Posts tagged ‘Deep Griha’

April 7, 2014

Thank You For Being Here

by Tabitha Kidwell

Next week is my last week in India, and I have a vague sense of regret – like I haven’t done enough things or gone to enough places. That’s probably true, I haven’t, but then, that’s not exactly why I came. When I plan trips as a tourist, I usually pour over Lonely Planet and Wikitravel, trying to learn as much about what there is to do and see. I circle fun bars and enticing restaurants, and daydream about walking tours. I dutifully read the entire “history” section. But I didn’t plan this trip as a tourist – in fact, even after being here 9 weeks, “visit India” remains on my bucket list. My main reason to come to India was to volunteer at Deep Griha, and that is what I have done. I’ve only been to Pune, and the couple of villages 50km east where Deep Griha has programs. I haven’t really gone anywhere outside the sphere of Deep Griha – I stay at the Cultural Center (the volunteer house) on the weekends, then come out to City of Child (the boy’s home) and Deep Griha Academy during the week. Given that India can also be referred to as a “sub-continent,” and it really seems like I haven’t been anywhere at all.

I also feel a bit like I haven’t done anything. Coming here, I had an ambitious but ambiguous plan to do “curriculum revision” or “professional development” or “materials design.” Basically, I wanted to do whatever I could that would be of help to the teachers and the school. The first few weeks of my plan were set aside for an initial “relationship building” and “needs assessment” phase. This plan, however, was complicated by the fact that I was here during the final 10 weeks of the school year, which were busy with end of the year performances, parent-teacher meetings, and exams. This is not a time for big projects in any school, let alone here, when each day has been more oppressively hot than the day before, and no one has much energy left for anything. The weeks slid by and I seemed to be stuck in that initial phase. I built relationships – I chatted with the teachers in English, went to their houses for tea, gave some English lessons. And I didn’t so much assess needs as help with emergencies when they erupted (Can you copy this DVD? Teach us an American dance! Why isn’t the printer working?). I would go to school and be busy all day, but my work here didn’t end up as cohesive as I had planned. I substituted for absent teachers, gave IT support, checked English grammar, and coordinated other volunteers’ visits to the school. Finally, after 6 weeks here, I was able to start my “teacher development program.” We had 9 workshops focusing on best teaching practices, and worked together to develop a teacher evaluation rubric. The teachers spent a lot of time discussing what successful teachers do, and I think having the rubric will help them grow in the future. I think it was really useful work, so I guess I did do something, even if it was less than I had hoped.

But, in the end, what I did (or didn’t do) and where I went (or didn’t go) won’t be what defines this experience in my memory. Halfway through my time here, the school had it’s Annual Day, a performance for the parents. Each class did one or two numbers, and I had helped (finding the music, writing the script, or choreographing the dances) for 5 different numbers. At the end of the performance, the MC was giving the farewell speech (which I had edited.) She said “To Miss Tabitha, thank you for being here…” page turn and realization that the sentence was not over… “And helping us.”

She could have stopped at the page break. I suppose I’ve helped the teachers, here and there, but the important part of my being in India seems to be just that: I have been here. I didn’t need to go anywhere special or do anything important for this to be a meaningful experience – all I had to do was be. When I look back on this time, I won’t think about the great program I did or the amazing trip I took; I’ll think about the little moments that, added up together, make daily life. Sharing lunch with the other teachers. Dodging a cow on my morning run. Waiting to eat while the boys sang their dinner prayer. It’s enough. In fact, it’s more than enough. Living in India has been an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

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March 23, 2014

Tourism, Schmorism…

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’m a terrible tourist. I hate traveling. These are strange words for someone who, in the first six months of 2014, has plans to visit Indonesia, India, Malaysia, France, Spain, Colorado, and – wait for it – Oxford, Ohio. But the truth is, I hate the process of lugging around bags, waiting for trains, haggling with a taxi driver, etc. And I’ve already seen my lifetime quota of caves, churches, temples, and waterfalls. Once I drag myself to a tourist attraction, I’m often quite happy to be there, but more often than not, in Asia at least, I’m hot, thirsty, and annoyed by all the people blocking my view and attempting to practice their English on me.

I love being in other countries, though. My favorite things to do in other countries are basically my favorite things to do at home – sit in a coffee shop, meet a friend for a drink, relax somewhere peaceful reading a book. I love going to the grocery store to see what they sell in whatever country. I’m always pleased if I can find almonds, peanut butter, plain yogurt, and the other foods I eat basically everyday at home. And I really love working in other countries. I love going to school here and helping the teachers with their English and computer skills. Last week, I started leading a series of workshops to help them develop a teacher evaluation system, and it’s going really well.

Some of the teachers from school

Some of the teachers from school

Sometimes I can work up the energy to be a tourist. I had an amazing three-week trip though Vietnam last summer. But tourism just isn’t calling me at the moment. I came to volunteer with Deep Griha, and that is what I want to put my energy into. I can come back to India one day and be a tourist. If I didn’t know myself better, I would think this lack of motivation was part of the funk I described a couple of posts back. But I know that forcing myself to go see some buildings or monuments isn’t right for me at the moment. So I’m not going to see the Taj Mahal. I’m not going to the Himalayas or Goa. I don’t even think I’m going to go to Mumbai, 4 hours away. If I wanted to, I could – I’m a volunteer here, after all, I could un-volunteer. But what I really want to do is go to school on Monday and help the teachers type their exam papers, then go home and play uno with the boys at City of Child. And I don’t feel even a little bit bad about that.

Better than the Taj Mahal anyways!

Better than the Taj Mahal anyways!