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.