Sunday, 6 April 2008

You've been away? ...

Just in case I forget my place... on my return to the office, it was as though I'd never left. A few close friends have said hi, but most didn't seem to notice I'd been gone, with one colleague saying "oh, have you been away?", when I said something about the traffic in India.

India and the trip already seem so far away. I have made new contacts and was more involved with Asha's activities this time, so I hope that I can continue to keep contact. I will drop a note here on the blog from time to time, specially if I hear of of something new. I also have a few pieces which I still want to add from my trip. I'll also be updating my Fun with Images photo blog.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Ones Who are Left Behind

Someone said to me recently that it is always more difficult for the left behind than it is for the leaver. I cast my mind back over the different trips I have done over the years and the trips friends and family have done. I recalled the excitement of getting onto planes or trains and waving goodbye to those on the platform and also that sense of emptiness as I turned away from dropping someone off at an airport and retraced my steps, knowing they were the ones full of excitement for the trip and I’d be returning to an empty house…and my thoughts turned again to the women and children I’d met and worked with in my month in Delhi.

For the last visit to the slum I had taken drinks and eats, for the children. I mentioned that the women had painted my nails earlier in the week and I had agreed that I’d put on makeup and wear some jewelery on the Friday. For me “makeup” mostly just means mascara and lipstick and jewelery is a simple chain and some earrings. Having apologized for my lateness in arriving, I saw that everyone was smartly dress and I was asked to sit while I was dressed with more chains, my earring were replaced and my arm filled with bracelets. It all felt a little much, but we all laughed and the women passed around my little camera, taking pictures. Regrettably, most of these shots have tops of heads cut off or half a face displayed, but they’ll still remind me of the great afternoon.

Once they were satisfied that I was appropriately dressed, they set to singing.

Here women and children all got involved, with one of the women beating time on a little drum. Each of the women got up to dance and there was a lot of laughter. Finally we settled the children and they were given food and drinks.

As I mention it was an afternoon of laughter, singing and dancing, but every so often someone would stop and ask why I had to go and why I wouldn’t stay and that next time I should come for three months, with a few suggestions about staying a year.

This does worry me and I did not want the afternoon to end on a sad note, as some seemed to be heading that way. My only response to this is that we have a choice – either we don’t venture out and meet new people and have new experiences, for fear that we will ultimately have to say

goodbye, or we go out and meet new people and make new friends and may be someday, some place, we could meet again and if we don’t, our lives have been the better for the meeting. Certainly this is true for me, I only hope and pray that it is true for them.

Saying Goodbye to Zakhira

My last day in the slums and in Delhi was a little crazy. I bumped into Rani at the Asha offices in the morning. Rani is one of the Asha administrators, overseeing the work in a number of slums, including Zakhira, where we painted the clinic last year. I had really wanted to see the women I’d met last year and had talked about visiting that week. However, through a misunderstanding I thought they were too busy to see me on the Thursday and they thought I’d agreed to visit. On Friday morning Rani told me the women waited all day with garlands and I never arrived. Horrified I asked Rani to call the slum and let them know I was on my way. This was Friday morning, just before 12 and I was due to be in Jeevan Nagar by 2 for our farewell party. A quick glance at the map of Delhi showed me that they were at opposite side of Delhi, but I knew I had to go. Besides, I had wanted to say hello to the wonderful women we’d met last year. So an auto driver was briefed on directions and we set off. I did not realise that the journey was some 30 kilometres away and that it would take the better part of an hour to get to the slum. Also, when we got lost, I had no idea of where we were or what to do. The auto driver was no help, so we managed to get a third party involved, and using my mobile, tracked down one of the folk at the Asha offices who was able to give directions. With much hand waving, Hindi and gesticulations at me, there was finally enough information provided and we made out way to the slum. The women were waiting, having been warned of my pending arrival, ready with their garlands and a warm welcome. It was great to see the old faces and see how well the clinic we’d painted is being used. It did not look like it had only been painted a year before. The children’s resource rooms are grubby from many fingers and feet and the constant traffic, but I'm happy with that, as it means they have a space they love and can use.

It was also great to see computers in the rooms and the children using them. I only saw 2 in each room, though the young teacher there said they have 6 at Zakhira. I asked see what they're doing and the new young teacher there showed me their materials. The kids do computer literacy in English and start from the very beginning... “this is keyboard, mouse, hard drive…” Some are making great progress and are creating word documents and working with the drawing programs. Asha’s next venture is getting Internet access into the slums where they have computers and Zakhira now has this access. I’m really pleased about this, as they can now learn more about the world beyond their walls.

I settled down to chat to the women and have a quiet cup of tea, trying to still the loud ticking of the clock in my head, reminding me that I should be heading for my own slum and the farewell we’d planned there. Still I was really pleased that I’d stopped by and shared tea and caught up on a few stories. One of which reminded me of the really slow pace at which all these remarkable changes take place. Zakhira is divided into 2 sections. Both lie along the railway line, but the second of these is a little rougher than the one where we worked in the clinic. This second slum did not have any toilet facilities and they were building a new toilet block while we were there. When I asked how it was going with the toilet block, I was told that the inauguration ceremony was due to take place the next week. A year on and only now are they ready for use!

