Archive for February, 2014

February 27, 2014

Everything is Temporary

by Tabitha Kidwell

Living at the Deep Griha City of Child and working at the Academy, I’ve pretty much lost control of my life. I get e-mail on my phone, and facebook for about 5 minutes on the road to school everyday, but otherwise I have no connection to the outside world during the week. To get to school, I take the schoolbus, so I leave and return on that schedule. The aunties at the boys home decide what and when I will eat, ringing the dinner bell and packing my lunch box. Everyday, the kids on the schoolbus commandeer my attention: Miss, colors! Miss, fruits! I’ve decided it’s easier to let them quiz my Marathi vocab than to try to ignore them. I have very little control over the details of my life, so I’m doing my best to just let go of my need to control it. This makes me feel like this:

In the past, this would have been unbearable to me. If I had shown up in Indonesia or Madagascar and told that these were the terms of my stay there, I would not have put up with it. But for two months here, it seems okay. Having the mindset that this is all temporary makes it totally bearable, even novel and fun. Of course, my stays in Indonesia and Madagascar were also temporary – two months or two years, in terms of a lifetime, are not all that different. Something I’ve been realizing recently is that everything is temporary. This is nothing that wise people before me haven’t acknowledged (this too shall pass; the cycle of birth and death; valar morghulis), but it’s new to me.

It was such a treat, for example, to come to Indonesia for just one month. The many daily inconveniences that often drove me off the edge last year were much easier in small doses. I was friendly to the kids shouting “Hello Mister,” patient at airline baggage claim, and okay with eating rice 2-3 times a day. The temporariness of my stay helped me enjoy the time in Indonesia much more.

The loneliness and boredom that came with living at home for 6 months without a job… the frustration of spending hours constructing giant snowglobes that would last only 6 weeks at Christmisc… in fact, the futility of putting up any Christmas decorations at all, just to take them down weeks later… the whole world seems to be conspiring to teach me this lesson, that everything is temporary.

And now at home, someone I love is dying – my step-father’s mother. My mom has only been remarried for 9 years, so I didn’t grow up knowing her, but I came to admire and adore her and call her Grammy. She had been a teacher for many years and always asked about my students and classes. She was so excited to hear that I was planning on getting a PhD in education. In the last few months, when she was in the nursing home, I went and sat with her, transfixed by her stories. Unlike my Nana Bets, Grammy’s mind had remained sharp, and I loved hearing about her kids when they were young, about our church 50 years ago, and about how she had gotten sick of bridge luncheons and decided to go back to working as a teacher. She’s been declining the past few years, and has been sick and uncomfortable as she neared the end, but she was still kind, caring, and sweet. Though our relationship was short, I’ll still cherish getting to know her. Not quite everything is temporary – death is very, very permanent, and I wish it weren’t time for Grammy to go. But she, along with the rest of the world, it seems, are helping me to see that even if life and the turns it take may be temporary, we can still enjoy it, we can still be loving towards each other, we can still build meaningful relationships. In fact, if we do, life becomes a little less temporary. I’ll carry my memories of Grammy the rest of my life. Maybe those kids on the schoolbus (Miss, Animals!) will do the same for me.

February 14, 2014

First Week of School at Deep Griha

by Tabitha Kidwell

After I spent my first week getting a feel for Deep Griha’s many projects, I realized I would be most effective out at their rural school. The school opened 7 years ago, and has expanded one grade level per year since; they now have 340 students from pre-school to grade 6. Their goals are ambitious; not only are they offering an alternative to the rote learning typical in many rural schools, they also hope to expand to serve as a community center, agricultural resource center, and rural health clinic. I don’t know much about most of that, but I think I can help the teachers improve their practice by sharing some of what I have seen in classrooms around the world.

The school is a 90-minute drive outside Pune, so I moved out to stay at City of Child, the orphanage they operate nearer to the school. Not all of the 42 boys are orphans – many come from single parent homes in urban slums where they can’t get the care and educational opportunities they can at CoC. It’s pretty intense staying out there – the electricity is intermittent, the mosquitoes are fierce, and the showers come in a bucket. And I certainly can’t pop out for dinner or shopping with the other volunteers to let off steam. Oh, and no internet. Ouch. But it’s peaceful and quiet, and I’m happy to be embedded in a local community.

To get to and from school, I spend an hour on the bus with boys from CoC and other kids we pick up along the way. During that time, I practice my Marathi alphabet and get high-energy vocabulary lessons from 4th graders. So far, I’ve mastered colors, fruits, domestic animals, and vegetables. I’ve been told that wild animals, actions, body parts, emotions, flowers, and birds are coming up soon. In fact, they would have taught me all those already if I had not limited them to one vocabulary topic a day – which is already more than I can absorb.

