What is our purpose in life? What is our contribution to this world that we live in? To me, going beyond living a life of fulfilment for myself is important. Doing something that will impact the course of the life of someone else. To touch someone by doing or helping in a way to make a difference in their life. In the following I share my experience from volunteering in an Indian all girls Government School.
Late autumn 2019 I travelled to Delhi to volunteer at a Delhi Government School. My purpose was to give the students that come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, hope and a feeling of importance. To make them realise that they have a role to play in the future of India and where it is heading; that all of us have a responsibility and above all the ability to make a difference if we choose to do so.
What do we associate with Delhi Government Schools? My notion until the day I started my experience was that Delhi Government Schools were:
Dirty, lacked infrastructure, poorly managed, students from low-income homes. Teachers teaching up to 60-70 students per class and therefore not being able to do a good job of teaching, lack of enthusiasm for teaching.
I believe I share this notion with everyone who has grown up in India and later moved overseas. In India, everyone who has the opportunity is advised to go to private schools. They are the ones that can give proper education and good surroundings.
After meeting with Mr Shaliendra Sharma – advisor to the Minister of Education, I was placed at V.K Punjabi Bagh – all girls school.
I was to meet with a mentor teacher to chalk out what I would be teaching and to which students. What is a mentor teacher I thought – well I was to meet one of the most interesting persons. A dedicated and passionate teacher who lived and breathed for teaching 24 hours a day. I was later to find out that she was awarded teacher of the year by the President of India in 2018. Along with her was the school’s coordinator. A lady so humble and compassionate that anyone would like her. She arranged and coordinated all my classes throughout my three weeks at the school.
On my first day, I was met at the school gate by busy students heading into the school area. All dressed in clean uniforms and groomed hair. What a welcoming sight I thought.
Upon entering I was taken to meet the principal and vice-principal. They were ready to receive me and eager to hear what I wanted to teach and to what age group. I was taken on a tour of the school where I found that surprisingly there was a classroom with computers, a room with an overhead projector, clean and neat classrooms and proper desks for the children to sit on. A huge ground with three tennis courts. Wow, I thought this is not at all what I had imagined. Additionally, I was told that half of the school was under renovation. Many new classrooms would be added on to the school to enable even better conditions.
I started interacting with the children in arts and crafts class. They were using block printing to make bedsheets. I was told that the arts class students participated in competitions as the students were very talented. The students were eager to interact and tell me what they were working on, and I was taught how the printing was done. And so started the first day of a three weeks experience that has left me spell bounded.
To my surprise I was to teach subjects like Entrepreneurship, happiness classes, talk to students about how to reach their goals, cyber security and talk about Norway - how it was different from India and how the school system works. I was also able to attend a meeting that took up the topic of menstruation. The students were attentive, and I was surprised by how interactive they were. They had many questions and sometimes it was difficult to answer all their queries. Additionally, I was joining the students on the grounds playing with them. Games like “Chain” and “Kho.ko”. There was laughter and giggling. Everyone wanted to play and enjoy their time outside in the air before having to head inside the classrooms to continue their classes and their learning.
All the topics I was to interact on were non-academic. Wow I thought, what is this? Is this really a government school? Gone were the prejudice thoughts of what the schools were supposed to be. Here were students that were happy, interactive, and eager to learn. The classes were from 25-50 students allowing all to interact and ask questions – nothing like I had imagined. Teachers were so engaged in their students that they know them on a personal level. They were involved and wanted the children to succeed, achieve and become something. I was asked to help and motivate them – tell them they can succeed. We keep telling them so, but they need to hear it from you.
Each day would start with participation in a happiness class where how to be a good human being was discussed. The session started with a few minutes of mindfulness where the children were sitting in silence concentration on destressing and carried on to talks on gratitude- honesty – thankfulness –and kindness amongst other things. What a way to start the day - by learning how to value and focus on what makes us good human beings.
I was always met by smiling and happy faces. Girls that would share their thoughts and their dreams with me. Many wanted to go on to become police officers, air hostesses, fashion designers, go into the army, accountants amongst other things. We discussed how research and gathering information is important on the road to their goals, and that school will make them ready to face the real challenges in life.
The days passed and before I knew it, I had to travel back to Norway. But at the end of the day, I leave the school, the students and the teachers with more than what I expected. I travelled to India with the hope to make an impact in the lives of young girls and help them becoming an important part of building the future of India. I leave India not only with an inner feeling of achieving this goal, but also with new insights that smashed my prejudices about Indian Government schools and the dedicated people working in them. Regardless of background the schools are empowering these students to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve something in life.
The Government Schools have transformed themselves into havens for children where learning – sharing and openness are key ingredients. The staff is engrossed in developing the mindset of these kids. Teaching them that through learning and doing well will enable them to pursue their dreams. Additionally, by learning to be a good human being they are ready to face what is ahead when they leave after 12 years of compulsory education.