India Fellows Blog 1 – By Talia Bornstein

I am studying abroad in Pune, India, focusing on contemporary Indian issues. I have completed three out of four courses and now in my internship component. I am interning at Deep Griha Society. Deep Griha Society is a family welfare organization that helps low-income families with educational, medical, and childcare opportunities. Deep Griha began as a clinic, but is now grown into a larger program, which specifically targets women, and women empowerment.

I am working in the crèches at Deep Griha. There are four, which range in ages 6 months to 7 years old. My first few days were extremely overwhelming; there are over 25 kids in each crèche, with only two teachers. I have only worked in private preschool settings, so this was drastically different from my past experiences. In addition to providing free day care services, all kids in the crèches are given nutritious meals. Food offered daily includes nutty ladoos (an Indian sweet), milk, eggs, porridge, and fruit. Many of the children fed through this program are also affected by tuberculosis, which adds to the importance of a healthy, nourished diet.

In addition working and teaching English in the crèche, I am writing success stories of children who’s education is sponsored by a program. This program, Aadar Kendrea, sponsors students –often orphans or who come from sing-parent families- and provides them with school materials, uniforms, meals, healthcare, counseling and educational programing. Emotional and mental support is emphasized in this program, with field workers making daily visits to the children’s schools and homes. Deep Griha even has a program called “Girl Child Programme” which tackles the issue of underage marriage; although the organization disagrees with this practice, it acknowledges its prevalence and works towards educating girls on topics such as sex education, hygiene, relationships, nutrition, physical and mental health, self-defense and personality development.

Working in the crèches, I have noticed an abundance of physicality between children (both loving and aggressive), which is extremely uncommon in America. In fact, in the states, it is actually taught to keep hands to oneself. Almost every child is violent in some way to another, when they are mad, or want something. One boy, Arush, is a buddy of mine. He’s older than most of the kids, and he has a very commanding and authoritative presence. Sometimes when kids are being too aggressive with me, and I’m telling them to stop, he’ll intervene. Today I saw him approach a little girl crying. She pointed to another kid, so it looked like she was upset at him for doing something. Arush went up to the boy and hit him. It wasn’t ok that he hit the boy, but it was sweet how he was protective. Sadly, I think that comes from the lack of teachers and attention on the kids. It’s impossible to stay on top of all the children because there are so many. This is an example of a child taking on the role of an adult, which often occurs in low income Indian society. Even though Deep Griha Society helps with this issue in Indian society, it still occurs even if it’s in small doses.

There are many improvements that need to be made in crèches, especially regarding sanitation. Kids don’t wash their hands often, and when they do it is in a bucket filled with dirty water. Bathrooms are also an issue; for three of the crèches, there is only access to two bathrooms, which means up to five children at once will be urinating or defecating at the same time. There have been many incidents in the crèches since most kids don’t wear underwear, due to the cost. I understand the difficulty of maintaining a clean environment. There are not many facilities and there are so many children and so few teachers it’s overwhelming.

Even with limited recourses, Deep Griha Society manages to educate, support, and entertain children. On children’s day, there was an activity fair, open to all children in the community. Tall the objects used in the games were found in the building. One activity used flour to cover coins, and in order to find the coins, you need to blow on the flour. This results in faces covered in white flour, which is very funny to have happen and to watch. The kids, whose ages ranged from 3 to 13, absolutely loved this game. It was amazing watching something as simple and cheap as flour, entertain and excite kids. Songs and nursery rhymes are another inexpensive form of teaching.  Throughout the day, children recite English, Hindi, and Marathi songs, leaving them with smiles on their faces, and new vocabulary words in their minds.

This organization is so important, not only for children, but for adults. There are many vocational seminars and trainings held for adults who do not have higher education qualifications. These trainings include computer skills, and jewelry, clothes, and card making. There are also reading and writing classes offered for the adult community. Many adults have taken these literacy courses and not only become equipped to help their children with studies, but also become empowered. Deep Griha’s work can be summed up in this quote: “Empowerment of the marginalized through capacity building and sustainable rural and urban development programmes.”

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