Apologising for my flying visit, I got back into my auto and headed for Jeevan Nagar, not realising my journey would take another hour and a half. When I arrived at 3pm, the kids had been waiting patiently for me for some time.

The Wonder of a Dupatta

It’s much easier to wear traditional dress while working in the slums than to decide which western outfit would be appropriate. I wear the SalwaarKameez. This is a long tunic over very baggy trousers. The ensemble is finished by a long wide scarf or wrap called a Dupatta. Not only is the outfit very comfortable, it feels wonderfully feminine, graceful and helps me blend in a little. Being 5’9” and fair skinned, I tower over most of the women in the slum, who average around 5’ and don’t really blend in, but the dress certainly helps. As I taught sitting cross-legged on the floor, the outfit was practical and ideal.

I have always loved scarves and have a collection of traditional African wraps, like my vibrant cotton kikois, which serve a multitude of purposes; sometimes a throw over a couch, sometimes a table cloth, always in a back pack when hiking (who knows when you’ll need a towel for the unexpected swim), and of course as a scarf or a wrap near a pool. You’ll have realised I'm not talking about a skimpy scarf, but a piece of cloth that is a metre wide and a couple of metres long.

As I moved through my experiences in Delhi, I realised that the Dupatta is an equally hard working piece of fabric. I first observed its usefulness when we’d been in a meeting for a while and a young child started getting fractious. He’d been pottering around quietly not disturbing anyone, but the meeting had continued too long and he was starting to bore. His mum called him over and pulled him into her lap. She pulled her dupatta over the length of his body, covering his head and he seemed to snuggle into the dark space created and promptly went to sleep. It goes without saying that it provides a wonderful space of privacy for a breast-feeding mother too.

I was not adept at wearing this length of fabric as the Indian women are, but as the weeks passed I did enjoy it more and more. I have included a few snaps taken showing it worn draped back over my shoulders, which is how many wear it, or just slung about my neck. The one I'm wearing in these snaps is very light, but I have others that are more robust.

The first week that I was in Delhi, it was cooler in the evenings and the journeys home in the open auto rickshaws meant that my dupatta served to provide warmth as I pulled it tightly about my shoulders. Later when it got hotter, and I was using the autos to get to the slum at midday it was very useful. At the height of the heat you get a wide range of smells - mostly not good, so the cloth was handy to subtly cover the mouth and nose to help mask the unpleasant wafts and just the dust that is kicked up all the time. In the evening when I was tired after the day, I pulled the dupatta over my head, using it as a head shawl, so that it fell and covered my face slightly and shielded me from the unwelcome advances of the evening sellers sticking their heads into the open auto as we waited at traffic lights in the busy traffic on the way home.

Of course, it served as light blanket to help me sleep at the Delhi airport, when my flight home was delayed by 7 hours. Draped as I was over a few chairs, I pulled it over the length of my body and shut the world out.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Lunch in the Slum: Sunita’s Story

Because I am spending most of my time in the slums with the children, I have not spent much time with the women. Although they are around each day to greet me on arrival, sometimes lingering at the door to watch a class and always there to say good-bye at the end of the day, we have only had brief conversations but nothing much more than that.

Today I had lunch with Anita and Sunita. Anita works for Asha in Jeevan Nager and has looked after me each day. Sunita heads up the Mahila Mandel (women’s group) in Jeevan Nager. I had been instructed to arrive early, so we headed for Sunita’s home soon after midday.

We had a great time, chatting and exchanging stories, with Anita translating as we chatted. As with other slum dwellings, Sunita’s home is small, with 2 rooms. Perhaps it is easier to describe it as a small rectangular building divided width ways in two. The first section is the entrance and kitchen, with a 2-ring gas stove and fridge. Water is stored in buckets on the floor; one clean for drinking and cooking the other for washing. The second room has a small double bed, cupboard and carpet on the floor. This is where she and her husband and 2 teenage sons sleep. The house is beautifully neat, cool and comfortable. The cool bit was because of a large fan “air conditioner” in the bedroom/living room. Our chats were held sitting cross-legged on the bed, three women, from different walks of life, talking about stuff. As we chatted Sunita started to prepare the vegetables for lunch and a few more women drifted in.

When I first met Sunita she told me of the difference Asha had made in their lives and how she barely spoke to the women in the area. Now she has prayer meetings at her home every Sunday and through the course of the day 50 – 60 people will stop by. She has applied for a bigger home, as she can’t host this many all at once. Her visitors are not only slum dwellers, but from homes in the area and beyond. People travel to pray with her and she travels to them if they have prayer requests. Not only is her home open to all who need her, she provides drinks and a light meal. I asked if she worked to pay for the food for the constant stream of visitors and she said that her work is for Jesus and that God provides. She says she has all she needs and is happy. We talked of her husband who is both supportive and generous. He gives her complete freedom to come and go as she pleases. While this may seem the norm to most of us, this is not the case in many homes here, where some women are forbidden to speak with others and have no freedom of movement separate from their husbands. Sunita’s husband supports her activities financially and by helping with house work and cooking.

