Thursday, 16 September 2010

Home Safely

After the party I had around 2 weeks left in India. I spent the first week travelling up in Himachal Pradesh with Jeff and Gary and really enjoyed my time up there. The scenery was beautiful and it was just nice to get away from the noise, pollution and heat of Delhi. The plan was then to see Agra and do some work but I managed to get dengue fever, which meant I was in bed for the last 10 days of my trip. I am now home safe and well and so it is time to reflect on my time in India.

India is an amazing nation, but a nation with many issues and problems that really need to be resolved before it really develops like it has the potential to do so. The way the 'development' is progressing at present, really seems unsustainable and inequitable. The government really need to open their eyes and act quickly to reduce the extreme poverty and extent of inequality. The poor policies, education policies, development policy etc all need some serious rethinking and the most important issue must be the corruption. The changes that need to take place will not take place until the government is free from corruption. The government needs to listen to its people and tackle the problems that the nation faces - it will not be easy and there is lots to do but it needs to be done. It simply cannot go on as it is - there is enough money in India to feed everyone, to have health care for all and to provide universal education but none of these are being achieved. Change needs to happen.

As for my actual experience of working with the children, I have loved it. These children feel like my little brothers and sisters and it really was a pleasure to work with them and I feel privileged to have met them and been able to build relationships with them. When you think what these children have been through and the problems they face everyday it really is amazing that they have the spirit that they have - such happy, polite, friendly children and they are so keen to learn. I miss them already and I am looking forward to keeping in contact with them all using the webcam I bought them and through emails. I just wish they could go to the boarding school and receive the education that could really give them a chance of escaping poverty. So many of them are so bright and have such amazing potential and I am afraid most of them will not be able to fulfil their full potential. Just another of the injustices you see every day in India.

I also want to thank Anou, her family, and all the staff involved with Project Why. Everyone made me feel so welcome from the first day and I loved getting to know them all and working with them. This organisation is doing some amazing work and I am so grateful that I was given the chance to be involved with it. I will definitely keep in contact and come back as soon as possible to work with the organisation again. It was such a positive experience and I feel I have learnt a lot and made some great friends.

Thank you Project Why. Thank you Anouradha. India 2010 is over - cant wait until India 2011!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A few pictures from the party

Most of the pictures are on my camera and I did not bring my cable with me, hence the lack of pictures on the blog. However, Dharmender took some on the Women Centre camera yesterday so now you can meet some of my kids!

Class 4 and 5 boys

Pass the parcel - Class 2 and 3 girls

From left to right; Megha, Ankita, Baby, Payal and Riya - Class 2 girls

From left to right; Priyanka, Abhilasha, Dolly, Swati, Anou and Tehrim - Class 3 girls

Some of the Class 5 girls - Pushpa, Jyoti, Neha, Tannu, Monica, Gulabsha and Manisha (from left to right) - very bright class

The Class 4 and 5 girls

The Class 4 and 5 boys

They seemed to like the samosas! Class 4 boys

Class 2 and 3 boys

Saturday, 21 August 2010

My final week at the centre (16th – 20th August)

When I explained to the children that I was leaving, I asked them what they would like to do in their last few days and strangely they all asked me to do a test with them, so Friday 13th and Monday 16th we just did speaking tests. What was very good to see was that they all improved on their scores from the test we did 3 weeks ago, even the good students who got 9/10 managed to get 9.5 or 10 – these children still amaze me with how bright they all are.

I also met the teacher that will be replacing me when I leave, who was actually taking the spoken classes before I arrived but she had to take 2 months leave. I have seen some good progress with many of the kids, but those that have not attended regularly have not improved as much, clearly because they have not been practicing their English. As a result, I was very keen to share what I have been doing with the teacher and stress the importance of creating a purely English speaking environment and to encourage her to use some of the methods that I have used. I have not been perfect whatsoever and there were many things that I could have done better, but I have had good feedback from several of the other teachers and the children also. The fact that they have improved a lot must surely mean I was doing something right. I have built very good connections with these children and I know they can do very well if they are taught well, so I really do not want them slipping behind again because I know how well they can do. So, in a way I have been a bit anxious about how the classes will be carried out once I leave – there needs to be continuity for the children to keep progressing and I wanted to stress this to the teacher coming back. However, when I did talk to her about this I found her attitude was not the best. It seemed as if she was very possessive over the class asking me, “Are you the one who has been teaching my children?” and when I told her what I had done and how I had done it all she kept saying was that she had also done everything that I said to her. Clearly this could not have been the case as their level was much lower than it is now, so I must have done something different to her – again I am not saying what I did was better than what she did but that is what she seemed to think I was saying and seemed rather defensive – she seemed to see it as a case of me vs her rather than working together to teach the students as well as we can. I talked to Dharmender about this and he had a word with her so I do feel now that she will take some of it into consideration. What I have suggested to Dharmender is to actually sit down with the kids and ask them what they think works well for them – for me, this is a great way to improve the teaching methods and if the children feel they have some input this can only increase their motivation to learn even more.

I have also decided to but the centre a webcam. The children kept telling me not to leave and were saying that I would forget them and never come back (like all the others) so I thought a good way to keep in contact with them would be to set up a Skype account for them. They loved the idea once I explained it to them and they want to meet all my friends and family via the webcam. I thought it would be a great way to stay in contact with them, convince them that I do care and I won’t forget them, keep an eye on their progress, and also to enable them to practice their spoken English with me. I may have to get used to early mornings though given the time difference!

On Monday and Tuesday, we had a very interesting visitor to the project, a French businessman called Vincent. He is a friend of a donor of the project and came to see the project and see how he could help. We showed him the project, the land where planet why shall be built and also the boarding school close to the land. Luckily, while he was here, the survey that had been carried out to assess the feasibility of planet why came back with very positive results, stating that the guesthouse was feasible and potentially very lucrative. Vincent seemed very positive about the project and hopefully he will be able to help raise at least some of the funds for the project, which in total will cost around $1 million. We were anxious before his arrival about whether he would want to help but he was so enthusiastic about the land that he suggested we buy the plot next to it also to have a spice garden! I really hope Planet Why can realise its potential, as it is the least Anou deserves after the 10 years she has put into this project – Planet Why will enable the whole project to be sustainable and not reliant on donors month by month as it is today.

The latter part of the week saw a lot of rain in Delhi – it is the monsoon season but for several years now Delhi has not had much rain even in these rainy months. On Thursday there was so much rain that most of the boys did not attend the centre at all, and I was quite worried that the same would occur on Friday – I finished at the centre on Friday and we had a party with all of the children planned. Luckily, despite the rain, most of the children came to the centre and we had great fun. There are so many children in the primary section (128 in total) so we decided to have two parties in the morning for the boys and two parties in the afternoon for the girls – the first party was 2nd and 3rd class, and then the second was 4th and 5th class. We played party games, danced to some Indian music, ate samosas and cookies, and there were balloons and bubbles etc. It was actually quite emotional at the end of each party and the kids just kept telling me that I should stay in India and not go back to England – in many ways I would actually love to stay here.

