amer as our example, thinking about how persuasion may wish to show a less well-rounded description of a place. We began a new writing project, pretending the students were journalists writing a travel piece persuading British tourists to come to Amer. We discussed the different cultures and climates in England, and thought about the things English tourists would need to know. We worked together to come up with positive and persuasive ideas to add to the article. It was also an opportunity to share photos of my hometown, which I really enjoyed. I feel like I am getting to know the students well, and am loving spending time with them.
Friday 15th July
Friday was a very enjoyable day for me. It began with a very productive teacher session. We discussed the poem ‘Your Laughter’ by Pablo Neruda. He is one of my favorite poets, so it was great to share his work with the teachers. I am really enjoying our working format, where Zeynab, Markus and I all share and contribute together, rather than presenting work separately.
Markus and I have decided to swap classes on Fridays, to have the opportunity to interact with a broader range of students. For the duration of the day, I had the youngest class, which was a shock to the system, but also incredibly fun. We intertwined enjoyable games with learning, using ball games to work on their vocabulary, such as colors, ages, names and animals. I think they remembered the words we worked on. We then did a substantial amount of yoga, following on for the work Markus has been doing with them. This was very relaxing for both the students and myself, and gave me the opportunity to teach them new poses. This was followed by muscle relaxation exercises, which are great for learning concentration and self-control. Classical music played in the background, and the atmosphere in the classroom was very calm. In contrast to this, we ended the lesson singing various versions of ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ with different instructions, to hone their listening skills. I had a fantastic (albeit tiring) day! Tomorrow, to Agra!
Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th July 16
Over the weekend, Markus and I headed to Agra, with Hari (who works for Tushita Travels). We stayed at a lovely hotel, and had amazing food. It was great to catch up with Hari again, who is always lovely. We visited the Taj Mahal very early Sunday morning, and although there was torrential rain, we still had a lovely day. Our trip from the Taj Mahal ended with us pushing a rickshaw through a flooded building site, so it was eventful to say the least. I am looking forward to other similar trips around India!
Monday 18th July
Today was another lovely day. We had set the teachers the task of writing about ‘an issue in their community which they would like to change’. This was far more fruitful than we anticipated, with the teachers bringing up topics such as dowries, marriage, reservations and gender inequality. Tomorrow, we hope to discuss more problems.
With the students, we didn’t have access to the laptops today, so computer class didn’t happen. Instead, we continued our newspaper project.
The first batch is working on ‘writing to persuade’, and so we discussed various literary techniques to write persuasively and engagingly. We ended the session brain-storming ideas for a persuasive article they could write, based around a problem they have identified in India. Ideas such as corruption, child labor and cruelty to animals were discussed. I am excited to see how this project develops.
The second batch and third batches have far more new students, so we are taking the project slightly slower. With the second batch (for many of whom it was their first day), we are discussing ‘writing to Inform’ again, remembering the key points of every news article: ‘who, what, where, when, and why’. We used the example of their weekend to practice ‘writing to inform’, and then added details such as headlines, taglines and drawings, to make the article fit a newspaper format. Although the students are new to this class, they are all doing incredibly well. Third batch are slightly further ahead, and currently practicing their ‘writing to describe skills’. They have all written a piece entitled ‘My Favourite Place’, for which they have to include various writing techniques. I enjoyed reading their writing. This project is going well, and it is great to hear about their favorite places.
I’m excited to compile all these types of writing into the newsletter.
Thank you for your email! I hope you are well. I’m starting to miss this place already, and am bittersweet about leaving so soon. However, I do think 2 months is a good time, and I’m so happy to have had it here.
On Wednesday, I did a final description poem with Ruchi’s class (slightly harder than usual). I asked them to think of their favorite place, maybe a temple, or park, or even their home, and first describe what they see there, what they hear, what they smell, and what they touch. They also practiced their noun and adjective use (I see blue skies, I hear loud lion roars, I smell fresh flowers).
For second and third batch, we practiced letter writing (because I had promised them we’d do that weeks earlier). We went over how to address a letter, and general structure, and how it’s almost like speaking to the other person. Most of them wrote to best friends, parents, or siblings.
I wish I’d done this activity earlier, because reading their letters gave me so much insight into common grammar and syntax mistakes and misunderstandings. One girl confused ‘why’ and ‘what,’ and many didn’t understand proper punctuation. Though I could have planned lessons around this, I’m glad that I focused slightly more on speaking practice and English comprehension more in the prior weeks.
Tomorrow is my last day, and then I leave early afternoon on Saturday.
Thank you so much for everything.
