Archive for March, 2011
Boys and Girls are often, and almost always, separated from each other. In nearly every workshop, boys are positioned on one side of the room and girls on the other. This has taken many forms and leaves me wanting to stand the kids up and mix the group, which I have done on a couple occasions. It’s almost certainly safe to say that after students reach age 8 they are divided by sex and positioned on opposite sides of the classroom. The final phenomenon with Indian government schools is ATTENDANCE. Attendance is the single most impact-ful issue facing the Indian masses incultivating advanced education. 1) Students seem to have zero requirement to attend school. This seems sensible since B) the teachers have an even worse attendance record than the students. So, in a country of a billion plus, with hundreds of thousands of schools, it’s understandable that there would be no structured way of keeping kids in school, and even so, in places where students do attend, who’s to say whether a teacher will show up on a given day, or week. I have witnessed all too many classrooms where there is no teacher and the students sitting quietly, somberly, by themselves on the cold stone floor – doing nothing. This is one sad issue and a problem that my lovely and passionate partner has been working for years to solve: how to get the teachers to the school, to teach the kids, and thus inspire the kids to attend and thus learn: a problem as endless as you can imagine in a country as massive as India. And so it saddens me every time to arrive at a school and walk into classrooms to witness 20 plus youngsters seated on the floor, huddled together without guidance or instruction, seemingly staring at the wall, without an adult or teacher to inspire them It’s not exactly prison, but it isn’t much of a school system either.
I love doing this work. I love meeting young people. I love seeing their beautiful hearts, wide curious eyes, and amazing spirits. I love sharing this project with them and observing and listening to their wisdom, watching them explore their creativity, and share in a moment of peace. The second day drive felt much less strenuous than the first: familiar landmarks, known bumpy roads, and a school slightly closer than the previous day. We were again five and we seemed to arrive in quick time at the first school. When we arrived, the majority of the school was seated in neat and organized rows singing their morning prayers. This was a beautiful sight and a wonderful welcome to this third Udaipur school. As I stood and watched, fleeting eyes and curious gazes from the group in our direction brought smiles. Thought of “I should be filming this” was quickly clipped as the sound of “om shanti shanti shanti” touched my heart and completed their prayer. As quickly as the group finished, they jumped from their seats and dispersed back to their classroom in a flurry. This gave us some time to get situated upon the same spot where the morning prayer was held. One of the highlights of this workshop for me was one particular girl who’s eyes were old and wise, familiar and so curious. She and I were equally intrigued by each other throughout the day and caught each other in silent communication numerous times throughout the workshop. Although she would never come close enough to make physical contact, her curiosity was deep and her joy was felt in our repeated playful exchange. After working in three schools I am present to many a phenomenon, perhaps similar across the continent. The first is the behavior of young girls. Girls in India are not supposed to be forward in any way. They are taught to be reserved, submissive and shy. There is deep curiosity and playful energy, but so very contained. This makes interaction, especially with a tall western man (even in the space of a peace project and a community building activity) nearly unthinkable. I was very pleased to find a small and subtle break-through in this phenomenon with the girls at this school (albeit, aside fromlittle miss curious eyes)
After completing the first school, we drove for another half hour, down into the valley across farmlands and deeper into the middle of nowhere to another school. Arriving a bit early, as the students were still finishing their lunch, we had a moment to relax. With many of the boys already gathered in the yard, a large open dirt space, I decided to pull out my frisbe and see how they responded. We made a large circle and had fun throwing the round plastic disk to and fro. This was a nice warm up to connect with the students and I think it may have led to a deepening of trust and familiarity for the upcoming workshop. After throwing for about 10 minutes, we wrapped it up and moved onto the school patio to decide where we wanted to position the students. This school was build in a “L” shape and proved a bit more difficult to position them all on one side, and so we grouped them in two bunches and I stood in the middle to lead. This group was warm and attentive, active and alive. Something prompted me to have the students stand up at some point, prior to art making, to stretch and lift the energy from the stone floor. We held hands and created a tight group moment of unity before taking our seats for a moment of meditation. It is apparent that students in these schools are being taught meditation and prayer, as they quickly took posture and held mudra (hand position) in a uniformed and organized way. A truly heart warming and beautiful sight to see every time I witness a group of young people poised in a posture of meditation and peace. After a beautiful meditation, culminated with a sweet simple ‘om’ we separated the large group into smaller groups for peace card making. It seems that Blue Shirts, blouses, over brown pants and skirts is the theme for Indian Government schools. Stay tuned for some added variety in the weeks to come. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.