In the party for the older girls, I turned around to get things out of my bag for the rest of the party and when I turned to face them again they were right up close to me with lots of gifts in their hands for me! It was so sweet, they had individually wrapped pens and toffees, and one of them even put a chocolate bar in a nice little box and wrapped it up with such care. Some of the girls had got me plastic flowers in cellophane wrapping and they had written their names on the petals of the flowers, and all of them were shouting and demanding that I opened their gift first.

At the end of the parties, I allowed one of the students to come up to the front and open the webcam and they were all really confused as to what it actually was. Dharmender acted as translator and I explained to the kids that I will miss them, and if they want they can talk to me on there and they can meet my friends and family and practice their English. They were all very excited at the prospect. Dharmender then asked them whether they wanted to say anything to me – most of them were just saying that they would miss me and they wanted to know when I would come back and see them all (making me promise!). One said that I was the best teacher and thanked me for teaching her lots (Jyoti 5th class) to which I responded honestly that it had been a pleasure meeting and teaching them all because they are such great kids and I thanked them, but Kajal in 5th class would not accept my thanks and said that they were so grateful to me because I had come all the way over from England just to help them and they all really appreciated it – must admit was quite emotional to hear that from a 12 year old – so mature. I really am sad to be leaving the project and I will miss them all, it really is like I have now got over 120 Indian siblings and I am looking forward to talking to them on the webcam lots when I get back. Hopefully I will be able to come back next summer, and maybe even before then. The children have had a really positive effect on me and I just hope that I have had a positive influence on their lives and I really want to see them push on and succeed even more than they have done so already – they are really bright kids and sometimes you forget what they actually go through every day living where they live and in the conditions that they face – all of them are an inspiration to me, and I am very proud to have built relationships with such amazing young people.

Anu and Abhilasha


Independence Day - 15th August

Shanti Gyan International School (the boarding school that 8 of the Project Why children attend) had their Independence Day celebrations in the form of a concert. There were dance acts, singing acts, yoga acts etc and we were the ‘VIPs’ to the event. However, India also has ‘VVIP’ status so we were not the most important there! It felt very strange being invited as a VIP to Independence Day celebrations seeing that I am an Englishman, but I was very grateful and it was such a good day to be involved in.

All of the acts were amazing, but seeing the Project Why children (Meher, Utpal, Babli, Yash, Nikkil, Viki, Aditya and Manisha) perform so well in front of their peers was a very proud moment – I felt like a parent at a school concert! When you get to know these kids and you hear what they have all been through, seeing the great young people they have become and seeing them do well in school is rather moving. There are children there that were given 0% chance of survival as babies with 3rd degree burns, one of the girls has survived open heart surgery and many of them have destructive home environments. They have been given this chance and all of them are making the most of it and doing well at everything they attempt – it is just so good to see. The concert itself was interrupted by some heavy monsoon rain that made the whole cover over the stage and audience collapse, which was rather amusing but it continued in the lunch hall after a short break so we didn’t miss too much!

The school also used the celebrations to launch the new literacy program in the village nearby. The program is called “Each One Teach One” and the idea behind it is that the children of the boarding school will visit the new centre in the slum village at weekends and teach the children that live there. These children are very poor and many do not go to school. Even the ones that do go to school go to the local municipal council school, which has class sizes of over 100 students – even the best teachers in the world would struggle to carry out quality teaching in this sort of environment. The program looks to be a positive one for several reasons. Firstly, it will give these children the chance to be educated, a chance that most of them do not have. In addition to this, I feel that it is very important for the children of the boarding school to have contact with the poorer children so that they realise how lucky they are themselves and there also needs to be an appreciation of the poorest in society if this nation is to progress in the future, afterall these children are the ones who will shape social policy in the future either through political positions or even just their vote. The children in the slums do not have a voice today and neither do their parents, so they need the voices of future voters to stand up for them – unfortunately the attitude in today’s adult population does not seem to be one that will force any change, so it is even more important that the children are educated properly not just to pass exams but to become good citizens and to understand the issues that their country faces.

The attitude in Indian society today is one of confusion when you talk about spending money to educate the poorest children of the slums. When Anou asks Indian people to donate to help her project, they cannot understand why you would spend money on poor children, and it is this kind of mentality that is preventing the universal education that is needed from being implemented. There is a Right to Education Act that has been passed by the government that states that 25% of all private school placements must go to the underprivileged sectors of the community, but still this is not being implemented properly and so many children that want to learn are not able to learn, simply because of the narrow mindedness behind education policy that results in a neglect of the poorest in society. These people do not have anything and on top of this they are being prevented from having an education, which is the only way out of the poverty that they face. Let’s just say India’s education policy could do with some cleaning up and there are significant improvements that can and should be made. Educating the children of India seems to be the obvious start point for this change to occur.

When we visited the site where the new literacy program will operate, there were supposed to be a list of 40 selected children that had expressed an interest in the project, and so there were 40 folders with a pad of paper and some pens inside that we were to give to the children. However, there must have been around 100 of them all pushing and shoving trying to get hold of an education pack – they are all so desperate to learn and be educated, so it was very difficult having to turn so many back. It was a manic experience to be involved with though, the heavens had opened and the plastic sheet was not staying up well so we were all getting rather wet – it was muddy, wet, noisy, chaotic, but I loved it. Seeing the enthusiasm of these children to be educated was so refreshing to see, and I just hope this program can work well and there are more similar projects carried out elsewhere – if the government will not educate these children, at least there are schools like Shanti Gyan and NGOs like Project Why who are doing their best to fill the void.

Babli and Viki

The VVIP sofa!

Some of the girls at the women centre

Raising the flag

10th August

Although the children are used to volunteers coming and going, I decided it was about time that I explained when I would be leaving and why I had to leave for England. It must be very hard for the children to have volunteers coming to teach them, making a connection with them, and then the volunteers just leave without keeping contact with the children. They are very mature kids and I am sure they understand that this will occur with all the volunteers but I did not want them to feel like I was just leaving them without a care in the world. I explained that I am only a teacher in India and that I am actually a student in England and I need to finish school. The reactions of the kids varied but most of them just pleaded with me not to go back to England and said that I should stay with them in India. Others just went quiet and had tears in their eyes, and some could not even stand to look at me for a good 10 minutes, which I was quite upset about but it was to be expected as they are only young and I have built good bonds with all the children. What was funny was that for the next few days, lots of the kids kept running to me and bringing me sweets in the centre, and once I accepted them they just said “No go England?” as if the sweets would convince me to stay! So I had to explain several more times that I really want to stay but I must go back home – I think they understood but were not very happy about the whole situation!