It was great sitting chatting and I even had my nails filed and painted! Maybe strange to you chaps reading, but it’s fun to have a “girlie” afternoon sometimes. I have a few friends who get hold of my hands and ‘sort my nails out’ with some colour - not something I fuss with much. I now have sparkly pink nails, fingers and toes, (as we’re barefoot in the buildings) which were immediately noticed by my kids when I went to teach later!

Lunch was delicious, a large bowl of rice with a chili vegetable sauce. (Should I admit that I looked on with concern as they chopped the chilies – I should not have worried, as they prepared two versions of the same vegetable dish, the second with a fraction of the chilies.) I was interested to note that they used a pressure cooker. I think my mother is the only other person I have seen using one. Such a sensible vessel, only needing heat for a relatively short time, as they said, “lunch will be ready in no time” and it was!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Medics, CHVs and a Frame of Reference (Part 2)

Last night I joined Kiran, some of the staff and the Tearfund team for dinner. The Tearfund team have had a rough time of it as almost the whole crew have been ill and some in bed for 3 - 4 days. In a short trip, that's a chunk of time. Anyway I was talking about teaching children who have so little exposure to the world beyond the slums and one of the directors, who has been involved with Asha for 15 years explained how this also impacted them in those early days. Aditya is a journalist and helped translate the medical terms and terminology into understandable Hindi.

The initial Asha team was primarily made up of medics. This was their primary role, pediatric and pre- and post-natal care. The medics are assisted today by the Community Health Visitors (CHVs) , slum dwellers who show the aptitude and inclination to get involved. Once the CHVs are selected, they are then trained. Once their training is complete, they have a small medical kit and can help on visits in the slums for minor ailments. They help with monitoring pregnant women and observation of all children under 5. That all seems fine, until you get back to this frame of reference concept.

I have said the women initially stay in their homes, they cover their heads, don't speak to strangers, and definitely not to men who are not their husbands. Now change their circumstances. They are encouraged to venture out of their homes and to get involved in the women's group and in community affairs.

To be trained as CHVs they get a little medical training. The medics use everyday terms (to them) like "blood pressure". All this needed to be translated into basic Hindi. How do you begin to explain to someone who has hardly left her home, let alone the village, who has little or no experience of medicine or doctors what blood pressure is and why it is important. Aditya said they'd translate the messages into basic Hindi and be faced with blank faces. Even though everyone involved was Indian, and native Hindi speakers, still it was so hard to find a starting point. Even here the gap between how many live and these slum dwellers is so significant. The task is not insurmountable, it just requires patience and understanding. It is evident by the success Asha has and repeats in the slums where they work.

Monday, 24 March 2008

A Frame of Reference

Whenever I have taught, presented or demonstrated, it has been key for me to try to establish a frame of reference for my audience. It's not always easy, specially if an audience is big and the audience at different experience levels. But I feel without it, the listener has nothing to build onto and I might as well be talking a foreign language. No matter what the level, if the listener has a base to build new information onto, then I feel the learning is more solid. The learner or listener is filling in gaps into an already known base. I call them hooks. Without hooks, the information goes into free fall...

Suppose for example you are learning English, as a first language French speaker, I'd probably be able to ask you to describe your home using English terms and we could work on a vocabulary and fill in the gaps. In the same way we could talk about holidays, customs, school outings and eating out, trips to the movies, shopping, hobbies... Now consider a child who lives with 7 other people in a 10' square room. Where the sleepers take turns to sleep on the bed, and then it is width ways, not length ways. Where there is a TV set, fridge and small cooker, in the same room and the room next door, is the next house. There is no experience of a kitchen, and bedroom being 2 separate rooms. When a street address is a house number and block number, i.e R/21 - 29. That is Block R21, #29. Where the other side of the city is an unknown quantity and shopping and restaurants are vague distant things that people do, but have not been experienced in any way. Now let's work on a vocabulary! I need to be a sketch artist, mime, actor and gymnast! I do have a few pictures at the start of a lesson, but inevitably there is a word or something happens and I need a little impromptu action to try to explain the meaning. Not too difficult for concrete words, when they grow more abstract it becomes more interesting! This is more difficult for the little ones who have such a limited range of experiences, compared to many children in other parts of India and the world. Still a wonderful challenge and a suggestion for those who come in the future to bring loads of big bright pictures of buildings and lakes and mountains and snow... bring on the Internet for these kids. Let's show them more of the world.

A Visit From Ireland

Two weeks into the trip and there was no teaching. There were two sets of visitors on Monday , 17th. Kiran likes to have a few faces to greet those “fresh off the boat” so to speak. So I spent the morning in the office working on a few Asha bits and then went out to meet the new team from Tearfund.

For those of you interested in getting involved in something like the trip I am doing or a shorter, taster trip, organisations like Tearfund help you do just that. This team are from all over the UK, all ages and from all manner of jobs and had each taken 2-week’s leave to do voluntary work. Apart from a weekend orientation, run by Tearfund, they did not know each other at all. Having landed the previous morning, they still did not have their Delhi feet and were a little jet lagged and perhaps a little bewildered.

