My ZAF Story.

So long I have been writing about the different events and my observations while I ran ZAF’s Model English School in a village in India.

This post is my story, feelings and comments for ZAF. I came to the village exactly one year and ten days ago to teach… Went on to become the Principal and I am glad I can say, started the process for a few children to hope and live their lives differently…better.

I sit in the principal’s office for the last time as I write this. I handed over my duties yesterday, and the sweets I will distribute before I travel back home lie on the table in front of me.

I wish now more than ever to be able to be in two places at the same time…I want to travel further for I have much to learn, and yet want to see the sapling I planted here grow and bloom.  And for this I promise I will come back here again and again.

Looking back I understand what ‘Greatness being thrust’ on me was. This challenge and the work I took up was far greater than I could have thought of, as also the reward. I have people to thank, my people.

Jeej and Sam- without your talks I wouldn’t have done my best- I cannot thank you enough… I have all your conversations saved, they are my personal motivation boosters 🙂

Hb and Bhabs- Your challenges made me more what I am than all the love could ever have.

PM- Those every week everyday(?) phone calls…while I spoke and laughed so hard it hurt…I prepared to get back to work all anew.

My family back home…The ‘isspert’ comments you all took, the ‘gaon wali teacher” that you guys loved, loves you more now 🙂

And last but not the least- all you people who taught and said I couldn’t. The biggest thank you, this was my first time taking up such a big challenge and it feels awesome! just to be on the winning side!

There is a looong list and little time. I have to go meet the village elders for whom I was the “bumbai ki bahini”. My stay here is over, not the connection.

I sign off as I chew on a toffee…

It indeed is sweet. I will come back.

A “Haali” Change :)

This little incident happened in class today and I couldn’t help smiling about it all day.

It is a rather small event but marks a milestone in my efforts with the little students in the village school. Before I tell you about it though, you’ll have to learn new vocabulary. The local (Bhojpuri) term for fast is “haali” and “likha” means “write”.

Now, here goes. As all kids, the ones here are always in a rush to complete work as soon as possible. And used the term haali too often with one another. All these days I corrected and taught them to say “fast” as in, to “write fast”, “come fast”, etc.

And then today in class a kid said, “ haali likha!” But before I could correct, another student said, “No, say Fast”, and then another one said…. “No fast… Write Fast!”

The kids are finally learning to relate words with the things they see around and use them too! And best of all, their favorite sentence and the one oft repeated is, “Teacher, I know full English!” (Well yes, at that I too can’t help but LOL! 😀

What to Teach and How.

Running the school administration and my stay in the village has been an eye opener. Seeing people struggle, debate and quit at things I considered obvious and, “what’s there to ask in it?” comes as a surprise and the realization that indeed we have a long way to go.

Take Education- its food, clothing, shelter and basic education is a necessity for life. Isn’t it? And then- I heard from a local girl, who I was helping with English for her upcoming tenth grade exams- “I a not giving my exams, no need to study.”

“Why?!”

“My brother says “The exam centre is not my own school, so there is no need to go. What is the need to study, and besides we have already let you go to school, how does exam matter? You don’t have to go show your degree anywhere!”

And that was the end of discussion. She couldn’t say anything to her “older, wiser” brother. And the parents too were- “He knows the world, he has seen it. Maybe it’s better this way.”

Then I spoke to the girl’s mother and realizing how helpless she was, I asked my dad to speak to the girl’s father. After talking to him all my father could say was, “They are really stubborn, but after this, they may send her for the exams as the son is going to the city in a couple of days.”

The girl however, was more than pleased at the idea of not having to give the exams. Even if she would give, it would only be a temporary solution. A permanent remedy for the people’s mindset…urgently needed.

This is the day I finally realized the magnitude of my work- teaching children where education is not even considered important enough for an extra half an hour drive from home to school.

I have only kindergartners in my school right now. I have time to prevent something like this happening to the tiny tots I’m teaching. And that is the day I resolved the number one agenda for my school would be to develop an interest and love for learning. If I could ensure that in the early couple of years they were in my school…I could be at rest, knowing that they will fight odds to learn. And for that I started using the method of teaching which focused on creating curiosity among the children.

A special study.

I am glad I studied Psychology. No other subject is helping me understand and run the school as much as the knowledge to understand and comprehend human psyche and development.

To know each student well and know their mental development, I gave each one a book with blank white sheets and colors to draw, scribble and do whatever they wanted on it. Without giving any ideas I would just ask them to draw as they pleased using whatever colors they wanted. The importance and use of this would be so tremendous, I did not know.

Many drew fruits and trees, their families, some just scribbled, and some used specific colors only….But there is one kid I had trouble understanding the most. After training and talking to him for weeks, he continued to look scared, so much so that there were days I did not see him look up at me. His progress too was thus, slow.

Then one day, while going through his book, I mentioned about above, I saw a certain pattern in his drawings. He would just draw stairs and doors using mostly brown and black. I then, called his mother and was told that his behavior was much the same at home too. After some questions I found out that once when he was around two he had got really frightened at night.

