Week 1, July 9th 2018
As we pulled up to the foundation on Monday, I swelled with excitement. I had spent months preparing for this day, writing lesson plans and imagining our greeting. We were met with wide smiles and flowers from the teachers – I immediately knew that this was a very special place.
After lunch, it was finally the moment I’d been waiting for. The kids rushed in and greeted us with wide eyes and boundless energy. For this first month, I will be with one of the lower level English classes and I very quickly learned that the lesson plans I had written would not be feasible. On the first day I had been planning to teach them about the six main functions of water, but my students did not even know the word for water. I spent the first session stumbling over words, trying to improvise and create a new plan. While it will certainly require a lot of work to rework a lot of my lesson plans, I’m learning each day how to pace my class and simplify the material.
Fast forward a few days, and I finally feel like I know how to manage my class and my life here. I’ve been waking up early to do yoga on the apartment balcony and to work on lessons and essays over coffee. I’m starting to understand how to use my co-teachers, realizing how valuable it is to have them to translate my material linguistically or culturally if necessary. I’m hoping to find better ways to co-teach with them in the coming weeks. And, it’s clear that lessons plans full of hands on activities and movement are best for the kids – I’m starting to see them smile much more and they are confidently associating dehydration with being dizzy and calories with energy. These are little victories, but they fill me with joy nonetheless.
My most successful lesson yet was on Friday, we modelled the anatomy of digestion by creating tubes out of plastic cups. The kids had a chance to draw the foods we had been discussing, then cut them with scissors “enzymes”, and have them pass through the tube. I hope to incorporate more activities like this in the future, as it is clear the kids were excited about making things.
I think my favorite moments thus far, though, have been with the local teachers. In my two-on-one session with Geetaji and Ruksar, I encouraged them to stop me at any time if they had questions. Within the first lesson alone, I was drawing them diagrams of iron and haemoglobin, discussing caffeine addiction, and describing the difference between refined and unrefined oils. They were so curious and interested, and I was thrilled to share my knowledge with them. I am hoping to keep my teacher sessions very flexible, as I want to give them the chance to open up about what nutrition and health questions they have.
I have also loved the moments we spend in a group with the teachers – sharing our strengths and weaknesses, our reflections on meditation, and lots of laughter. I found it so interesting that most of the western volunteers said that lack of emotion was their weakness, while the teachers said that being overly emotional was their weakness. It’s funny how we always strive to be different, but maybe we can use this year to learn from each other.
They already feel like friends and I can’t wait to continue building trust and friendship with these beautiful women.
At the end of the day Friday, I started to share my love of volleyball with Geetaji. She encouraged me to start a volleyball team full of girls at the foundation and teach them throughout the year. She even mentioned it could be possible to have a net. I would absolutely love the chance to share my passion for the sport with young girls, as I know the game gave me so much confidence. I hope this can become a reality.
These first few days have truly been amazing. I love my fellow volunteers – they already feel like family, challenging and supporting me. I am excited to continue growing and learning with this community and hope to keep the incredible enthusiasm of this first week alive for the rest of the year.
When the teachers first began to play Bollywood songs, I retreated to the side of the room. I’ve always considered myself a bad dancer and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But then, the children looked at me with wide eyes begging, “You – dance please, m’am”. I realized that if I did not show the children that it’s okay to dance if you’re bad at dancing, then how can I tell them it’s okay to draw when your banana drawing is imperfect or to play sports when you’re not as good as the boy next to you. So – I went into the middle of the circle and made an absolute fool of myself attempting the Bollywood moves. I felt free and confident amidst the children’s laughter and joy. It looks like they’re about to empower me too.
Teacher sessions: On Saturday, Veenaji took us to a bookshop on the way home and I found one of my favorite poetry books by Rupi Kaur. She is a 25 year old poet, who grew up in India, and is now best-selling author for her poems on claiming her own voice and learning to love herself. We bought the book and CJ, Sandra, and I are planning to share and discuss two or three poems with the teachers on Monday teacher sessions. The one we spent most of our time on today was…
So much pain
And here you are
Making gold out of it”
We had a wonderful discussion about the poem, discussing how we can change our mindsets to find the good in bad situations. I am looking forward to sharing more poems with the teachers and reflecting on them each week!
Class: This week, I will be focused on teaching the kids about the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and then fats. We were able to stop before class to get lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, and mung beans from the store, and my class loved interacting with the food.
Each bench had a plate and collected different protein items throughout class, as I taught the English words. And, by the end of class they were able to confidently answer that foods like chicken, eggs, and pulses had protein, so they help us grow and make us strong. I am also so thankful to have a carpet in the back of my class now. The children are really starting to embrace the meditation at the start of class, and I so enjoy being able to sit in the floor in a circle for this activity. I feel like it’s really helping the children settle down each day and get focused for the lesson.
Teacher Sessions: Today, Ruksar, Geetaji, and I began to discuss and plan the menstruation education project. I am so thankful that they were so open and willing to talk about the project. I know it is uncomfortable to talk about sexual and reproductive health in any circumstance, let alone to someone you met just a week ago. We discussed what methods for managing menstruation were available in Amer, what women typically use, and what they believed the best solution would be. It became apparent that it would be very beneficial to give women some information on basic reproductive anatomy, explaining what the period actually is and why it happens. Geetaji explained that mothers rarely discuss menstruation with daughters, which leads to many young women being scared and confused. And, there is great shame surrounding the topic, so very few girls feel comfortable going to the store to buy products. Geetaji also felt there was a pertinent need to educate women in the village about different methods of birth control – specifically discussing how they work and the pros and cons of each. And, Ruksar suggested that one of the workshops on Saturdays should be dedicated to giving pregnant women in the village pre and post-natal care advice. She explained that, at the government hospitals, doctors are so busy that they don’t have time to tell the women how to advise pregnant women on how to take care of themselves and the baby. After lots of discussion, we made a tentative timeline for the first five months of workshops:
Month 1 – Menstruation and Management
Month 2 – Basic Female Reproductive Anatomy and Birth Control
Month 3 – Pregnant Woman: Tips for pre- and post-natal care
Month 4 – For Mothers: How to talk about puberty and menstruation with your daughter
Month 5 – For Young Girls: What happens in puberty and why
We structured it in this way to make sure that the same women did not have to come each month, as Geetaji was concerned about women not having the time to attend the workshops. And, we felt it was very important to help mothers learn how to talk to their daughters about menstruation before young girls ran home with questions about puberty.
Class: Today, the children worked in pairs to draw one of the foods with protein they had learned the previous day. I assigned each pair either lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, eggs, chicken, mutton, or fish. It is clear that they love drawing – they smiled and laughed while coloring. And, they were extremely proud to tape their drawing to a large poster board to be hung in the class. In two weeks, all of the classroom walls will be decorated with their drawings and bright colors of the food groups – I can’t wait to see it!
Teacher sessions: Halfway through planning the first month’s session, Geetaji and Ruksar shared that they would not use the menstrual kit. They thought that washing the cloth would be gross and embarrassing, and thus, they did not want to use them. I was a bit startled and first took a second to ask if they wanted a change. They affirmed that they did want to find an environmentally friendly solution, so, we began to look up if there was any other option for them. After doing a bit of research with Lilima’s help, we found that there are biodegradable sanitary napkins available online. Ruksar and Geetaji were very excited about this possibility, and even though this would be expensive and not provided by the foundation, it seems like a very good option to mention to women in the village. We spent the end of the session downstairs in the office, consulting with Veenaji. We ended up deciding on some of structure for the first session – First, we will bring up reasons why it may be beneficial to use a new product for managing menstruation (pollution concerns, hygiene). Then, I will briefly describe what is available for the women to buy and the pros and cons of each (pads, tampons, biodegradable pads, and the cloth pads). Lillima and Soomal felt that it was not worth discussing the cup, as it would be too foreign and confusing to explain. We decided that at the end of the session, we will explain how to use and clean the cloth pads, and then provide them to some of the women at the workshop to see if they like them. If so, we can disseminate the kit more widely in Amer. I am really hoping that women do feel comfortable with the kit, as I loved to hear Veenaji explain how local women could be employed to make the kits for women. But, I want to make sure that each women finds a solution or product that she feels comfortable and confident with. I am very excited to meet with the women from the village soon and hear what their concerns and views are!
