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:

IMG_1047

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!

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