Volunteerism for Social Change

I was recently given the opportunity to volunteer with the Mentor India , a one-week long educational outreach programme that is run by knowyoustar.com. Here’s my experience as a teacher and volunteer.

You don’t have to be a teacher to teach someone something of value. You can be anyone – an artist, an accountant, a writer, a housewife or an engineer. Your job title or the weight of your degree doesn’t matter, all you need is the will to impart knowledge and to learn. I found a chance to engage, teach, and learn with the Mentor India Program conducted by KnowYourStar. I taught the kids English, they taught me some amazing life lessons.

Getting Started At Mentor India

I volunteered with the Mentor India programme at a school named Paranga Vidya Kendra, run by a charitable trust in Magadi. I know what you’re thinking – just a few days of teaching and and all this talk. Trust me when I say this, even a few hours were enough.

The school was 28 miles away from home, so it took us a good 2.5 hrs to wrestle our way out of the Bangalore traffic and reach our destination. The introduction to the KnowYourStar team and the fellow volunteers was very motivating – it felt like meeting old friends. There was a bit of teasing, a bit of trying to get to know each other, and a lot of discussion about what we were going to do for the rest of the day. All that nervousness I had felt wondering what I was going to teach, whether they would hate me, and if I was going to make a fool out of myself, etc, went away after those initial discussions.

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With the other volunteer teachers and KYS team (from left to right) – Jaideep, Preksha, Me, Rakshita, and Archie

Our Introduction To Paranga Vidya Kendra

The drive to the school was very scenic and time passed quickly with our discussions. When we reached the school, we were bowled over by the space. Tucked away near several acres of farmland, the structure of the school is hard to miss – the classrooms are all pyramids!

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The pyramid classrooms at  Paranga Vidya Kendra

As we entered the school, we could hear the sounds of kids repeating math formulas after their teachers, reading texts in English and Kannada, and cheerful conversations. We were welcomed by the headmaster and the founder of Paranga Trust, Mr M.R. Rama Murthy – the man whose entire life and dreams are dedicated to this school.

We found a spot in the cosy school library and got to business – setting up schedules for the next few hours of teaching and learning. Just as we finished, the lunch bell rang and the empty ground quickly filled up with kids of all age groups with clean plates, water bottles, and tiffins in their hands, ready to enjoy their mid-day meal. We were invited to have lunch too, a delicious vegetarian pulao and curd rice meal that was served by the school to all the students, teachers, and visiting staff.

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KG students standing in line, being served lunch by a senior student

A fellow volunteer and I found a spot near a bunch of kids to enjoy our meal and what we saw put wide smiles on our faces. There were 5-6 boys from the 8th grade sitting in a circle around a plate full of food, eating together, sharing stories, laughing – eating like a family. I asked them why they were all eating from the same plate when they had the option to have their own plates. They simply said, “Friendship, Ma’am. We are friends. It is nice like this.” That was the ice-breaker, though more for me than for them, I suppose. I knew I was going to learn so much from these kids.

The lunch hour went by quickly and it was time to get started. Like a teacher I walked in, and like a teacher I was greeted with wide smiles and a loud, “Good afternoon, Ma’am”. Ah! that feeling! As funny as it might sound, it felt like I meant something to these kids and that made the teaching experience all the more fun.

From The Eyes Of A Teacher

After teaching for around 30 minutes, I realized that these kids were so excited to learn, to talk, to share, and to simply engage that I didn’t have to even try too hard to get their attention. For every question that was asked, at least 12-14 hands went up in the air to answer. A few of the kids were shy, but once they were nudged a little to let go and just try, they proved that they knew so much, and probably just needed more opportunities to speak up.

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Mitra Pustak – Teaching More Than Just English

The curriculum that is followed by the Mentor India team is great for keeping these kids hooked till the very end. There was a lot of learning via games, quizzes, coloring, and team activities. After 3 hours of grammar lessons each day, I learned that they knew all the words, the definitions and the translations, but since they don’t hear much English around them, their sentence-formation was weak.

Mitra Pustak helped us set up a good foundation for them. A similar curriculum for their daily classes could really improve the way they speak and understand English. Don’t you think a more practical method of teaching is a great way to incite interest in kids, even for subjects like English?

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Ravish playing the dumb charades verb-learning game. Stepping out of the theory circle and learning something practically.

Stage Fear, What’s That?

I’m not talking about myself here. The kids didn’t know what stage fear was. They were bold, strong, and willing to be in front of the class at every given chance. They were not afraid to stand in front of their friends and give a speech, sing or dance.

The thought of homework wasn’t homework for them. It was almost a mission to be good at something new and not disappoint us when we went to teach them the next day. Where do we see such enthusiasm in most school-going kids? On my second day, I had a full house – nobody missed their homework and what’s more – they were so excited to show it to me and find out if they did well.

Here’s a link to the video of the little dance performance the kids agreed to do for the class and for me.

Why Should You Choose To Volunteer Too?

It wasn’t just an ordinary class of students I was teaching, I was teaching kids who were bold and helpful. I was teaching kids who didn’t think that one was better than the other. I was teaching a group who was collectively helping a hearing-impaired classmate study along with them. I was teaching a class that actually wanted to learn, and that’s why I think you should teach too. Because there are so many kids waiting to learn, but only a few willing to teach them.

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My amazing  Class 8 students. So bright and excited to learn.

Programs like this, where kids get to interact with someone other than their teachers, friends, and community members, give them a chance to share what they know and creates a desire in them to learn new things. Just a few hours of your time can inspire someone to learn every day for a long time. So don’t shy away from volunteering for such causes.

Volunteering Can Turn into a Lot More

What’s next? While I came back with my heart full of love and amazing memories from Paranga, there is one that is bothering me. “All work and no play, keeps Sachin and Meena dull all day.” Though the kids were very active and enthusiastic, I could feel that there energy levels went down after lunch. This was primarily the case in girls, who, even during breaks, spent their time within the class and did not go to play in the ground like the boys. On enquiring if the kids had PTE hours during the day, I found out that the school didn’t have any sports equipments and every now and then conducted kabbadi and kho-kho matches to engage kids in play. There was another problem due to lack of sports in school – most kids were not interested in watching any sports and spent a lot of time watching entertainment soaps/shows and movies. I want to try and change this. I want to get these kids interested in not just outdoor games, but also indoor games. A lot of kids want this – when we took them on the ground to conduct an activity, they were overjoyed – just imagine what will happen to their morale if they get this field time everyday for an hour?

You can visit Parange Vidya Kendra and know more about the founder and the work they are doing to educate these kids who primarily come from the nearby farming communities. Feel free to donate, either your time or your money to their cause. Read more here.

Cheers.

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