Class: We started class by finally starting to grow our own sprouts! I worked to explain the word grow, and then described that we were going to grow sprouts from lentils. The children really enjoyed the activity and I am hoping the sprouts grow well for them! For the lesson, I started to introduce carbohydrates by first discussing healthy, or long-chain carbohydrates. I have found my students really like when I bring real examples of food, so I brought in a chapati, a bowl of rice, and a cup of oats. The first and third class went very well, but the second class was a bit of mayhem because we had eleven new students join in the middle of the lesson. At first, there was a lot of noise and confusion. Firdous and I decided it was best to stop the lesson and just work on introductions. This got all of the new students speaking, and my students from the past week jumped up with enthusiasm to help me model what I wanted the new students to say. It was so fulfilling to see them show the new students how to answer the questions I asked and to explain what my gestures meant.
Teacher sessions: We were very late to the foundation today, because it took over an hour to register with the FRRO on the way. By the time we finally arrived, it was already 1:00pm. But, Geetaji, Ruksar, and I quickly got to work splitting up the menstrual kits into sample packs (one holder, four cloths, soap, and one pair of underwear) for women in the village. We are planning to provide twelve women with the product in the first session. And, we decided to hold the first workshop next Saturday, July 28th for two hours. This hopefully will provide enough time to describe the pros and cons of products on the market and to fully explain how to use the cloth pads. Ruksar and Geetaji have been amazing through the process – I so appreciate their advice. Also, I brought in a menstrual cup today to show the teachers, as they had mentioned they were curious. A few teachers expressed interest in trying the cup, and I am wondering if it would be possible to order a few cups for the teachers to try. Sandra and I would both be able to help instruct them.
Class: Today’s lesson focused on unhealthy, or short chain, carbohydrates. After asking Lilima and Firdous about the most common examples the kids eat, I brought in maggi, potato chips, and a soda. I was very impressed that the children already knew that these were unhealthy. They confidently agreed that these types of foods should not be eaten every day. We laughed over how much we like these foods, but then reaffirmed that even though they taste good, they are unhealthy to eat in excess. I’ve seen such great improvement with my students already – even the quietest students are speaking up and the more advanced students are going out of their way to help their classmates. For the brand new kids, Firdous had a great idea to start to assess their English level: each student came to the board and led hangman with their name.
This was a great way to get a sense of their level, as we found out which students couldn’t spell, which still needed to learn the alphabet, and which may be too advanced for Jasmine class. And, this helped me to learn their names much faster than with any other class. I am still trying to figure out the best way to approach this new batch, as my curriculum has been building. But, with the help of Firdous, I am sure we will find a good solution.
Teacher sessions: Since it’s Friday, we had joint teacher sessions today to plan out our lessons for next week. Most of the teachers were gone for the first half, because there was a lost child and they went to help the girl find her home. But, we did have some time to plan with our co-teachers. I am hoping to incorporate a few new games next week, so I reviewed how to play them with Geetaji and Firdous. Hopefully, this will make them go smoothly when we introduce them in class. I am also planning to show videos for the first time. Lilima mentioned that the projector room will be unavailable due to the new software, so I am hoping it will be okay to show the children the videos and songs on my computer.
Given that Ruskar, Geetaji, and I spent all of this week planning the menstruation workshop, they had requested to have at least a day or two next week dedicated to answering their questions about nutrition. They are curious about learning more about the macronutrients, as well as about the different oils and types of frying. We will also spend time finalizing the details for the workshop next Saturday. We are currently planning to accommodate about 30-40 women in the Jasmine class, for a 2-hour workshop.
Class: Today, I introduced the children to the last macronutrient – fats. I have not been able to draw a distinction between macro and micronutrients, due my student’s very limited English. But, did seem to understand that there are three types of nutrients and were remembering each of their names by the end of the day. I also trying to use new, creative vocabulary review games for the beginning of the class. Today I introduced the “odd-one-out” game, where students come up to the board and try to identify which words is out of place. The game went very well, so I’m hoping to keep incorporating it in the next two weeks. And, I have an exciting sprout update! The sprouts are beginning to grow and the children are very excited!
July 23rd – 27th
Teacher sessions: Our group teacher session was really wonderful. We first went around and shared about our weekend – it was so much fun to recount our adventures in Udaipur to the teachers! Then, we read another Rupi Kaur poem together and spent thirty minutes unpacking the metaphor and meaning. The poem focused on how it can be hard to claim your own voice and convince yourself to take up space when you’re often told to be quiet or invisible. This led to conversations about how some families in Amer are open-minded while others are quite strict, and the women shared some of their personal experiences surrounding this theme.
Class sessions: The day started a bit hectic, as we decided to switch the Daisy and Jasmine classrooms. But, after moving around the desks and settling to meditate on the chairs, it seemed the children got used to the new setting. It’s a little harder to walk around and interact with the class, but I am glad CJ finally has space for all of her students. I also found my new favorite game with the students: trivia basketball! For the last fifteen minutes of class, we went out to the playground. The students were split into teams and if they answered a question correctly, they had the chance to get a bonus point by making a basket. The kids had so much fun and got so competitive – I will definitely continue to use this in future weeks!
Teacher sessions: We dedicated the day to answering some of Ruksar and Geetaji’s questions about nutrition. They expressed that they were very confused about what is really healthy or not, explaining that they constantly receive contradictory nutrition information. So, I went over the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, and which foods contain which types of fats. Then, we started to research the different types of oils they commonly use and differentiated between refined and unrefined oils. This also led to discussion about the difference between white and wheat breads – I explained how removing the bran and germ removed the antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. I really loved being able to teach these topics at an advanced level for them and they seemed to be very interested. I am hoping that these discussions will help them buy and cook healthier options at home!
Teacher sessions: I had been planning to teach only Geetaji and Ruskar about diabetes and thyroid disorders today, but when Rahela and Firdous heard what we were doing, they asked to join. So, CJ, Sandra, and I combined our teacher sessions and I had the chance to teach many teachers about these disorders. Many of the teachers’ fathers have developed diabetes, and they had many questions about it. We had a really enlightening discussion about the harms of too much sugar and how to prevent developing diabetes. And, our discussion the thyroid led to a much larger discussion about metabolism. These are topics I am so passionate about, so I really loved the chance to explain the intricate link between diet and diabetes.
Class sessions: Given that the children knew almost all the English names for fruits yesterday, I was very surprised that they did not know many of the names for vegetables. We picked up carrots, bitter gourd, cucumber, green beans, and beets from the vegetable market, and all of these were new names for the children. By the time we learned the names and translated them all, the entire hour had gone by! So, I am going to alter my lesson plan for tomorrow to include more review on the vegetable names and to ensure that we have time to emphasize how healthy they are. For the new batch today, we went out to the playground to play charades. I am trying to start breaking them out of their shells, and I think this activity definitely helped – each child took a turn acting out an action verb and then we all repeated the word together. I am hoping that by next week, they will feel very comfortable speaking and will see that it’s okay to make mistakes!
Teacher sessions: Today, we worked to finalize the plan for the first menstruation workshop on Saturday. Ruksar, Geetaji, and I made sure to discuss our plan with Veenaji and Lilima, who had some very good suggestions. They advised that we work to create a light mood at first, to help make the women comfortable, by showing a clip or two from Padman. And, they suggested comparing the change to new menstruation products to other progressive inventions (for example, how one now cooks on a gas stove instead of over a fire). Lilima also gave me a few Ted talks and youtube videos to watch, that explain the taboos and beliefs surrounding menstruation in India. I am so thankful to be able to learn from these and have a strong background in the cultural views before Saturday!
