Ryan K Rosen Blog Posts
January 11th, 2018
When I first arrived at the Tushita Foundation I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As we turned off the main road I knew we were close, and naturally I noticed my heart rate slightly start to increase. I was nervous. I was excited. I was ready for this new chapter of my life to begin.
Our van pulled slightly off the road and I was promptly told, “Ryan, we’re here.” I looked outside and there was a lovely building that had “Tushita Foundation” on top of the entrance door, and below were all the teachers waiting for me with a big sign saying “welcome Ryan.” From the start I was touched by their kindness, and after we were all introduced and they had given me some local gifts, we went inside to get to business.
I spent a day sitting in on different classes but it was pretty quickly that I knew I wanted to start working with the Daisy class. Mostly compiled of 7-10 year olds, these cuties connected immediately with me, and by day two I was ready to start working with them. I’m teaching photography here at the Foundation – I’ve partnered with a non-profit from my home city of San Diego called Outside The Lens which has provided me with the necessary equipment to teach this class – and the children seem to love it! I’ve thus far been impressed with their keen artistic eyes, and have noticed my own perspective widen from looking at their photos. While they have a lot of room to grow, I believe that they have tons of potential to become excellent photographers. I’m very excited and grateful to continue working with these awesome students!
Thank you for sharing Ryan! Photography is such a wonderful way of looking at the world and the Tushita Foundation is all about giving the children freedom to express.
Are you planning an exhibition of the children’s work towards the end of your tenure with us?
Can you budget the cost of printing the images? Can we think of having the exhibition travel to San Diego and maybe further?
I am happy to have an occasion to talk about it with you soon when I’ll come to Jaipur on the 12th..
Meanwhile, your observations about your work, your children individually, the sharing with the local teachers and your fellow volunteer will make it easier for future volunteers and for us to understand your experience, besides it being very enriching for you to reflect on what you do.
I would imagine that you will want to intersperse this document with photos, wouldn’t you?
Make it a creative endeavor please!
January 18th, 2018
Before I came to India I was curious how long it would take for me to connect with my students. I knew there would be a language barrier, a cultural barrier, an age barrier, a Lakers nation barrier, and so forth, so I hedged on the side that it may take a while. Now that I’ve been here for a brief, and I stress a brief time, I can say that I was clearly wrong. The various barriers I previously identified were all undermined by a smile 🙂 Not to mention one of my students, Aslam from the third batch, wore a purple and gold sweater to class on the first day – Lakers colors – so I knew then and there the vibe would be ok.
I’m introducing my students to different photographic perspectives this week. Concepts such as bird’s eye photography, photos taken from above, or close – up photography, intimate photos of your subject, among others, and the students seem to be responding well. I’ve noticed a lot of conformity in their work thus far, everyone seems to want to take the same photo as the next person, so I’m eager to introduce a new approach to their work, one that emphasizes creative individuality.
Lastly, I would like to share with my readers the attitude of the cook, and my friend, Bim. This guy epitomizes what it means to be genuinely positive. Every morning, rain or shine, Bim will be singing. We fist bump, I drink my tea, and then I leave to go slackline in the park with a classic, “Bim, me out.” Every night when I return from “work,” I say what’s up to Bim, he shows me the goodies he cooked, and then we fist bump and he hits me with “Bim out.” I’m a big believer in that your environment shapes who you are, and I feel very fortunate that my guy Bim, and his contagious positivity, is a daily fixture in my life. We also both agreed on “tora, tora” with the spice level, so I’m liking where this relationship is going.
We completed our first project today. Titled “Three of Me,” the students were required to identify three things they enjoy in life, write them down and why the find their chosen things enjoyable, and then finally take three different pictures to capture the importance of these enjoyable things in their lives. The students seemed to pick from the same 5-7 options, chiefly dancing, singing, cricket, drawing, reading, and cooking. While I’m sure all of these students find these activities fun – who doesn’t – I’m still searching for some more creativity in their work. Same with their photos, a lot of the same, and we’re still learning our fundamentals. But the project was super fun! The students were very engaged, enjoyed themselves, and hey it’s only project number 1 so from here the direction we will go is only up!
