Written June 15th, 2013
Hi Everyone! My name is Ankita, I am a rising junior studying Psychology and Education Studies. This summer I decided to teach in a village in Northern India through the organisation Love Volunteers. I was put in touch with a local NGO called Sankalp which works in the field of education and child care. My journey began in the desert city of Jaipur, Rajasthan where I had my orientation. A few days of interacting with Jaipur volunteers, learning more about my host family and the village and exploring the city resulted in a great start to my summer internship. I did encounter a few hiccups during my journey to the village (including almost missing my train due to traffic) but after a fifteen-hour train ride and beautiful seven-hour drive through fields and mountains, I finally reached Rajhoon – my home for the next month.
Rajhoon is a small village of 35 families located in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by lush, green fields and snow-capped mountains it is without a doubt one of the prettiest places I have seen. I found the village extremely secluded and rural. It has two small stores, unpaved roads running through fields and more cows than people. It is unlike any place I’ve been to before. The closest town is almost an hour away and the only mode of transport is a bus that drives through the village twice a day. This is the first time I have been so disconnected from my friends and family!
I am staying with a host family, which has welcomed me with open arms. I do not feel like I am a stranger from what my host mother calls “the big, fancy Bombay”. In one week I feel completely at home around my host family and the house. Since the house has an open courtyard that leads to the main road, most of the villagers have to walk through the house on their way to work or school. I have already interacted with a large number of women who stop by and say hi when they cross the courtyard. So many of them have told me how excited they are for their children to finally learn something in school, since the teachers do not do a good job.
My main job is to teach English at the village public school. I have been assigned grades 3 to 5. I was surprised to see that there are only 4 – 8 children per class. The school itself is a small building of a few classrooms, a kitchen and the headmaster’s room. It overlooks an open field and is surrounded by tall mountains. The classrooms are minimally furnished – they have a blackboard, a teacher’s desk and chair, and a small torn carpet for the children to sit on. Since this is an elementary school, there are children studying in Grades 1 to 5. However, there are only three classrooms which means children of different ages end up studying in the same classroom. Since it impossible for one teacher to teach different grades in the same room, children are rarely taught grade-appropriate material. The fact that the school has only two teachers across five grades has worsened the level and quality of teaching.
From the language analysis test I gave the students, I realized that most of them do not know how to read or write English. I have been instructed by the headmaster to follow the school curriculum which means I have to teach the children how to answer questions based on stories in their text books. But students in Grade 3 do not know the alphabet; those in Grade 5 cannot read. I plan on starting from scratch and teaching them the basics of the English language before attempting to get through their textbooks.
One of the bigger challenges I have faced till now is the language. Having grown up in Mumbai, I am reasonably fluent in Hindi. I didn’t think I would have a problem communicating with the villagers because the NGO told me Hindi was the spoken language in Rajhoon. However, that was not the case. The villagers speak a language called “Pahaadi” which is a dialect only spoken in the hilly regions of Himachal Pradesh. The elders in the village seem to know enough Hindi to talk to me but the biggest challenge is the children. My students know broken Hindi but for the most part, they speak in their local language. It is definitely going to be challenging to teach them when we have no common language of communication.
One week into my internship and I have already fallen in love with the people, the place and my work. My task to teach these students seems far more daunting than I expected. I am nervous but very excited for the coming few weeks!