Class sessions: I had originally planned to show videos in class today. But then…the projector was in the only room that could accommodate CJ’s class, both Soomal and I needed the speaker, and I was having trouble getting the videos loaded. So, we improvised. This was actually a blessing because it gave Firdous and I a chance to really explain the importance of vegetables to the children. I emphasized how critical it is to eat vegetables everyday (even when you don’t like them) and gave concrete examples of their benefits (such as, carrots help eyesight). Some of the children expressed that they only eat meat at meals and rarely consume vegetables, which highlighted how critical this lesson was. Even though today was less focused on English learning, I believe it was so important to be able to discuss this with the children.
July 30th – 3rd August
This was an incredible day. I am so thankful to have had the chance to meet and teach the women from the village and I really treasured the opportunity to share my knowledge of menstruation management. As the women were arriving, I greeted all of the women and asked their names in Hindi. Geetaji helped teach me a few other phrases, such as, “whose mother are you?” and “what do you like to do”? The women would smile and laugh as we spoke broken Hindi to each other, which Geetaji assured me helped them to feel comfortable in the space.
We started the meeting by asking about what products the women typically use, and most shared that they use sanitary napkins. We were surprised that only a few of the women used cloth. Then, I discussed the pros and cons of three different products: sanitary napkins, tampons, and the menstrual kits. I made sure to explain how each product was used, so that the women could make an educated decision about what they use each month. I explained the pollution caused by and the expense of sanitary napkins and tampons, and then discussed how the kits provided a good solution. We highlighted how to properly wash and dry the cloths to prevent any infection. By the end of the workshop, most of the women were interested in trying the menstrual kit which was very exciting! We explained that they would need to come back in two months to give their feedback. At the end of the meeting, we left time for the women to ask any questions related to women’s health. Almost ten women opened up about their menstruation concerns, mainly regarding variation in the amount or timing of bleeding. Some also asked questions pertaining to their daughters’ puberty or their relatives. I really appreciated their openness and candor, and I hope that our discussion helped ease their worries.
Before the women left, Firdous, Geetaji, Ruksar, Lilima, and I divided the kits and distributed them to twelve women according to their size. I think the session went very well and I am eagerly awaiting their feedback! I also want to mention how incredible Ruksar and Geetaji have been – they were instrumental in planning the workshop and acted as patient and professional translators in the room. I am so thankful to have had such dedicated partners!
Teacher sessions: We started the teacher sessions today with two poems from Rupi Kaur: the first focused on being thankful both for what the universe has given us and for what it has taken from us, and the second highlighted the inherent strength and weakness within us all. It is so enlightening to hear how the teachers interpret these poems, as I find they always provide a point of view I hadn’t thought of before.
Then…we had an extremely lively and loud debate. We split up into teams to debate rural vs. urban life, and I have never seen the teachers so impassioned! For almost forty-five minutes, the volunteers and teachers were all jumping off the floor to share their point of view and contribute to the debate. We will definitely plan more group debates in the future.
Class sessions: As this is the final week of the nutrition curriculum, most of the activities I have planned will help the students review the food groups and to prompt them to think about how to construct a healthy meal. Today, we discussed how much of the plate should be dedicated to proteins, carbohydrates, etc. The children were all able to come up with a meal that included a food from each group, which is very exciting because they will need this skill to work on the nutrition book! Also, I was so impressed with the second batch today – they were understanding my questions and responding with very clear pronunciation. Firdous and I even turned to each other at one point to remark on how confident they have gotten in just one week!
Teacher sessions: Payal, Rahela, and I spent our first day together brainstorming what health and nutrition topics they hope to discuss over the next three weeks. We created a list of twelve topics, ranging from micronutrient deficiencies to breast cancer, and we are planning to cover one topic each day. I am really excited to prepare these lessons for them, as they will also push me to convey complex biological explanations in simple terms. Since we had extra time, we began to talk about reproductive anatomy. I explained the structure of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus, and how these are involved in menstruation, fertilization, and pregnancy. I know that reproductive health is rarely taught in Indian schools, so I really value the opportunity to help the teachers learn about what is happening in their body.
Class sessions: Today, we went out to the markets in Amer for a food group scavenger hunt! The children were broken up into teams and had to find examples of proteins, healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates, fats, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. It seemed like everyone really had fun seeing the material we had been learning come to life, and I hope this adventure helped show the children where they can go in Amer to buy healthy foods. I want to find more ways in the future to get out of the classroom and have the children learn in their environment, as I know I learn best through experiential exercises.
Teacher sessions: Today, I taught Payal and Rahela about the different sources of macro- and micronutrients and why these foods are important to our health. I explained the difference between white and wheat flour: how removing the germ and bran to make white flour takes out all of the important nutrients. And, we discussed the different types of fats, differentiating between cooking with vegetable oil, ghee, or butter. At the end, they shared that this was very helpful because they want to eat healthy, but constantly receive conflicting or unclear information. They knew that some foods were healthier than others, but no one had ever explained why. I hope that I will be able to help them really understand why it is so important to eat healthy options over the next couple of weeks!
Class sessions: We spent the first half of class today talking about what the students had eaten for lunch and classifying those foods into the different groups we had talked about (protein, carbohydrates, etc.). Then, we identified what foods were missing and brainstormed examples of what foods we could add to make a “complete healthy plate”. I hope this was helpful in showing the children how they can add just one or two foods to their meals to ensure they are eating everything they need! In the second half of class, we began the nutrition book project. Over the past few weeks, I have been asking what the children eat every day and most of their meals are quite simple: a plate of dal, chapati, and maybe a vegetable. For this reason, I decided to make their pages in the nutrition book their favorite “healthy plate”. Each child will create a page with a drawing and description of what would be on their perfect plate (making sure to include a protein, carbohydrate, fat, vegetable, fruit, and dairy to include all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients). So, if a child loved palak paneer, they made spinach the vegetable on their plate and paneer their protein. They would then be asked what other foods could be included to make their healthy plate complete. So, I would encourage that child to add a source of carbohydrates and a fruit. With more advanced classes, I may be able include typical dishes, such as vegetable biryani, and have children write about the health benefits of these foods. But, my class’s very low level of English prevented us from going to in depth with any of the topics. For future classes, I will work to adapt what is included on each child’s page for the students’ level and lifestyles.
Teacher sessions: Today was all about the heart! I first taught Rahela and Payal basic heart anatomy, so that they could better understand what goes wrong in heart disease. Then, we discussed some of the main causes of heart attacks (poor diet, stress, genetics) and how these affect our normal heart function. This lead into a very interesting discussion about heart transplants and organ donors. They shared that they would be willing to donate their organs, but this practice can be frowned upon in India due to the elaborate rituals that surround death. Lilima also mentioned that organ donations are infrequent because few people know that this is even an option. And, Lilima attested that there is a large need for blood donations in India. I was thinking it may be fun for all of the volunteers and teachers to go to donate blood together one day and perhaps have a big meal together after. Payal, Rahela, and Lilima agreed, so I will check in with what the other volunteers and teachers think!
Class sessions: We spent the entire day drawing our healthy plates for the nutrition book.It was so great to see the kids confidently drawing chana masala, paratha, and vegetables like bitter gourd, as just a couple of weeks ago they were hesitant to draw these for the first time. They all seem very excited about getting to showcase their favorite foods and perfect healthy plate on the nice scrapbook paper!
Class sessions: This will be our final day working on the nutrition book pages. We will paste the drawings and descriptions of what is part of our healthy meals on the nice scrapbook paper, and the children will have a chance to decoratively title the page! I am planning to keep these from all of the classes, laminate them, and bind them together at the end of these five months teaching nutrition.