I’m starting to feel more comfortable living in Jaipur. I’ve traveled through some of India, and I have to say Jaipur is the most livable city I’ve personally visited. While there is certainly an adjustment period that comes with moving to a new place, especially a place as culturally distinct as India, each day becomes slightly less challenging. Central Park is a daily stop for me, and there is an awesome gym within walking distance from the flat which has not only helped me stay in shape, but introduced me to some Jaipur locals. While all my students are my friends, and I call them my friends, it is also nice to have some friends who, when asked if they would like to go to the Taj Mahal, don’t interpret it as a literal question and respond by saying only if there mom says yes 🙂
Also, the Jaipur Literature Festival occured this weekend, and hands down it was one of the coolest festivals I’ve attended. I went to a great talk about the influence of Mughal art in the latter stages of Rembrandt’s career, a discussion about China’s hydro hegemony and the implications for the region, and a talk concerning the important of environmental preservation in India – fun fact the Antarctic Ocean is really deep.
We completed our second project today, the “Here I Am” project. Again, this project is designed to provide the students with an opportunity to express themselves. The students had to write a poem, and then take one self portrait that they felt would offer a powerful insight into who they are. Similar to our first project, my students were looking to conform rather than stand out. I like the similar interests and approaches that they share, but my goal for this class is to offer them an alternative approach to their work, a more individualistic approach, and I’m still having a difficult time conveying this concept. A few of my students are starting to get it, I’m having success by telling some of the boys to be “silly” or “stupid” and ironically it is bringing out some creativity. Some of their poems were quite touching however, and I’m proud of my students for how hard they are working so far.
Today was challenging. Today was scary. Today was exciting. Today was the announcement of our first ever Tushita Foundation Photography Competition winners! The theme was creativity, and the contest simply called for the students to demonstrate their ability to think outside of the box; whomever did so in the most extreme way, while at the same time implementing the elemental design rules we have been learning, would be the winners.
Prior to today I could say with zero hesitation that this competition has been the best event my class has featured. The students were super engaged, and I’m super pleased with the topic I chose: creativity. As I have previously discussed, my students are having a difficult time not conforming. For the first month my students continued to take the same pictures, with the same perspectives, of the same subjects. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of photos on my laptop and various SD cards of students staring at the camera, about 2 feet away, under the mural of the Taj Mahal. Some of these are nice photos, in fact I could even say that 200 of them are nice, and all the students are of course cuties, but it is not exactly what I am looking to get out of them. Ironically, I had to think of a creative path in order for these students to begin the process of understanding what it means to be creative. And it’s important to discern types of comprehension here; it is one thing to memorize a definition, and a completely different thing to develop a conceptual understanding. With a smile on my face, I’m happy and proud to say that my students collectively took their first step during this competition at developing more creative and unique perspectives in their works.
I love my students. I thought I liked them last month, but I’m experiencing something different now and it’s a genuine attachment to many if not all of my students. I’m switching to Lilly class next week and one hand I’m stoked to teach that class, but on the other hand I’m super sad to leave my students! They were all upset when I told them I was leaving – less because of me and more because my departure implies less camera and crickets and more grammar – but I like to think a small part was still because they enjoyed my company 🙂
We took a Tushita field trip today! And to be clear, this wasn’t your typical field trip. It was a teachers only affairs (with a *little* exception), rather than us taking the students somewhere. It was a bonding experience, on an authentic level, between the volunteers, the Tushita teachers, and the Amer community. It was ridiculously fun and stereotypically Indian. It was us visiting our student Muskan’s elephant!
First allow me to provide some context. I taught the Daisy class for the first month of my time here, which is primarily comprised of 7-10 year olds. While I adore all of my students, Muskan has a special place in my heart. She always sat in the very front of the class, was eager to learn, and gave me a high five after class was finished and she went on her way. Sure, she is renowned for her naughtiness, and between her and Falak in batch 1 it’s a daily comedy show, but she is a wonderful example of what the Tushita foundation brings to the Amer community. More importantly, she illustrates how much potential the students at the foundation have. I still can’t wait to teach the Daisy class again and Muskan is a big reason why I wish to return.
Anyways, back to the field trip, which in my humble opinion should happen again with the next batch of volunteers. The idea developed yesterday, when Pooja, Rahila and I were walking around Amer practicing our photography; each day before the students arrive I work with two of the teachers and we explore various parts of Amer and the community. We stumbled upon Muskan’s house and Pooja suggested that we enter to see if her elephant was home. She was not, and neither was Muskan, however her mom was there and kindly invited us to return the following day. So then and there the date was set!
