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Project 365 – Day 216 | Teach for India

It’s been a lonngg last 24 hours and I’m exhausted, but with a happy contentment that Delhi so often makes you forget! I’m tired, but smiling, and can’t sleep, because ‘wow’, what a day it’s been!

A dear friend of mine, Nivritti is a ‘Fellow’  with the Teach for India initiative, and this post is about the little window of her life that I got a peek into today. I’ve been hearing about her involvement with Teach for India since the time she enrolled onto the program, and having actually spent a full-day in her regular routine with her, was really…such an eye-opener!

The day started when I met Nivritti on Friday evening and we headed straight to the local market to pick up some stationary and craft items. Nivritti had invited me to come over this Saturday to teach her class of twenty-nine seven year olds some art and craft. For anyone who has taught a bunch of seven year olds before, only you would really understand what I had just signed myself up for, because clearly inexperienced in the area, I did not!

While we shopped for supplies I got quite carried away with creative ideas of what we could make the children do the next day. Nivritti has worked with this class almost everyday for the last few months and was therefore promptly and religiously bringing my elaborate ideas to practical levels (seven-year olds, remember?!) After a lot of back and forth, we finally decided we’d teach the children to make a novelty pop-up card and help them decorate it with their favorite cartoon characters and possibly make a collage out of magazine cutouts if we had time.

Quite impressed with our creative card, we did a test-show-and-tell of a mock version after dinner to friends and Nivritti’s family. After the nods of approval we got at this ‘show and tell’ and preparations for it that ended past 1am that night, we were all set for a busy, productive Saturday at school with a card design that could rank among the carefully selected stacks of Hallmark and Clinton Cards! The children would love it!

A blurry 6am start followed, (the Sun hadn’t risen when I got out of bed) and Nivritti and I groggily gulped down hot coffee like it was an antidote to sleep. I was warned I should have a very heavy breakfast to get me through the day, and Nivritti’s mother packed us each a ‘tiffin’ box of bananas, oreo biscuits, some snacks and aaloo-parathas. This was really a fresh reminder of what it was like to go to day school! It’s been more than twelve years since the last time I carried a packed tiffin to school! We got a ride by car for the most part of the way, and then had to switch to an auto-rickshaw to traverse through the narrow roads to get to the school.

I’m trying to recall what my first thoughts were when I first walked into the Gargi Public School, Mandawali, but except for a pang of excitement running through me, and just waiting for the day to really start, I don’t remember much. The walls were adorned with hand painted cartoon characters and colour, lots of colour!

We went down into the basement where Nivritti’s class was and for the most part I was first just putting images to the virtual image I had created in my head from everything I had heard Nivritti talk about previously. The classroom as she had described it, was really just big enough to fit in an SUV and not any bigger. There was a classroom right next to her’s which I at first I thought was a part of Nivritti’s classroom, and only a very tiny corridor somewhere oddly placed between the entrance and the two classes, where I helped drag in a shelf of books under a hand-illustrated sign saying ‘Library’.

I wasn’t sure whether to marvel at how optimally this space had been utilized or let that horrible sinking feeling inside me grow that almost everyone I know in Delhi has bedrooms bigger than this classroom which was to house thirty people for a full school day.

Through the day, I was very cheerfully greeted by every single child who saw me there, with an adorable smile and a chirpy “Good morning didi!” The schools I’ve studied in rank extremely high on the national tables, but it’s shameful that I don’t remember any school I’ve studied in, or been to before this, where strangers were given such a warm welcome!

Nivritti’s classroom welcomed you with a riot of colourful charts adorned on every inch of the previously white walls! It was almost magical! There were charts listing each students’ birthday, mottos, new words to learn, etc. which would easily be enough to fill up an entire day just reading the wealth of information that adorned those walls! I was given a lovely tour of all the charts by Swati, one of Nivritti’s seven year old students, and then Nivritti took me around to show me the rest of the school. The other classes were fairly similar (with significantly less amounts of decorations on the walls), and slowly getting maxing their capacity of students as the day started.

The playground shook me up a little bit. It was basically a big room, almost like it had been built to be a garage for trucks to begin with. With a concrete floor and barren walls, it was basically just space to play in. When I heard ‘playground’ I imagined at least a grassy ground and an open-air park sort of a place? This was, after-all, for children up-to around ten years of age?! But then again, this was something where most children have nothing, but is that justification enough?!