August 13th – 17th
It was truly wonderful to see the children and teacher’s love for their country today. As the teachers walked in, we noticed they had all dressed up in saris. We were thrilled when Payal came in with extra saris, so that Sandra, CJ, and I could also be wrapped in the beautiful fabrics and colors. We piled into a small classroom and the teachers helped us dress, pinning the seemingly endless fabric into place. We were all so giddy that hundreds of photos were taken over the next thirty minutes.
I really cherished the chance to see the songs and hear about the story and symbols of independence from the children. Oliver led a great three-part play about the key events of independence, Sandra’s class was so proud of their beautiful mural, and I loved to hear my Daisy class bravely sing national songs in front of the crowd of children. I am always so impressed with the children’s enthusiasm while singing and dancing and their support of each other. And, it was beautiful to hear the entire room sing the national anthem in unison. I am so thankful that so many traditions were shared with me today.
Teacher sessions: We decided to dedicate the day to role play, as the teachers had expressed how much they love the game. So, we created three scenes and two/three roles per scene, and assigned the teachers to scenes to ensure that those who were better at English were matched with those who are less advanced. We gave four “key vocab” words to each group that the teachers had to include in the scene. We provided the definition for the words but left it up to them to decide how to incorporate them. I am so glad we did this because it exposed misunderstandings surrounding the new vocab. For example, even though Ruksar knew the definition of migrate, she used it to mean “visit” Mumbai instead of actually move and settle in “Mumbai”. And, the teachers were struggling to use the word, “imperative” correctly in a scene. I can now see why this game is so beneficial, as it allows us to really break down their English and provide constructive feedback.
Class sessions: My lesson today focused on the importance of drinking water and the signs of dehydration. The children all enthusiastically yelled that we should drink water every day and quickly learned the new terms of “hydration” and “dehydration”. I have also found that they love the tic-tac-toe review game, which is very exciting because I love to see them work together to find answers. It provided a great opportunity for some of the quieter children, like Kushboo, to be the leader and spokesperson for their team. I want to find more games that help get all of the children talking, so that all answers aren’t just yelled out by my “superstars” like Muskan.
Polomi is also taking up a special place in my heart, as she stays extra after every class to help Ruchi and I clean up the room and close all the windows.
Given that this week and next week include only a couple of teaching days, I am deciding to speed up my curriculum a bit. I want to leave an extra day or two at the end to work on the nutrition book, as I think the Daisy class will be able to create more advanced pages than Jasmine did. And, I think some of the cumulative activities, such as Food Group Bingo and the scavenger hunt, were highlights of last month – I want to make sure I to do these with Daisy. So, I am working to revise my lesson plans a bit for the coming weeks and am planning to start teaching about proteins today (which is a bit ahead of schedule).
24th – 31st August
Friday: due to the foundation holidays for Eid, we only taught at the foundation on Friday. But, Friday was a truly amazing day. CJ, Sandra, and I went to Firdous’ grandmother’s home in the Old City early in the morning for the sacrifice of their lambs. Her family graciously welcomed us into their home with sweets and chai, and her nieces and cousins drew henna on hands. We fed the lambs jalebi and looked over the Old City from their rooftop. When it was finally time for the sacrifice, we followed Firdous and the women to a balcony looking down on the butchers and men in the family. It was an incredible sight to see the simultaneous respect and slaughter – it was beautiful and shocking and we were honored to be able to be a part of it.
We were picked up on the way to the foundation and, after so many days away, it felt like walking back into our home. The teachers embraced us with warm hugs and we happily got to work on our lesson plans and journals together. Although, it did feel strange having only half of the teachers there due to the holiday.
We were dropped back off at Firdous’ grandmother’s home in the old city on the way home from dinner. We walked into their five story home, which was full of family, life, and love. After meeting her mother, aunts, cousins, and nieces, the women applied our make-up and gave us bangles. Her family was incredibly kind, inviting us over to their homes in future weeks. They showered us with love and generosity, and, of course, stuffed us with mutton briyani and sweets. It was one of the happiest days I have had thus far in Jaipur, and I am planning to write an extended blog post with pictures about the day when I have some time this weekend. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget this day, but I want to make sure I always preserve it in my memory. I feel so honored to have been able to share this day with her family and am deeply grateful for being welcomed into their home.
Oh, how I love all of the festivals and traditions this country has! We celebrated Rakhi at the foundation today by all crafting bracelets together and decorating each other’s hands with mehndi. I find the holiday so beautiful – that siblings of all faiths express their love for one another in this exchange of a bracelet and a promise of protection. I worked alongside the children to make one for my brother and am planning to send it to Chicago with a note explaining Rakhi tomorrow. By the end of the day, my arms were filled with bracelets. It was adorable to have both my old and new students eagerly tie the knots around my wrist, hugging me and calling me sister. The foundation was truly a home filled with love and generosity today.
We had a fantastic debate in the teacher sessions today! The volunteers brainstormed in the car how to create structure and rules for the debate so that it was more controlled than last time. The new plan worked very well – every teacher had a chance to make a point, and our new structure made sure even those with less English, like Jyoti, spoke during the debate. It was great practice in using language for persuasion and it required the teachers to really listen and respond to each other. And, I am so happy to finally have a full class and a full week to make some progress on nutrition! I compressed my carbohydrate lecture into a single day to make up for lost time, but the fast pace ended up worked well because the Daisy students learn new information very quickly! I saw all of their eyes light up when they saw the markers in the back for the drawing activity, which makes me very excited given that we will drawing a lot this week. I also saw the children helping each other a lot today, especially when I asked them to repeat key sentences back to me. I have been trying to have them help each other before I correct them, to help lessen the pressure and to show them that collaboration is a great way to solve problems. So, I was very happy to see this!
Even though CJ, Lilima, Sandra and I went early to the FRRO so that we would not be late to the foundation, the office trip took much longer than anticipated. We ended up not arriving until close to 1:00pm. Since there was limited time, we played charades in the teacher sessions to focus on a few new vocab words. I had a really lovely moment with the second batch today. We had to hold them for ten extra minutes, so that they could receive their uniforms. One of them asked me to try to say something in Hindi. And since I have been studying a little bit of Hindi every day, I confidently spoke a few sentences. All of their faces lit up and they gathered around where I was sitting, eager to converse and hear me speak their language. They taught me new sentences and helped me to spell them on the board. It inspired me to continue learning every day and these few moments helped me to connect with the new students in a way I had not been able to before.
Payal, Rahela and I reviewed the main vitamins today, their health benefits, and what foods these can be found in. They had never heard of vitamin E and vitamin K (to be fair, many people haven’t), but discussing them gave us a chance to talk about antioxidants and blood clots. They knew that eating fruits and vegetables were important, but our discussion really highlighted why eating these foods is so critical to having a healthy body. I also began teaching vitamins and minerals to the children today as well. Since the Daisy class’ English is more advanced than Jasmine’s, I have decided to have the children make a chart of the most important vitamins and minerals in their notebooks. I was a little nervous about introducing calcium and explaining why it was important, but the children caught on right away. Ruchi has been such a fantastic co-teacher thus far – she is able to help me translate key nutrition points and is always ready to help me. She took a turn teaching the class today when I had to run downstairs, and when I came back she was confidently leading the lesson and engaging the children. In this last week, I want to find more opportunities for her to teach.
