Sunday, November 14, 2010

Visit #1 to Rural India

For work last week Gabe and I were taken out to a few rural villages outside Hyderabad to witness first-hand the work of MVF out in the field. The following day at the office I was asked to write and share a report of what we did and my personal reflections on it. So that I don't have to reinvent the wheel here, I'll share with you what I wrote for work rather than write a new blog that'll say the same thing:

Visit #1: Village Board Meeting

During this meeting, (which was conducted in Telugu and translated for us by Ankita and Swamy) members of this tribal village were being educated on the recently passed Rights to Education Act (which entitles all children ages 6-14 to free and compulsory education in India). Provisions of the act were being explained to them and there were two opposing views in the room: One that had no faith in the government to create the necessary infrastructure in order to implement the act, and another view that maintained faith there was a way to implement the act regardless of the government's initial cooperation in doing so. Representing that first perspective was a village farmer/father who expressed his frustrations with all of the following: The local government school's (compare to your districts public school) student-teacher ratio of 200:1, that the poor were being discriminated against, that teachers were being deployed from the classroom for purposes other than for teaching, and that there are entrance exams and screenings being given at the government schools. Ultimately, this man didn’t believe that the act would actually be implemented. On the other hand, a villager who identified himself as a politician tried to encourage this man to recognize that they now have legal protection from their concerns which is why they can believe the act will be implemented, particularly with the help of MVF.

Reflection: I had never been in a village like this before so I was really excited when we arrived. While I couldn’t understand what was being said during the meeting I was encouraged to see how passionate everybody was about it. I wondered a few things: Why would some members of the village not have attended – were they all working? If so, how do their voices get heard? Why was there only one woman at the meeting? Who was she? There was a boy at the meeting who was sleeping on his father’s lap - does he work? What does he do and why wasn’t he in school?

Visit #2: Boys Bridge Camp in Dharur

Note for blog readers: So I didn't include this in my report but the bridge camps that we went to are MVF schools that have been created as residential facilities for children of designated age groups to live and receive formal education and counseling in order to prepare them for school. The vast majority of them were laborers (i.e. a boy I met at this camp who was 9 or 10 years old and had already worked in construction for 5 years...) and had been taken out of those environments to be prepared for school. None of these children had been to school before and some of them were as old as 14 years of age.

We arrived at the camp just in time for lunch. We briefly walked around the campus and had the opportunity to take some pictures of what we saw. There were about 170 boys and I saw about 8-10 adults/teachers there supervising the kids. The boys sat in 4 straight lines when they ate lunch and seemed to follow directions well from their teachers. When lunch was over we had the chance to play with the kids and teach them songs and dances in English. After that we sat with a panel of teachers, leaders in the community, and a reporter from the local newspaper, where Gabe, Ankita, and I had the opportunity to hear more from them about what they do and ask them questions. We had tea together and soya beans together before leaving. The reporter asked us questions about who we are, what the LIFE program is, and then his final question was “What can you say regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Reflection: This was the most fun visit of the day! I really enjoyed interacting with the children and teaching them songs and dances in English. They were so eager to learn and I was taken by how interested they were in us. Is it because we are foreigners? Is it specifically because we are from America? When we first arrived and walked around the campus during their visit I wanted to be as invisible as possible so as not to interrupt their lessons but I learned pretty quickly that nothing about my presence was invisible. I was saddened to see the quality of their bathrooms, they didn’t look terribly clean. I also wondered how they get clean water? Where does their food come from? How is the school funded? Are the teachers paid or do they all work as volunteers? Do the teachers sleep overnight with the boys or are other people hired to do that?  What do they do with the boys who have special needs? I didn’t see anyone interact with them much and I’m curious about how the other boys treat them. Do these boys with special needs have the opportunity to learn? How are they taught? What accommodations are made for them?

Visit #3: Boys Government School

We walked across the street from the boys bridge camp over to the boys government school. The boys there were dressed in uniforms and appeared to be a bit older in age. There were some students playing outside and others inside in a class. When we arrived we were greeted by the headmaster of the school and a few other adults. We were brought to a classroom where there was one female teacher and about 50 male students. The boys were given the opportunity to ask questions and they asked the following: What times do you go to school in America? How did America become a developed nation – what were the strategies? Is there poverty in America? Are their child rights in America?  We were in the classroom for about 5 minutes and then sat to have tea in the staff room and take some pictures before we left.

Reflection: At the boys government school I was surprised to see how many students there were crowded into one classroom with only one teacher. Do the students just spend the day playing outside when they’re not in class? There was a teacher from the government school who met with us across the street at the boys bridge camp – why wasn’t he teaching? What were his students doing while he was meeting with us?

Visit #4: Girls Bridge Camp

The girls bridge camp was our last stop of the day. There were about 70 girls playing in the courtyard when we arrived. A few minutes after we got there the girls were called to sit in a circle. They were called on one-by-one to stand up and sing a song or review a part of their lessons from the day. We took a couple pictures of the girls and got to speak with a few up them with the help of Ankita’s translations. I met one girl who told me her name and said that she didn’t know her age or her birthday.

Reflection: By this point in the day I was really tired and had less energy to interact with the kids than I had at the prior 2 settings. I observed that from the bit of the campus we saw it seemed as though the environment for the boys and the environment for the girls was just about equal, one didn’t seem to receive more or less funding than the other. I was really struck by the girl I met who didn’t know her birthday. From my frame of reference that shocked me, but what was even more alarming was the realization that she is one of thousands of children who doesn’t know what day she was born or how hold she is. Note to blog readers: I discussed this with my supervisor who informed me of the thousands of children who are not documented when they are born and don't know their birthdays or ages. In cases where the parents are still living and in relation with them, sometimes they can identify an era when their child was born (i.e. during so-and-so's term as prime minister).

This is Nagamani. She doesn't know her age or her birthday. Her father lives in another state and her mother is deceased. She's scheduled to live at this bridge camp and attend school for 18-24 months to prepare for the 7th grade.
The following video is the boys singing to me the end of the alphabet (the video starts around Q). The last video explains itself :)

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