Word spread quickly among the teachers that we would be visiting Muskan and her elephant, so I decided to bring the whole gang. Pooja, Rahila and I arrived first for photography related reasons, and her family gladly offered for the rest of the teachers to join. Soon enough I found a core of the Tushita family together with Muskan’s family, in a way further integrating Muskan and her family into the Tushita community. Her family was happy to see all of us there, and I won’t even start with the smile on Muskan’s face. Let’s just say she was the star of the show (along with the elephant) and she knew it. The teachers had a blast, obviously taking selfies with the elephant, and after being served drinks from Muskan’s mom we returned to the foundation.
Learning about the Amer community has been a major priority for me, and I’m incredibly appreciative of the access photography allows me in being able to do this. An important lesson I learned with this experience was that photography isn’t just about me connecting with the community, rather, it can be used to bring the community and the foundation closer together, with me as just one of its many vehicles. The teachers and students are all excited about photography, and the cameras are staying behind once I leave, so I’m eager to explore ways in which I can develop some system that keeps up this goal of further uniting the Amer community and the Tushita Foundation, with the expansion of the Tushita family as the wonderful consequence. I want the students to begin exploring beyond the foundation with their cameras, and I’ll continue to explore practical and respectful means of achieving this. This could also mean hosting photography related events at the Foundation, for example galleries of students’ works, or take a photo of your parents day. For now, I’m super happy with our field trip today. I’ve now visited over five students and teachers’ homes in the community, and I look forward to visiting more!
Here is a video of the day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdKtfdK8GqI&t=13s
We had a cricket match at the foundation today!
Even Veenaji played!
We had all the fans.
Love having visitors come to TF, great to expand the Tushita family.
Plus its great for my students from a photography perspective! For them to practice taking pictures of foreigners, and of events such as this cricket match or the birthday party we celebrated, is a wonderful learn in the moment opportunity for them and I’m seeing a lot of growth out of it. Here are is a video of our day.
I know more than half the students at TF now. Look mom I’m making friends! Nice to meet everyone and begin to feel apart of the community. Great lesson to learn the more you know the people around you, the more you make a tribe, the more you blossom individually and collectively. I use the term tribe deliberately here, but my definition isn’t derived from ethnic or religious lines, rather a strong understanding of community where success and failures are shared. I’m loving the students, teachers, and everyone else involved with the Tushita community here 🙂
Holi is… just wow. I’ve seen pictures, I’ve heard stories, I’ve watched videos, but there is something about the direct experience of somebody rubbing paint on your face that actually allows you to understand what holi is about. And Holi is special, it’s dynamic, it’s hectic, it’s a free for all, it’s Holi. Words don’t do it justice.
I’ve finished teaching the Lilly class, and I’ll talk about my response to my time with the Lilly class in a later post (hint – it was awesome) but for now I wanted to share some pictures from our walk around Amer. The Lilly students were progressing quickly, so I thought it would be a good idea for them to bring their cameras and walk around their community. Here are some of the students pics.
Although surprising to me and to no one else, I loved my time teaching the Lilly class. I was very bummed that I had to move on from teaching the Daisy class, for obvious reasons – the Daisy class is rad – and i was skeptical that I would be able to connect to the Lilly class the way I did with Daisy, which I was mostly proven wrong (I still have a special Daisy class bond) but I loved my Lilly Class. So with that in mind, I happily and easily transitioned to my new class this week, the Jasmine Class. I moved to a new classroom, gently tweaked my curriculum, and was excited to begin a new chapter. The Jasmine class has turned out to be super sweet and eager to learn about photography. The Jasmine class is composed of the new kids to the foundation, so their English levels aren’t as high, so I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to teach them photography, as basic English comprehension is a priority for them. Regardless, all of us, the students, and me, are enjoying our short time in class together (Mahir and I are always on the playground together and he is a new basketball prodigee of mine… for a later post) and I’m happy with that. Also, the students love taking pictures of me doing yoga and gymnastics which is a blast, I get a little workout in each class! Overall, Jasmine class, like Lilly and Daisy, has been super fun and meaningful to teach.