In honour of Oliver’s last free teacher session (since we will work on journals tomorrow), we went to visit the Meera temple. It was stunning. I had no idea such a beautiful temple was tucked away in Amer. Ruchi and Lilima explained the significance of the temple to me as we walked in: it is the only temple in the world that depicts Meera and Krishna together. And, Firdous explained that Amer has 365 temples because the King of Amer visited a different temple each day of the year. It was wonderful to learn more about the significance of Amer’s temples from the teachers and to spend this day visiting one of their most treasured sites. In class, I asked the children to tell me what fruit they ate yesterday. Almost all of them said that they had eaten no fruit (we had given out cake in honor of Lilima’s birthday). But, this worries me because it shows that, for most of the children, the only fruit they eat is at the foundation. They are rarely eating it at home. So, I had Ruchi explain to the children in Hindi how important fruit is and how important it is that they eat fruit every day, especially on the days that they do not come to the foundation. I am hoping that they share the information I am teaching with their parents because it is becoming clear that some children may not be getting the essential vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy and grow.
I am excited for the lesson today, because the Daisy class loves to draw and we will be making our vegetable picture chart! We will also be adding to our vitamin and mineral chart – I am so impressed with how well this has been going the past few days. I hope the kids are really starting to internalize why eating fruits, vegetables, and dairy is so critical for having a strong and healthy body. We will also try to grow sprouts today to show the kids how to grow their own vegetables!
The market scavenger hunt was definitely more hectic with the Daisy classes of over twenty, but Ruchi was a huge help in organizing the children and keeping everyone safe while we walked around. I think it was the first time the children noticed some of the foods we had learned, like almonds and cashews, in their local stores. So, this activity may be even more valuable than I first imagined! When we came back to class to check our answers, it was apparent that the children really struggle to spell the words they learn. While I’m a little concerned about their difficulty, I know that being able to communicate and speak is the ultimate goal so I am trying not to get frustrated with misspelling. There is one new student who continues to put a smile on my face day after day. One of the new Sikh children, Kuldeep, collects all of his classmates’ banana peels every day and throws them all away with the biggest smile on his face. He always is the first one to help and I love how considerate he always is to me and his friends.
Teacher’s Day – what a fun tradition! We do not have anything like it in the United States, but I am so happy I got to experience this special day. My eyes lit up as Saniya, one of my past Jasmine students, ran in and exclaimed, “I am Victoria mam!”. She made the class review protein foods and led them through hangman games. In the second batch, one boy jumped up and enthusiastically pleaded to lead meditation. It was so adorable to watch him lead the class, calming instructing them to “breathe in” and “breathe out”. And, one of the girls from Rose class lead my final batch and gifted me beautiful earrings. You could see how happy everyone was today as we all took pictures on the ground after classes – the teachers and their doppelgangers ran around together with so much joy.
Today, in the United States and a few other countries, is designated as “Wear Teal Day” in honor of ovarian cancer. The idea is to wear teal to help spread awareness about one of the deadliest and most aggressive types of cancer. I have a very close family friend who is currently battling this cancer and, so, I asked all of the women (fellows, teachers, etc.) at the foundation to wear teal today. It meant so much to me to see so many of us dressed in teal today, and I am planning to send the picture to my family friend to show her that there are women rooting for her around the world.
CJ, Sandra, and I planned a teacher motivation workshop for this week, with the aim of inspiring ourselves and the other teachers. We brainstormed Sunday night what videos, quotes, messages, and activities we could prepare to help all of the Tushita team remember the impact we can have in children’s lives. So, for the first day, Lilima, CJ, Sandra, and I each gave a brief presentation about our favorite teachers and why we still remember them. I talked about my high school literature teacher. I had always struggled with writing and was receiving low grades, but she refused to let me fall behind. She helped me build confidence in my own writing ability and showed me how to transform failure into success. We then had each teacher reflect on, write about, and present their favorite teacher and how this person had impacted them. It was very powerful to hear about these great educators and the exercise seemed to uplift everyone in the room. Today was also my first day with the Lily class, and I left the day beaming. The children were even better at English than I imagined, so I was able to fully discuss the concept of water balance and the functions of water in the body. They were so talkative and willing to speak about any topic – although sometimes their outbursts were sometimes disruptive. There also seems to be some tension between students in the first batch, which Soomal and Lilima were very aware of. A few of the students lash out at each other and this is not only harmful to their studies but clearly to each other. I am going to try to find ways to make them work together and bridge the divides that have been unnecessarily formed.
Day two of the teacher workshop was even more powerful than the first. We first shared a Ted Talk by Rita Pearson titled “Every child deserves a champion”. In the video, she shares the lessons she has learned as a lifelong educator – the importance of relationships, of building students’ self-esteem, and of fighting for students’ well-being inside and outside of the classroom. The teachers all shared their favorite parts and they emphasized how much they loved the speaker and the video. We also outlined the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, asking the teachers to then reflect on what intrinsic and extrinsic factors bring them to Tushita each day. When we went around and shared why we come, smiles filled the room. Teachers shared that Tushita was a place of learning, love, and empowerment. They loved the relationships they build in this place and the opportunity to better themselves. It was so beautiful to hear their reasons and wonderful to reflect myself on why I came. As for the Lily class, I tried something new with the first batch. I paired each of the students with the person they were fighting with yesterday and had them make a list of the foods they liked together. They were resistant at first but I was adamant they work in these pairs, and, after just five minutes, they were talking to each other and asking what the other liked. It may have been a small activity, but it seemed like a big step in the right direction for fostering positive words and action in this batch. Ruksar took over the second batch and taught most of the lesson – she was confident, clear, and so impressive. I look forward to teaching with her this month and seeing how we can share responsibilities and grow as better teachers together.
We have decided to call 120 mothers to the women’s health workshop on Saturday, which is very exciting. But, this meant that I stayed up extra late last night to plan how to best convey information to such a large group. We are planning to break the mothers up into groups of twenty and to have two teachers in charge of teaching each group about the products available, their pros/cons, and how to hygienically use them. So, in the teacher session today, I prepped the teachers for Saturday. We reviewed all of the information and made sure they felt comfortable and confident teaching women from the village. Geetaji also offered to help me translate my own talk to the women during the session which will be a great help on Saturday. I am really proud of how the teachers are stepping up to fill these roles – I know this is not the easiest topic but I saw enthusiasm and passion in many of the teachers. They were ready to seriously talk about these topics and had some really insightful questions and ideas. In classes today, we discussed the anatomy of digestion. It was great fun to see the shock on the children’s faces when they learned that the small intestine was 7 meters long and their surprise to find out that digestion takes over twenty-four hours. And, some of the students completely surprised me. After I taught the basic six stops for food in the “digestion tube”, Indergeet raised her hand and told me I was missing the rectum. I had left it out to not overwhelm them with medical terminology, but clearly the Lily class is ready for a challenge and some in-depth science. I am thrilled!
We have planned one final day of our teacher’s motivation workshop, in which we will set personal goals for the year and reflect on a few of the volunteers’ favorite quotes about teaching. I am hoping that these goals will help keep us all focused throughout the year on how we can make an impact in the children’s lives. And, I am excited to start teaching about macronutrients and to grow sprouts with the Lily class today!
We spent teacher session today preparing for the English assessments we will conduct next week. The teachers shared the structures of the assessments with us and we worked to create ten new questions for the writing portion. I have noticed some disparities in my students’ level within batches, so I am glad that we are taking the time to assess and move the children to the classes in which they will best learn. Farha ran into class today, exclaiming that she and her parents had eaten the sprouts that we had grown in the previous day. She was so proud and shared how they had prepared them and eaten them as a family! I am so happy to learn that she is bringing the material from class home and that the entire family may benefit from the nutrition curriculum. I had the students reflect on what healthy carbohydrates they had eaten yesterday which exposed that many of the small students are only eating one or two chapatis a day. I am worried that several of the students are not getting a good source of energy each day, so I emphasized that they need to eat at least three healthy carbohydrates a day. I am hoping that they take this to heart. We then began to discuss fats. While many children attested that they only eat deep fried foods once a month or on special occasions, a few shared that they eat them multiple times a week. We discussed how important it is to limit their intake and I a few students “pinky promised” me to cut down how many they eat (for example, eating fried momos once a week instead of three times a week as a start).
