Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The time is flying!!!!

The time here at the Academy is going by quickly. It is approaching one month since I have been in India and things are going extremely well. Over the weekend, I met a lot of amazing people and I was able to see a new aspect of the city of Guwahati. I have engaged with families of the village and seen the street children during my bus/trekker rides through the city to see the life of the underprivileged, but this time I was able to see the more of the privileged society.
I spent the weekend with a man named Kaushik Das. He is the founder of a NGO called the Atma Nirbhar-Ek Challenge. His organization aims to promote economic rehabilitation of the disabled through the packaging and marketing of tea. The organization is amazing and I had the pleasure of meeting the workers during my stay there. Some of the women and men were deaf, blind, mute, mentally retarded, and amputees. The workers were joyful to meet someone from America and although most of them could not speak to me, they made me feel very welcomed and were very expressive in their iniatives to let me know. I watched the employees work and they continuously smiled and made jokes with each other as the time passed. It was very joyful to see them happy and able to earn a living.
Kaushik also introduced Promona and I to a lot of other people, for the first time I had Punjabi food...which was guy's home, I met teachers, architects, all types of different people. And they were excited to hear about my works as well as the works of Uttam at the Parijat Academy.
I must say that during my weekend stay away I really missed the Academy. I felt like a child that was going to her first sleepover. I have been taken in by Uttam and his family and this feels like a home to me. Every night I hear the hostel students reading aloud as they do their homework and it just makes me smile...but this past weekend I didnt hear that sound. Instead I could only hear heavy rains on the tin roof and cars honking. I went into Kaushiks bathroom and didn't even notice that there was running hot water until after my shower...I have only been here for a month but it no longer makes a difference anymore. I am happy at the Academy with cold showers, because when I come outside, I am guaranteed to be greeted with a smiling face. All in all, I really got "homesick" because it was a different experience for me. This is all a new environment for me so the mere fact that I was invited to stay the night at another man's house that is not married and does not have children was extremely different from anything that I have encountered. The people here in Assam are very hospitable, they always invite you for tea, meals, anything....but it isnt the same in America. I had to do major mental preparations before the weekend getaway, even though I was really homesick, I enjoyed myself!!
In meeting people during the weekend, Promona and I were invited to a couple of schools to speak to the students. I did not know much about the schools but today I visited the first one. I was picked up in a fancy car, so I assumed that wherever I was going was pretty far away and that is why there was a need to send drivers. To my surprise the school was located not even 5 minutes away from the Academy...The school is an English medium private school called Sanskriti and was built better than some of the buildings that are located on my college campus. The principal of the school greeted Promona and I let us know that we would be speaking to them during their morning assembly and then having a question and answer session with the older students once the assembly was done. When speaking to this large group of students ranging from nursery to grade 12, I felt so small. I felt as though what I had to say would not be important to such a privileged class of children, but then I thought of the things that I had planned to say to them. I wanted to make sure to tell them that everyone can engage in experiences like this, even if it is a small contribution, you never know how much of a difference it can make. The principal really wanted us to interact with the children because all of them come from a rich class where things have always have been handed to them, and a lot of them have never been introduced to the social work/volunteering sector. I realized that I should not be nervous to speak to these children because out of the crowd of probably about 500 students, I never know how many will be receptive to my ideas and contributions and may decide to embark on ventures such as my own. The students had brilliant questions and I enjoyed answering each of them, hopefully I was able to give the children a fresh perspective.
Being at Kaushiks house and Sanskriti school made me realize the evident dynamics in this place. Just 5 minutes away from Parijat Academy, a school started by a man that was determined to educate the poor and enroll school drop-outs; there is a school like Sanskriti which was started the same year as the academy. When staying at Kaushiks house, I was amazed by the architecture of his house and the amount of land that he had, but one morning when I was being nosey, I peeked out of the back window only to see mounds of trash, slums, and children with no shoes playing in this hazardous environment. It is amazing how literally just beyond your backyard someone can be living extremely different and one is not fully aware. It made me reflect on how important it is to spend the time to learn about others and know of ways you can help. I understand that sometimes there is just nothing that can be done, but I believe that awareness can make a personal difference.
The children have been preparing for their half-yearly exams this week so I have not been able to teach a proper class :( . I have been doing some small things that will contribute to the academy and the teachers. Right now Promona and I are preparing the children for an Art Festival that will be held this Saturday. In place of our class time, at the end of the, day since Monday, we have been working with the classes on different art projects. The children really enjoy completing the art assignments and I really enjoy working with them because I can see how much they have really opened up to me. The students now speak to me in Assamese, full conversations, I think that they hope I can understand them....they even go through the process of drawing pictures and using signals to help me understand. It is amazing to me because now I fully understand how they must have felt on the first day when I entered the classroom speaking English like they would understand. Today Promona and I began a papier mache project with the 8th and 9th grade students...I never knew that high school children could be soooo messy. I actually enjoy working with the upper classes because most of the boys come to get computer lessons after school....the girls are still EXTREMELY shy. They avoid interaction as much as they can so it is sometimes tough to get through to them. I am really excited about the exhibition on Saturday, we have invited everyone that we have met and hopefully the children's confidence will be boosted once they see their own work exhibited.
I wore a sari for the first time this weekend, which was absolutely cool. I had always wanted to wear a sari, well before my journey to India. While it may look easy wear, wrapping it is not an easy task, I'm sure I sweated more wrapping it than I did the entire day while wearing the sari. The very first time that I wore one, two of the workers from the Atma Nirbhar had to help me to wrap it because I am sure I looked like a mummy. I was very self-conscious because it feels like it can fall off at anytime and my stomach and my back was partially out. I adjusted to wearing it and I wore one again when I took a trip to the city this week. I also witnessed a pooja for the first time at the house. I was very interested in what was going on and Uttam took the time to explain it to me as well as different beliefs that people of his native tribe and his household have. It was a pretty cool experience.
I have lots of pics to put up of scenery and the children's art.

Will post soon!!!!

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