We got back to Nivritti’s classroom after my tour to an almost filled up classroom, now bustling with energy as the day was about to start. Before I knew it everyone was in chorus singing a ‘Dream-Makers’ song, followed by the Gayatri mantra, a morning prayer thanking God for their blessings, and then the National Anthem before quickly settling in for show-and-tell. I was introduced and given a lovely warm welcome (twice because of the excitement of having a new-comer here to see them!) and then I gave a brief introduction of myself and the kind of work I do, simplified with Nivritti’s help. I’ve never heard a more basic translation of what ‘visual effects’ is before, and had to consciously practice substituting words like ‘virtual’ with ‘not real’!

The first rule of Nivritti’s class is that no matter what, anything said on campus had to be in English (to help build their speaking skills in the language) and so sometimes that meant trying really hard to mince words together to understand the conversations we had, but it wouldn’t take a genius to see how much this was helping them and how much they were enjoying being taught this way!

As the day progressed they studied grammar, maths, hindi and had worksheets, tests, vocational tests and a fair amount of exercises and treats to keep them busy! I must point out that their energy levels through the day only seem to grow more and more! A teaching role for such a position should mention that this role requires:

 

  1. teachers cannot take a break (unless another teacher takes over. Nivritti didn’t get a chance to sit once till school hours were over & lunch break also requires supervising the children).
  2. staff cannot leave children unattended at any given time (you don’t want to imagine what can happen alternatively!).
  3. you have to have mountains of patience.
  4. teachers need a loud, authoritative voice that often required to restore peace and quiet in class from time to time.
  5. you have to really, and I mean really love your job, in order to do a good job! Otherwise you’re wasting your time and are going to affect the future of these children.

It was fairly chaotic to try and teach so many seven year olds because no matter what they were told, each one would branch off on a completely different trail of thought. For example, during a creative writing exercise where each of them had to write a page or two about their family or a happy time that they remember, some children just copied the question onto their sheet of paper (after they were specifically told not to) and waited; someone wanted to write about today so asked me to spell my name on their board, after which, the rest of the class promptly copied that onto their sheets of paper without even knowing why! There were others who ONLY copied my name as the title and didn’t write anything else on their sheet of paper till Nivritti personally sat with them and tried to talk them into writing a story, and yes, thankfully there were the few who did do as they were supposed to, but I can assure you, there will be more surprises once we start reading what they wrote!

Nivritti later explained their logic of copying everything written on the board to me. Apparently a senior staff member of Teach for India had once visited a class and since it was her first day, she wrote her name on the board while introducing herself to the class. Before anything else happened, all the children in the class took out their notebooks and promptly copied her name into their notebooks. Confused, when she asked why they did that, to her horror, they simply said that’s what they’ve always been doing, because that’s how teachers teach – they write on the board and the children just copy it. No explanations, no reasons, that is what going to school was about – just copying what’s on the board! Speaking specifically of Nivritti’s class, when Nivritti started with them they didn’t understand a word of english, and now in a few months time, they speak english during their entire school day!

My main reason for going to the school that day seems less insignificant compared to everything else that happened during that day. However, as the day was about to end, the promised session of art and craft was supposed to be a treat for the children after a long week of academics. So as I brought out a demonstration of the card Nivritti and I were so proud of, we were met by a class full of confused, disappointed expressions, because they expected a standard folded paper style card, and couldn’t fathom why we were making them make such a weird one! It was as if we didn’t even know how to make real cards and they should be teaching us instead! Not sure to how to react to that, we continued with our plan and handed out supplies.

They fought over different colours of paper, over the glue, over the printed paper which had their favourite cartoon characters that they could use to decorate the cards, and got almost all the very basic instructions we gave them completely wrong! It was an experience! So Nivritti and me went around fixing cards for the rest of the hour, and we really could have done with lots of clones of ourselves to speed this process up! All the same, it was great fun, for the children and for us, and to our credit, each child left with a decorated, personalized thank you card that day!

To end the day, as the children left for home as their parents and elder siblings picked them I was told by one of the girls, “Didi, you go to home..no, you go to school on Monday also!” (meaning that I should come to their school on Monday also). So I take that as a day well spent for all of us! 🙂

When I walked into class that morning, I saw adorably cute angels, and wanted to adopt all of them! By the end of the day, reality kicks in, at some point you have to remind yourself they are just children and when parents come to collect them after school, you almost want to wish them best of luck for the rest of the day! Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme and more on the lines of what Nivritti might feel sometimes because I can still tell myself that I’m only here on occasion and not for six days every week! But my point is, that I realised teaching a class of twenty-nine seven year olds, is really much harder than it sounds, and definitely much harder than teaching any other age group!