My dedicated teachers

My dedicated teachers

Once we get to school, I go hang out in the teachers lounge, where we open our “tiffins” (lunch boxes) and eat breakfast and chat. Well, they chat in Marathi and then someone usually translates into English for me. This is the first of three times we open our tiffins, which is an eating schedule that suits me just fine! This first week, I’ve just been observing classes, getting a feel for how everything works at school, and trying to build relationships with the teachers. That’s not too difficult since they’re mostly women in their late twenties and early thirties who are planning weddings and having babies and are basically just like my friends back home. Yesterday, there was an event at school to inaugurate the new library and the teachers were all planning to wear nice saris to school. They were dismayed to learn that I had no saris or even bangles to wear, but promised me they would bring me everything I needed. When we got to school, a group of giggling teachers herded me into the restroom, inserted me into a sari, and swapped out my jewelry. They suggested not-so-subtly that I comb my hair (wavy hair doesn’t seem to be appreciated here) but were appeased when I pinned it back. I’m not sure if I’m “in” their community yet, but I sure do look the part:

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Next week I’m hoping to have an informal interview with each teacher about their backgrounds, frustrations as a teacher, and ideas about how I could help them. We’ll see what direction that takes me – maybe planning some workshops, maybe doing observations and instructional coaching, maybe sharing materials and activity ideas. To be honest, if I just help them improve their English by chatting with them in the teacher’s lounge and over lunch every day, that’s enough.

So, between work at the school and time spent with the boys out at City of Child, I think the next two months will be very well spent! Plus, think of all the random Marathi vocabulary I will know by then. I’m pretty sure none of the vocabulary lists they want to teach me will be “conjunctions” or “verb conjugations,” so I might not be able to string together sentences. But I’ll identify flowers with the best of them!

February 7, 2014

First impressions: Week One in India

by Tabitha Kidwell

I can’t believe I have already been in India a week! Whenever I go to a new place, I feel like time is simultaneously slipping away and lasting forever. The days are so full of new experiences and surprises that they fly by while seeming longer than normal. In the same vein, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot but haven’t done much of anything. Everything I’ve done is small but very important: meeting people, getting cell phone service, figuring out how to bargain with a rickshaw, learning to say “what’s your name?” in Marathi. If I do one or two things a day, I’m making important progress towards living comfortably here for a few months, but it feels like I’m not making any progress at all.

In any case, it has been a great first week! It helped that I had good guides as I began to explore. There are 11 other international volunteers staying at the Deep Griha house at the moment – from Canada, the UK, Australia, Italy, France, and Poland! Some of them have been here as long as two months, and some will be here the remainder of the time I’ll stay, so they are a ready-made community of really lovely people. As often happens in intense experiences, I feel like I’ve known them much longer than one week!

Besides the other volunteers, Deep Griha as an organization has provided a great community. Within the first two days I was here, I had already sung “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” at a pre-school, gotten a dance lesson at an after-school program, and drank tea with aunties in an urban slum. I’ve been amazed at all the good work that Deep Griha is doing. The organization was founded in 1975 by Dr. Neela Onawale and her husband, Rev. Bhaskar Onawale, as a medical clinic. Dr. Neela saw that many of the patients were suffering because of malnutrition or misinformation, so the clinic expanded to offer nutrition and health education services. Many of the mothers that came in wanted to work but had nowhere for their children to go, so they opened a nursery. Some women who wanted to work had few skills, so Deep Griha began to sponsor women’s empowerment groups. As needs in the community came up, the organization did what it could to help, and Deep Griha is now amazingly multi-faceted, with projects addressing women’s empowerment, child development, healthcare, education, AIDS awareness and prevention, and family welfare. They are making people’s lives better, little by little, step by step, year after year. I learned about Deep Griha through my church’s ongoing partnership with them, and I am thrilled to be able to report that our sponsorship is helping accomplish amazing things. My heart is full of happiness at the moment, and I think this cheesy housing complex billboard explains why:

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I really feel that I am just where I need to be at the moment. So many factors have played a part in my being here: First Community Church’s involvement and the grant they gave me to come; my experience with teacher development in Indonesia; the fact that I have a free year before starting grad school. I feel like the fact that I am able to be here at this moment in time is a small and magical miracle. Still, it is tiny compared to the miracles that Deep Griha is performing everyday. I feel honored to just be a part of it all, doing whatever I can do to help, little by little, day by day. Hopefully, after ten weeks, that will amount to something very meaningful!

**Want to help, too? Consider donating to Deep Griha here: http://deepgriha.org/index.php/get-involved/donate/online-giving-centre I know of few organizations that will use your donation more meaningfully!**

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