Field Internship Report by Markus Specht
Institute of Political Science Paris, Nancy campus –
Double degree with the Frier Universität Berlin
Tushita Foundation was founded as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project by the eponymous Tushita Travels Ltd. in 2009. Tired of witnessing tourists, inspired by a desire to help, engage in inappropriate behaviour, giving pens and candy to children on the street, the Indian owners of Tushita started looking for an NGO to support and direct travellers to. When they finally stopped searching, they had decided to create their own organization; not a school, not an orphanage, but a home of learning and empowerment, a place that belonged to the children and their families, where they would learn with fun and grow in self-assurance; a place where religious, social and racial divides would be washed away by the joy of learning and the power of tolerance. “Our motivation stemmed from an unwavering belief in the universality of human values, irrespective of caste, creed, and colour. We realized that in the small, connected world we are living in, we could humbly make a difference,” says Veenaji Rathore, the soul of the Foundation.
So far so good, in theory. But how have these lofty ideals been put into practice? How does Tushita differ from other kinds of volunteering projects? An afternoon activity for the children, the Foundation is at the heart of the community and provides an invaluable service to the families of the village. When they come after their regular school, the children rely on us volunteers, as we are often the actual teachers in class. Inviting undergraduate students from the best universities in the world to teach and share their passions with the children, Tushita Foundation creates inextricable ties between the local population and people from all over the globe.
Not only do we interact with three classes of children every day, but we also have a session with the teachers, all of them young women from the village who are reshaping their identity by becoming teachers and thus role models for girls in their communities. These sessions have proved to be one of the most valuable aspects of the internship experience for me.
On a typical day, the volunteers (Kate from Oxford, Zaynab from Princeton, and me) go to the Foundation at noon. Teacher session then takes places for 90 minutes, after which everyone has lunch together. At 2pm, the children arrive and each volunteer teaches his or her class for three batches, where each batch takes 75 minutes. At six, there is playground time with all children who are still there and afterwards, the volunteers and teachers leave for the day. Saturday is devoted to playground time only.
Field internship : inventory of skills developed
Having taught English before, I thought this would be an experience I would be very comfortable with. While I did have fun, the lessons also challenged me, however.
I had to solve many ‘problems’ that came up while working together with the children on their language skills. First of all, I realized that I needed to teach words and writing in a different manner than it is taught in Indian Government schools in order for the children to really benefit from their experience here. Therefore, I started teaching phonetics – especially in the second batch that consisted almost exclusively of children that were new to the Tushita Foundation and only ever had the experience of Indian Government schools. I solve our issues there by dividing the incredibly large group of children into three circles. As there were two teachers with me in the class, every circle had a teacher. I felt I was thus assuring that no one felt left behind, on the one hand, or bored, on the other hand. It was a little distracting to have three simultaneous ‘lessons’ in one room, but the situation improved in my opinion. After a few days, I noticed a positive change in the atmosphere in the second batch. While it was quite a struggle at the beginning because everyone was quiet and hard to excite, it soon turned into complete chaos. After introducing a few changes, however, we were then at a new stage where those students that had been very shy were excited to learn and to participate in games while those that had always been interrupting and yelling quieted down a bit, making the overall atmosphere more like those in the first and the third batch. It was great to see that, even though it took a month, the students were getting acclimatized to life at the Tushita Foundation.
As we focused on a specific area of language learning, namely speaking, I learned a valuable lesson concerning teaching. When we went around the circle and asked each others’ names, age, favourite animals, etc., I caught myself wanting to correct small mistakes made by the children (leaving out articles or prepositions, for instance). I did, however, mostly try to ignore that urge and let the children speak as long as what they wanted to say was intelligible. I feel that it would not benefit students that are very shy and still trying to figure out a language if I corrected them constantly and thus interrupted their speaking. An advanced speaker, who makes mistakes and does not see them as mistakes, must be made aware of it, but only if the speaker is advanced enough to make use of criticism. In teacher session, for instance, I made a clear distinction between correcting advanced teachers, on one hand, and not correcting so much the assistant teachers, on the other hand.
Dividing the teacher session as well, I focused on grammar with the assistant teachers while the other volunteers were trying to work out the details of the TEFL method together with the teachers. I was very happy to do grammar with the two, not only because they put a lot of effort in it, but also because I really like grammatical structures and making someone realize how easy it is once you get the hang of it. However, I had to realize that I tried to cover way too much ground in just a single lesson. While I had thought we could do a sort of review of the tenses, it turned out that we had to start from the very beginning – including clarifying what nouns, verbs, and adjectives are. Even though this was frustrating at times (because I had not been aware of the fact that this would be necessary), we were figuring it all out together and ended up being very successful.
On a personal level, one day something interesting and a little disconcerting happened during playground time. One of the girls in class with older students, Sana, talked to me for a while and at some point wrote the word ‘love’ in the sand. When I asked her what she wanted to say by that, she responded by writing the word ‘mother’ next to it. It turned out that she was saddened by her mother’s apparent lack of love for her, as she explained. Trying to explain to her that every mother loves her children, even though she might not show it sometimes, I could tell she wasn’t convinced. She told me that she had somehow let her mother down and that her mother didn’t love her anymore. Not wanting to dig deeper, I told her that many people struggle with their families, which is why friends – ‘the family that you choose’ – exist and how everyone at the Tushita Foundation loves her. She was cheered up by the anecdote I told her about Zaynab, my co-volunteers, telling me on her first day that there was one quite outspoken, open-minded, and happy girl in her class: Sana.
