Touching Lives, and How, many would ask. A small but significant step was taken in the August 2004 by the Hyderabad members of the PaGaLGuY forums. At Hyderabad, PaGaLGuY members work in close tandem with the M.V.Foundation, headed by Mrs.Shanta Sinha, a Padmashri and Magsaysay Awardee. M.V.Foundation has its twin objectives as eliminating child labour in all its forms and universalizing education. In their words, ” MVF’s one-point agenda is to ensure that no child works and all children go to schools”. By pulling out children from labour and putting them into Bridge camps, and consequently into schools, MVF has reached out to hundreds of thousands of such child labour in the past decade. PaGaLGuY members have recently concluded their first full time-bound project with M.V.Foundation. We, along with a lot of outside friends, have just concluded an English Language training program for the volunteers/teachers who teach the children rescued from child labour in the Bridge camps. The four week fully-residential pprogram saw 33 teachers turning up at the training camp that MVF had arranged to be conducted at Jubilee Hills,Hyderabad.
The program was a result of the interactions that PaGaLGuY volunteers had with the camp teachers during the three ocassions that we have so far met them at the Bridge Camps. During these field trips (details/snaps of which can be found here), we interacted at length both with the children and with these teachers on how we, as a group of educated concerned people, could be of assistance to them.While the interactions with the children led to the development of a Newsletter titled “Chinnari Lokam” (an ongoing project-details here), those with the Camp teachers were of a different nature. These camp teachers are basically volunteers who have come of their own volition to teach the children rescued from child labour. These teachers also double up as M.V.Foundation’s volunteers in trying to spread the message. And,most of them, infact all, have been drawn from villages where MVF believes there is a high incidence of child labour. For these volunteers, conversing in english has been something that has been imperative, and yet a distant dream. These teachers are also ocassionally asked to go outside Andhra Pradesh and guide other volunteers of MVF/other NGOs in other states.Such times, they face a huge issue in mobility as they only language that they are comfortable in is Telugu and this lack of communication ability turns into a major handicap in their noble cause. This was the crux of the issue that they put forth before us. Spoken English training was what they wanted and what they expected from us.
We came back and discussed amongst ourselves, both online and offline, at length. We debated whether we can actually teach anything that might be useful, considering the way we speak english today, which is more of slang and less of grammar. We discussed such issues as having english lectures for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week might be overkill for those near-neophytes to the language; the amount of time that each of us personally could spare, what kind of activities can we have them engaged with; what should be the ideal duration of the program; What would be the costs that are likely to be incurred if we engage professional agencies for the same; what would the likely response of the participants be if we were to teach, considering that most of them are aged more than 25years; Do we really have that many active members to pull off this program and many many more issues. But most importantly, we were concerned of the program’s ability to cause a qualitative change, even if it were the slightest, in the participants. After endless meetings, we finally decided that YES, it was indeed possible for us to go ahead with this program. During all of these, the constant encouragement and support that we received from M.V.Foundation was, simply stated, Awesome. Their guidance on what aspects to be highlighted during the program provided tremendous help. And their decision to take care of all monetary issues involved in the program relieved us all of a major concern.
Once we had decided to go ahead with the program, we set out in trying to decide the active ingredients of the same. At this point, one of our members, Pratyusha, referred us to a youth club called Helix. Helix is a group of, mostly, students studying in various engineering colleges in the twin cities. We went ahead and asked for Helix’s help in taking care of a session in the evening. They were very enthusiastic and immediately volunteered. We enlisted the help of an English Professor from Ramakrishna Mutt so that the participants are not denied the benefits of a structured approach to learning English. Once the dates were finalized (16th aug- 11th Sept), we went out actively trying to enlist more active “teachers”. Courtesy Uday, we got quite a few active people from Oracle Corporation, Hyderabad. We then designed what we felt would be a schedule of various types of interactive activities that would get the participants involved and in the process enhance their spoken English. we also enlisted a Yoga trainer for these participants. During our field interactions with the volunteers, we found them to be quite recepetive to the idea of early morning yoga classes. And we were fortunate enough to find a good yoga trainer at the last minute. During the initial days of the program, the biggest stumbling block was trying to open-up the wonderful person in each of them. Being from the villages, most of them were very hesitant in speaking up. For them it was as much a crash course in confidence building as it was in spoken English.
Once the actual program took off, the people who did the actual training can hardly be ascribed to any specific set of grouping. Rather the best way to classify the people would be to say that they are a set of people who believed they get immense satisfaction in teaching these wonderful people. We had people from the PaGaLGuY forums, from the youth club Helix, from Oracle Corp, from friends of the members who already come to teach and so on. Indeed, before the program kicked off, we had huge doubts on its sustainability for four weeks; but one thing that we’ve realized over the course of these 4 weeks is that there are LOADS of enthusiastic people out there willing to volunteer for community service. All we need to do is ask.
The experience of teaching these volunteers, who work so selflessly towards a noble cause, has been, in ways more than one, more than anything, humbling. We realized how small we are and how little our “education” has helped us achieve in understanding life. All of us are going to miss those moments when we were stuck clueless in our attempts to translate specific words; when all of a sudden, the most silent member of the lot comes up from behind and says “good evening sir, how are you doing today?”, when people use such words as “cane”, when they explained their no-nonsense logic in the non-negotiables on child labour that they so strongly believe in; when they just wouldn’t let us go even when its past 9 in the evening; when they hardly allow you to take a breather when in the camp; when they used to sing “we shall overcome”, and most importantly, when they said Adieu, in their own style, with all the panache deceiving one to believe that these people had been conversant in english for quite some time. The closing function, with all their self-written skits and the songs really said it all. The difference was quite evident. They were no more their diffident self that they were four weeks back. Instead the group that we bid farewell to was one set of people who were very very confident of their ability to converse in English; a set of people who now believe that learning English isn’t something that is out of their reach; a set of people who now have promised to interact more with their students in english; and most importantly a set of great friends that we have made over the period.
English, puritans scowl, cannot be “taught”. We believe we have made a small, but definite, impact in the abilities of these wonderful ople to learn this language. But most importantly, like one of our friends said, the program has done more good for us than it has done for them……. 🙂