Basketball is arriving more and more everyday at the foundation and I couldn’t be more stoked! We have the hoops set up and the kids seem to be enjoying the new sport. It took some R&D to get it off the ground but we finally have a sustainable basketball environment for the students to learn the game. Of course, there remain many obstacles the children face, for example they’re playing on sand rather than concrete or hardwood floors, and the backboard doesn’t really exist, but, spin zone, Ray Allen, one of the greatest players of all time, learned to shoot without a backboard, so there is merit is learning in a more difficult environment. The children are still learning the rules, but I am so excited to continue teaching them about professional basketball players, the global nature of the sport, and the teamwork necessary to learn for them to succeed. So far we have been playing 3 vs 3 games on the playground, and everyone plays. My favourite team is Miriam and Alshifa, both 9 year old girls that get super happy and excited when we play. They go against the older boys and we all have a good time. Now I’m excited for them to begin developing skills that can grow together with their new love of the game!
Rose class has been a super easy transition. Their level of English is higher than my previous students, and as such they are learning the material much more quickly. Second batch has shown sincere interest in photography, and are smiling the entire team we walk around outside even though it’s almost 40 degrees. Hizba has been a particular treat to teach – I told my students I have three rules: have fun, play, and break the rules, and Hizba is excelling at all three, especially the last rule. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, her ability to do things differently has propelled her to excel in my class. She constantly takes photos of different subjects then other students, and had no issues taking photos of the children that came from Dubai, along with their adult supervisors. In general, batch 2 is doing a phenomenal job in my class.
Batch 3 is good too, very different because I’m dealing with older boys who are nearly men. They are engaged and seem to be having fun as well. Overall Rose class is going well.
Today I celebrated my birthday and it was absolutely wonderful. A couple days ago I was a little down, I missed my friends and family back home and thought about how the beach was calling me. I’m loving my time in India and am so happy and appreciative that I even have this opportunity, but that doesn’t mean from time to time when I’m in traffic and cars are honking beyond normal human capacity I don’t think about tacos and sunset surf seshes. So I was a little unsure of how my birthday here in India would play out. This is far from my first time living abroad or being away from home, but it is my first time living somewhere without a super close friend or family member. There is good and bad in this, but for celebrating your birthday it’s closer to the negative side. But I was determined to stay my optimistic self and see what the day would bring. And my optimism turned out to pale in comparison to how great my day truly was.
My friend Armaan had coincidently texted me asking if I wanted to hike up to Chulgiri temple for the sunrise Wednesday morning, not realizing it was my birthday. Of course I said yes, stoked at the ironic timing of his invitation, and my day begun with a 5:30 alarm ringing, a brief meditation, and hasted departure from the Tushita House so I wouldn’t keep my friend waiting. We went out to the “mountain,” where we “summited” the temple, and said hello to a few early risers and my monkey friends. It was a beautiful hike and nice morning escape from the city.
Afterwards we went to his golf club for breakfast, I hadn’t yet been to a club in India, and I got to do his favourite childhood activity, feeding the fish at the club, which for someone who has always mocked people with aquariums was surprisingly really fun. I felt thankful that I had a friend in Armaan, and that even if he and I weren’t super close, it was still a person who I connected with, and luckily for me he was available to chill during my birthday.
I returned home, it was only 9, and looked at my phone for the first time. I opened up a message from Ankita saying happy birthday, a text from my brother who, using other, more brotherly like words, also said happy birthday, and a message from my parents singing happy birthday, in which I concluded that my dad and his 50+ years of living has not yet learned how to properly sing happy birthday. He messed up the lyrics on multiple occasions, an impressive feat, but I wasn’t home for long because it was time to slackline!
I had an awesome slack sesh at the park, landed all my tricks, and then went to Anokhi for some victory juice. So far the day was going well, but actually, the day was just beginning.
We arrived at the foundation and I didn’t really know what to expect. I entered the office, like normal, and all the teachers were there, like normal, so I figured they didn’t know it was my birthday. We all said hello and then I asked, “teachers sesh?” to which they responded yes. I went to fill up my water bottle, I’m always hydrated, and then opened the door to the Daisy classroom when I was suddenly bombarded with “happy birthday!!!” Acha! They did know it was my birthday. They instructed me to sit, I saw the projector was set up, and what followed was a lovely video of random photos of me that Payal had prepared. I’ve been teaching Payal video editing and it was cool to see some of that in display. I felt loved and was, after some earlier internal debate, happy that the teachers knew it was my birthday and had prepared something.