I only work at the centre from Monday to Friday each week, but on Saturdays the children attend the centre for activities and games. This Saturday just gone (7th August), they had a PTM (Parents Teachers Meeting) at the women’s centre, to which I did not attend, but Dharmender passed on what was said and for me it was very positive. Many of the parents came in to the meeting very pleased and surprised that their children were actually speaking English at home to their siblings and some of them were trying to teach their parents some English. These children go to Hindi medium schools and their parents are mostly illiterate or have low literacy levels and so the only place English is normally spoken is at the Project Why centre, which is a big problem because they do not practice the English and so this restricts their progression. However, the fact that since my spoken classes started the children have been speaking English at home is the greatest success that I could have hoped to have and I am really proud of the children and I am sure they will improve even further now that they have started practicing more than they were.

Smile girls! Nisha, Moni, Priyanshi and Chandni

Sonom, Priyanka and Aarti

Thursday, 12 August 2010

9th August

I was teaching the younger ones again today and I decided that I would have to explain to them that I would soon be leaving. Despite their limited English, I did manage to get the message across to them which was met by a rather sad response - some of the girls actually had tears in their eyes. However, the mention of a party on my last day seemed to cheer most of them up! One of the girls in second class then decided to give me a drawing she had done for me, which was very sweet of her - but then of course all the others wanted to do the same and were ripping pages and pages out of their school drawing books, which I am sure will not go down that well when they have their next drawing class! It was very nice of them and I think things like these will be the best souvenirs I could possibly take home from this country. Last week there was also a day called Friendship Day where they all give their friends a friendship bracelet (ribbon) and so many of them were tying them around my wrists - although many had been cut for their friends so would not fit around my fat wrists so I ended up with so many tied around my fingers - again such nice things to be able to take back with me.

In the evening we wandered around the Delhi golf club, which is such an interesting place - so many very old monuments right in the middle of the club that are hundreds of years old. I was also shown some of Gary's photos that he has taken in many countries with his TB work, and they really were brilliant photos, many of which actually really got to me. When you see these people and what they are going through day by day it really does mark you, and is just adding to my enthusiasm to go into the development field in one way or another.

Weekend 7th + 8th August

Very chilled weekend - Saturday did very little after a few drinks on Friday.

On Sunday we went to the boarding school again for the parents and teachers meeting. Was really good to see the children again and Manisha seemed to have settled in well despite some inevitable tears.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Big Update 2! 29th July - 6th August

Again I have taken my time updating the blog - apologies!

Thursday 29th July

Today it was 4th and 5th class for the first time this week, after being ill on Tuesday. All of them are making progress each session and it was good to see how much they had retained given that we had not had a class for a week.

At lunch time one of the boys in 4th class (Anuj) decided to give me my first real Hindi lesson and was adamant that I had to learn everything that I have taught him over the last 4 weeks but in Hindi – and I have just 4 days before my big test! Just the basic stuff but the pronunciation is not easy. Two of the teachers joined in and laughed a lot, most of which I am sure was at my expense, but it was a good laugh. They now speak to me in Hindi around the centre and laugh every single time that I attempt a response!

It was also nice that they wanted to look through all of my family photos – I had shown some of the boys from my classes the photos of friends and family and they had clearly told the teachers that I had them so they were all very keen to see everyone. Trying to explain the step parents/half siblings/step siblings was a bit of a challenge though! Every picture with a female in it was followed by the question, “Your wife?” and they also seemed to think that Rosie (Paterson-Spir, not Horrod!) was my daughter!

Had a very good evening with Stamp and another Cambridge student called Lindsey who is doing a placement with a law firm in Delhi – went for a nice meal and coffee (as 2 of us were on antibiotics so alcohol was off the menu!)

Friday 30th July

A pretty standard day at the centre again today. Every day it seems that I build a better and better rapport with all of the kids, so much so that I do not think I will want to leave when it comes to the end of my time here! Am making some progress on the Hindi – I have to learn; Hello, How are you? (along with 2 responses), What is your name? (plus response), Where are you from? (plus response), How old are you? (again with response) and then I have a list of vocab for fruits, vegetables, colours, animals and numbers – a lot to learn.

We did not go out in the evening because Anou’s other daughter Parul arrived from London with her husband Jean Francoise, their son Agustia and a friend of theirs called Gary. All very interesting people to talk to and have all worked in some sort of development work/research.

Saturday 31st July/Sunday 1st August

In the first few weeks of my stay here I was using the weekends to wander around Delhi and see the sights, but I am now appreciating just using them for rest, so this weekend was another of those!
I went for coffee with Parul, JF and Gary and was introduced to Indian literature – they have a chain here called Café Turtle, which has a café on the top floor and a book shop underneath. I really wanted to read some Indian literature (in English obviously) and Gary and Parul seemed to have read everything in the shop – every book we picked up was an ‘essential read’ and very quickly I had accumulated a ridiculous number of books! JF was working on a questionnaire for a research project in the slums in Mumbai, which I tried to have some input in to, and talking to him has really made me think more about doing development work ‘in the field’ – some great experiences to be had.

Sunday was more of the same – chilling and going for coffee, this time with Shamika and Rani. Gary and I then stayed home to watch the F1 and we watched a very funny film in the evening called ‘3 idiots’ – interesting illustration of the parental pressures that students face in India – worth watching.

Monday 2nd August

I decided today that I should test the children to see what they have actually retained as I have been teaching them for 4 weeks now. It was an oral test given that our classes are entirely spoken English and I made a test of 10 questions for the younger ones and 14 questions for the older ones, with some more difficult questions and harsher marking.

What was very promising was the number of students that managed to achieve over 80%, with many of them getting 100% or very close to full marks. I mixed the questions up for each student in terms of the order so they could not simply remember their friends' answers and so I think the results do show that some good progress has been made. Another thing that I was very pleased with was that the ones that had been attending my classes regularly were the ones that were getting the higher marks. I took several positives out of this. Firstly, I hope that it means that they are benefiting from my teaching and the results are not purely random. Secondly, it is promising that it suggests that if we can increase attendance by working closely with the parents, many of these children could really get to a very high level of English conversation. The project is clearly having a positive effect and still has scope for further progress in the community, which is always good to know!

Tuesday 3rd August

Carried on with the testing today with 2nd and 3rd class - again, the same kinds of trends appeared as with the older groups on Monday. It just really highlights how important it is to incentivise parents and encourage them to send their children to the centre on a regular basis - the results can be so positive if this is done well. We have also seen that working with the parents has helped attendance and has also given many of the mothers the urge to learn skills such as English and sewing, and we now have large groups attending the centre to learn these skills. By incorporating the whole community into this project there are so many opportunities for positive feedback and the project can have so much more of an effect on these people's lives if the community really work together and want it to work. The commitment of the parents is paramount for the success of this kind of project.

Wednesday 4th August

I decided to try to teach the children words such as in front of, behind, next to, behind, under, over etc and we had a very fun activity lesson. I would ask each student to stand either next to, behind, or in front of one of the others and they were all helping each other work out which was which. I then chose the brightest student to be the teacher and order the others around and tell them where to stand. I was really pleased because when one of the girls was confused where to go, one of her classmates then instructed her in very good English where to go - very proud!

There were a lot of giggles when they did the over and under - crawling through each others' legs and then playing leapfrog - surprisingly no one got hurt and they all seemed pretty clear on the vocab by the end of the lesson so it was quite a success!

