Saturday, December 31, 2011
I have a weakness for colours. My rooms’ walls are coloured in olive greens, sensuous greys and melting blues. I spent hours choosing the tones and shades that should surround me.
Sometimes I wonder what life could be without colours. And during my visit to Hyderabad, I had one such mind-shattering experience.
I took an exhibition tour called, Dialogue in the Dark. It was a trip in darkness to explore the power of our five sense organs by shutting out one of them - the sense of sight. It was a test to experience our surroundings by comprehending sounds, touch, smell and tastes. We had experienced guides to help us with navigation. We entered a zigzag pathway from light and gradually and slowly to complete darkness. And then the dialogue began.
“Feel the wall on your right and follow it up the slope and turn along with it. Can you feel the objects around you?”
“Oh! Where are we? In a forest? A park?”
“You’re right! We are in a garden. What can you smell?”
The garden was lined with bamboos, and potted plants — roses and jasmine; there were stones — big ones, here and there; the sound of water flowing nearby. Our guide showed us the way perfectly. We were thankful that at least someone had the vision to see in the dark.
“What sound is that?” It smells like water!”
“Yes, this is the sound of water.”
“Where are we going?”
“Hey, touch this - what do you think this is?”
“Seems like a boat.”
“Yes! It is a boat.”
“Now, we will take a boat ride to the other side.”
The exhibition triggered a series of questions about matters that held no priority in my life till now. Every new question suddenly seemed much too relevant in these times to be ignored.
A good eye is such an overpowering sense organ that it dims the powers of the other sense organs. At times, ironically, limits our vision.
The experience led me to Poona Blind Men’s Association’s Technical Training Institute (TTI) in Pune. Located in one forgotten corner of the city, this is home to visually challenged students from all over Maharashtra. It is interesting to see that most of the students use Microsoft Office as efficiently as any of us do and use cellphones with equal ease. They are trained to use computers and are taught physiotherapy, music and stenography. But lack of accessibility and acceptance is keeping them away from joining their so-called biologically abled counterparts.
TTI’s chief executive officer Dr Homiyar Mobedji, who is also a physiotherapist, feels that the demotivation and disinterest that has set in among the inmates is partly due to the feeling of rejection and pity that they face in public.
The physically challenged are in the minority. Why would someone invest thought and money in designing infrastructure to cater to this population? How does it matter if these people do not show up in public spaces, theatres or restaurants? How many of us are ready to get a massage done by a blind physiotherapist? How many of us have ever imagined that there could be a visually impaired person with equal competence for a particular job?
The time has come for inclusive design of the world around us. In the West, a lot of progress has been made in terms of accessibility. Traffic signals with audio enhancements, ramps in public places, differentiated use of textures, providing railings and edge cues are some of the things that have helped liberate this section of society.
According to a WHO report, out of the 45 million visually challenged people in the world, over 33.3 million are from developing countries of which, nine million are from India.
It is time that we realise that these young people are capable of contributing to society much more than they are perceived to be dependent on it. It is time that we are ready to meet a visually challenged physiotherapist, a receptionist or a shop-assistant working as efficiently as anyone else.
For me, Dialogue in the Dark became an enlightening experience only by the assistance of the visually challenged escorts at the exhibition.
(Sonali Kothari is an assistant education manager at The Akanksha Foundation, Pune, and founder of 'Innishari'- Do you remember!)
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
One day inside the Akanksha classroom can change your life forever. Teaching is addictive. Teaching is experimenting. Teaching is learning to see things from the eyes of 30 children and then trying to build a connection to the different view points. As a teacher, I have learnt that there is a very solid reasoning behind every answer that a child gives, behind every action that a child does, behind every expression that a child shows. There are no right or wrong answers. It is the process that leads to the answer which is important.
Kids are kids.. in my house or in the slums – full of wonder. They have similar needs.. the need for attention, the need for security, the need for love and the need for a good education. That is any child’s appetite across the world!
Being a teacher to me means to continuously explore and push myself out of my comfort zone to become an ‘effective’ and ‘complete’ educator. It means to create a sweet bond with the child, to extend that relationship to the child’s family and community. To me it means to build the capacity to be able to accommodate an unexpected situation without a frown. It means to try and cater to the learning needs and learning styles in a mixed group. It means to continuously try and improve every lesson to increase engagement.
