I finally have a little while to write something down. It’s been an incredibly eventful first two months, being here and volunteering in Dumka and moving throughout jharkhand, I’ve experienced plenty more than I can write down but I will try to do my best to share my experience so far.
Let me start with what happened just after I arrived. After a day in calcutta, experiencing India for the first time, especially its smells I travelled out of west bengal and to Dumka in Jharkhand, where the air was much more fresh, the state of forests and jungle according to the meaning of the name. The first day I arrived here, after the two week school holiday, I was swiftly assigned to the classes I was organised to teach. I was to observe the teaching for a week and then teach the subsequant week with the teacher observing my teaching, then if all is well then I take the class by myself. Well at least that was the carefully crafted plan.
Funnily enough, I ended up teaching in the first lesson, after the first ten minutes of introduction, the nun that was teaching just looked over and said, “You know Issac Newton?” and before I knew it, I was at the front, with thirty sets of eyes and ears at the ready, waiting to hear my views on Sir Issac Newton’s biography they had been studying. Even though I had no idea what was in the biography, from a quote in the book and from what I knew in Physics, I managed to boil down newton’s theory of gravitation and it’s relationship to the proceeding improvement, General relativity to Newton’s Humility, his childish curiosity and his acceptance of the vastness of the unknown. After all this was English literature, there has to be a context and a meaning and a simple one too. I managed to show them from my experience, the lesson went quite well. Jumping into the deep end is a common experience when volunteering, alien situations always arise, but to accept them and to learn from them is how you let it change yourself for the better. That hiccup gave me quite a bit of confidence to kickstart my teaching here.
But without becoming a volunteering Guru, let me continue with my experince. I was put in English literature class 7 (about year 8) and environmental science class 8, (about year 8). The first two weeks of teaching were a great learning experience for me and that learning experience has continued to this day. The students here are slightly more obedient than back in England, I suppose there is a natural level of respect they have here, but to be completely honest, It doesn’t matter if they’re in the jungle, in the desert or by the coast. Children are absolute monkeys wherever they are, it’s normal and to be honest we were all like that. but they are a delight to work with. One difference I have noticed here, the students here have an incredible memory when they put the effort into it. They absorb what you tell them very quickly.
Many hindi medium students enrol in the school and the college and they join at various ages with various ability levels in english. Since the school has only been running for five years, the difference the school makes in their ability in english is quite clear and it’s because some of the younger ones have been in longer.
The english ability has had an effect on the lessons I teach in my literature class, differentiating between the different abilities has been something I have had to implement, but it makes the lessons more entertaing for the higher ability students because more class activities are needed for those with lower ability. In one lesson I got the whole class to work together to write a poem about the Jungle. The different ability students worked together and the final piece was very good and quite funny.
I also teach after school hours in the neighbourhood work the Jesuits do here. The village Children come to the college for an hour to an hour and a half of tuition after the School Children leave. There are four afterschool classes, each one is for a different ability level. All the classes teach English, Maths and Hindi. I myself teach class one; in english and hindi we learn to write and pronounce hindi and english scripts, in maths we learn how to add and subract below and beyond double digits. As soon as they can do the maths and pronounce small english words using the phonetic alphabet I teach them, then I send them up to class two. The afterschool children are very fun to work with, they can be absolute monkeys just like their older partners in crime but have so much enthusiasm. I’ve never taught children before asking for homework when the class ends, all shouting at once in excitement “Fatha! Fatha! Hombwork! Hombwork!”. By the way, I’ve tried many times to make them call me sir but it never works.
Now it’s the Christmas holidays. We finished school on the 22nd and had the school’s fifth annual day. it’s also been a season of annual days in the town, I went to two. For Christmas day itself, myself and one of the Jesuit fathers travelled to mariampahar, we stayed there for three days and on the way and on the way back we made sure to stop at different jesuit communities in the province. We drove through small windy jungle roads, through villages and enjoying the scenic landscape, stopping for coffee and Christmas cake.
The Christmas vigil mass was inspiring, although it was a three hour mass in santhali (local tribal language), I found myself very focused and deep in prayer along with the three thousand other Catholics attending. To come together and to pray with the people here has been a very touching experience for me.
I’m now back preparing for a new year of schooling. The weather is going to take a dip in january, the coldest part of the year. But it will warm up soon after. Despite it being winter, today it was a nice 25°C , let’s see if I can stand the heat when it warms up again. May God Bless the school this year.