I have not written many rants recently and this will not be a full blown rant but just another comment about the CWG. I was shown another article today and watched a news report about the games. Many things shocked me but the two main ones were as follows. Firstly, the former sports minister has released some figures that show what is being spent on what for the games and one of the entries was a treadmill. A top of the range treadmill can be bought in Harrods for what is 7 lakh rupees (1lakh=100,000) but the committee have managed to RENT a treadmill for 45 days for 10 lakh rupees! Waste of money?!

Another thing that I read about was about the slums in Delhi and the process of 'beautification' that is going on. I have already written in a previous blog about the fact that the committee are wiping out slums and clearing Delhi or slum dwellers, beggars, cattle etc but there is concern that they will not have time to clear out all the slums they want to clear. So what solution has been proposed? - well the first suggestion was that there should be a huge tent put over the slum areas in question (yes, this was a serious suggestion...) But the latest idea is to just build bamboo screens to put across the front of the slums so that they are out of sight - again just trying to sweep the poor under the carpet like they simply do not exist. You have to wonder whether the committee actually believe that visitors will be fooled by all of this. Everyone knows the issue of poverty that India faces, and rather than trying to resolve the issue they are just trying to ignore it like it will just go away. The fact of the matter is that if you just ignore these people, they will not be educated, India will continue to see the unsustainable population growth rates in the poorest families and the issue of slums and beggars will be even greater. They cannot really believe that India will grow and be a developed nation like those in the west when they have such a lack of social policy?! India wants to have these games to prove that they are a growing and developing economy but how can you call a nation 'developed' when you have such high incidence of absolute poverty?!

Thursday 5th August

Classes went very well today, and thanks to Nina I have some new ideas of how to keep the children entertained and on task in the lessons, which is a God send really especially for the younger children who are very easily distracted.

Had a nice evening with Leonie from Cambridge (one of Fitz's friends) wandering around some more of Delhi - saw India Gate and went for some very good Indian food.

Friday 6th August

Carried on with the new games that Nina showed me, which went down very well with the 4th and 5th class boys and girls. Also carried on the next to, behind, in front of etc activity and many of them got the chance to be the teacher. I felt it was important to do this so that they were actually doing the speaking rather than just listening to me. We also sat in a circle and rather than me asking them questions I told them to ask each other questions so that they practiced this a lot more. Often they will know how to respond to questions but struggle in conversation so I felt they should focus more on this. They actually all wanted to ask me questions, which was good fun and they struggled pronouncing English names - they also kept asking me what my wife and kids were called...have lost count at the amount of times I have told them I am not married!

After staying in last Friday we ventured out to the Turquoise Cottage (a bar) for the evening, Stamp joined us and it was a great laugh - struggled to get up this morning though (Saturday). Am looking forward to chilling this weekend and going to the boarding school for the parents and teachers meeting where I will be able to see all the kids again.

(Happy Birthday Chris! x)

Some pictures from the last week:

Roshan, Sameer and Anuj


Monica, Sabrun and Jyoti

Anuj, Sohit, Mahesh, Ashish and Rahul Pandey

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Big Update! 22nd July - 28th July

Right, so a mixture of being lazy, busy and tired has resulted in no update for over a week now - so here is a quick update!

Thursday 22nd July

I had quite a few difficulties on Thursday with the 2nd and 3rd class boys and girls (the boys in particular) - I tried to continue with the school discussions with them but did not get very far. They were all talking, fighting, laying about etc. This was not the first time it had happened and it got me thinking why they were so disinterested. The initial thought was that I was just rubbish at my job - but hopefully that is not the only reason! I think part of the reason must be that what I have been trying to do with them has been too hard, and because they do not understand they get very bored easily - after all some of these children are only 7/8 years old. I have also not used as many visual aids as I did before so I am thinking of maybe using more of these to see if it works! I think for the young ones it is important to set the bar a little lower and just make sure that they enjoy the lessons and have fun while speaking English - maybe more focus on building vocab would be a better plan with them rather than worrying too much about exactly how they structure the sentences - this can be corrected once they know more vocab. At the moment, trying to get them to structure what they say perfectly does not help them as they do not know what the words mean. Only when they understand what the words are will they realise how to structure and be able to remember and apply to other scenarios.

Friday 23rd July

Was not feeling too great on Friday, but it was 4th and 5th class so I did not want to miss their classes - they are so much fun to be around and very easy to teach as they are all so well behaved and really love learning English. It was a good day with all 4 classes (boys in the morning, girls in the afternoon) and I feel that we made some good progress on the school topic - we consolidated everything we had done in the week and most seemed to remember it rather well. Despite not feeling great and my shoulder hurting, we still went out drinking and dancing. When we arrived we had just missed happy hour so the people there had bought the drinks already - there were 12 bottles there for Geoffroy and I - so much for a chilled night over a couple of beers.

Rahul Mishra (4th class)

My room mate Geoffroy

Saturday 24th July

Was feeling the effects of Friday night, as was Geoffroy, so we just chilled at the house for most of the day. Although, I had a very nice afternoon sat in a rather western looking coffee shop with Sam Stamp for 3 hours - felt a bit strange meeting a Uni friend for a coffee in Delhi though! The western coffee shops are a bit weird here - the AC is on so high that it is actually cold inside, there are about 3 staff for every table (slight exaggeration), and there is a guard at the door to let you in and out!

Sunday 25th July

Laziness/tiredness got the better of us again so the word for the weekend was definitely rest! We did venture out in the afternoon for a street food experience, which was very nice, a touch spicy but have not got ill from it so I think it can be seen as a success. We also went for coffee, which I owed Rani and Shamika for losing miserably at a card game that we had a bet on - the coffee was a much nicer experience than the game itself, despite the fact that I was paying!
The evening was supposed to be spent watching Inception (Di Caprio), which I hear is amazing, and is probably the reason why it was sold out, so we had to watch Salt (Jolie) instead - quite funny really, such a ridiculous film.

The cinema was in a large mall, which looked very out of place when we arrived. We were then searched(!) before entering the shopping centre and it felt even stranger when we were inside. If you took the people out of the centre, it could have been anywhere in England - the shops were the same, the layout was the same - mixing with the Indian middle class felt quite unnerving given that I spend most of my time in a small slum village...

Monday 26th July

Not much to say for Monday really, just another day at the centre - had fun playing games with the children (English speaking related of course) - have also been trying to think of new ideas of how to teach the children and make it interactive for all of them. Was thinking of maybe getting them to help me make a huge Snakes and Ladders board and then make the kids draw a question out of a hat and if they get it right they can then roll dice etc - will have to use my very limited creative side!
I think it is really important to realise the limitations of the teaching that I am doing - I think my frustrations recently have stemmed from the fact that I feel I am unable to teach them what I want to teach them. I am starting to realise that what is really important is to just give them the foundation and the confidence to speak and make mistakes and learn from these mistakes. For the remaining weeks I just want to try to help the children have fun while learning.