In teacher session, Ruchi, Firdous and I discussed vitamins – the main vitamins, the role they play in our bodies, the foods that are abundant in them, and signs of deficiencies. Firdous was very passionate about the topic and had a great idea: she wants to create a chart of this information in simple language that she can post in her home, at the foundation, and possibly distribute to families. They emphasized that very few women in Amer know that foods like carrots are good for your eyes or that mosumbi is great when you are sick. We are going to work together in the next week or so to create the chart and translate it into Hindi so that all people in Amer can understand the information. In class, we also discussed vitamins and minerals. It was great to finally have Ruskar back in class after her time at home for her grandmother’s death. The kids really love her and respond well to her instruction, so our classroom was finally whole. She shared that her grandmother had lived to 107 and she believed that part of the reason was because she had been focused on eating healthy food her entire life. I could see the passion this ignited in Ruksar for the lesson and her story re-kindled my passion for teaching the material as well. We really emphasized how important it is to each vegetables and fruits every day even the ones you don’t like – I’m hoping that this is one of the key lessons that stays with the kids.
In teacher sessions, we worked on our journals and lesson plans for the week. We also used the time to plan how assessment will take place next week and how we will coordinate all of the classes and teachers. In my first batch today, I am going to try to bring them to the computer lab to create the vitamin and mineral chart on Word. My second two batches are slightly behind and so I will keep them in the class, finish the material on vegetables, and create the chart in the notebook. It will be helpful for me to see the children’s computer literacy today before we attempt to do the nutrition project digitally next week.
In teacher sessions today, the teachers showed us how they play taboo. I really love this exercise for them, as it makes them think on their feet and quickly come up with English words. Speaking under a time restraint is very difficult in a second language, and it was clear that this extra pressure made speaking harder for all of the teachers. It pushes them to describe actions and nouns with creative words that are not “taboo” on the card. And, of course, the teachers love competitive games so the session was filled with energy – this energy always carries over to our classes for the day. In class, I tried something new with the students. After we reviewed the proper proportions of the different nutrients in a healthy meal, I had them write and perform a short skit about buying these foods at the market. They had to write their own lines and memorize them before presenting it to the class. This was a great way to pair learning English with learning nutrition, as they had to make sure to “buy” healthy ingredients in the skit but also devise their own novel scenario and sentences. Planning the role play took a bit longer than expected so I only got to include it with my first batch, but I will definitely re-use this activity with the Rose class next month!
In teacher session, Firdous and I reviewed the food log she had kept over the past few days. This gave us a chance to see if she was getting enough macronutrients and vitamins, and I was able to make a few specific recommendations for her food intake each day. I also explained the importance of eating breakfast so that the body’s metabolism starts for the day – neither Rahela nor Firdous had ever heard this before. I will make sure to include this in future discussion with teachers and with the classes! In class today, we began the nutrition projects on the computer. This required a lot of patience on everyone’s part, as I learned their computer literacy and they slowly worked through the steps to use the computers correctly. In all of the batches, some children knew how to use programs like Word, but others had never even used a laptop before. Ruksar and I worked very hard to provide individual instruction to each set of partners to show them how to navigate the laptop. By the end of the day, the children had successfully saved images from Google, found recipes for their favorite healthy dishes online, and created a Word document to consolidate the information. We were very proud that all three batches were able to accomplish this today and I think the activity was great practice for the children. They now know how to look up recipes and find the ingredients for the foods they like. I hope they will be able to use this at home and in the future to find and make new recipes for their family (hopefully remembering our discussions of how to identify healthy and unhealthy ingredients)!
October, 1st- 5th
The teachers had a wonderful and warm welcome waiting for Jake and Chantal when we arrived today! Being on the other side of the welcome this time made me realize how much this place has become my home. It was so much fun to introduce Jake and Chantal to the children and to the teachers – I felt full of joy knowing how much they were going to love this place. Today was also my first day teaching with Payal and with Rose class, and I am so excited to spend this month teaching them. They were engaged and active throughout the class, asking me questions about the science of the lesson and pushing me to go deeper into the topic. Payal and I are also implementing a strict “No Hindi” policy when the children walk through the door. I know that this will be challenging to adjust to at first, but I am sure that the children will be able to manage. And, I believe that this will help them greatly improve their English even while we learn about nutrition. I am anticipating a small struggle with the third batch – the students seem to be a mix of very vocal and confident children, such as Lalit and Jan, and much quieter students, like Nahit. I want to ensure that all children practice speaking and, thus, I will need to work hard to make sure that activities and discussions are structured to encourage participation from everyone.
The teachers were busy grading assessments during teacher session today, which gave Chantal, Soomal and I time to play for the puberty/menstrual education workshop for the girls in the foundation on Saturday. Chantal had expressed that she is very passionate about menstrual education and would love to be part of the workshop. So, I shared what I have learned about menstrual health and hygiene practices in the community thus far and told her about the previous workshops. We were able to build an outline for the workshop on Saturday together, and Soomal was able to run between her English session and our meeting to help give her input as well. I think we have created a very good plan – incorporating anatomy, the analogy of the moon’s cycle, and information about management – and am excited to talk with the girls Saturday! Today in class we learned about dehydration. I had the first and third batch start creating information posters to put above the water coolers in the foundation. The first batch’s focus on what drinks are hydrating and dehydrating and the third batch’s focus on signs of dehydration – both encourage the children to drink water. I could tell that this artistic activity was less exciting to the older children than similar ones had been to younger children in other classes. So, I am contemplating how best to incorporate creative outlets for the Rose class in the future. I will continue to try to ideas and activities with the Rose class and hopefully will find those that make them the most engaged and excited to learn.
During teacher session, we all worked together to continue grading the assessments. The teachers showed us how the rubrics work, and I think with the entire force of the Tushita team we made some great progress working through them. In class today, we discussed energy balance and calories. I was surprised that none of the children in Rose class had heard of the term calorie or knew that food energy is measured in this way – even the children in eleventh grade had not been taught this information. It made me realize how important this nutrition curriculum is, as nutrition topics are not included in the secondary school curriculum. The students also finished their informational signs about dehydration which we will post in all of the classrooms in the foundation. I find it really powerful that the older batches can create things to help teach the younger batches, and I hope the Rose class saw how important this work was!
October, 8th- 12th
The girl’s menstruation workshop went very well today! I was personally very excited for this day to come. I had built relationships with many of the girls and thus was eager to discuss this important topic with them. And, I was especially eager to hand out the biodegradable pads that we had worked hard to get. Both sessions went very well – the girls seemed very interested in the biology and descriptions of the lunar cycle and everyone was focused for the entire hour. Ideally, we would have had a little bit more time to allow the girls to ask questions at the end. But, we emphasized that we would all be here to answer their questions any day and at any time. I hope that by opening up this conversation about menstruation with the girls, they will feel safe to ask Soomal, Chantal, and I about any concerns they have throughout the year.
It was wonderful to show Maggie and Natalia the foundation today. I had been telling them how much I loved the children and this place, and I could tell that they immediately understood how loving and enthusiastic both the students and co-teachers are. I was proud to show them how I have grown in teaching and how I was putting the strategies they taught me during TEFL into practice. While teaching about where the different plates were from for the “Food Around the World” lesson, it became clear that the children had very little background in geography. Payal expressed that this was not due to learning geography through English, but rather a deeper lack of knowledge. So, I slowed down the lesson and we spent time learning where each of the countries was on the map.
I was also surprised that every batch thought that the sushi was a sweet! They thought the salmon was jelly, the rice was sugar, and the avocado was guava. When I explained how the fish and rice are rolled into this shape, they were fascinated! It was a very fun day in class and I could see all of the children very interested in learning about these new foods from different cultures.