After a brief welcome and a run through of do’s and don’t, mostly heavy reminders of be careful about food and being vigilant about hand washing, I joined them on a brief trip to a Kanek Durga, a slum only recently completed by the St. Stephen’s team this year. So newly done, in fact that the smell of fresh paint lingered. Kiran has not done this before, but as the St.Stephen’s team had done such a fabulous job, Kiran wanted to show the new team the type of mural’s that worked. I think it’s a great idea. It gives a new team an idea of the type of murals that get done and may help them plan their own. I remember our team last year and how we spent quite a bit of time trying to get arty. These murals were big and bold, a little fanciful and perfect for a children’s resource centre. What were also striking about Kanak Durga were the contrasts. I had I seen the before photos at St. Stephen’s, but it seems that Asha only has access to half the building, so the other half was not done and the contrast between the two sections is huge. I hung back and chatted to one of the children in the centre, where they now have 3 or 4 computers. The young chap was proficient enough in English to tell us about the products on the machine and show off a few skills. On this occasion, the Tearfund group did not go into the slum, but saw the clinic and went back to the main clinic, to await the arrival of the second set of visitors.

Perhaps carrying a slightly different profile, the second group of visitors, included the Irish Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Mr Eamon O Cuiv TD and was accompanied by Pat Byrne, Deputy Ambassador. Kiran introduced the activities at Asha in a brief presentation. Then everyone, the Tearfund team, and Irish entourage and a few of us “old timers” moved into Ekta Vihar, the slum just alongside the Asha Clinic, to meet the Women’s and Children’s Groups.

I have experienced this a few times; where we are taken to the slum clinic and visitors or guests sit on chairs surrounded brightly dressed women on mats on the floor. A translator, this time Kiran, introduces the women and has them explain their role in the women’s group. The Irish contingent were on a deadline and so the talks were shortened to having one woman give us a break down of life and the changes over the years.

You’d think they’d never told the story before. In theory there is one spokesman and she sets the scene, but any omissions might have others adding bits to the story. So it can be a little bit of a happy babble. They still seem to love the story and laugh and explain in earnest how conditions have changed over the years.

Before you go dewy eyed, the conditions are still appalling. The walkways are now concrete, the little homes are brick dwellings and many are 2 stories. The people have land rights and there are toilet blocks, running water and drinking water. But there is still filth, there are flies and the water in the little gullies is pretty indescribable. I still think, though conditions have improved beyond recognition, this is still no way for people to live.

My walk to the Ekta Vihar clinic the week before had been passed a small, temporary “butchery”. Blood and flies everywhere, this was the day or time of day for converting chickens to food. Crates of birds, followed by a slaughter section, followed by a cleaning section and final the completed, end product ready for the pot. The flies and blood were gruesome and unpleasant. In years gone by, this slum was all hardboard and plastic dwellings. Washed away by the monsoons and held together with whatever materials they could find.

The transformation for me is the women and people themselves. The extent to which these people have grown is so significant that I wish more people in the world could experience that growth in their own lives.

During the talk, the women grew very excited and all burst in on the telling of the tale. Kiran stopped translating and listened. Just the previous week, one of the drinking water pumps had stopped working and they’d requested the water department to come out and repair it. This was met with casual disregard and so the women staged a sit-in. Not only did they refuse to budge, they threatened the water department that they’d bring their husbands and children to join them until the pump was fixed. Needless to say the pump was repaired within the day. The wonder of this is that in the past, these women would not even leave their homes much less stand up to a government authority to demand their rights. Asha is helping take control of their lives and their community and that’s was so encouraging. Get dewy eyed about that!

Mr O Cuiv then spoke to the women, first thanking them for sharing and telling them about his visit. The women were full of question for him, asking about levels of poverty in Ireland. He told them that there had once been extreme poverty in Ireland and that it was not that long ago and that today there is nothing like the poverty he was seeing in India. Actually he was very encouraging, saying that it is possible to change things and that they’d taken the first steps to change and that the hardest step is the first one.

He went on to meet the children’s group, telling them how education is the key to development and related the story of his grandfather who walked 7 miles each day to get to school. It turns out his grandfather was the first Prime Minister of Ireland!

How lurgy's are treated at Asha!

So my last post was Tuesday last week. Frustratingly, I had a really bad night on Monday, last and on reporting it to the clinic on Tuesday morning, they ran some tests and had me on killer antibiotics within the hour. (Frustrating because I thought I was stronger and had been careful)
I have said for years that if you want to be helicoptered to a trauma hospital and have surgery, then South Africa, and preferably Johannesburg, is the place for that. (I speak from experience) and it seems that if you are going to catch a water borne bacterial infection, the Delhi is the place to be to have it treated! While the infection and drugs knocked me for the day, I was back teaching by Wednesday.

I'll update the events and activities in the next few days as I am back near an Internet connection.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The dreaded lurgy has bitten

One man down. Be back in touch with more news later.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Old People's Project and the Interview

I might have mentioned that I am working for Asha in the office in the mornings and then teaching in the afternoons. The work is varied and has involved drafting letters and sending emails. The team in the office is small and everyone lends a hand where needed. While I am here, I am an extra pair of hands. As you know the work Asha does cannot be sustained if it weren't for the money coming in through donations and grants. It's important then, to get news out about what's happening in the slums and the progress being made. Shamefully I am guilty of not reading all the news and so was unaware, even though it's in the newsletter, of a new program Asha has started.

