We’re just over two-thirds of the way through our time in India, and I can already tell just how much I’m going to miss it here. Sure, there’s some trash on the streets, us foreigners get a lot of stares, and communication with tuk tuk drivers can be challenging at times. But it’s all part of the experience! We all love looking out the window at the cars and tuk tuks and scooters and animals and people; the streets look so chaotic, but somehow there’s an invisible method to the madness that makes it all work. I love the colors of India too – the vibrant saris that all the women wear, the eclectic color choices for the buildings, and the way the sun gets huge and round and red right before it sets.
We’ve seen a lot of different cities and sites in India, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Amber Fort in Jaipur, and the India Gate in New Delhi. We’ve been hiking in the Himalayas and seen the funeral pyres in Varanasi, not to mention our upcoming flight to Goa and our camel ride in Pushkar! All of these places have been amazing in their own way, and I love seeing these different sides of India. But what really speaks the most about my experience in India is how I feel coming back from these excursions. Every time that I come back to the guesthouse in Jaipur, I feel like I’m coming home.
Once, when I was texting one of my local Indian friends, I mentioned nonchalantly that I was about to go home. She seemed quite distraught, and at first we couldn’t figure out why. At last she asked, “When are you coming back to India?” and we finally realized that she thought we were going back to the United States! When I said “home,” I’d meant the guest house where I live – to me, this was so natural that it hadn’t even occurred to us that “home” could be interpreted any other way!
It’s nice to sleep in our own beds and do our laundry and such when we come “home” from excursions, but what I like most is returning to school and seeing all of my students. Every morning they greet us with excitement, shouting, “Good morning Teacher! How are you?” and giving us lots of high fives. But there’s always a little extra enthusiasm when we come back from our excursions, and when I walk into my classroom I get a lot of hugs, and sometimes even a kiss or two on the cheek.
I teach the most advanced students at our school in the Elephant Village, ages 10 to 13. They are all girls, because at this age and level the boys are either working or attending a government school outside of the village. It’s rare for parents in the village to let their daughters leave the community unattended, even to school, so I try to bring this level of education to them.
We start every day with English class. We do a wide variety of things for this subject, such as practicing writing, learning new vocabulary, trying to get more comfortable with speaking English, and working on grammar, reading and comprehension. Next we do math, which currently includes long multiplication, area and perimeter, basic division, memorizing times tables through 12, and order of operations. I also teach history, geography and basic science, and they study Hindi and Urdu with the school’s only permanent (and local) teacher.
My students may not be at quite the same level as students their age in the States, but is certainly not from a lack of potential, motivation, or love of learning. After all, teachers and volunteers have only been coming to the Elephant Village for three years, and the school wasn’t officially opened until a year ago. But despite these obstacles and many others, my students have a passion for learning that I seldom see back in the US.
Our first day at school (back in September) wasn’t supposed to be a teaching day – we were only going to meet our students and then go on a tour of the Elephant Village and visit some homes. But when I tried to leave class for our tour, my students begged me to stay and teach them math! To an outsider, it might seem like they were just trying to make a good impression on their new teacher. But even now, almost two months later, they are still just as in love with learning. I usually let my kids do a little bit of art each day before lunch, but this week especially they keep asking for more math problems. “But don’t you want to color?” I’ll ask them, to which they respond, “Yes! But first more math!”
Aasifa (left) is my oldest student, and she is very outgoing and confident (traits that are far too rare in India’s female population). She’s not afraid to answer any question I might ask the class, even if she’s not completely sure that her answer is correct. Muskan is also 13, and she and Aasifa are best friends. Muskan (right) is a little shy, but she’s incredibly smart and does her work quickly and thoroughly.
Sahiba is Aasifa’s sister, although she’s only one year younger. When I first started teaching, Sahiba (left) really struggled with writing in cursive. But after two months of practice, she can write just as quickly and neatly as the rest of the class. I love seeing how quickly my students can learn and grow when given the chance!
Soniya (right) is a brilliant and dedicated student, despite the many obstacles she has had to face in her life. Click here to read a blog post about Soniya’s story and her resilience!
My youngest student is Sabana (left). Although she is fairly new to English, she has picked up math with remarkable ease and is often one of the first student to finish her time tables. She loves art, and she is also considered one of the most talented dancers at the school!
My sixth student’s name is Gulapsa (right). She is only 11 years old, but she is the most gifted student in the whole school. She can remember to spell a word (in English!) after writing it just two or three times, and her ability to recall what she’s learned in the past is exceptional. She’s one of the brightest 11-year-olds that I’ve ever met, and in combination with her passion for learning she is the perfect example of what we can accomplish at this school with a little funding and hard work!
Our school currently has two very talented full-time teachers, but there are still five different grade levels. There are enough teachers to go around while our WorldStamp cohort is here, but for the other nine months of the year, it’s much harder to give each student the individual attention that he or she needs. Having 2 teachers for 44 students is hard in any situation, but it’s especially challenging at our school in the Elephant Village because the students’ ages range from 3 to 13! The youngest students are still learning to hold a pencil, while my students can read basic books in English and chapter books in Hindi.
In order to meet the students at their own level, we’re hoping to raise enough money to hire another teacher for when we leave. Our WorldStamp cohort already has to raise $15,000 in the upcoming months in order to keep the school open for another year, but we hope that the generosity of our friends and family will help us to raise a little extra for the salary of a third teacher. It wouldn’t take much – our current teachers earn less than $150 a month – but this extra funding would make a HUGE difference in the lives of our students!
One of the biggest reasons for my decision to come on this trip was that I love to travel and sightsee. And while I have definitely enjoyed doing this in India, my favorite part is still unquestionably being with my students. I’ve always loved kids and volunteering, but I didn’t expect this to be my favorite part of the trip. Yet now that I’m here, I can’t imagine it being any other way.
There are so many things that I want to do with my students, so many things I want to teach them, so many things that I want them to teach me. No matter when I have to say goodbye to my students, it will be too soon. But hey, my Indian visa doesn’t expire for 10 years, so I guess I’ll be coming back!
P.S. We are currently doing the annual fundraiser to keep this school open for another year! Please click here to donate to this amazing cause and help my beloved students stay in school. Any amount makes a difference! Thank you!!!