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Pavel´s Report 2013

Jaipur, India

After one year, I returned to Sahyog School to try to help some more, to see what has changed, and, of course, to meet the kids once again. Some changes have taken place, some things, which are too difficult to change, stay.

Most of the kids now sit on benches (all of them, actually, except for one pre-school class). Some children improved their English language skills, though it lies rather in their ability to listen and understand than the ability to speak and express themselves. The kids, when you look at them, are cleaner than the year ago. Many of them are more self-confident and self-assured than they used to be. I visited some of the families in their homes. Their living standard is far below what people in my country can even imagine. Were it not for this school, they would be probably left without a chance to get a decent job and to rise up from this bottom of existence. So, my words of appreciation to the school for giving them this chance. Only locally focused organisation can do, I do not believe that occasional aid the government provides to the slum communities through its missionaries hits the target effectively enough.

On the other hand, there is big space for improvement in the school. Most of the problems, I believe, come from lack of financing (no surprise) and impossibility of even mid-term development planning. I understand that the school survives from contributions and donations that have to be renegotiated and begged for every year again and again with no assurance there would be sufficient resources to run the school, pay at least some money to the teachers, carry all the costs of electricity and other necessities... The school misses a mid-term (three to four years ahead) plan of action - investments, strategic goals to achieve. No wonder, it is impossible to make one, when there is no stable finance resource.

And there are so many items that would go into the list of goals:

Classrooms have no walls, classes disturb each other; kids, when unattended, cannot help it and cannot stay quiet. (It appears to be Indian national feature that they fight noise only with bigger noise.) On top of it, unfinished walls are ugly and also dangerous.
Classrooms have no windows - a small hole in the wall that lets some light in is not a window. Lighting of the classrooms is random; some children cannot see what is on the blackboard.
Plaster on the outside of the building and especially inside and also some wall painting would help a lot. White walls would change the appearance and help with the light. Also the wiring that leads to fans and lights could be safely hidden. The building is full of dust coming from the raw bricks, not speaking about impossibility to hang anything properly on the walls.
Toilets are a catastrophe. It is good to explain the principles of cleanliness again and again, but if the bathrooms do not allow for the basic hygiene... One of many: there has to be running water inside the bathroom, so kids leave the room clean.

As to the system of education:

The tendency to memorize instead of thinking, understanding and being able to figure out, is the common disease of many educational systems. It cannot be accounted to this particular school; I suppose it is a country-wide problem. Anyway, the ability to think is what distinguishes humans from other species and it should be the school´s primary task to develop and support it. Children have answers written in their textbooks next to the questions and when asked they only copy these not having the slightest idea what the question is about. You change the order of questions and they are confused, you change the wording of some question and they get lost. The answers in their books are often complicated and they obviously did not come out of their heads, maybe some teachers helped. And if one of them answers is incorrect and you tell the kids? Their universe collapses.

Discipline is very frequent word in this school, but order and organisation is what the school lacks from top to bottom. Yelling is a military way to enforce discipline and it very often only enforces a feeling of discipline, not discipline itself. Discipline comes from respect. Respect to rules, respect to personalities of the leaders, respect to each other. Children obviously respect the positions of the teachers and the principal. I am not sure if a real personal respect is also there. And the way things are (not) organised here does not arouse much respect. Example: the habit to burst in the classroom and start talking to children (very often, by the way, with a voice pitch that - to me - indicates some sort of conflict) is bad, to my opinion. If there is any information that needs to be spread, there are morning assemblies and maybe some other ways to do it.

The classes must be exhausting for the children. Except the break for lunch which is very short, there is no time to sit and chat. And kids have so much to tell each other. No wonder they use the time during the teaching periods to do that... Giving them a little break between the periods might bring some relief to all players of the game. I find no pleasure in calling for silence once a minute.

I guess I do not have to stress that all I do and say including my critical words is meant to help. But what I want to repeat over and over is this: This school is the only fixed point the children have when they leave their homes and it is very good alternative to roaming the slum area with no perspective. And I am much convinced that some of the kids (and after this second mission I could name them) have a bright future ahead of them.

Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to take part.

permalink written by  ac on March 29, 2013 from Jaipur, India
from the travel blog: TrippinInTheeYah
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