Tuesday 27th July

Not well - went to the doctors and stayed home all day - some kind of viral thing but nothing serious (within 36 hours felt fine again). I was lucky that the family here have a really good doctor that they trust and he knows what he is doing, which you cannot exactly assume with many doctors in India, especially in poorer areas.

When poor people go to the doctors they expect medicines and injections to make them better, without any knowledge of what is actually wrong with them. If the doctor merely says to rest and to drink plenty of water and rehydration fluids (often what is best for diarrhoea, which is common due to the water situation) the people feel that he is a bad doctor and they go elsewhere. The only way for these doctors to get people coming back to the practice is to prescribe many medicines. This just opens the door for more and more bad quality doctors that are willing to prescribe many low quality medicines when they are not needed. What actually occurs is the medicine given is very ineffective and they just allow the immune system to sort it out, but the people believe it is the medicines that are doing the trick and they continue to visit the 'fake' doctors, many of which do not have the degrees required to practice. It is therefore no surprise that there are so many of these unqualified doctors compared to the good doctors that do not prescribe when medicine is not needed.

The only other thing to say is that I have now gone from Lambu Dada (Tall big brother) to Baccha (baby) because I was unwell. Brilliant.

Wednesday 28th July

Standard day at the centre - more games again with 2nd and 3rd class. Started a new topic today talking about the daily routine. It was hard but plenty of room for improvement this week!

It was quite funny when I arrived at the centre the 4th and 5th classes ran into my class saying that 2nd class should go upstairs, because 4th and 5th missed out on Tuesday because I was ill. I had to explain that we had to go by the rota, which meant 4th and 5th had to wait another day so they got very sulky with me - but I took it as a compliment!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

July 21st

Today was great fun at the centre. The 4 French volunteers are leaving on Saturday to travel around Rajasthan so threw two parties - one at the Okhla centre and the other at the Women Centre.

There were biscuits, soft drinks, games, a lot of music and a lot of dancing going on! I have taken some really good photos and videos from the day, but again I forgot my cable so I will have to wait a while before I put them up on here or facebook but keep an eye out for them. Although I took a lot of pictures, I was not allowed to stand at the side observing the whole time, the children made sure that I would join them in the dancing! They even got me attempting Bhangra style dancing, and my poor attempts and lack of rhythm clearly amused them - at least they had a laugh! It was great to see them all having fun and expressing themselves, and there are some really good little dancers in the project. I did make the mistake of lifting one of the girls to the ceiling and then of course all of them wanted a go. In the heat it wasn't the easiest task to say the least!

Interestingly, it took them a while to realise that they could do what they wanted to do and did not need instructions - I suppose again this just illustrates how these children live at home and study at school. Once they started dancing there was no stopping them and they laughed and laughed the whole time, which was such a nice sight and I felt very happy to be involved. These kids are amazing and I feel I am developing a really good rapport with them more and more everyday, which makes everything all the more fun. It is like I have found 100 new little brothers and sisters!

Here are some pictures from the party:

On a more negative note (yes all of these blogs seem to have some negative element - I make no apologies for this!) I was forwarded another article about the CW Games, which again highlighted the horrible scenes that are going on to make this city look "beautiful" to all the visitors arriving in October. I will allow you to form your own opinion and will not go on yet another rant, but please take a look at it:

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

July 20th

OK, so the blog has been a bit too mild the last few days, so here is one about nutrition, which hopefully will provoke some thought (and feedback please!)

A man from the US, who is originally from India, visited the centre today as he would like to run some kind of nutrition program to feed the poor - a task that many have tried and failed to do over the years. I talked with Anou about this and it really is a very complex issue. The Project itself have tried in the past to push forward such a program of feeding the poor, however as with many issues that I have discussed, it really is the mentality here that needs to change before any sustained improvements can be made.

When you try to directly feed the poor, as you may expect, you get mobbed by the masses because of the extent of the poverty in the city. In addition to this, once they get used to the food being given out they are more prone to complain or say they want something else because they take it for granted. By just giving them food, I personally feel that this is tackling a symptom as opposed to the cause of the problem itself. What we really need to identify is what is causing the hunger and malnutrition that leads to 5000 children dieing every day in India. Although there are 1.2 billion people in India, there is enough food to feed everyone, but so many people cannot even afford 3 meals a day - so why is this the case?

Well there are several factors that need discussing, two of which are education and mentality (towards food but also towards material goods)

The mentality in the slums seems to be that they need to show to others that they have 'made it' and therefore want instant gratification. They buy TVs etc whilst they struggle to buy enough food for their families. Also it seems that they think that, as a sign that they have 'made it', they should waste food. You would not believe the amount of food that is wasted that you see thrown on the floor. This mentality is dangerous as it is not conducive to reducing the malnutrition problem. This mentality needs to change. How do you change such a mentality? Well the first obvious suggestion would be education. These people are mostly illiterate with very little basic education under their belts - they need to be advised on the importance of not wasting food and how to make changes to reduce wastage. Projects that aim to feed the poor directly will not be able to continue to feed them forever so they need to learn how to overcome the issue themselves.

Education can also be important to inform people of their rights and help them stand up for their rights and make politicians accountable for their actions. It has been shown in many studies, and seems to be common sense, that illiterate people will be less aware of their rights and less able to form some sort of union and act collectively - they would not know where to start or how to go about it. Education programs need to be used to inform people of the schemes that are available from government, such as one fund set up by Rajiv Gandhi in his time in office, which involves children being weighed regularly and being provided with extra nutrition if they are underweight. The money is there for this program, but it is not being carried out by officials - possibly because it is impossible to make money out of such a scheme...I am sure that many of the slum families are not aware that such funds are available for their families, so education is important to inform them of their rights.

Once they have been informed of their rights, the education can also tackle the lack of enforcement and pressure on government from the poor masses. Many of the people are still fearful of their politicians, and who can blame them when you see how the slums are being destroyed left right and centre for these CW games? Even if they know what programs are available, they will not complain in fear of a backlash to their detriment. They just remain quiet. People need to be informed that this is a democratic government after all, and the money that is being wasted is the peoples' money, so it should be used for the people. At present, there is no pressure on officials to look out for the poor and enforce the programs aimed at the poor, so this lack of accountability is restricting any progress with social indicators.

Another possible benefit of wider education for poor people, especially children, is that future generations in the family are more likely to gain employment and be able to support their families, reducing the issue of malnutrition. It is also widely accepted that educated parents are less likely to have a high number of children, again reducing the food problem with fewer hungry mouths to feed. By providing education, you can empower people to feed themselves and to stand up for support that they are entitled to, which is much more sustainable than attempting to go around the slums giving out food each day.

What I have realised is that with development work, it is often the case that people have a grand idea in their heads about how much they can do, but it actually has to be a gradual process - if the right action is taken, slowly there will be change, but it is impossible to waltz in and solve a long lasting issue over night.