Two more anecdotes about my personal exchange with the children struck me as well: the first one is about one of the teacher’s niece Falak who was a student in my class. She is a very nice girl but usually keeps her head in the clouds, not disturbing anyone but not really paying attention either. One day, however, there were only six people in the first batch and I decided to take advantage of the situation and we read the book ‘Trunk Trouble’ together. The story of how three elephants get their trunks tangled up and all the animals try to help untangle them captivated her completely and I have never seen her so engrossed by anything we had ever done before, answering questions promptly, correctly and most of all excitedly. This has shown me again how different children learn in different ways and how important it is to try to cater to everyone’s needs.
Second story: Diprianshu, the youngest son of the lady who cooks at the Foundation, is only three years old but is part of my first batch. He is usually very quiet and everything clearly goes over his head, but one day I spent a lot of time with him during class while the others were ‘speed-dating’ (it’s a language exercise) and I managed to get him out of his shell. Finally, he repeated a few sentences in English after me, did animal sounds (quite convincingly) and gave me a big smile. He made my day!
Our relationships with the teachers were also very important to us volunteers, and I learned so much from these smart and kind ladies. Once, for example, when we asked the teachers to write a few paragraphs on an issue in their society they would like to change, our proposal was met with a level of candour and emotion we had not expected. 24-year-old Ruksar wrote on how unfair it is that girls have to move out of their homes and into their in-laws’ place when they get married, prompting a heated debate. The teacher of my group, Rahela, talked at length about reservations for low caste Indians in government jobs and how she feels that this works to the disadvantage of general caste Indians. Besides this extraordinary insight into Indian society and its ailments, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned is to acknowledge problems in other societies without putting the place you’re from on a pedestal. There is much to change in Europe as well and while the teachers talked about what they liked in other countries, I am now realizing that we Europeans can learn from India just as much as they from us – maybe in other areas, but nevertheless.
It is in this context that I was able to identify several topics which I deem appropriate as topic of a research for my project in social sciences. First of all, I thought it was very interesting to consider the power structures in Indian society from a sociological point of view. It is much more common in India to have “servants”, domestic help (we had a cook and driver, for instance), and yet the way people talk to each other differs from what I have experienced in the West. While this relates probably more to my very personal observations during the internship, two other topics came to my mind after reading extensively about Indian politics, culture, and society:
- The religious divide in the country and how populist parties turn it into their own advantage. Interestingly, the Tushita Foundation is in a village that is approximately half Muslim and half Hindu. This demographic phenomenon is mirrored in the student body as well as the teaching staff. We volunteers, however, not being accustomed to the tell-tale signs of religious affiliation one might spot, did not know who was Muslim and who was Hindu at the beginning because the relations between children and also adults of different faiths was not in any way different from the relations between members of the same community. In my opinion, this shows how projects like the Tushita Foundation must be repeated again and again to forge understanding between different people and religious groups in Indian society.
- The foundation is of course first and foremost a place of education for the children and I think in a country like India, this is one of, if not the, crucial factor for economic growth, sustainable development, and all kinds of advances in society. Only by advancing education can all strata of society be a part of the success story of the world’s largest democracy and fight against the many evils that persist in its society. I think it would be immensely interesting to do a research project into which policies would best advance education and how feasible they would be.
All in all, the internship introduced me both to big questions about issues in society, but also helped me to advance so much on a personal level. What I really came to appreciate about the Foundation is the fact that it is learning environment for everyone involved – the children, the teachers, the volunteers, and even Virendraji, the driver, who joined grammar lesson and Kanchan, the cook, who sits in on my class learning the how to write English words.
One of my favourite days at the Foundation was when we celebrated Rakhi together. Rakhi is a Hindu festival celebrating the love and duty between brothers and sisters. Everyone dressed up in saris and Veenaji, our “boss”, got all the boys, including me, new kurtas and pants. We took lots of great pictures, making the traditional bracelets together with the children. The highlight was the ‘official’ ceremony in the office that included rice being thrown on my head. At some point, I could barely move my arms because of all the rakhis (bracelets) that the girls (my “sisters”) tied on my arms, but it was so worth seeing the joy in the children’s faces. After we had given them some savoury and sweet snacks and they had gone off to the playground, we spent some quality time with the teachers and Veenaji, singing and dancing in the office – what a great ending for a perfect day!
When the time came to go back to France, I really dreaded leaving everything in India, but I also enjoyed repeating everything I did with the children and sort of ‘wrapping up’ this chapter of their education at Tushita. I was so very proud of how much they learned, seeing them being able to have an entire conversation in English (as long as the questions remain very straight-forward).