The Old People's Program
In the slums, typically families only look out for themselves. Before Asha gets involved, some women, don't even leave their homes, much less consider communicating with their neighbours. Where there is a family, at least they have a small opportunity of talking. For the elderly, with no family, they can be on their own in their home and completely isolated. It's so much worse for the women, who have spent their lives in their homes, who lose husbands and may not have children. Asha has a new program that focuses on these elderly widows. Apart from regular visits from the health volunteers, the elderly women now attend weekly meetings in the clinic. They come for tea, a little meal and conversation. In most cases, this is the only conversation they'll have all week. As Asha helps the community develop, so the interaction grows stronger and the community starts to look out for the others more.

An Interview and The Finance Project
On Thursday I was asked to interview a couple living in Ekta Vihar, the slum just near the main Asha clinic. The interview was for a brief article for the newsletter to support an update about another of Asha's new projects. The couple I interviewed have been married and living in Ekta Vihar for 18 years. The conditions in the slum were appalling in those early days. Asha has been involved with Ekta Vihar all that time and the changes in the slum have been significant. As with other slums, walkways are now paved, there are water channels, they have access to drinking and running water (not the same thing!) and toilet blocks. In addition, Asha helped to start a housing project, so most slum dwellers now have brick homes, instead of the shacks they’d previously had. This couple said that life was good now as their brick home is comfortable, their children immunized and attending school.
We all want to continue to improve our lives and it's no different with them. With a greater income, they'd be able to provide their family with more. As with many of the slum dwellers, the husbands work and earn a small income. So too with this couple, where Shahid earns an income driving a commercial vehicle. The problem is that this is rented, leaving very little real income after he has paid the rental fees.

A loan from a bank would enable him to buy a vehicle outright and have money over to start buying things they need; a fridge, gas stove and provide more for the children. You can imagine that it would be difficult for a slum dweller to contemplate approaching a bank for a loan. In Ekta Vihar, they now have fixed addresses, so it should be possible, but most are afraid to even consider approaching the bank. Even if they did, the thought of the paper work and a possibly complicated process has left most reluctant to even contemplate this.

Asha has met with various banks in the area, who are happy to get involved. The Finance Minister, Mr. Chidanbaran, recently came to speak to the residents of Ekta Vihar. He listened to their needs and explained the process to them. Even very small loans (Rs 5000 ~ £60) will mean that these families can start their own small businesses. The types 0f business they start vary; some sell basic supplies in the slums like milk and bread, some have fruit stalls and others have cycle- or auto-rickshaws. Owning these means they are not tied down to perpetual rental charges and should be able to pay back the loan and build up small incomes. After the meetings it's looking very positive and the process to provide loans seems to be underway. As these projects prove successful, Asha will start rolling them out in other slums.

Small steps, but huge progress.

A Goat's in the News

I have not taken my camera out much, I think I'm still a shy photographer! Not wanting to be intrusive or conspicuous, have erred on the side of no pictures at all. The loss is a not well photographically documented trip! Anyway, I have started to take some and will intersperse a few here with my updates, and put the bulk onto my photo blog (Fun with Images).

This first image is a small shelter just near the main clinic on a very busy dual carriage way.

I like the goat. I spotted him and then struggled to get my camera out before he finished eating the news and before I was mobbed by the slum dwellers just nearby, who love having their photos taken. The children dash out and before you know it there is a crowd and lots of pushing to get into a picture.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Little Achievements and Big Steps

I'm getting to know the kids a little better now, so the different groups and individuals don't blur and merge into each other. I wasn't quite sure how the classes with the older group was working. That is, I wasn't quite sure who'd arrive for each class. As I mentioned, this is mainly due to their exam timetable. Now I have notebooks for each of them and have a much better feel, also I'm getting a better feel for their characters and abilities, which is great.
We're having a lot more fun in the classes this week and it feels like they are learning a little. For those of you used to high tech, high powered jobs, drawing stick figures on the board and going through " These are my eyes" etc may not seem all that exciting, but when there are 2 teams and each member in the team is required to add arms, legs, feet to the figure, it can all get really exciting, specially when hands are joined to shoulders. So this is my young group and for some of them this is their first exposure to any of this, an English class, a non-native speaker working with them and all the new sounds and structures. A rerun of the game had our figures looking more like people and less like aliens. The problem with the board game is that the dominant and stronger ones control most of the activity, so yesterday we sat in a large circle, each child with a book and coloured pen and played "The Chain Drawing" game. I'd call out the instruction "Draw a head", once they had drawn the head, they had to pass the book on to the left, and wait for the next instruction. By the end of the exercise, the books had brightly coloured stick figures, dressed with trousers, shirts and hats. (Some also had an approximation of labels) They still looked a little like aliens, but what a wonderful time had by all. Each one "correcting" an aspect of the drawing being passed on to them , before adding the new bit.
Finally a breakthrough today when our youngest arrived and spoke his first complete sentence, clearly, without assistance and in response to my greeting and question.
This is a breakthrough because he has been mumbling an approximation of the words and all the childre, younger and older, offer single word responses. Sentence structure is an issue for them, as Hindi has no articles and the word order is quite different to English. So while I was really pleased with his response, there was a cheer from the women gathered at the door of the classroom, where they sit and watch.

