Friday, September 6, 2013

One Morning in a School in Assam

                                                             By Dr.Rukmini Banerji

Some years ago, early one morning I went to a school in Kamrup district in Assam. The school was set in an open space off the narrow village road, just beyond the naamghor (village temple). School had not yet started but lots of children were already there. A Pratham volunteer was busy with children. Like many other schools in upper Assam, it was one big hall. There were a lot of children already busy with reading and writing activities. Girls with neatly tied ribbons in their hair and boys freshly bathed and ready for school. Mothers had come to drop children off and were chatting in the courtyard outside. From the number of children who were already there, it seemed like almost all the children of the school had already arrived. 

 The volunteer was a young girl, shy with adults but very good with children. Her name was Hiramoni. She moved amongst the group – gently helping some and encouraging others. Children were doing writing exercises on the floor. First, they made a list of words on a given topic and then each wrote sentences. Together the whole thing became like a small essay. The children quite enjoyed writing. From the speed and the enthusiasm with which they wrote you could tell this was an activity that was a favourite. Soon the entire floor became full and overcrowded with words and sentences. 

A gentleman came to the door of the hall and gestured to one of the children. I asked him what he thought of the early morning activity. He smiled and his son smiled as well. They both enjoyed this extra hour before school. I got talking to the gentleman. It turned out that he was a government school teacher. He lived in this village and so his son went to this school but he taught in a school in the neighbouring village. He liked coming here with his son before he went to his school.

More people joined our conversation. We had moved to the verandah outside the hall. The Pratham volunteer was now sitting on the floor and children were crowding around her. I think they had begun to play a new word game. “She is very good” I said to the Headmaster. He did not look surprised. In a matter of fact way he said, “We chose a very good volunteer for our school. One of the best. She is Hira”. Indeed, in her quiet way she sparkled as a diamond as she worked. As a young girl she had been a student of this school and in fact her mother was a member of the school committee. 

I looked around at the well painted hall and complimented the people standing there. One of the lady teachers said to me. “It has to be good. We made it”. This teacher too had been a student in this school many years ago when she was a girl. And over time had worked hard to come back to this school to teach. She showed me a room that had recently been built for the midday meal – it was already looking dilapidated. 

The room had been built by the department. “We wanted a nice good room for our children” said the teacher. “And so we all got together and put in some of our money and then the school’s money and built it. All the labour was from the village too”. As she spoke it seemed that this was the most natural thing to do. Of course her child studied in this school as well.

The bell rang. It was time for actual school to start. I still remember the day – it was a day in early September. Teachers Day. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

“I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye”….

                                         By Ciara McDermott, Suas Volunteer

Nine weeks have flown past in a flurry of colours, sights and sounds and we are fast approaching the final week of placement with Pratham Delhi. With interruptions to the usual timetable for Eid, Independence Day and a farewell party, it is easy to forget how much can still be achieved in only the few remaining teaching hours. Nonetheless, the end is nigh and thoughts of home comforts have long since crept in. We look forward to comfortably cool Irish weather, comparatively bland food and reliable infrastructures. Bathtubs, clean feet, and the familiarity of our family and friends are coveted at this late stage.

There will be certain poignancy to our joyful return home. We will be saying goodbye to the smiling faces, playful voices and enthusiastic spirits that greet us with shouts of” Ma’am ji!” and “Sir ji!” every morning and afternoon. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that when we leave the children will continue to be taught through rote learning, they may learn incorrect turns of phrase; spellings and phonics and perhaps much of the progress they have made in the past ten weeks will be forgotten. There is a sense of regret that we could have done more, and some frustration with the unchanged systems we are leaving behind.

Looking back to our first day in the learning centres, when we struggled to remember the names of the kids, let alone communicate with them, we have come a long way. In stark contrast to the somewhat negative feelings we are struggling with, we feel immense pride that “our kids” can understand almost all of what we ask of them. When a visitor arrived at our centre last week the students could introduce themselves, their families and their interests with ease and confidence.

There is an enormous sense of achievement when a student can correct the grammatical errors of his or her peers and excitement when the students ask us about our interests and our home places. Tests have been conducted to record quantitative evidence of the improvement made throughout the programme but they merely scratch the surface. It is the warmth and confidence of the children that has increased every week that has been overwhelming. Although their English levels are far from perfect, they can adequately be comprehended by a native English speaker. The other teachers at the centre have also been exposed to a new way of learning.

Returning home and readjusting to the lifestyle there will pose its own challenges. As we reintegrate into society in the west however, we will not forget the culture we have been exposed to and the experiences we have had. We will miss the hospitality of strangers, fresh fruit on every corner, our chai Walla, and generally, the mayhem and intensity of what has been our home. The summer has been full of ups and downs, likes and dislikes, successes and failures but I for one feel that we have learned far more than we could ever have hoped to teach.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Da" se " Dumroo"

Once upon a time there was a village
In the village were many green fields.
In the middle of one green field was a small white school. 
In the small white school was a playground.
In the playground were many small children.
And the small children were sitting inside a circle.

" Shall we play a game?" I asked the children.
" Yes. Yes." Said the children.
And the circle moved closer.
"Shall we play a fun game?" I asked the children.
And the circle moved even closer.
" Shall we play a very fun game?"
"Yes.Yes.Yes. Yes!" said the children.
And the circle moved so close that the children were almost all on my lap.
So we played a game.