I had brought a bunch of candy for the kids since it was my birthday. One of my favourite things here, besides the “good afternoon sir” that I get to hear from various 6 years old each day during lunch, is the tradition of bringing candy for others during your birthday. I’m all about it. I love when students come up to me during their birthday and say “thank you sir” when I take candy from them. I don’t even like candy but the custom is fantastic. So I went to each classroom and gave students candy, until finally I went to my bandar friends class, the class that I actually teach, gave them candy, and then I surprised them by telling them that we were heading to Amer Fort for some bandar activities. Woo!
I grabbed my slackline and we headed out. It was quite fun to introduce them to slacklining, I’ve now introduced three classes to it, and it was most fun with these students as we practice exercise almost everyday. Falak, who is a beast in general, picked up slacklining more quickly than any of the 100+ people I have introduced to the sport. It was very cool to spend this time on my birthday slacklining at such a historical place with a bunch of eager students filled with positivity. My day was becoming even better.
We came back a bit late for second batch, and Yusra was waiting for me outside the foundation. She said, “it’s your birthday sir?” to which I responded yes, and she took my hand and said come with me. She took me to Hizba’s house, who lives next door to the foundation and couldn’t come to class that day since she had a wedding, so that Hizbi$$le could say happy birthday to me. It was really sweet. I had a good time teaching my second batch, working on their various photo projects, and then the bell rang for tea break. I was still working with two students on their project so I had decided I wouldn’t go to tea break today, as I wanted to help them with their story. Shalu came down and told me it was tea break and I politely responded I’ll be there in a bit. She came down a minute later and was like, ‘Ryan come it’s tea break.” I often miss tea break to either keep working with my students, or, to have a brief period of alone time for some focused breathing to take a break from the stresses of working, so I was confused why she was so adamant that I should come for tea break. Then I remembered it was my birthday, I had forgot for the past hour, and that maybe they would sing or something. What came next I was definitely not expecting.
I opened the door and all the teachers were in the room, along with Ankita and Veenaji, with a cake, and, a bunch of my students in these cute masks and party hats and I just couldn’t believe it. They sang happy birthday, better than my dad, and rubbed cake on my face. Some of the teachers told me it was impolite to rub cake on other’s faces during your birthday, so I refrained for a bit until Ankita told me they were joking and trying to avoid cake on their face, at which point I proceeded to put cake on all my students and the teachers’ faces. We’re always told not to play with our food back home, I love playing in general, so I took full advantage of the opportunity!
Then, four students from Daisy Class batch 2, the first class I connected with, approached with me something in their hands. They said, “here sir,” with nervous smiles on their faces and then walked away. I saw that they were birthday cards but didn’t read them because I was busy with the group. We took more pictures, danced, and then came back to reality for batch 3. I worked further with my students on their photo journals, finished batch 3, and headed to the ground for some basketball. My teammates Shifa and Nabila were waiting for me, we play everyday, and so were our archenemies Koshik and Aslam. Shifa and Nabila showed a lot of heart on the court, they have to as Nabila’s tiny 8 year old body doesn’t really intimidate the older boys while playing basketball, and I think we won but don’t remember. Finally the day had finished and it was time to return home.
I had been so busy at the foundation that I really didn’t have time to process anything, so nothing like an hour long commute for some time to reflect. It was in the car that I started to think about how magical my day had been, how beyond different I thought my 23rd birthday would look like if you asked me a year ago, and it was when we were passing through the hills from Amer into Jaipur that I opened up the cards my students had given me. Writing this now, a few days later, still brings tears into my eyes. This was perhaps my most profound moment in India. Reading these notes that these four little girls wrote me, the first four students I had laughed with at the foundation, Jubiya, Khushbu, Akshi, and Alija, the first four students I saw in Daisy class and decided “yea I wana teach them,” was the highlight of my day. They had all spelled my name incorrectly, and it was the most joy any letters had ever given me. They said, “we love you,” “you are a great teacher,” and, from Alija, who was my first and secretly my favourite student, a “you are my favourite sir.” It couldn’t have been a coincidence that I was reading these for the first time, during the most beautiful part of the drive, during sunset. I was crying in the backseat silently I was so filled with love and joy from these notes. I just feel so lucky to have been able to experience anything remotely like that.
We got back to the foundation and made plans to go to dinner, me, Veenaji, Ankita, and Sara. Before we left Bheemji hit me with a “happy birthday sir” and a big hug, and then we were off to dinner. We talked about the day, about the foundation, I even ate “indian tacos” (fried paneer is definitely not the same as carne asada) and it was a nice closing of the day. I came back home exhausted and went straight to sleep.