Monday, 10 March 2008

I think she's got it...

"i think she's got it..." Well not quite yet, but the classes were much better today than last week. Thanks for the suggestions, links and thoughts sent. I have also found a website with some learning games for children. Today I gave each of the children a book to write in and a pen. So the lessons included some writing, which they seem to love, some games and a board race. All covering the bits we did last week.
Just to remind you of the scene. There are 2 groups, a mixture of ages 8 to 10 and then a mix of 11 - 15, with varying levels of little or no English. I found a few nice local children's books with nice short stories (just a paragraph long) in them, along with a few pictures. I plan to read one to them at the end of the lesson. I only did one with the little ones today and even this short story needed mime and drawing and pictures to help it along. Anyway, there was a lot more laughing and I think we all enjoyed it more. I certainly did, as they were much more involved. Now I just need to plan 8 more of those (for this week!)

I have always admired the patience and endurance teachers have and this only serves to underline that once more.

High Tea at the Ritz..

Well it wasn’t high tea and it wasn’t the Ritz, but it felt just grand and a little escape into a small piece of calm. The plan was to join Freddy and some of the women from a few of the Mahila Mandel (Women’s Groups) at their fortnightly bible study and prayer meeting on Sat morning and then to head on down to Old Delhi to explore.

I’ll do a separate piece on the meeting later. This part of the story starts after lunch. Freddy suggested I catch the Metro from Connaught Place at the hub of New Delhi to Old Delhi. That way avoiding the heavy traffic and bustle to get there. So that became part of the plan. What’s more it meant I could suss out Connaught Place and the Tibetan market on Janpath Road. All spots I wanted to visit.

The trip to the start of the Tibetan markets on Janpath is through this rough jostling area we are working and living in. This is where the really hairy driving is and the roads are chaotic with diversions and not –completed road-works, but the road seems to suddenly pop out onto broad open dual carriage way and there was a certain feeling of calm. Here we pass official residences and stately government buildings. The peace didn’t last that long as we head around and onto Janpath. Dropped just at the start of the markets I couldn’t quite face the onslaught and so turned abruptly into the Imperial Hotel. Very grand, with a majestic drive lined with very tall, stately palms leading up to the entrance and all surrounded by green lawns and beautiful flower beds. Inside is a haven of tranquility. I took a little tour of the place and settled for ‘tea and scones’ in an inside atrium. Very civilized - and good to have a little time to read and be quiet.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Out and About in Vasant Kunj

(Two posts today, I'm posting my back log as there was no life in the service provider...)
Life in Delhi is very different from back home. I know lots of people only ever drink bottled water in the US and UK, but I have always been happy with a jug from the tap. Not so in Delhi. We order a large bottle of water for the flat ever few days and use this for all drinking water. Other water, for tea or cooking is boiled, as is the milk. So it’s quickly becoming routine to boil a small jug of milk for our use for the day. When out and about we always carry our own bottle of water. The temperature is creeping steadily upwards and so having water to hand is very important. The sneaky thing that we “weak bellied westerners” need to watch out for is when foods might have been freshly washed and served. There is no guarantee that a nice fresh salad might not have been washed in dodgy water, so the maxim is “If it hasn’t been boiled, cooked or peeled, bin it.”

While it is safe to eat in the flat, I really wanted to try the food further afield. The flat is in an area called Vasant Kunj and there is a small shopping complex and market not too far off. (I think I mentioned that) On Wednesday I headed out early for a meal, straight after I'd finished teaching, because I wanted to join a yoga class with one of the Asha workers later. The small shopping centre near us is about 15-20 minutes walk away. The route takes us past an open manhole (not uncommon) right at the start. What is apparently also not uncommon is that it’s open to raw sewage. In this heat (and it’s not that hot yet, relatively speaking), it brings a whole new meaning to “bad smell”.
I suspect the restaurant on the street might become my "local". It's all on the street with a few plastic tables and chairs near an open grill and "kitchen". The food is very good and reasonably priced.
After that I needed transport. The best form of getting about is the auto rickshaw, a small green and yellow (flimsy) 3 wheeler. We used them last year and I have shared one with Alex this year, but had not yet needed to do this on my own. So Wednesday night I was "flying solo". It was vaguely disconcerting giving directions to a place I could barely pronounce and negotiating prices, without a clue as to what was reasonable, and hoping that I’d be taken to or at least dropped in the vague direction of the place I wanted to reach. As it happened I was dropped on the street I’d asked for, but had to walk some distance, as I’d not given quite enough detail to my directions. I’ll learn! As with the kids in the class, there is a lot of jostling and I’ve seen a few bumper bashings. These do not result in the whole road seizing up, instead there is some hand waving or a few hot looks and then everyone moves off again. – Although I believe there was a fatality on the route I was on Wednesday, which closed the road ‘til 4pm. I only learned this when commenting on how bad the traffic had been. My journey took an hour and I was very late for my first class – which doesn't help when the kids are already beside themselves with excitement.
Did I mention they say it's going to start getting hot? I can't imagine that, it's 33 degrees Celsius today. It shouldn't climb too far above 35 while I'm here though, but that's just the feeling.

