Leaving Naddi and becoming a Tourist

Originally posted April 28th, 2014

Two weeks ago, my wonderful mother showed up in Dharamsala.

She’d gotten on a plane in Newark, got off in London; got on another plane in London, got off in Delhi; spent a few hours sleeping in Delhi and boarded a final flight the next morning which took her up to Kangra, just an hour or so from me. We had a quick wander through Dharamsala which was entirely deserted compared to normal standards since the city is closed on Mondays. Back in Naddi, she pet a lamb, helped me teach some kids and then it was time to pack up and go.

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Ok, there was a bit more to it, but that was how it felt: quite the whirlwind last moments. On my final day in the area I introduced my mother to McLeod Ganj where we had the best coffee I’ve ever had in India (discovered only a few days before). Back in Naddi she came with me to my final fun club, where I was thrilled to see that for the first time in weeks all of my regular students had shown up. School holidays must finally be at an end. I had decided to spend this final Tuesday afternoon decorating the classroom which has remained entirely bare since we began renting it – just lots of empty space in between four brightly coloured walls.

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After I distributed art supplies so the children could draw pictures for the walls, I began putting up accumulated material from the past three months. The large map of the world I’d used to teach geography was put in the centre of one wall. The handmade paper from our attempts to teach about recycling was displayed near the shelves on a second wall. Representations of the water cycle which two particularly eager children had brought coloured in from the week before were added to the wall by the windows, with a sheet describing the process in Hindi to accompany them. The finger-painted peacock which Emma had made as an example for the children during her art class was added to the collection. And then on the final wall I had each children sign their drawing as they handed them in and we put them all up next to each other as a colourful representative of the “fun” side of the after-school programme. Everything was placed in laminated sheets to protect from the damp of monsoon season.

IMG_2011.JPGThe rest of the class we spent playing with foam stickers my mum had brought from the US. There were lots of little pieces which you could stick together to make elaborate flowers and the kids split into groups to work on them. Two of the girls latched onto the concept immediately and made some beautiful flowers which they stuck up onto the wall with great pride. Two of the other girls working together seemed to combine various pieces together at random, unsure of the end goal, while all of the boys and very young children enthusiastically starting sticking the finished flowers (made with much help from my mum) onto their shirts and showing off their new outfits.

IMG_2013.JPGIMG_2020.JPGIMG_2017.JPGIMG_2022.JPGIt made for a rowdy class with all the art supplies and the excitement of a new face, but they really had fun and I was so happy to look around the room at the end and have it finally look like a classroom, and a lively and interactive one at that. I’m not sure if the children understood what I was saying when I told them that this was my last day, but I’m glad I got to tell them regardless and hug goodbye some of the girls I was closest to. Fulfilling this role because it was really needed may not have been something I expected to do during my time in Naddi, but it was an amazing learning experience and I have so many wonderful and amusing memories from my times with these kids. I will miss them.

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Walking away from fun club I finally grasped that I was leaving for good. In the weeks leading up to this moment, I’d been increasingly eager to leave Naddi and the organisation I had been working for. I was starting to feel like I had contributed as much as I really could to my projects with my limited experience and their restricted resources, and at the same time, I was beginning to realise that I had learned just about all I was going to from this experience. It was the right time to move on and try something new. There were certain frustrations and unrelenting obstacles to progress working for an organisation like this and while much of it was equally rewarding, the difficulties were beginning to become overwhelming and I was ready for some easy living. Hot showers, nice beds, privacy and easy access to variety when it comes to food. Living in a room where things don’t stay damp all the time (going back to Scotland doesn’t necessary solve this particular problem…), being able to actually unpack my belongings for the first time in months. And what probably made me ready to move on more than anything was the fact that I’d been quite sick for the past week and was just exhausted by the fairly constant health problems that come with living in rural India.

But of course all of the factors that had made me so very ready to move on the week before suddenly seemed incredibly manageable and even possessed a nostalgic charm as I reached the day of my departure. Preparing to go back home was exciting, but also a scary prospect: worries about reverse culture shock and knowing I was coming back to more of the uncertainty and confusion that I’d left behind three months earlier. And going back to a place where I don’t have a group of friends like those I found in Naddi.

The people I met during this internship were the most interesting and inspirational team to work with, and overcoming new challenges with peers who support each other is a very special experience. Being in difficult and confusing circumstances while living in close quarters with a group of strangers makes for close friendships very quickly. Even the people you are less compatible with you end up with a deep understanding of and a respect for.  I really did learn a lot from the people I lived with in Naddi. There are people who have sacrificed a lot to work with an organisation like EduCARE which leads to a very passionate, thoughtful and creative approach to work. Everyone who was there had one simple thing in common: the desire for meaning in their daily life. Whether this was through the adventure of travelling outside of a comfort zone or the desire to work in a field which is trying to make the world’s future a little more hopeful, this shared desire makes for a group with interesting past experiences and exciting future ambitions. The one thing I’ve learned above all during my time in India is that meeting likeminded people who will push you and appreciate you, people you can connect with, doesn’t happen by coincidence – you put yourself in the right environments for it to happen. This is something I will carry that with me now that I’ve left, making sure not to settle for less in the future.

