Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Salaam!!!

From the time I remember, money has always mattered to me… I always believed and still believe that money is important in life, which is one of the reasons why I joined TISS in PM&IR – I always wanted to be financially independent… freedom and self-reliance have been my dream goals in life…

As a part of my course curriculum, after my fourth semester, before we join our respective corporate worlds, we are required to spend one month working for any NGO. Its self-regulatory and it does not matter whom we work with and we have to just produce a certificate at the end of the month stating that we ‘have’ actually spent the month in social service.

I’ve always wanted to work with children and teaching them is something which I’ve always wanted to do. I realized once I step into the corporate world, I’d never get a complete month to devote to children. My love for children drove me to approach Salaam Balak, a trust which works with street children. The boys, ranging from 17-19 years work here, making paper bags, candles, diyas, rakhees and they are provided with afternoon lunch and education. They have English Speaking classes, drama workshops, judo classes and a host of activities. They have a room in a school building at Grant Road, Mumbai where besides these, they are also given access to computers. This trust has a night shelter for 30 girls ranging from 10-16 years where they are sent to nearby private and municipal schools for formal education and taught various activities throughout the year. They live in the night shelter. There is a center at Chowpatty where some boys are sent for formal education in schools nearby. Besides, local municipal school children who are under the Salaam Balak trust are also given similar facilities.

My project of two months includes providing the older guys with computer education – teaching them MS-Word, MS-PPT, MS-Excel as well as internet. The smaller kids would be exposed to computers, learn basics of MS-Paint and very basic computer operations. My project also involves providing life-skills and inculcating in them good habits and values.

4th April 2006 was my first class with five guys – Fajal, Satish, Manoj, Shiva and Suresh. In one word, their speed of assimilating knowledge is brilliant! They’d never worked with MS-Word before. All they used the computer was for music and games. Getting their attention to a class-room set-up was one of my first difficult tasks. I was also not too sure how comfortable they were with English and I really didn’t want to put them off. I told them to list down articles they see around themselves, in Word. Then they learnt how to create tables, cut-copy-paste, insert pictures, save documents, rename documents, password protect them. They thirst for knowledge surprised me. Once they started the work, they were on a roll… insatiable! I finally called it a day since I started getting tired. The class, which was supposed to last for 45 minutes (and I was apprehensive that their attention span wouldn’t last more than 20-25 minutes!) actually lasted for 2 hours.

This was undisputedly THE best time I’d had in years. To teach a group of eager kids is the best thing any teacher could want. I converse with them in Hindi, Marathi and Mumbaiyya Hindi… now, we are able to relate to each other. Theyu make fun of the fact that we Bengalis ‘eat’ everything, even water (khabar khabo, jal khabo!) and I learn so much from their lives on the street… I had my first lesson on resilience and spirit when one of them told me that the Municipality had destroyed all their settlements the previous morning and now, they had nothing but their belongings and the open sky but by evening, things would get back to normal… things HAD to get back to normal. He takes each moment as it comes. That’s his key to happiness and I realized how true it was since from the time I’d met him, I had no inkling that things were this bad till he said it.

Today, in addition to them, I had a bunch of ten of the noisiest and enthusiastic municipal school kids from II – IV standard… I realized that MS-Word was way too advanced for them and so I taught them MS-Paint which they enjoyed immensely. All their houses had a multitude of colours and shapes and each had his / her name as the saved graphic’s title. They were so proud of their little creations.

I think, at the end of this one month, I’ll learn a helluva lot more from my students than they’ll ever learn from me!