Teaching in the Slums – An update

I started teaching on Tuesday. As mentioned I have 2 levels and we have settled on 12 children in each group.

To establish the level of language and to get to know the children, I started with greetings and introductions. The younger group is very busy. You might say hyper-excited. They shout all responses and are repeating what I say before I have finished the first word. I will be gray by the time I leave! (There was me thinking I’d have no discipline problems, with my fearsome voice and look. ;-) ) Once we’d done a lot of introductions I tried to get them to greet each other which dissolved into chaos, as they mostly want to greet me. The older group was better. These are the 12 – 15 year olds and they have started English lessons at school. (English taught in Hindi) They too do a lot of jostling and pushing during the course of the lesson, so I’m going to need to keep switching activities to maintain any level of interest.

Let me set the scene of the classroom. The clinic is positioned at the edge of the slum, in a small sandy play area or courtyard, accessed directly from the (noisy) street. It has 4 rooms, a toilet and a little kitchen, all off a main entrance. 3 of the rooms are allocated to health care. There is a doctor’s room, a dispensary and a “well-baby” room. This latter is used for general mother/baby check-ups. The 4th room is the resource center and is where I am teaching. The room is about 8’ by 10’; has a table, 2 chairs, 2 grass mats and a cabinet. The clinics are brightly painted by small teams of volunteers and kept in general good repair by local artisans and teams who come out specifically for the heavier duty projects. These teams get involved in some bricklaying, rewiring and general roof repair.

I digress. So we’re in a small room and we’re all on the floor. Jez lent me a few A4 sized whiteboards. These are GREAT! It means that I can write sentences, words or draw pictures and show them easily, without having to stand looming over them and writing on the white board. This works on so many levels. I’m quite tall and they’re really quite little, even the older ones, so seated on the floor means the white board is high and a neck straining distance from them. Hence the jostling - on the floor, they are within pushing and prodding distance from each other and they do!

On Wednesday I thought I’d go back to basics with the little ones. I had a few activities planned. I have a large pile of cue cards with a variety of animals and so we looked at the animals and categorized them, whether they’d be found in a forest or the sea or a farmyard. They were quite good at this exercise and quick to name the creatures displayed. But it seems they have a 5-minute attention span, so I switched to the farmyard animals and tried “Old MacDonald” Which may or may not have been a resounding success. Depends whether you can handle twelve 8 year olds belting out a song. I think there was something of a tune in there. We ended of the session with “Meeting and Greeting” each other and this time it was much more successful.
For all those teachers out there working with young children starting out with language, all or any very short activity suggestions that you have used successfully will be gratefully received.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Getting Started

Monday morning saw a flurry of focused activity - and that was just us getting ready in the flat. Outside the world is a disorganized and very functional chaos. That's the traffic. We were fetched and taken to the main Asha Poly Clinic, where the students set off for their respective slums. The plans for me were slightly different. I have been allocated to one of the newer slums Jeevan Nager, some half an hour from the Asha centre, where I will be working with 3 different groups. The gap year students are teaching mornings and afternoons, as the children seem to do "hot schooling". (Something like us when we "hot" desk at work, when sharing desks. Here some kids go to school in the mornings and others go in the afternoons. So they can have extra tuition in the either mornings or afternoons.
I'll be teaching in the afternoons only, so will be working with those schooled in the mornings. Added to this, the kids are in the midst of exams, some of which are written in the mornings and some in the afternoons. So I have been given 3 groups, each with about 12 - 15 children and split up as follows: One ranging in age from about 8 to 12, and school level 2, 3 and 4, and two others with ages ranging from 10 - 15 and with school levels of 5 - 8. I'll spend 2 hours teaching each afternoon and will work with whichever group arrives, depending on exams and availability. Aah, the other thing I should mention is that they have not started a teaching program in this slum yet, so this is new to us all!

This is how it all started: On Monday afternoon I was accompanied by 2 of the Asha workers, one, Sweeta, is one of the senior administrators and has been with Asha for 18 years. She oversees many of the slums and it is her role to ensure things are running smoothly, and she moves from slum to slum doing just that. Sweeta will pop in form time-to-time, but after Monday's introductions, she'll be leaving me to it. She looked after me yesterday and introduced me to the Women's and the Children's Groups. (If you want to know more about those, take a look at a write-up I did when I was here last year, on Health Care and Empowerment). Once we'd had lunch and tea (very sweet, milky and all boiled together and always unexpectedly good) I went to meet the children. The whole group was there, from youngest to oldest, all shouting to get their knowledge heard. Overall impression: The older children read well, but have no understanding of the words. The younger ones read words, can say the 'abc' and have a limited vocabulary, but can't string words together to make sentences. Oh boy. I'm really not sure what made me think I'd be able to help in a month!

