Alumni/Volunteer Stories

Gerda Reuter – Eifelstr. 38 – 53119 Bonn

My experience in Dr. Ghole’s school in Nimbalkarwadi – Pune from 21st January to 7th February 2014.

To make of my India trip a really fulfilling experience, I very much would have liked to contribute by doing voluntary work, preferably in a school.
I found on the website of the Ayurvedic Medical Health Center of Moodbidri – www.alvas.org, the link – www.we4india.org.in, a website about a school project for children in need near Pune. Not expecting much, I wrote there about my wish to contribute, and I got a quick friendly answer in German from Bernd Heinemann telling me that I could just get into contact with Dr. Sharayu Ghole, the founder and main sponsor of the school.

Preparations

I talked to Mrs. Ghole on the phone and she told me that I could come any day, at any time. No administrative hurdles as otherwise with NGOs. How marvelous! I asked what the school would need most. Dr. Ghole and Peter Heinemann (also a very enthusiast supporter of the school project) told me that also this was up to me, but they would favor teachers’ training, which is not my profession. But I could show them how to prepare lessons and new methods of English teaching.
So there were no given structures for me and that made me anxious: what could I bring, how should I prepare for this approx. 3 weeks’ lessons. So I thought I could do a project with the children where 3 disciplines come together: Exploring the surroundings, shopping and writing about what we see in English and maybe draw some of the experienced things. So every child would have a kind of diary.
To begin with, I can tell that this was an absolutely bad idea, conceived by a German. First, because school started at 11.30 h, by this time temperatures are about 34 degrees, second there is only yellow dried scrub and red dry stony mountains, and the village shop consists of a hut with some cans and packages. Fortunately, I had taken my English books, my colors and painting instructions and my salsa CD set for zumba. So, I had to get to plan B, rolling planning together with my colleagues.

The children

I was received with absolute enthusiasm by the children. They made a joy dance for me. The children came running to say “good morning”, I fell into the friendly and lively arms of about 180 children.
22 children live intern in the school, children with difficult childhoods, but today very well cared for by ‘Maushi’ (aunt), a beautiful elder lady living with them and two more ladies, living in the surroundings. Mrs. Ghole adopted some children and promotes them in all concerns.
About 160 children come from the surrounding villages, who live there with their mostly poor parents. They can only afford to pay about 50 to 100 rupees a month.
The stories of the 22 children living in school are sad and inspiring at same time. Dr. Ghole told me that they had to beg on the streets under drugs at the age of 5, 6 years. They had no home and slept on the street. Now, they are 5 years older and very ambitious, clever pupils. It had taken some time to get them clean from the drugs. Some of the boys and girls are the number one climbers of India, and they even won international climbing competitions. Some of the boys form part of a Bollywood dance ensemble. The children take care of their rooms and the school.

The School organization

On the school days (Monday to Saturday), a small Suzuki van would pick me up at exactly 10.30 h on heavily polluted Satara Road in Pune where most of the women looked like terrorists in saris because they covered their faces to protect themselves from pollution.
When nearing school, the Suzuki van was eventually overcrowded with about 10 children and 6 teachers, and everybody had fun!
The classes include only about 20 children, a privilege for Indian schools. There are 8 grades and a kindergarten, and the school has the official status. I had the impression, they have pretty much the same curriculum as European schools. I was astonished; the children sat on the floor with small tables before them. They cleaned the class themselves every day. When we painted, not even one glass dipped.

My contribution was

In English 4th grade: introduction and getting to know each other including myself, several partner role plays and at the end we had a “party” where they could play introducing each other.
In grade 7 and 8, we did a shopping project: the phrases to use when shopping, the vocabulary when shopping garments, food and school material, how to pay, units of weight, making correct questions in English.
We also had several interview sessions where they could be trained to make correct questions. The teacher would stay in the class and help to translate. I don’t know what these children are like normally, but I thought German teachers would be so pleased to have the eager, disciplined, ambitious and friendly children, like our children also used to be in our countries before.
In grade 4: We did a painting project, the color circle and magnifying postcards into a real picture.
The children had very nice pictures in complementary colors and liked these lessons very much.
Zumba: This dancing sport has reached India. Fortunately, I had Salsa music with me. The colleagues were eager to learn Salsa and we had a lot of fun.

The teacher colleagues

I can only talk with respect about the work done by the teachers; they are all performing their task with pleasure and good mood, so there is a serene, joyful atmosphere. They lead their classes with authority, competence and friendliness and of course their lessons are done in the good old frontal method, questioning and answering and the children helping each other. Some teachers are volunteers, having been teachers before.
I was so lucky that I was invited often by my colleagues, so I had a good insight of Indian private live.

I thank Dr. Ghole for her and her husband’s hospitality and generosity, Peter Heinemann for his help and orientation for me to come to the school and all of my colleagues for their support and friendliness and openness.
I thank the children for their attention and curiosity, enthusiasm and spontaneous joy, which was so good for my heart.