This whole time I have been talking about me, about myself, and have probably used the term “I” and “me” at least 50 times in this short journal entry. But the profound takeaway from this was that each precious moment of joy that I experienced today was because of someone else. Because my brother texted me, because Ankita texted me, because my parents sang me happy birthday, because Armaan went on a hike with me, because my slackline is my friend, because the foundation is an unreal community that has generously allowed me to contribute to it, and get in return much much more, because Bheem is the homie, because all my other friends and family who texted me were kind enough to take time out of their day to think of me. So I feel lucky that I get to have experienced such a wonderful day, and take with me the important lesson that we can contribute to and generate other people’s happiness, and in turn, our own. I started this entry saying I felt a little sad about not having my close friends and family with me here in India, and this is still true, but I feel blessed to be able to have been welcomed into the Tushita community the way that I have, and learned the importance, on a more direct level, of inter-being with those around us.
It took me 3 months but I’ve now been to Amer fort twice in the past 3 days. The first time to go slacklining with my daisy batch bandars on my birthday, and then today for two of my penguin students’ photography projects. And while I thought the first time I went to the fort for slacklining was incredibly special, this second trip was just as memorable. For context, after working with each of the Tushita classes – except for the little ones (wow I love sunflower class though) – I created a new class dedicated towards photography and storytelling. It’s just two weeks long but it gives students who showed higher levels of interest in photography an opportunity for some more individualized attention, new lessons, and most importantly a chance to create a photo journal for exhibition on any topic of their choice.
The class was designed to be quite fluid, with students having the opportunity to control their workload and free to pursue whatever project they wanted. I gave two quick lessons, a review session on what they had previously learned and a new lesson on the importance of lighting. Additionally, I gave a quick lecture on narrative, and how its a tool students can use in their journals. But the ultimate purpose of the class was for the students to create a photojournal, to be storytellers, about something of relevance in their community.
I offered the students some potential story options, including “Animals of Amer,” “architecture or gates of Amer,” and “Cricket in Amer.” While the students were allowed to adopt any of these stories for their projects, I made it very clear that they were more than welcome to choose something different, and that anything was possible. Most of the students used one of my examples, and that’s fine; they are fine options. But a few were able to tap deeper into their creative sides, and explore something different. This is best exemplified by Hizba.
From day one Hizba has been a delight to teach. I remember on the first day I told my students I had three rules: have fun, remember to play, and break the rules. She was the only one who took this last rule seriously. I would open my laptop, Hizba would touch it, I’d tell her please don’t touch it and she would respond with “but you said break the rules sir.” I was so shocked, and incredibly pleased, with her assertiveness, that I no longer cared if she touched my laptop. And this confidence from her has been on full display during my time teaching her, so I wasn’t too surprised that she decided to pick her own topic.
At first she wanted to do a project on students of Amer, which I thought was brilliant. I was happy that she identified her own topic for her project, and looked forward to seeing her work. But the next day came and the groups had some reorientation – Yusra, her partner at the time, wanted to work on “Gates of Amer” with Palak and Samiya – so Hizba changed her mind. She told me “I have a new idea. I will make a project on tourists of Amer.” Forget her last idea, this was actually brilliant. She told me she would ask tourists some questions, take their photos, and make her photojournal. Her partner was Prerna, and they decided they needed to go to Amer Fort in order to meet more tourists. Prerna had an exam Saturday morning, quite frustrating that 11 year olds have compulsory exams here, so she wouldn’t come. So Hizba was left independent (relatively) to pursue her project and interactions with her subjects – tourists in Amer.
Hizba and Kashish came to the foundation early on Saturday (Kashish and her project “What is Amer Fort” – also a delightful and creative idea – were also part of our Saturday group). They each left their other school early, which made me super happy because I used to miss school all the time when I was younger, either for tennis, travel, or other opportunities, and they were some of my favourite memories. We headed out by car, Virendraji drove us, to the fort, with the team very excited for a new adventure. The girls especially were really stoked.