Here’s where my psychology learning and understanding helped a lot. I began having talks with him about his childhood, home. He started opening up a bit. And then I asked him what scared him, and he told me “stairs and doors and guns”. I told him funny stories with doors and stairs. We did little exercises of opening and closing doors, saying aloud the names of the people he liked and imagining them coming through them.

Some more attention and praising in the classroom and he is a much better student now. He plays and talks a lot more. Sometimes, a little too much… and I can’t help smiling.

A Meeting of Sorts.

After teaching for about three months, and right before the mid term exam, I scheduled a mother teacher meeting at school. I sent out notices, and got phone calls from almost all the parents, asking if all was okay!!

Turns out, they were not aware that formal meeting was a thing that happened at schools to discuss progress. I had to convince them, that the school was running fine, their child was doing well and was not going to be punished. I even arranged for transportation service so I could make sure they did turn up.

The day arrived and so did all mothers 🙂 I gave my first public address to a group of over 30 women, speaking for about 30 minutes in HINDI; speaking on the importance of education, cleanliness, the necessity to speak to kids kindly, with love. I answered doubts about why my school was different, Why I was teaching only English and math in year one and why I was not spanking the kids!

After the meeting, the sincere thanks and gratitude on their faces, the long hand shakes and “Oh, your coming here is a blessing for us…” was exhilarating. No elocution or debate competition I had won in the past compared to that.

Building a Rapport

The first step in any meeting, any communication is building a rapport. If you begin right, there is a high chance you will succeed in achieving your goals or at least, begin with the ball in your court.

I was to meet 30 or more women from the village and had to engage them in an hour long conversation, talking about their kids, my school- our future. Here are a few points I put to use:

1. A genuine face (Grabs Attention) – I did not write smile because it sometimes works to frown. However, most times you are happy or glad at the meeting, so smile. Be genuine.

I started the meeting with a straight face, apologizing for the half hour delay on behalf of the women who arrived late and then a small anecdote on time. They now knew I wanted to talk facts, not just please. We were on track. However, I started my speech with that, I had entered smiling broadly- happy to see so many turn up!

2. Background study (Develops confidence which shows) – It sure goes a long way knowing the people you are about to face. It is ideal in a client meeting/ hiring process, though you can make it work in all situations.

Like, in the school meeting, I could not possibly gather information about the families/parents so I did this- As each parent settled down, I handed them books of their children to go through with an adjective best describing each child. I had prepared before. Thus, we immediately connected, because it turned out, their child was shy/ creative/ caring at home as well!!

3. A line about the weather/ latest news (Helps break the ice) – Sometimes, a little small talk helps in a big way to set the ground for further serious discussions. Of course you have to know and judge the people you are interacting with, but hey! We’ve discussed background study for that!

These are a few pointers I made after trying them at the school meeting and at other interactions. Each meeting/ communication is with a different purpose, however, the beginning of all can be similar- ‘good’ on your part!

The fun has arrived!!!

The first admission I gave to a little boy from the village– When he entered my office, I was sitting at the table with the forms all neatly arranged in front of me, my excel sheet open for entering the data, and I smiled as warmly as I could.

I had expected the kids would be shy, be naughty and wreck my neat table, cling to their mothers and not even look up at me, not talk, juts stare etc, etc. But it was none of the above. The boy peeked into the room, and ran out yelling, “I don’t want an injection!!” He thought he was at the doctor’s, as that was the only other place where he had seen a neat room, with table and chairs (as explained by his mother, later) Wonderful! I am not going to pick favorites but I like this one already! 😀

After that I added chocolates, a few charts and reduced the number of papers on my table. I couldn’t possibly dirty the room, could I? I wondered.

Observations from some background study.

Take a ride across Azamgarh U.P, go through all its little villages, small market places, the two things you will definitely find are- Shops selling cheap country liquor and Schools. Schools, with and without – rooftops, tables and chairs, proper lighting, teaching staff, etc. But yes, they have students. Everyone is sending their children to schools now. The level of learning, the methods used are however, very depressing.

What I have observed is that neither parents nor the schools wish to give up the old school of teaching. Yet along with it they want their children to become doctors and engineers too. They want the kids to study the holy scriptures, their mother tongues, and begin with it right from year one. Along with that, also learn English, math, science, and everything else that will be necessary for big degrees. This leads to the child having three to four languages along with math, science, etc from the very first year and I mean – Kindergarten! And in this process the child studies a lot and learns very little. A fear of learning is created through the weight of the bag and reinforced through spanking, that’s a norm.

All I could think of, after visiting schools and looking around is, “The realization that education is important and a necessity has reached here before the skill to teach and educate.”

How it all started.

I gave my last exam of BA on the 30th of May, 2009, hoping and praying that it would be my final encounter with the University of Mumbai. I am still continuing with those prayers. Well, so my college was done with, and I had to think of, what next? And then came the long discussions with dad about the project we had in mind, and things began to take shape.

It was about a dream to start a school, a centre for overall development of a child. The place would be one that urgently needed a good school. I would be the teacher, mentor, guide, which I was hoping I would be able to be. After twenty years of a comfortable life and education it was time to take some real test.

And so travelling from home in Mumbai, I came to my ancestral hometown in Azamgarh, UP and together with dad, started ‘ZAF’s Model English School.’