Nivritti has really given this class her everything and it’s incredible to see the change she is bringing about in each of her students. She isn’t just teaching them english, maths, or grammar, through the day she is instilling life skills and discipline in each one of them that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, and they probably won’t even remember where they got it from. (These seven year olds have even started making lists when they are planning for events!)

There are so many people who talk about making a difference in the world and at some point we all wonder how we, as individuals can make a difference to the world. I’ve heard all those quotes about being drops in the ocean, but today I really saw it happen! It’s really incredible what Nivritti is doing with these twenty-nine children, and from everything I know even in these last four-five months, they have transformed immensely for the better! Nivritti, India or even the world today, needs more amazing, dedicated and hard-working teachers like you! The Teach for India initiative is really quite commendable with the little bit that I’ve seen of it, and if you’re looking to support any such initiative, I urge you to give this a closer look!

Do you ever wonder if your life is worth something more than just what you’re doing? Why are you here? Is it just to go to office, earn enough to pay your bills or possibly enough to quench your satisfaction of living what you deem as a ‘good’ life? There are so many others in this world who could really use each one of our help, what if each one of us made this world a better place for at least one other life? Imagine a world of giving, sharing and helping! I get that I’m being quite idealistic, but your questioning, and not joining this cause is why I am the idealistic one today.

If everyone reading this made at least one other person’s or animal’s life better and inspired another one to do so, that itself would start a movement that this world needs! Nivritti’s already started that, consider me a part of that chain reaction, are you going to follow now or is this going to stop at you?

 

23 Responses

  1. Nivritti Tandan says:

    Awwww Aaditi, it’s lovely!! And I loooove the pictures!!!!! 😀
    It makes it look all glossy and amazing, you cut out all the bits of me stressing and getting annoyed with the kids, haha! By the way, a few kids asked about you today- I had to tell them that you don;t come to class everyday 😀 I told them that you’re looking for a job, but that you’ll come to class when you find the time!

    • aaditi says:

      🙂 This was the least I could do! Oh I’m definitely coming by again, I’ll just work dates out with you and we’ll plan something fun again! Might let the extra innovative ideas take a backseat this time though! 😛

  2. Paridhi Jain says:

    Could not agree with you enough, Aaditi. Lovely, and heartwarming pictures! This makes a brilliant post.

  3. Rishika says:

    Loved the post and pictures, Aaditi 🙂
    Thank you Nivritti, for making us a part of Teach For India, in some small way or the other.

  4. Mala says:

    Aaditi- Nivs is working this hard, i know but you brought tears to my eyes…
    Mala

  5. Nivritti Tandan says:

    Rish- 🙂 It’s awesome that you guys are a part of it. Shows not only your interest in the work, but also how some things don’t change 🙂 We can’t wait for you to visit us! 🙂
    Aaditi-good plan for the simple ideas to take over! We’ll have fun anyway, you know that!

  6. sadia ahmed says:

    Nivritti! So proud of you…really….awesome job..the kids are really really fortunate to have you…lots of love n luck
    Aaditi- great blog..honestly I’m not surprised cos I dint expect anything less than this from you..You were like ‘BORN’ creative!

  7. Rohit Tandan says:

    It was amazing to go through this post. Lovely pics and you have a very lucid style of writing, Aaditi. It gave so much reality to what Nivs is doing.

    • aaditi says:

      Thank you!! It’s really encouraging to hear that! I haven’t written in years (well besides emails and academic writing at University which don’t really count), so will definitely try and keep up with more writing! 🙂
      I hope I’ve done justice to what Nivritti really is doing, because it’s definitely something that deserves more attention and credit!

  8. Aarti Chandra says:

    A riveting read!Aaditi you couln’t have captured the essence of what Nivs is doing any better. Kudos to both you of you. Really proud of you Nivs!

  9. hannah lobb says:

    This is amazing! You’re doing a wonderful job and making a wonderful difference niv! Brilliant vivid writing and pictures here 🙂

  10. Must be quite an experience. Thanks for sharing

  11. Abi says:

    Wow you are doing such fabulous work Nivritti 🙂 So rewarding to make such a difference. You should be extremely proud of yourself.
    This is a brilliantly composed piece and I’m so glad to have read it, even though it bought a bit of a tear to my eye!
    With love from Abi
    (Abi from England!)

  12. Divya Patwari says:

    Beautiful and so inspiring!

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