How can you change mentalities and attitudes overnight? The answer is you cannot - it takes time. Mentalities and attitudes towards food and material goods need to change before aid can have its maximum effect, whether it be from local government or foreign sources. In the current climate this is even more important, for example the UK has reduced its aid to India, and so money that is around needs to be used wisely - not on small unsustainable programs with the aim of "feeding the poor." We need to address the cause, not the symptoms, and the causes are clearly deeply ingrained in society, which of course will take time to change.

Right, well I hope there is some feedback on this issue as it is clearly such an important one!

Something else that I want to share with everyone is something I read in one of the 5th class girl's book (12 years old). It was a letter to request leave from school, and I thought it really illustrated how ridiculous the teaching of English here really is.

Here it is - I think it speaks for itself.

Respectfully, I beg to say that I have an urgent piece of work at home so I cannot attend the school. Kindly grant me leave for one day only and oblige.
Thanking you,
Yours obediently,

July 19th

Unfortunately no huge insights today, just a very nice day at the Project. I was teaching the 4th and 5th class boys and girls today, which is always good fun and I feel I can achieve much more with them given their stronger base in English.

We started on the 'School' topic today, talking about what school they go to, what class they are in, what subjects they study, what their favourite subject is, what their uniform looks like, and whether they like their uniform or not. There were a few new children in the 5th class boys group but they seem very well behaved and are at a similar level to the other guys in the class. Everyone did really well in the discussion sessions but I think I will need another session to consolidate as usual. I also managed to teach them the use of before and after and they seemed to understand - we talked about what they did before they go to school, and what they do after they get home from school. We also focussed on some plurals when talking about the favourite subjects - some of them said 2 subjects so I taught them when to use "my favourite is.." and "my favourites are..." Again, they seemed to understand but I shall find out whether they did or not when we consolidate on Wednesday! It is really nice working with these groups as they are all so eager to learn, very polite, respectful and I can have a joke with them without the whole class then getting out of hand.

One of the lads decided to give me a sweet and touched my feet as a mark of respect, and then I got even more sweets when a girl called Sabrun brought sweets in as it was her birthday! I have found that they all really like having photos taken of themselves, so I have changed from the stick approach (the threat of calling in Dharmendra) to the carrot approach (photos at the end of the lesson) and it seemed to work well and I have managed to get some really nice photos of all the classes as you can see below!

I have also been thinking a bit about my dissertation ideas, and it has been suggested that I could look into the effects/issues of the Commonwealth Games, and I have been shown a very interesting article that seems to side with the pessimistic view that I also hold about these games! Not sure if I could write a balanced argument on this topic though, as you can probably tell from my last few blogs last week! We shall see.

July 18th

Today was pretty chilled - woke up late and ventured out to explore some more of Delhi at around 11am with Ciara and Guylaine (Canadian volunteers) but it was so hot and the humidity was extremely high - I am not sure how it can be 40 degrees but "feel like" 48 degrees but I would not argue with the BBC weather service on that one.

Despite the heat, we did manage to have a good look around and we visited Raj Ghat where Gandhi was cremated, as well as Humayan's Tomb which was very impressive. We also had a wander around Old Delhi again, visiting the famous Karim's restaurant again for lunch, which was amazing just for the fact that it allowed us to escape the heat for a while!

Ciara and Guylaine are leaving tomorrow to travel around Rajasthan so we went out for dessert with Deepak and Gitta who work in the house to say thank you, so all in all it was a pretty relaxed although hot day. I know this entry is rather short but I can guarantee you there will be some more rants this week to make up for it.

Hope everyone is well x

Saturday, 17 July 2010

July 17th

Saturday is my day off and I had many plans of getting myself sorted out for the week ahead with teaching materials, a good plan etc but then when I went downstairs at 10 there was little Manisha (see one of earlier blogs) sat in the kitchen waiting to be taken to the boarding school that I visited on the first weekend. When I was asked if I wanted to come along I said yes straight away. There is such a good atmosphere at the boarding school, and the children we dropped there a few weeks ago seem so happy there and I wanted to see them all again to see how they were getting on.

I am really glad I chose to go. I met the principal of the school who seemed a very nice man, quite young for a principal, and he was very friendly. Anou holds him in high regard so I am sure he is very good. It was really good to see all the children again, and they all crowded around to grab my hand and take me around their playground, all of them with big smiles on their faces - they were going for their refreshment break and all the Project Why children were desperate to get me a drink before they got themselves one! It was quite funny to see the reaction of the other children at the school that are not part of the Project and as a result had not seen me before - all of them were staring and talking to me in English and trying to hold my hand. One lad even touched my knees, which is a mark of respect for elders here, which I was a bit confused about until Anou told me what it meant!

It was not just the children however that were very interested in this white guy in their school grounds. The warden of the older boys' dorm saw the huddle of children and at first told them all to move on, but then he saw me and his facial expression changed immediately. He told the children they could stay, and then despite the fact that everyone was stood up, he decided to offer me a chair! Anou, Dharmendra and I then continued to talk while the warden just stood there, until he asked me for permission to leave! The white 20 year old was all of a sudden someone he needed to obey and ask for orders - quite funny at first, yet quite embarrassing when you think that this attitude must have come from the manner of British rule pre 1947...

On the way to the school it struck me that there are so many schools, and it is clear that it is a big business here - private schools have become very fashionable yet the reality is that the education at some of them really is not much better than the education at government schools, given the cost. My first thought was that if there were so many private schools, there must be a high demand for these schools, and therefore a lot of competition between private schools and also between public and private. With such competition you would surely expect a large improvement in the quality of the schooling. I am not saying that the education at all of the private schools is not good, but with so many young people in this country and a clear demand for education (especially for boys) why has there not been a significant improvement in education provision?

One reason I thought of to explain why government schools had not improved was that the children that go to the government schools are often the children of the poorest families - it does not matter how many private schools appear, the competition is only really between private schools rather than between public and private - the large number of people that cannot afford to go to private schools remain in the public sector and so there is no incentive for the government to perform any wide scale education reform. You also have to wonder about the kind of competition that goes on between private schools - the reality as I mentioned is that they are often not much better than government schools (similar class sizes etc) and you can question whether the motives of the management are centred on child performance or revenue received. In addition to this, performance of children in government schools is not exactly an opportunity to make money for officials so maybe this is the reason why there have not been improvements, after all corruption is so clearly ingrained in government here. Please offer any other explanations that you can think of, and I too shall think more on the issue!

Now, one minor rant over, and I shall (as you may have predicted) return to the issue of the Commonwealth Games as every day I hear something even more ridiculous about them. It just so happens that the officials have decided to cancel the catering contracts and instead take it upon themselves to select which caterers will earn contracts - now I may be rather one sided on this but does this just not seem like another opportunity for corrupt officials to take bribes? I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation...
Also, one of the sports that is played at the CWG is cricket of course, and India as we all know is well known for its cricket - however, the Indian Cricket Board have managed to organise a series with Australia at the time of the games so they shall not be competing! The officials have demanded that the Indian Cricket Board pay them a large sum because of the revenue that the CWG will miss out on because of the cricket team not competing. Where this money is going I am not so sure but I would not bet on it being spent on rehousing the slum families that have had their homes destroyed in the process of preparing for the games.

