Sunday, October 11, 2009

Summer Volunteering 09

Dear DSF,
It has been several weeks now since I was in India with Shilpa and her family, and yet I remember the experience as if I was still there now. India is by far the most foreign place I have ever been to. I was expecting a different culture, but somehow what I had seen in pictures and movies did not in any way encompass what it was like to be there, living, for three weeks. I was really hoping, beforehand, that working with DSF in Bangalore would work out, but I didn’t really know what to expect. When we met with Maitreyee and Bhagya that first day they told us that we would in fact get to help with a class, and maybe even teach them ourselves.

Our first morning at the Rajajinagar school was very intimidating for me. I felt as though everyone was staring, both kids and adults. The school, we were told, was a good government school, it was well established and DSF had a history working with it. And yet what I saw that first day of the school was worlds away from the public schools here in New York City. We met the class we would be with every day. I was afraid communication with them would be impossible, that they wouldn’t listen to me. But by the time we had left that day all my fears were gone. We had checked their work and helped them fix the mistakes they had made with their English and I had loved it. I was excited to go back the next day, and every day after that. Bhagya was extremely helpful; I really want to thank her for the opportunities that she gave us in the classroom. She was so kind, so good with the kids, and really made us feel comfortable. Over time she gave us more freedom with the group we had gotten to know, and let us teach them by ourselves which I loved. It was extremely difficult at times, because the language barrier was not little, but I feel like I learned a lot about communication, and the levels it can go to beyond just language. Every day brought new challenges but most of all I was continually impressed by the enthusiasm of the kids for learning.
After the first week, Shilpa and I felt frustrated by the way we were teaching. We watched some of the kids’ other classes, and what we saw more than anything was an emphasis on rote learning. We tried to implement this when we taught them, but found it very ineffective. It is such a different way of learning than what we have here in America. Here everything is based on how the kids feel, about interaction and fitting a way of learning to the individual. So we thought we would try to bring some of that to them. We took our class out to the courtyard and talked. We taught them, “This is a __” and the concepts of “Here” and “There.” We did “Big and Small” and the colors. It felt like teaching them English in a way that they could use every day, with familiar objects, was much more effective and useful to them. I hope they felt it was as well. It was also more fun. The kids really enjoyed it, and I did too. I feel like in the days we took them outside, the barriers came down. They were just kids, and they could have been from anywhere. That was incredible for me to see. Before that point I had been so bogged down by observing such a different culture, that it was refreshing to catch a glimpse of the things that transcend cultural boundaries. We had them draw pictures of animals and of themselves which I now have up on my wall, and I was struck by their creativity. They are funny, bright, lovely kids and I really miss them. I think that this experience has given me a glimpse into the type of work I would like to do in the future. It was a very special experience.

Talking to Maitreyee, Sabu and Lata the last day was amazing. I have always taken education and the opportunities it gives me for granted. I saw firsthand in Bangalore, with the help of DSF, what a gift it is. I so admire what DSF does, and what an incredible program it is. Being in DSF office it really felt like every person there was there because they wanted to be, because they cared, and that was an incredible atmosphere to be in, even for such a short period of time.

Being in India was truly incredible. However I felt that despite all I saw that was different and new, I was still in a very sheltered environment because I didn’t have a direct connection with any of it. But being in the school every day, getting to know the kids and the surroundings and to be involved in a tiny piece of life there, it really hit me what a different culture I was in. I found myself thinking a lot about what the kids in our class went home to every night, what their families were like, what they did after school every day. I feel like I learned more about the world somehow, in those few days, than I ever have before.

Maitreyee pointed out that whatever we got out of the experience would be very important and special, both for the kids and for us. That idea is really important when I think about my time at the Rajajinagar school. One of the most critical things I learned is that being involved - even if its only in a small way, like helping a class of children for seven days - can help people, and can teach you lessons you never have gotten otherwise.

Thank you for your generosity in giving me this unforgettable opportunity. I was inspired by your work there, and I truly hope that I can continue helping the Dream School Foundation in whatever way I can. THANK YOU!

Sincerely, Sadie Bergen
[Sadie is a high-school student in New York City.]

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