" I will tell you a letter. In turn, you will give me words."
" I say ka"
" You will say??"
They thought and came up with with answers one by one.
"Ka se...kaka!"
" Ka se kakdi!"
"Ka se kamba!"
Everyone said in unison.
Their words tumbled on top of one another.

Only Mimi was quiet. She said nothing.
"Come on Mimi," I said. " Come play with us"
I looked at her again and I said " Ka se?"
Mimi looked at me.
And she said," Dumroo."
"No No," said the other children. " You have to say Ka se!"
Mimi did not budge.
Okay, we decided and moved to another letter.

I said, " La"
Children said 'La se Lassi', 'La se Lamba', 'La se Lathi',' La se Lal!'
I looked at Mimi and I said," La se?"
" And Mimi said " Dumroo"

I said Pa
Children shouted : 'Pa se Papita', 'Pa se Papa', 'Pa se Pani.'
Everyone looked at Mimi and said, "Pa se?"
Mimi looked at everyone and everyone held their breath.
Mimi looked at everyone.
And Mimi said,"Dumroo."

Now it was very good fun.
Everyone knew my game.
Everyone knew Mimi's game.
Okay fine, I said.
"Da se?"

Everyone looked at Mimi and shouted, 
" Da se Dumroo"*
And Mimi gave me a big, big smile.

And Mimi said," Da se Daflee!"*

Explanation of Words 

Dumroo- an Indian drum, typically made of wood with leather drum heads at both ends.

Daflee- Tambourine


Kaka= Uncle

Kakdi= Cucumber

 Kambal= Blanket


Lassi= yogurt drink

Lamba= Tall or strong

Lal= Red

Lathi= stick


Papita= Papaya


Pani= Water

* Note: This is a real life story (almost!) that happened to Dr. Rukmini Banerji. 
Photos : Dana Schmidt


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chronicle of the Bumihar Women

By Serdane Baudhuin
Intern, Pratham 

A long time ago, King Hershevardhan Sing offered a family of deserving farmers ownership of the piece of land of their choice. After a six month search for the perfect place, the farmers singled out an area in the kingdom of Betiah, which became their property. They thus came to be known as the Bumihar : the owners.

The Bumihar started farming: they grew mangos, maize, spinach an much more.

For Bumihar men, all was well: the land was fertile, crops grew easily...

So easily, that there was no need for women to go out to work in the fields. This allowed men force women into invisibility : they were not allowed to walk out of the house, to show their faces, or to address men.

This would go on for centuries, until at last, a women, Neraaj, dared to wander past the borders of Bumihar fields, and came across Pratham Cluster Learning Center in Chanpatiya block of Champaran District.

Neraaj instantly felt a desire to be part of this colorful new world. She passed the test, and was selected for one of the faculties in one of the Pratham Cluster Learning Centers.

To Neeraj's amazement, her decision was met with enthusiasm by the Bumihar women. Her sister-in-law Priya, has been particularly supportive, and offered to take care of Neeraj's family while she is away.

Neeraj now works full time with Pratham Education Foundation. She teaches middle school children and travel widely.

Today, Neeraj sits confidently next to her father in law. Just a few years ago, this would have been completely unthinkable for a Bumihar woman. Neeraj truly has changed the dynamics of Bumihar families.

But there are many women out there still, who yearn for such an opportunity, for an other Pratham to be part of, for an other Cluster Learning Center to open near their village...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Visiting an Urban Learning Centre

By Serdane Baudhuin
Intern, Pratham Education Foundation

"Piggy lost his mother, so he went out to look for her. Around the corner, he encountered Mr. Dove. Oh, you must be my mother- Piggy says. Coo coo - answers the dove. Oh no says Piggy, that's not the right noise, you can't be my mother. So Piggy walks away, and encounters Mister Crow."

The children of the Dallupura Balwadi Centre are engrossed in the story of piggy searching for his mommy, sometimes even telling it along. And when piggy eventually finds her, all cheer with happiness.

The Pratham Balwadi Centre aims to inculcate school going habits in children with a focus on their physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. These children are aged three to five and the Balwadi teachers engage them in various activities which include telling stories and poems, singing and art and crafts work.

Upstairs, a group of older boys work on improving their reading skills with the help of a teacher. At first the boys appear to be rather shy. But the mood rapidly changes and in no time, we are surrounded by the whole group enthusiastically opening up about their thoughts and narrating their experiences. The children are also eager to share their dreams for the future : we have a soldier, a choreographer, and an entire cricket team !

In the afternoon, we meet a class of girls aged 5 to 7 as a part of Pratham’s Balwachan programme. The group meets us with a great deal of curiosity, giggling and whispering ideas about what our names might be, or where we may have come from. It is soon clear that the witty girls will only answer our questions once we have answered all the ones that they have about us.

Documenting the Center has been an enriching experience. I have greatly enjoyed observing different teaching methods, participating in some of the activities, and meeting the children. Talking to them has given me insights into their situation that I could not have gained from reading reports. This has convinced me of the need to actually confront ourselves with realities different from our own in order to truly understand them.

It has been truly gratifying to have had the opportunity to visit one of Pratham’s Educational Programmes. However, let us not forget that bringing actual social change to the world takes enduring effort, part of which consists of hours spent sitting behind a desk. Participating on the field is something that brings perspective those the hours. My understanding of what goes on in reality is something which I hope will be  able to aid me in my work during the rest of my internship at Pratham.