Being an Akanksha teacher gives me continuous access to best practices and teaching methods around the world. It allows me the freedom to systematically experiment with new ideas that have the potential to improve the learning.
Above all, being a teacher means to be able to smile after a rough day, to be able to share and reflect with a wonderful team and to be able to celebrate the smallest of victories!
For years it grew and grew
I heard them only today
The trunks and leaves that say
Give, Forgive and Believe-
And Thank while you pray.
I walked the path of joggers
Deliberating at every step
Comprehending the silence of nature
Unleashing my long discomfiture.
With love and abundance all around
How can I be sorrow bound?
There is one very old and tall
My pillar of strength that says it all
Hold on to the ground with all your might
Lest a storm push you away in flight.
You have chores to accomplish
And a life to sweetly nourish.
There is one all coiled and curled
A little deceiving, I wonder
No beginning no end
A new maze at every bend.
Find the order in each twist and turn
For life has just but begun.
There is yellow and purple and blue
Glimpses of pink and orange are few
Swaying in happiness and merrily singing
Unaware of passersby with mobiles vibrating!
Technology is irrelevant dear-
This is a world of NOW and HERE.
There are many greens and reds
Lining my path to the flower beds
Every step I pray..
Let all be blessed who tread this way
Every dog or bird or worm or man...
Every stone or pebble or frying pan.
You watch me now and then
Trodding on your leaves and stems
Shattering the silence with every step
You smile and engulf me in your arms.
I am overpowered; yet safe and secure.
You give me the strength to move ahead
In the direction where suffering ends
Where love and faith is all that matters
Acceptance and forgiveness go hand in hand.
You teach me something new
You , the Garden of My Life.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
‘The Magic Box’ brought to life the lives of slum children and their perception of happiness. The hour long musical portrays the journey of three students in search for the ‘key’ to ‘the Magic Box’ of happiness. The difficulties that these kids face during their search brings them close together and change their perception of happiness. The values of sharing, caring, honesty and integrity are portrayed very carefully in the well-written script. The care free, yet sensitive disposition of the characters portray the charm of innocence in the midst of too much unwanted knowledge and street smartness. The impact of school and learning is brought to light in the conversations where the characters draw parallels from classroom to real life; when they try to apply their knowledge in the real world.
Above all, for every person present, the musical was a complete entertainer. The little actors from the school did full justice to the excellent script and professional choreography. The teacher, a Teach For India fellow- Mansi Panjwani and her students at Pujya Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalaya at Koregaon Park deserve full credit for showing Puneites what ‘every child’ is capable of when given the rightful chance. Every child has the potential to do great things, to go great places – only you need to believe in them and help them look towards a beautiful future.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The story is about a little boy who lovingly remembers his mother by telling us incidents about his life through childhood and schooldays. The book presents a very vivid sketch of his mother through the eyes of a child and his childhood, the hardships face by his mother and how she taught him to be courageous, strong and a man of character.
There are instances where the family had to leave a luxurious life, when the family was in debt; a simple night scene when the mother and son are gazing at the night sky when they witness a falling star ( considered a bad omen ), stories of positivity and integrity. There are times when Shyam thinks that his parents don’t like him and how his mother makes him realize what love is. The end of the story when illness takes away his mother while he is far away from home to study is very sensitively portrayed.
We discussed every incident in class and tried to find similar pictures in our lives. Every child could relate to Shyam’s life. There are children in my group who have a single parent and those who have only God and friends. There are some whose parents have left them for years and have not come to see them ever. There are children who have grown on railway stations without knowing what family means. There are kids who come from very close knit families who live far away. Whatever their background, Shyamchi ayi , I felt, did, to some extent plant a little seed of love and belonging and realization of reality with positivity because at the end of the novel every single child (including me) had tears in the eyes.
This lesson created a special bond between us, I felt.
I came home and started reading the story to my son who is 7 years old. It was the same story and the reactions were not different at all. Today it has been many many days since I first read the story but the impression of every single incident remains as fresh in my mind as if it is all happening in my life all the time.