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After three months spent in India, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. Granted, for most of my time I was contained to one small area which was far from representative of the country as a whole, but it allowed me to live in a world very different from any I’d experienced up to now and I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity.

So while leaving friends, both from the community and fellow interns, was difficult and surprisingly emotional, it was also very much time for me to transform into a proper tourist and go see some sights before heading home!IMG_2034.JPGIMG_2033.JPG

Fun Club

Originally posted March 22nd, 2014

Learning To Teach

One of the most educational and valuable parts of being here in Naddi for the past two months has actually come in an unexpected form: fun club.
While I came to EduCARE to work in microfinance I was asked if I could also help out with the after-school programme once a week in the community we call JDM. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids and it’s nice to have a varied schedule, so I agreed.
The first few classes were challenging. My first week I went to the ASP with another intern who had been running the programme before I got here. He was playing games mainly aimed at improving English skills – things like a counting game, Simon Says using body parts, having one child imitate an animal and the others guess what it is etc.

The next week I took over teaching fun club alone…and dragged a friend along to help. It was pretty unsuccessful. Mostly because – I believe partially due to bad weather – only 5 or 6 children showed up and of these, 2 or 3 of the boys spent most of the time playing outside. The fact that some weeks there are 15 children and some weeks there are 4 makes it difficult to plan activities. After half an hour or so the kids who did show up lost interest and decided it would be more fun to braid hair for the remainder of our time.

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My second solo week there were a lot of kids with a lot of energy. I tried to introduce a few new games using “props” (for example, I drew some simple images on cut-up paper to make cards for a memory game) in the hopes that this would be more attention-grabbing. A few of the kids refused to play the games they knew well already, though, and were incredibly disruptive to everyone else. They were running in and out of class, climbing out the window, locking us in the room and chasing each other around. The class was at least partially salvaged when, towards the end, one of the older girls started writing in my notebook and the ones who were calm and attentive all took turns writing their names and ages, which they seemed to really enjoy.

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So it became clear that something had to be done differently. The kids learn English at school and while the older ones get bored by many of the games, the youngest ones aren’t really given a chance to partake. After a few discussions about what this after-school programme was meant to accomplish I came to realise that it’s aimed at offering alternative education from school, so introducing the children to wider issues and concepts such as environmental awareness and gender equality. While these can be difficult subjects to broach with children, it’s also incredibly important that they are given this forum. Taking more of a creative and varied approach would also hold everyone’s attention better, and so while dealing with serious issues some weeks, others would be devoted to crafts or sports – the “fun” side.

First I planned an afternoon where we drew family trees. The kids spent most of the hour working on theirs and then had to present to me who each family member was and their names. It was the first time that we had done something creative since I’d been there and they all seemed to enjoy having time to work individually and got very excited when they saw the paper and markers.

The following week was by far the most interesting one I’ve taught so far. I decided to focus on geography. I bought a map in Dharamsala and then put together a powerpoint of iconic images from around the world. My plan was to have the kids look at the images – things like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty – and guess where they were in the world. The next activity I planned was to have the kids name a country starting with every letter of the alphabet. Finally, we would end on a creative note by designing our own flags.

When we started it quickly became clear that they had no conception of any countries outside of India.

For every single image everyone would instantly yell “Delhi!”. “No, not in India”, I would say. Thoughtful frowns all around and then one of them has it – “Rajastan!”.

Then the image of Machu Picchu came up. “Naddi!!” yells one kid.

At last they seem to get the idea that none of these places are in India. Ironically they finally understand this as I get to the slide with the image of the Taj Mahal. They all look at each other, shrug, and one girl says, “well, I don’t know, but I know it isn’t in India”. Oh dear.

However, since after every slide I had the names of the monuments and the countries they were in, the kids could read the names and then try to find them on the map. They seemed to really enjoy this, actually, as they got quite competitive about finding the words.

With the second activity they didn’t know any country names from memory but could once again search the map to find words starting with each letter. By the end of this activity they seemed to be getting bored of finding things on the map and were very ready to move onto something more fun and creative.

I handed out different coloured construction paper I had cut up for all of the kids and told them to design their own flags. I showed some pictures of flags to give them examples and said they could draw whatever they wanted – if they had a country, what would the flag look like?

They all drew the Indian flag. I said that was great, but if they wanted they could turn the page over and draw whatever they wanted – as an example I drew a flag with a tree and some hearts and wrote “Lucy’s flag” underneath. They all turned their papers over and after a few minutes I realised that they were all peaking over at my paper. When I looked at their pictures they had all drawn “Lucy’s flag”… These kids are definitely not familiar with using their imagination to express themselves.

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So there have been a lot of ups and downs in fun club thus far, but it gets better every week and it’s really rewarding watching the kids engage more and more every class. It’s a great feeling to be able to give them a space to be creative and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us interns from a variety of interest areas to interact with the next generation in this community.

Feel free to comment with any suggestions for future classes!