As I’m getting more in depth to the curriculum with the Rose class, it is becoming apparent that nutrition is never taught at home or in the schools. Last week, the kids knew all of the answers about the anatomy of digestion and the dehydration. But, even my brightest pupils (like Lalit) did not know why proteins are important in the diet. They guessed that foods like spinach and rice contained protein. I am excited to continue teaching about the macronutrients to help the children understand why certain foods, such as lentils, are critical to their everyday diet.
After barely having a chance to teach Ruchi in the last rotation of teachers (due to the assessments and visitors), I am looking forward to the chance to teach her one on one. She is very interested in food and exercise, topics I am passionate about, so I think we will have a great few weeks together. Class today exposed the complexity of nutrition – it is always evolving and information can often contradict itself. As I began to break foods into groups of complex and simple carbohydrates, Isabelle pointed out a potential error. We debated which group to put processed, white bread in and ended up researching white flour in tea break. And, this debate brought up a very important point – the same food in different parts of the world can be very different nutritionally.
Reflecting on the classes today, I realize that even though the topic can be complicated, the message I want to convey is simple: eat more of the foods that are good for us and eat less of those that can cause disease. If the kids walked away from today knowing that oats provide lasting energy for the day while cake can cause a quick high and then sugar crash, then I will take it as a success!
My third batch is always loud and enthusiastic, but I wasn’t expecting them to be so invested in my lecture about fats. Within the first few minutes, they were constantly shouting questions and trying to guess what I was going to say. I had to make them calm down and be quiet a number of times, but never because they were off topic. I am really coming to love how much this last batch pushes my science knowledge and the questions they pose every day – I never know what is coming and the lectures always take lead to discussions I hadn’t anticipated. The lecture also exposed that most of the children did not know that some fats were good, or they had no idea why some fats are necessary for our body. I think this is one of the most critical parts of this lecture, because so many societies “demonize” fat without explaining that there are many types of fat.
Today was the first day I taught a lesson on BMI, and it went very well! The students were quite surprised to learn that some countries, like China, have ideal body types that are underweight and that some countries, like Spain and Mauritania, have ideal body types that are overweight or obese. I told the story of the girl from the article and they were all shocked that ideals of beauty could lead to such drastic behavior! I had not planned for the children to calculate their own BMI to ensure they felt comfortable during the lesson, but in every batch the children were very eager to find theirs. So, Payal found a tape measure and all of the children had the chance to calculate their BMI. In my first batch, Akeeb, Laxman, and Samya all fought to be first! The exercise gave us the chance to start applying some of the nutrition concepts we’ve learned, such as the importance of eating plenty of good fats and protein for those who are underweight, and the importance of emphasizing vegetables for those who are overweight. We’ve been building on the theme of how food can be medicine, and this day really highlighted how we can alter what we eat to become the healthiest versions of ourselves.
Since many people were absent and ill today, we decided to have teachers session together, and Sandra taught us about Day of the Dead. She explained the significance of the festival, the meaning of the different parts of the altar, and we all practiced making the traditional paper crafts. It was a great chance to learn about a fascinating tradition in another culture and it was so much fun to try to cut the intricate skeleton pattern on paper! My lesson on diets went more quickly than expected in my first batch, so I took the opportunity to lead a review game. I love having the children work in teams because I see many of the quieter students, like Harsh and Prena, become leaders and very vocal. I know I am similar – hesitant to speak in large group but very active in a small group. It was a great reminder to continue incorporating activities where children can work in small groups and feel confident to share their knowledge. My third batch had so many thoughts and questions about the diets that the lesson did take the entire time. I was very impressed with how much Jaynt remembered from the past weeks. He is one of the children that misses class frequently but today he seemed to know more answers than the rest of the class. He is clearly very bright.
What a fabulous Halloween Day at the foundation! Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays and I can honestly say getting to share the tradition with the children made it one of best Halloweens yet. I opened class by explaining the history of Halloween to the children and then described how the traditions and practices have progressed through history. We learned new vocab relating to the holiday, such as costume and prank, and made sure to put them in their new personal dictionaries. I also taught the children about the “trick-or-treat” tradition and gave them each a chance to practice for candy (which of course they loved!). We were even able to paint some of the children’s faces to match our full-faced skeleton costumes and made sure to take lots of pictures! It made me so happy to see Yusrya and Kiran run up the stairs filled with pride about their face painting. The day was filled with laughter, joy, and a few screams – Halloween is supposed to be scary after all!
The kids began to fill out their personal dictionaries today with the most important words from the past month which was a great way to review material! It gave me a good sense of what topics they may need extra support with when completing the nutrition project. One of the students I have been really impressed with this week is Karuna. I can tell her English level is a bit below those of her classmates, but she never hesitates to ask me to repeat sentences or explain things in new ways. It’s clear how passionate she is about learning English and I really admire the extra effort she puts in to learning.
In the second half of class, we learned some of the history of the Day of the Dead and began to make papelpicado for the altar tomorrow. The kids were very excited to help Sandra decorate and to learn about her festival. And, some of their designs were so impressive! It’s always great to see what they come up with when they are given the freedom to explore their own creativity.
January, 7th – 11th
A challenging moment: On Wednesday, Rahela was not present at the Foundation. At first I was concerned about how Jyoti and I would manage the very large class, especially because she usually takes a group alone and Rahela and I take another large group. I was unsure how I would be able to give all of the directions and keep all of the children focused. But, both my students and Lilima were very helpful throughout the day. In the first batch, Subhan and Zoya came to my rescue because they have a stronger grasp of English than some of the other children. They sat by my sides and helped the students understand what I was saying if it was unclear. When many of the kids starting yelling ma’am, Subhan firmly told them to stop saying ma’am and helped me keep order. It was really wonderful to see that my students have learned the ways I like to manage class and are eager to make sure that each other stay focused. In my last batch when I had over 25 students, Lilima came to help me teach and was instrumental in the class going smoothly. She sat on one side of the circle and I on the other, allowing us to listen to each children pronounce the new sentences. So, my challenging moment was not so challenging because of the support from everyone at the foundation!
A rewarding moment: Teacher sessions have really taken me by surprise this week. I was uncertain at first how to best teach material, since I had both Geetaji and Jyoti who have very different English levels. But, I realized quickly that this was actually a great pair – Geetaji has such a firm grasp on English that she already knew terms like “immune system” and Jyoti has such a firm grasp on Science that she knows the science terms better than anyone else. So, I’ve been able to go even deeper into science of hormones and hormonal diseases than I anticipated. We spent an entire day learning about the HPA axis which is responsible for releasing cortisol and creating stress. I was so excited to be able to use the complex terminology like “pituitary gland” and “elevated heart rate”. At the end of this session, Geetaji expressed that it was a truly beneficial hour. She had often heard that stress was the root of all diseases but did not fully understand what this mean. Now, she said, she actually knew what this meant and felt that she could explain to her friends and family both the detrimental effects of elevated cortisol and the empirically grounded evidence about how to manage our stress. Another very rewarding moment this week came in class on Thursday when we were doing the activity to explore the five senses. My students now fully understand that I expect them to repeat sentences individually and that I hope that they will answer in full sentences. So, when I played a sound of a dog barking, a few of the children confidently exclaimed, “I hear a dog”. And then without me saying anything and just looking at Alima next to me, they all repeated that sentence one by one. I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. They have made such great speaking progress and it is so rewarding to see how they have been growing.
A learning moment: This week, the importance of revision was clearly emphasized. I had planned to briefly review the names of the body parts with the children on Monday, since I knew they had already learned many of the names previously. But, as we began to review the names and spelling I quickly realized that only one or two children in each batch had a firm grasp of the material. In fact, many of them were confused about which names went with which parts and almost none of them knew how to spell. Thus, we spent two days entirely on learning just twelve names. This allowed us to ensure that each child said each body part name and could express their understanding in a complete sentence. I have repeatedly learned how important it is to go slowly with the Sunflowers, but this week I learned that it is additionally essential to review and repeat what they have learned to solidify knowledge.