Let us also try and document such little instances so that when we look back we will be able to find these invaluable pearls and thread them together for our grandchildren and many more generations which will need them as much as we do.
(Pandurang Sadashiv Sane (1899-1950) wrote this novel in five days while he was in jail in Nasik. A very prolific writer, a socialist, a Gandhian to the core, he was arrested for participation in the civil disobedience movement.)
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Sunshine Around the World
An apple pudding with bits of green chillies!
I wondered what everyone at Akanksha was talking about when they mentioned Sunshine Around the World. This was almost 11 months ago. I had joined as a teacher at Crispins 3 at Nal Stop. Without any experience of formal teaching I dived into a commitment of teaching English to children in the age group of 10-13.
Teaching has been an exciting learning experience. The emphasis of planning a lesson to the last detail cannot be overemphasized. That too, in such a way that it should not feel like a lesson being taught. Children just need to absorb and react to the experiences in the classroom.
Today, a little nervous and a little excited while waiting to see our kids go out and share with the people outside, their learnings and imagery of their partner country.. I stop to think of the days from the inception of this idea...
The project - 'Sunshine Around the World' started as an attempt to widen the perspective of the participants by exposing them to different cultures and traditions across the world.
The idea was to engage schools from other countries and let the Indian children exchange information about their countries with students from a foreign country.
It was big idea. And it needed a whole lot of serious planning.
Akanksha had 23 centers functioning at different levels of learning. It was decided to take all kids at Level 2 and above into the project and a suitable learning plan for each levels was to be made. The learning plan would have to first include an appropriate understanding of the Indian Culture and the Indian System. And then the interaction could begin.
The idea took off.
The communications team jet started by shooting emails to schools in different countries that seemed possible partners in the project. Though it seemed to be an easy task, it was far from being that. Till a few months back we were still struggling to establish continuous interaction with some countries.
The project educational co-ordinators did extensive and exhaustive planning of the topics and lessons to be covered over a period of 2 years. In addition 'events' were planned to acknowledge and test the learnings of the students from time to time.
The teachers had the massive responsibility to take them through a journey across
The excitement of the kids knew no bounds. I remember I had to explain to the kids that they will not be meeting their partner kids in real! But they would be writing letters to them individually and they would possibly get replies to their letters. And that they did.
And on various occasions, I have found to my great satisfaction that most children lighten up at the mention of their partner countries and it is a pleasure to see them talk with some degree of confidence about a new found first-hand knowledge coming from the communication with their international pen-friends.
Today we have eight schools from eight countries with established communication with Akanksha through 'Sunshine Around the World'. These are
The Grand Finale
To showcase the learning of our kids from Sunshine Around the World, we decided to put up an exhibition where the Clusters would put a stall depicting the history and culture of their partner country. In addition, each cluster would also put up a dance and drama specific to their partner country. Kids would learn and make traditional handicrafts that could be sold at the exhibition.
The Making of SAW
The process for the Grand Finale started sometime in June, 2008. SAW meetings were called and preparations were planned. I had been given the responsibility to make audio-visual presentations on History, Festivals and Currencies of the eight countries. Likewise there were groups who were made in charge of Drama and Dance, Costumes, Logistics, Public Relations, Handicrafts and so on. One could make out that it was going to be a big event for the Akanksha children.
Many a time, I stopped to think 'Why can't big, established schools have such programs for their children when it would be a cake walk for them in terms of resources! I guess it is just a matter of priority and creativity in education.
A Day in the Life for me as a SAW Volunteer
Let me picture this for you Get up in the morning .do a bit of Yoga (to stay away from promising back aches all set to arrive) . A cup of tea with The Indian Express ..on the Net to browse for an hour make food for the family . Get kids dressed up for school ..go back to the Comp .compile the morning's find . Prepare Akanksha daily chit... hunt on the phone for volunteers to help make props and choreographers to teach dance!.... go to center teach .. practice if you have the music in place go home .fight with your kids for the comp!!!..... eat food . Play with family and CRASH!!!......SAW Dreams or call them Nightmares!!!!
The scene would possibly be more or less the same except for the research mode for most volunteers working on the Project.
As days passed by, the SAW structure became clearer and looked more real with sponsors and resources clearly in place .