On a lighter note, I have now been labelled with the nickname "Lambu Dada" which I am told means Tall Big Brother (thanks Rohit for the translation!), and I am looking forward to exploring Delhi tomorrow.

July 16th

Today was supposed to be 2nd and 3rd class, but a bit of confusion upstairs meant I had 2nd and 4th class in the morning with the boys. It was the same old story with the 2nd class boys messing around and chatting, but I have kind of accepted that will happen now! The worrying thing was that after 3 days of doing similar things they still did not seem to know what to say. I am thinking it may be more beneficial for them to play word games and try to build their vocabulary first, then the speaking may come more easily at a later stage. With the 4th class boys, they had done the market scene to death after seeing them for several days in a row, so we just did a quiz game instead on the board, which they seemed to enjoy. I also asked some of them to draw family members on the board to see whether I could use drawing as a teaching tool in my lesson plans, and unlike the 2nd class earlier in the week, they did draw well without asking me to draw something for them to copy. The market activity worked well but I think they may be a little bored of it so I may try to have a few days with them trying doing word games and using drawing as another learning method. I was thinking of getting them to draw and talk to me about what they are doing – we shall see how it works/doesn’t work.

I had a very interesting chat over lunch with Dharmendra (man who runs the Women Centre) about some of the gender bias issues that I have discussed in other blogs. The solution that the centre has found to this is a very interesting one and has had a lot of success. Boys pay 1 rupee a day, and girls go free. If they did not have to pay at all, there would be serious issues with attendance and support by parents, and parents may just send their sons, and by the sounds of it this was the issue that did occur. However, if they charged for boys sons and daughters, the chances are they would just send their sons. But the system as it is, means that the parents must pay for their sons, and seeing as they are paying 1 rupee a day, they might as well educate as many of their children as possible for this money, and even the daughters are sent. The success of this scheme can be seen by the numbers of boys and girls enrolled in the school. There are 98 primary students in total and 55 of these are girls. Whether this kind of scheme would work on a larger scale we do not know, but it does seem quite promising.

We left the centre at 3.30 (an hour early) because the man that is designing the website for the Last Donation (see one of my previous blogs) was coming to discuss any ideas/concerns with Anou, so Dharmendra and I joined them, along with Nina who used to be a volunteer here and still has very close ties with the organisation. For me this idea of a Last Donation is a very interesting one and is rather unique when you look at it. So many charities ask for a few pounds a month, but you do not really know what it is used for and many would say that much of this is lost in admin. However, the Last Donation, is a scheme that is to be set up to finance the Planet Why project (see the project why website and a previous blog on this). Planet Why is going to be a sustainable and green guesthouse, which will provide employment and training to many of the young people in the project and their communities. The idea of the Last Donation, is that with just one donation (provided there are enough of them) this project can be built and once it is built it will generate enough revenue to support itself and the project will not be so reliant on the continuing support of funders as it is today. Any donations will go directly into creating this tangible guesthouse that can provide such support and hope to so many people for years to come. The fact that it will be self sustaining is the big thing for me and why I think it is something very worthwhile supporting – the longer time goes on the more and more people will be helped and supported by just one single donation. We had a good brainstorm and one of the things I feel I could support them with is making links with universities and development societies within universities, and to hold conferences at universities as well as fund raising days. We are still at the planning stage on that but I am confident it could really help this project get off its feet.

July 15th

Yesterday’s blog was a bit of a moan about the Commonwealth games, and I am afraid this one will also have a similar theme! Anou showed me an article written by the former sports minister, who resigned over the issue of these games, and it really shows what a farce this really is and gives a more honest estimate of the huge cost of the games. The budget started off a fraction of what it has now become, and the former officials agreed to a bid for the games, only if the money was a loan and was paid back within a certain period of time. Now it has come to organising the games, the cost has rocketed and is coming out of tax payers’ money. He also highlights the fact that when you compare it to the Manchester games and the London 2012 games, these occurred/will occur in lesser developed areas in an attempt to see sustained improved performance and standard of living after the games. The Indian games however, will not take place in such areas and instead they are building the infrastructure and the facilities where they could see much better returns if built elsewhere especially when the games are over. Rather than providing the street sellers with more business through the games, they are banned from selling during the games, and so many will have no source of income for 2 weeks. These are people who struggle to live off 20 rupees a day as it is (65 rupees to a pound). Money is also being diverted away from programs for the poor towards the games. The games may be justified if spending was under control and they were used to have a positive effect for the poor (which they really could if carried out well) but neither of these are happening – quite the opposite in fact.

On the teaching side of things, I used the day to consolidate the market scene with classes 4 and 5, and it was very positive as many were able to give different answers to certain questions and they really did seem to get the hang of it. When anyone got something wrong the others were all helping them and correcting them with very good English. For half of the lesson we had the questions written on the board so they could see how they were written and half way through I rubbed these off and most of them managed to remember it correctly.

One of the things I have tried to stop is the automatic response of “I’m fine” whenever they are asked how they are. We have got many saying “I am good” or “I am very well” but it was quite funny when one of the lads kept saying “I’m very fine” as he thought what I was trying to do was get them to use very rather than stop using fine. Also, one lad said he was very sad whilst smiling – I think I may have do a session on emotions pretty soon!

I also had a bit of a confidence booster today when one lad came downstairs and sat in my class half way through the lesson. He has got good English so I asked him what he was doing. It turns out he was bored in his other lesson upstairs so asked to go to the toilet so he could sneak into my class. I let him stay for 5 minutes but made him go back upstairs, which he did so very reluctantly!

All in all it was a good day and I managed to get a few pictures today, which was nice, however all the children wanted to be in the picture so bad it did cause a bit of pushing and a large pile up at one stage!

Hope everyone is well x

July 14th

The more I hear about what is going on for the Commonwealth games, the more obvious it seems to me that hosting the games is not what this country needs. In a country of over 1 billion people with millions in extreme poverty, and human development indicators worse than some nations in Africa, the focus for this country surely should be on supporting the poorest and bringing them up to some minimum standard of living. How can a nation say it is developing when it’s ‘development’ is at the expense of the poor and forcing more and more to live on less and less, and in worse conditions. Take the small street, where the temple is situated that we visit every morning, as an example. Diggers have come in and ripped up trees and mud to build a drainage system, as this needs to be in place as a sign of development to visitors, yet all they have done is ripped it up and for days now have not done any more work on the system. There are piles of mud and bricks on the road side and no drainage system for the people – they wanted the drainage system in place as they do not want visitors to see the people doing their business by the side of the road but what do you expect when you rip up their drainage system and effectively take away their toilets.