After a sweet warm up and ‘let’s get comfortable’ workshop with 25 local kids in Udaipur, we arose at the crack of dawn, packed into a small four seater: me, heather, Rama our film maker friend, and Shailendra, our Pratham lead, and headed out 50 km to a town called Jhadrol. I like to call it “JAH ROLL” in my head as we moved rocking and rolling into the rural extreme outside Udaipur. Driving through a vast and expansive Rajastani outback, villages interspersed between large patches of barrenness where sparse tree cover amidst brown and lots of rocks made up the rolling hillsides. Two hours plus later we arrived in Jhadrol where to our surprise, Ravi, another Pratham coordinator got in the car. Thankfully Indians know how to ride in groups, and he joined Shailendra in the front seat. The two of them quickly explained how folks from the village commute every day those 50km into Udaipur packed like sardines….and sure enough a four door jeep rolls by with a minimum of 25 people inside and another 3 or 4 on the roof. Typical buses are standing room only with rooftops covered and people hanging on the back. They have to pay to. Ain’t no free ride in Rajasthan. Another hour later, way out in the middle of nowhere we arrived at our first school. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, how many kids we were working with, how the translation was going to go, and the mind naturally moves into making sense of this new location. We were warmly received and the school was clearly prepared for our arrival, a quality I was soon to discover common with these Pratham connected schools. In most government schools, which these were, the classrooms were typically laid out in long rectangular blocks, with a large open stone/cement patio-deck connecting them; a perfect space for large groups of kids to gather. Shailendra and I had about a 3 minute pow-wow on how I thought things would go, in preparation for him to translate and explain the project to these kids I was instructed to set up near the far end and as I moved my bags of arts supplies and postcards towards the table and chairs there, the students quietly and calmly positioned themselves on the floor before me. As I pulled supplies and materials from my bag, I looked up to see more than 150 students ages 10 – 15 seated before me. The wise elder, slightly orange dyed long-haired, Class 8 teacher welcomed me and quickly addressed the students to be on their best behavior and pay attention (my interpretation) He was a huge boost to this workshops as he was all smiles of encouragement and support to the students The morning was a smooth one. Shailendra took over and pretty much explained the project and jumped right in. I was a little caught off-guard with the language barrier and I wasn’t going to slow him down. We rolled with his lead, as I inserted my instruction and guidance at the appropriate moments. We were a good team and the kids got it. There was a strong feeling of warmth and excitement with this first school and I remember feeling like I wanted to stay, when I knew it was necessary for us to leave for our next school that afternoon. here is a link to more photos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/album.php?fbid=10150139880178485&id=641273484&aid=301691
After a week in Delhi getting re-oriented to life in India (I lived here for a year in 2001/02), organizing initial plans, printing postcards, and meeting folks from Pratham; our key partner in accessing Indian schools, we flew to Udaipur on a 6am flight Saturday March 5th. It was, Heather Wakefield, my partner for this trip: the nor-cal country girl photographer extraordinaire, Lynn Murphy, my sweet heart who had arrived into Delhi approx 3am from Nairobi Kenya, and me, Ross, aka Joe Peace….carrying luggage for four, on our way out to do workshops in Rajasthan; our first destination on this 10 week art for peace tour of India. Arriving in Udaipur was easy and smooth. We settled into a nice guesthouse on the lake and found our footing in this new location. Our plans for Rajasthan included stops in Udaipur and Jodhpur, two prominent cities in the desert west of Delhi, where we would begin our partnership with Pratham (www.pratham.org) one of the largest education organizations in the world. Pratham staff, seemingly dispersed across the country, would kindly make introductions and escort us to schools for our Peace Exchange workshops. On Monday morning we met with the Udaipur regional coordinator Shailendra to discuss plans. Everything was happening seamlessly and effortlessly. We made arrangement to visit 2 schools per day on Tuesday and Wednesday. I hadn’t led two workshops in two schools before, but when you’re in India and there are children by the hundred millions, you stretch a little in order to touch as many hearts as you can. I was feeling very excited to be getting workshops started on the good foot. Over the weekend, thanks to Lynn’s previous connection, we had the privilege of meeting Manish Jain and the Shikshantar alternative education community he had started. There were so many inspiring young people doing wonderful things to promote community living, alternative education, and sustainable living. One guy, whose name I forget, was developing technology to create and then store energy generated from bicycles. He was developing mechanisms to charge batteries and run water pumps in homes. Another group, I dub the “thinking outside the box” crew, was working on collegiate level studies in an effort to create and perform actions that promoted community improvement, lifestyle simplification through real world experiments and actions in their local environment. I also met two young film makers who gleefully stepped up to join CPP on our tour of schools. One of the resident team leaders, an artist and arts teacher, offered to help set up our first session with a group of local kids he taught art too as a starter Peace Exchange workshop for us. And we were off. here is a link to the facebook album of images from that first workshop: https://www.facebook.com/album.php?fbid=10150139385723485&id=641273484&aid=301484