Life here has been filled with lots of piggy back rides, races, hairstyles, homework, art, tears, smiles, shrieks, and laughs. I fall into bed each night exhausted, so I apologize for my late update. Not only am I an older sister, but a caregiver, a teacher, and a playmate. That’s a whole heck of a lot of hats to wear in a day. I keep telling myself that this is the best practice I will ever have to prepare me for being a teacher. I don’t have the endless energy these kiddos seem to have – and they aren’t even allowed to drink the chai.
The weather here has been a bit odd. We live for the days we can spend outside soaking up the sun because that’s the only form of heat we have here. I came with the idea that I could handle the “Indian Winter.” I mean it’s not below zero, but there is no way for you to ever be warm. Half the time it’s warmer outside than it is inside. I keep telling myself that at least I don’t have to pay a $160 electric and heating bill.
The great thing about my “plan” when I came here was that I knew it would change as I went. I feel a bit silly for not thinking about it before, but education is a huge component of how children are cared for and nurtured. The things I have observed and the conversations I have had with Rashmi have really opened my eyes to the state of education in India and the complications within the system.
I have been learning more and more about life here in India, and gaining in depth knowledge about the education system. I came here with the intent of learning about how the Indian government cares for their orphaned children because I know most government orphanages are understaffed and unable to nurture their children in the way the children at SRA are. Rashmi has informed me that now, the police can no longer legally give SRA any children that are found abandoned. After a change in statehood, SRA is not recognized by the government as an official orphanage. Rashmi has no idea where these children go or who is caring for them.
At least 600 students from Haridwar and Shyampur village in addition to the SRA children attend the Sri Ram (SRVA) school. Their schooling revolves primarily around rote memorization and is quite strict. Teachers are not in their classrooms for undetermined amounts of time, and Rashmi informed me that the way here is that the parents teach their children. The teachers only provide the information. Sadly this burden is too great for many parents to handle, and even the caregivers at SRA struggle to ensure each and every child is understanding their schoolwork.
We talk about the state of education in America and that we are failing our children. Yes, we need to make sure we are reaching our students and instilling a value and love for education, but our problem is not isolated. There are 320 million (plus) children in India. Of that 320 million, 4% will never receive an education. 42% will stay in school until class 5. If they are lucky, they will attend a private school because the government schools are considered a low standard of education. 90% of Indian children will graduate from high school and never attend college. Only 10% of this 320 million will attend college. The state of education in India is something that needs to be addressed, and even if students are attending school, there is a good chance they are being left behind.
I have spent the last week intensely tutoring one of the children at SRA. Her confidence is low, and she struggles with her schoolwork because of being constantly told she is weak at school. To see a child go from not being able to spell the word “March” and timidly answering questions to jumping up and down asking to spell more words is incredible. She just needed someone to take the time to understand how she best learns and show her what her strengths are. She needed someone to empower her. The children at SRA are fortunate because their trustees and donors ensure that they have tutors after school each day. Many students who live in India do not have this type of support. Paying for private schooling is hard enough for so many families that paying for a tutor is out of the question. So how are children, whether orphaned or living with their parents, cared for by their country? That is the question I hope to begin to understand for the rest of my stay here and to research once I return.
I have no intention of making this post appear hopeless or accusatory. In fact my hope is that it will motivate people to start thinking about education as an important component of caring for children. Today I attended a presentation from a member of the Teach for India team, and the situation I just described was delineated in this man’s presentation. He offered hope for bridging the education gap in India to ensure all students, rich and poor, have an excellent education. The exciting part of this day was to see the interest in the students, grades 8 and up. These students were given hope and inspiration to help their country and to build a better future.
I have learned how to make a difference with limited resources during my time in India, and it has made me a much more resourceful and creative thinker. I may not have been able to do the art projects I imagined before I arrived, but I think that is the way things were supposed to happen. I believe, and a goal of the Teach for India program, is to help people understand that leaders are more than just good students playing the game of school. The children at SRA really are learning to become leaders. They host guests, plan events, teach their younger siblings, and make sure day to day life goes on at the Ashram. A family of 65 leaders who strive to excel inside and outside the classroom. That is a hopeful image.
Living in India for the past three weeks has taught me the importance of observation, reflection, and just going with it. Because let’s face it, I’m on one of the least predictable and most incredible trips of my life. I’ve been homesick, I’ve been overwhelmed, I’ve been incredibly happy, and I’ve been loved. Each day is a new experience with new things to see, new tricks the kids like to play on me, new lessons – whether they are about India’s independence or how to make someone laugh. Here’s to the next eight days I get to spend with this incredible family. I know it will be filled with laughter, dancing, good food, and good conversation.
We took a trip to Rishikesh with the kids. It is tradition at SRA for children to send their first paycheck back to the Ashram. Prabha, who works as a nurse in the US, gave her brothers and sisters this fun trip to Rishikesh.
Visit to Rishikesh and Hanuman’s Rock
Walking the streets of Riskikesh
Crossing the bridge