Another example of how the games are proving so detrimental for the poor, is the case of the horse drawn carts. There are only around 200 left in Delhi, and are all owned by old and poor people that have always tended to their animals and used these carts for a living – they do not know how to live any other way. However, rather than letting them die out gradually (as they would have done soon enough), the officials decided overnight that they would destroy their carts and not allow them to operate their horse drawn carts any longer. What was an attractive sight in Old Delhi, has been seen by officials as a sign of underdevelopment which they cannot allow other nations in the Commonwealth to witness, and as a result have done away with them as they have done with many slums, clearing them out so extravagant hotels can be built in their place. The offer given to the people with the horse and carts was a kiosk where they could start a small business from, however none of them would know where to start. If this wasn’t bad enough, what they actually offered them was a small slab of concrete to operate on, which is miles and miles from where they live. It seems that the government has their head deeply buried in the sand as they feel that they can try to prove to the rest of the world that they are a developed economy by building big hotels and stadiums, whilst sweeping the poor under the carpet. I am sorry but this is not a sign of a developed economy, and there are too many poor people in this city alone to convince anyone that India is developed. It would seem that they think people come to India to see a copy of the western world, when this is completely wrong – you want to see the people, the traditions, the street food stalls, yet the government seem set on destroying India’s natural beauty and building some unsustainable and unsightly version of what they think people see as a developed economy. I really do struggle to understand what they are trying to achieve, and more importantly why they are trying to achieve it.

As for my teaching today, it wasn’t the best day I have had as I was teaching class 2 and 3 who are very young and therefore very chatty and hard to control, especially as I do not speak Hindi and they have very limited English! We had fun but it is very frustrating, as I have mentioned many times, with the little ones because whatever you try to do, they just repeat you and are not taught to think about questions. All they are looking for is what they do in school which is read a question and assign a rehearsed answer to this question – I have tried many things but with children so young it is difficult to explain unless you can speak Hindi to explain what is being asked of them, as too many times they clearly do not know what they are supposed to say. We did the same activities as we did earlier in the week but they still did not know what was going on and seemed to have forgotten everything we had done previously. A lot of them are very bright, I just feel with a better government school program they could all do very very well – but this does not seem to be on the horizon. I suppose I will have to try to change my style with these classes, as I want to teach them something by the time I leave!

So a fun but frustrating day, but an amazing Indian dinner followed by home made cookies and ice cream sorted everything out!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

July 13th

Thank God it rained last night! The weather today was much fresher - still very warm but nowhere near as bad as it was. Lets hope for more tonight.

I started the hour long sessions today and already I think it has been a good change to make. All of the children had plenty of chances to practice what we learnt during the lesson, which is so important given that the chances of them consolidating their work at home is almost zero. It was however quite tricky to keep the concentration levels high for the whole hour, so what I may do from now on is have a 5 minute break in the middle where they do something much more active, stand up, sit down, jump around etc so that their minds are really focussed for the second half of the lesson - we shall see. Generally though the concentration of the majority of the kids is great, but there are the odd few who begin to stray, so it is not exactly a major problem.

The session itself today was based on one being the shopkeeper of a fruit and veg shop, and the other being a customer. The customer had to come in, they said hello how are you? etc then the shopkeeper asked what the customer would like, to which they would respond, and then the shopkeeper had to work out using a price list how much it would cost - they exchanged the money and the customer left the room. As always, each conversation was followed by the whole class clapping to praise those that were involved. One frustrating thing that was quite prominent in today's sessions was that when asked how they are, they all respond with "I'm fine." What I tried to do today was explain that they can say "I'm well" or "I'm good" or "not great" etc. However, one of the lads just said to me, "but in school we need to copy" - this just summed up the education system here for me!

Matt, I took your idea and paired the stronger students with the weaker ones and it really did help. The stronger students helped to correct their partners and I am sure it helped all the children. By the end of the session the stronger students were correcting the others with near perfect English so I saw it as a success!

There are a couple of young women that have come over from the US to visit family, and one of them (Nina) volunteered here for 10 months last year, and they popped into the centre for a few hours in the afternoon. Sheeba came and sat in on one of lessons and took some pictures to put on the Women Centre blog, which was nice, and she was very kind to say that she enjoyed my lesson.

All in all, it was a very good day and slowly I feel I am making some good progress with these children.

Monday, 12 July 2010

July 12th

Right, after a few more mild blogs this one may be a little bit more of a rant!

We went about the morning routine as usual, visiting the temple for a cup of tea, when I was shown a test paper that a little 4 year old in the family is due to take later this week. Lets just say it angered me a little! Firstly, one part of the exam was a recital of a short story/passage of English by memory. OK fair enough, some memory work can be useful but I had two issues with this. The first was that literally everything they learn here has to be by memory and if there is one small mistake or if they change the words in any way they will be failed - everything is examined in this way and I do not really see it as an examination in how they think or how they understand - it is learning to just say what you are told to say - doesn't seem like an education to me. My second issue with this was that the passage itself had some horrific grammar errors and the way things were worded was as if we were talking in the 16th century. They are forced to learn by heart incorrect English, and if they correct it they will get zero...something is not quite right there is it?! In addition to this, she is 4 years old and some of the words in the test piece were way beyond what you would expect a 4 year old to be learning - they cannot say things like 'I have 2 brothers' but are learning some ridiculous story with long words that are not used anymore along with poor grammar...

If that was not bad enough, I then was shown the next section of the test paper, which was all about fruits and vegetables. One of the questions for example was 'name 5 fruits' and another was 'name 2 green fruits' - perfectly reasonable questions - however again for each question there were specific answers provided that had to be given - for example the two green fruits had to be watermelon and pear and if you wrote anything else you would fail! Even worse than this, one question asked of your favourite fruit and they had to write mango! When these children will be allowed to use their imagination or think for themselves I do not know...

OK, well that is the rant over! I started my first class like I had done so the others in the week when I was allowed to do what I want. The man that runs the centre then came in to see me and was very nice about everything, apologising for the misunderstanding and what he has done now is asked the English teachers to teach them the books and use my lessons to do the kinds of things I was doing last week. So we continued as we had done before Friday, today focussing on introductions and a bit about the children and their families. I tried to keep it very interactive by choosing two at a time to stand up in the middle of the circle and have a conversation in English while the others listened - the ones that were behaving were the next ones to be called up and soon I had everyone's attention for a change! It was really fun and the children laughed a lot and seemed to really enjoy themselves, which is what I want my classes to be about. So many of them are scared about making mistakes after being used to their school's way of teaching but I think personally they will learn a lot more when they feel comfortable speaking English without fear and they are enjoying themselves. It seemed to work today as they really were progressing even in the short 40 minute lessons.

One of my frustrations has been that once the children really start to settle down and understand what we are doing, they have to go for their next class. So what we have changed now is the structure of the day. Rather than squeezing all classes into one day, we will have hour long sessions for half the students one day and the other half the next day. I think we will really see much greater progress this way, allowing them to practice what they have learnt a lot more in the lesson so that it is less easily forgotten between lessons!

So, today went smoothly, and our prayers have been answered just this minute as the monsoon rain is hitting hard - the weather the last few days has been unbearable. The only slight problem is that a small river seems to be forming outside the office (in the garage) which I am going to have to cross in a minute to go inside for dinner - will let you know how that goes tomorrow!

Hope everyone is well x