Just in case you think I'll be sleeping in mornings, that's not the case. I spent a little while with Dr Kirin Martin, who has a list of ideas and plans she wants to see implemented and has her office staff on a few of them already, but was hoping I'd be an able set of hands to help. So my time is scheduled for office work in the morning and teaching in the afternoon.

After a great day, I persuaded one of the students to join me at roadside restaurant for dinner. For all the curry junkies back in England, this is where it is best. Very hot (as in just off the fire) and delicious.

I wanted to tell you about today, but think that's all I can manage for now. Suffice to say - it was a great day. The children are phenomenal. If I can get them to speak, not shout, I might manage the month. They are so keen and so involved I have the group practically all in my lap, yelling responses. But I heard from Anita, who works in the resource centre at Jeevan Nager, that she'd already heard them wandering around the slum saying sentences, which is great. They are very keen on single word responses.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Planes, High Winds and Dust

I'm in Delhi, although there were certainly a few moments yesterday when I wasn't sure it was all going to go as smoothly as planned. To-date everything has fallen into place, from deciding I'd like to go back, to discussions with my company about being away, to help with my visa and booking flights and accommodation. I'm sure true for all of you, is a fretful night sleep before a trip and mine was, but mostly because I thought the roof was going to blow off, or at the very least I'd have my chimney crashing in over my head. While I did wake to rain at 3.30 am, the wind seemed to have abated. Not so in Amsterdam. So my 6.30 flight only left at 9.00. This meant a mad dash across the maze that is Schipol, in the hope they'd let me on the plane. (The note said "Gate Closed" and takeoff was in 5 mins. ) Fortunately the high winds that had delayed us, delayed many planes and so once again the flight was delayed while stragglers come from all over. A relief to me, and the many others they waited for, not to have to worry about new flights and hanging round a large airport.

Arrival is Delhi is a controlled chaos as we sort of queue for passport control and baggage. If you are the shy retiring type, you can be subtly elbowed to the back of the line. It being after 1am, most of us just shuffled along in the milieu.

I am sharing an apartment with 4 gap year students, 2 of whom come out to meet me at the airport and ended up waiting a good 2 and a half hours. It was really nice to be met and not have to negotiate with taxis at the stage.

Now we could do with some of that wind we had, here in Delhi. The trees are almost green but not quite, because they are all covered with a fine layer of dust and the streets and pavements are all massively dusty. Some folk have pottered off to one of the craft markets. I've visited it before and it's lovely, but think I'll save that visit for later. Instead I walked up to the local market near here with one of the guys. I was happy to find that there are good supplies of some of the bits I thought I'd like to use while teaching - flash cards and general games and books. My case was already quite a weight as it was, so I left most of my grammar books behind.
It seems the 2 girls here are teaching quite advanced students, who are also about their age - between 17 and 20 years, while the boys are in a slum where there has been no teaching before, so their kids are much less experienced. They also have a wide age range, from 8 - 16, which in itself is a challenge. (Takes me back to teaching in the homelands in South Africa and that's going back some years).

That's me done - I have no idea what tomorrow holds in store. No doubt I'll tell you about it soon enough.

Back to Delhi

I am back in Delhi!

If you are a past reader of this blog, you'll know that I went to Delhi last year with a small group from St.Stephen's. (My church in Twickenham, England.) If not, we went to do manual labor, for Asha, on the community clinic at the center of the Zakhira slum colonies in West Delhi. We painted and refurbished a small building, which they now use as a medical clinic and resource center for the children. The charity, Asha, runs these clinics in many of the Delhi slums. Asha is not only working towards helping the people in the slums with medical needs, but also helping these communities improve their general living conditions.
The trip had an enormous impact on me, not the least of which was the warmth, love and generosity from a group of people who have so little. It was while still on the trip that I became determined to go back to do some teaching.

Asha is always looking for volunteers to help out. Currently they are looking for people who can spare 2 months to teach English and computer literacy. Although I am not able to be away for 2 months, Asha are happy for me to do one.

So I am back (!) and plan to document my trip here using this site, which I started on our trip last year.

Friday, 8 February 2008

A New Mission Heads for Delhi

They're off! The first of this year's St.Stephen's mission team have landed in Delhi and started their journey through a whole new life experience. Read about their trip here:

I met the teams in January when they did their fund raising event. The challenge was to have a team photograph outside as many of London's curry houses as possible. As there were 2 teams it was turned into a little bit of a competition. The "Big Curry Race" started at 9am and finished at 5pm or as soon as any form of public transport was used. I joined team one as a few of their members were not able to make the day and one requirement was to have 8 folk in each photograph. We lost the Challenge as we only hit around 114 (!) curry houses in the time, while the other team reached a 120 odd. Both teams won though, as it was a superb opportunity for the teams to get to know each other. Nothing like walking the streets of London chatting to start to get to know someone.

It was great fun. Specially as the evenign was concluded with a fine meal.. What else than a curry!

I will not be joining either of the teams this year as I am retuning on my own in March to do a month with Asha. More on that later, but briefly, I hope to be able to work with and teach the children in one of the slum settlements a little English.