We arrived at the fort and I could see that Hizba had become a little nervous. We saw a tourist and I told Hizba go talk to her, but she was shy. Kashish did, however, go up and say hello, but the tourist ignored her. This happened a few times, and I was surprised by some of the responses Hizba received initially. She was ignored or dismissed, and essentially I needed to go up and say “hey she is creating a really cool photojournal please give her a minute of your time.” It was so cute each time she would start her introduction by saying “My name is Hizba and I am a photographer.” After a few times she became much more comfortable approaching complete strangers, especially after she met a family of girls from the UK who took an interest to her. They went with her to a shaded area, answered all of her questions including “why is your skin so pale if you also are spending time in the sun?” and showed her pictures of their home and the snow that was there an explanation for their skin colour. It was really funny. I could see Hizba become more confident.
We then went inside the fort, where it was easier for her to approach people. I was happy that more people were open to talking with her, especially since I was quite upset initially at some of the responses. I understand that there are a lot of people trying to sell whatever to visitors at the Fort, so people have their guard up, but still a few people could have been more friendly. The girls loved the inside of the fort, as did I wow amazing doesn’t even do it justice, and they took turns alternating between my personal camera and then one they use for class. This smaller environment allowed me to feel comfortable with a student using my camera, so it was cool for them to play around with a different creative tool.
After our fun exploring we returned from the fort, exhausted from the heat, and hungry. Hizba had skipped lunch and gone straight from school to the fort, so I told her to go home and eat. She replied “no sir, I will upload my photos onto the computer.” Ok I said, impressed at her work ethic. After she uploaded her photos, I had begun eating my lunch at this point, I told her to go home and eat. She again replied “no sir, now I write about the photos.” I was absolutely bewildered. In general, my observations have been that the concept of “hard work” isn’t widely understood in Amer. What I mean is that people often do what they are told to do, and that’s that. Even with the teachers, they aren’t going home and working on their English for hours on end. They come to the foundation, where they practice as their told, and then they go home. It’s not that they don’t want to work hard, or maybe they don’t, but regardless of intention the result seems to be that conceptions of hard work differ than that of my upbringing. I don’t really know the cause, just some rather uninformed guesses, but I do know that Hizba and her resilience to keep working on this project made me laugh out of sheer shock. She ended up staying at least an hour at the foundation uploading her photos, analyzing them, and reflecting on her project. Finally she went back home to eat, and then she came right back to the foundation for an afternoon of dancing. She’ll finish her project this week and I’m so stoked for the end result.
On a side note, while it was relatively clear who belonged in the class and who did not, some students were a little upset that they were not in the class. While some of these students either said they weren’t coming to class during this time because of exams or had shown less interest in photography, I regardless would not want to exclude them from getting a chance to stretch their creative muscles. At the same time, I wanted to provide a better environment for the students who have clearly demonstrated a keen interest in photography. Fortunately, I think I found a great solution to this concern. Any student is allowed to use the cameras during tea break, after batch 3 or during batch 1, as well as at times during second or third batch when my students are using their computers. I’m also always available to talk with the students, so anyone who wants to practice their photography is welcome to. Farah is a perfect example of this. She isn’t in my class but has said that she is interested in photography, so she comes to me after her batch 2 class and takes a camera for a stroll. She talks to me more about photography than some of my students do, but she doesn’t want to do a photo journal for the exhibition, she just likes going to Muskan’s house and taking pictures with the elephant. On the other hand, Tarnnum and Muskan come during batch 1 and batch 3 for photography and are preparing something for the exhibition. So the students who want to use the cameras have plenty of access even if they aren’t in my class.
I’ve also tried hard to prepare Firdous to the best of my ability to continue teaching photography, and storytelling, at the foundation, so that eventually each student, including future students, can play around with a camera and learn how to shape a story to their liking. My thinking is that Firdous shouldn’t work with a certain class at a time, but should instead take two or three students with her for a week where they can have the ability to explore Amer and complete a cool photo journal or a different project. Because I have found that any outing with a few students has been much more beneficial to their growth than larger group classes.
Ultimately, this smaller class gave students like Hizba an opportunity to really push her comfort zones and improve her skills as a photographer, storyteller, and communicator. It goes to show how important having an opportunity is, just to be positioned in an environment where something can be achieved, and the more intimate class environment is allowing my students to embark on bigger, more in depth projects. I’m so happy how Hizba, and many of my other students, have been able to take advantage of this class and upcoming exhibition. I’m having some Indian photographer friends come who can talk with my students about what their jobs are like, and most importantly I’m grateful that my students have allowed me to introduce a new creative medium to them. I’m so excited to see what my students produce!