January, 15th – 18th
Challenging moment: Most of the children had the day off of school on Tuesday, and that meant that very few students came to the foundation. I had planned to start teaching the Sunflowers about different organs of the body and Tuesday was dedicated to learning about the heart. I had enough students to start the material, but I was also missing over half of every batch. While several students learned the new information, many students had missed it. I was slightly disheartened on Wednesday by how few students knew any of what we had learned about the heart. But, instead of letting this frustrate me I decided to take a deep breath and dedicate an extra ten minutes in the beginning to review. This ensured that all of the students learned the location and function of the heart and provided some much needed revision. I also remembered through later reflection that one of the lessons I have learned the past few weeks is how frequently the little ones need review. For the rest of the week, I started each class with several minutes of review over both the functions and new words to make sure that every student had a chance to learn the material. So, while in the moment I felt challenged by the circumstances, the situation was a great reminder of how best to teach our smallest students and was a great lesson.
Rewarding moment: I had spent a couple of hours browsing the internet for the best videos of the heart and lungs to show my class this week. This was not very easy to decide, as most of the videos had either complex medical jargon or used extensive English. I found a couple videos that I hoped would at least peak the children’s interest in what the inside of the body looks like, and it was so rewarding to see that they did precisely that. As I started each video and the children watched virtual tours and animations of the hearts and lungs, their eyes lit up. I could tell by how intently they were watching that they were truly fascinated by the videos. I have always thought that the inside of the body is so beautiful and interesting, and thus it was so rewarding to see the same amazement spread across my students’ faces as they saw this for the first time.
Learning moment: This week during teachers’ sessions we had a follow-up to our motivation workshop from September. On the first day, we all reflected on who we were at the beginning the year, how we have changed, who we are now, and how we still hope to grow. It was a great opportunity to really think about how working with all of the different students, teachers, and levels have shaped me as a teacher. I realized how each class taught me something new, for example the Sunflower class taught me patience and the Rose class taught me the importance of enthusiasm. We shared all of our reflections with each other and it was enlightening to hear how everyone has seen their own growth over the past several months. We all expressed goals for future change as well and we realized that we will be able to help and support each other to achieve most of these. So, all of the sessions this week were a wonderful time to learn about ourselves, to learn about each other, and to learn how we can be the best for the children as a team.
February, 11th – 15th
Challenging moment: The first couple of days after switching batches is always a bit challenging. Even if you’ve taught those children before (as was true with the Daisies), you have to adapt your pace, content, and style to match the new age and English level. I was surprised by the bit of nerves I felt on Monday afternoon before the children came, but all of my worries went away as soon as I stepped into the class. It is almost impossible to feel tense amidst the enthusiasm and smiles of the Daisy children. With a little extra work on my lesson plans each night, everything ended up going quite smoothly for the rest of the week. I am quite happy to be back with the Daisies and am actually looking forward to the challenge of building upon my project with the body.
Learning moment: In teachers’ sessions this week, we spent all three days learning about heart disease and high blood pressure because Jyoti, Geetaji, and Neha were all very interested in the topic. I had prepped a lot of material for them, including the specific types of medications commonly prescribed in India. When it came time to discuss common medications, Geetaji and Neha wanted such in-depth descriptions that we ended up needing to research together. I learned that one of the common medications, called a beta-blocker, inhibits the effect of a specific hormone called beta-adrenaline. This perfectly tied back into our discussion of the stress hormones and how they influence our body. Without them pushing me to research more in depth to understand the complete pathways of the drugs, we never would have found this link. I have loved having teachers’ sessions with them. They push me to learn even more about the health every day and challenge me to adapt complex information into simple explanations.
Rewarding moment: On Tuesday, I started our small unit on the heart and asked the students if they knew what the function of the heart is. In both the first and the second batch, a handful of students all shouted, “heart beats, pushes blood!”. This was the exact phrase I had taught them in August when I did a very brief intro on the heart. My jaw dropped – I was truly astonished that they had remembered what I had taught them six months ago! The giant smile that spread across my face seemed to be infectious, as they all began to smile too. I could tell they were so proud of remembering and I was so proud that I had taught in an effective way, even when I was just beginning to teach in the Foundation. It is also very rewarding to see some of the quieter kids, like Nikita, who love science become very active in the class. For the first time ever, she asked that I call on her to say the importance of the blood. It is so rewarding to see that this material interests them, that they feel confident with it, and that they will remember it!
February, 25th – 28th
Challenging moment: This week I had the students become the teachers. After they had written their own sentences about the brain in teams, they presented their sentences in front of the class and wrote them on the board. Then, they took turns asking their classmates about the function of the new parts. This was challenging at first. The shyer children were hesitant to ask other students questions, and some even hid in the back of the team standing at the front. We wanted all of the children to practice giving questions and answers to each other. So, Geetaji, Shalu, and I made sure to give extra support and encouragement to the quieter children when it came their time to speak. This activity required a lot of focus and confidence, but I am quite proud of how the Daisy students rose to the challenge to become the teachers for the day.
Rewarding moment: I put the Daisy class up to a big challenge this week. Instead of teaching them facts about the brain, I wrote short paragraphs describing the functions of different parts. Then, the children had to read, discuss, and write a sentence about the function of each part in teams. Abishek’s jaw dropped when he realized what the task was. It was undoubtedly challenging and at the beginning, some groups needed a lot of extra support. But, every group successfully completed the task and they were so proud of the sentences they had written. At the end of class, Muskan exclaimed, “This is very important!! Please, can I take to my home?”. Kushboo and Falak then begged to take the paragraphs how as well. I was giddy with excitement. Learning about the brain when I was 12 was what first inspired my love of biology and I felt like I was seeing this happening in my students in that very moment. They understood its importance and were eager to keep learning – it was truly one of my most rewarding moments in weeks.
Learning moment: It teacher’s session on Monday, we watched the Ted Talk about how education helped rewrite a village girl’s life. After the video, we discussed a few questions: what expectations are there for us? How have we exceeded these expectations or changed our path? How have we found our usefulness and how can we use this to help others? Ruchi and Ruksar both shared powerful stories about their motivation to pursue their education. Ruksar reflected on how she had to often remind her family and community why an education mattered and Ruchi recalled experiences of being the only girl in her class and University. It was wonderful to learn these stories and see how much drive the teachers we spend each day with have.
The children, and the co-teachers. I have seen myself become more confident in who I am and my speaking ability and I have simultaneously seen confidence grow in my students. The teachers seem to be growing more confident in creating lesson plans and writing as well, so as a community it has been a year of great empowerment. Working in this community of generosity and patience has also taught me to become more humble and thoughtful. The benefits of moving slowly were rarely emphasized in my previous education but it is clear how critical this is to the growth of a child. I think we have all been learning this lesson this year, learning how important it is read, write, and speak more slowly. This slowness brings about an intentionality that efficiency often causes us to miss. This is a great success in my opinion. I believe that holding on to this way of learning, both for myself and in my future career, will be very important. Introducing reading day was another success of this year. I think it was a great idea to create a dedicated space for children to work on pronunciation, learn new words, and foster a love of books. It is always wonderful to see children asking to take their book home to continue reading and learning on their own. Some of the most impactful experiences throughout this year for me have also been the workshops we have hosted to teach or connect with the broader Amer community. I cherished having dedicated time to talk to the women and girls about women’s health. I believe continuing these conversations next year and widening the scope of what these discuss is very important. Finally, I know that this has been almost a decade in the making, but one of the greatest successes I have seen at Tushita is the creation of a safe space: a space where children feel free to be curious and make mistakes, a space where the learning of the teachers is emphasized as that of the student, a space where each person who walks through the door is encouraged to love themselves and their own unique talents.