Sunday, 30 August 2015

Week 8: Game Over

Last Saturday’s school football tournament was without a doubt the biggest day of my career as a part-time football assistant coach - well, the biggest day so far. We had seen some promising signs during the training sessions. However, to say that Mark and I struggled to successfully teach the Indian school children how to pass and move would have been a huge understatement. We therefore approached the momentous occasion with the hope that we’d get a couple of goals and refrain from getting into too many fights.

Our slim chances almost disappeared before a ball was kicked when some of the children didn’t show up, but thankfully they came just in time for the start of the tournament. It was a knockout competition so the first game was crucial. Although there were lots of chances, the match finished 0-0 and went straight to penalties. It seemed that our bad English luck at penalties wore off on the team, as we unfortunately lost 2-1. The boys were pretty sad as they had expected to be playing all day, so Mark and I decided to take them to a park near the school to play football until we were all exhausted!

The immense pressure was too much for Darpan, who dragged his shot wide.

Thankfully, the boys enjoyed the rest of the day!

Last week, a team from Yahoo! turned up at the ashram to donate computers and play games with the children. This increased the number of working computers in the computer room from one to seven! As a result, Mark and I spent the week teaching Word, Excel and Powerpoint to different classes. Although it wasn’t surprising, it was still strange to see children struggling to use the mouse or keyboard at first. However, I felt that this was by far the most productive week at the school as the children were really quick to learn new ICT skills.

Teaching 14 year olds to edit font on Word

On Monday I went to visit one of the after school tuition classes with the older school children. When I got back, Mark told me that there had been a lot of corporal punishment administered at the ashram, with boys having open wounds where they had been beaten. He also informed me in the evening that a large group of boys were forced to stand in a squatting position and that two of the children at the front were crying from the pain. Later on, we were ‘reassured’ that all of this had happened because one of the children had stolen a set of keys and had locked the computer room without permission. Mark instantly informed the organisation that sent us and told them to stop sending interns until something changes.

On Wednesday, a rich businessman arranged for all the boys to go to the cinema and eat at a banquet hall. The film – a Bollywood blockbuster called Brothers – focused on the lives of two brothers who took part in brutal street fighting competitions. On top of the glorification of violence and power, the movie also included a song where a female singer was being danced around by a crowd of men throwing money at her and practically drooling over her. I found it ridiculous that so many young boys who didn’t know any better were watching such a film, so I walked out less than half of the way through. At least the food afterwards was pretty good.

The boys were literally screaming with excitement on the bus!

Shiva agreed to drink the revolting green drink for the sake of a photo!

As we entered the last full week at the school, we were given many gifts by the teachers (usually in the form of food). At one point we were given four pizzas, as well as various Indian dishes, all before 10am! The manager of the ashram gave us a cotton shirt each as well as some Yahoo! merchandise. On Thursday, a friend from church dropped by to say goodbye and gave us some Indian pointy hats. The next day, school children tied several pink and blue bracelets around our wrists. Mark was given a really nice send-off on Friday, with loads of group photos and thank-you messages. As for me, I'll be back home on Wednesday!
The menacing threats to "take take" and "eat eat" platefuls of food was getting too much for Mark.

Mark with 7th Standard - one of the nicest classes to teach
Mark with some of the boys from 8th, 9th and 10th Standard

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Week 7: What on earth...

On Friday, Mark and I heard the news about the devastating explosion at the factory in Tianjin, China. We watched the footage on-line on Mark’s laptop, with some of the children from the orphanage also wanting to see what had happened. We spent time praying for the people in Tianjin after viewing the videos several times over – it was the only thing we felt we could do.

Saturday was celebrated by people across India as the 68th anniversary of independence from British rule. The school had planned to host an event on Saturday morning to commemorate the special occasion. This meant that Mark and I were chief guests and had to wear some fairly unusual clothes. It was even suggested that we would be raising the Indian flag, but it ended up being left to two other chief guests. The event involved children singing, dancing, marching and giving speeches. It was especially awesome to see one of the children reciting a speech that Mark had written out for him!

Mark and I hanging by the washing lines

School girls performing a traditional dance with pom-poms

Straight after the event, Mark and I joined up with some friends from the local church and took a bus to Chinchoti, where we spent the day trekking around some forest and swimming in rivers. There were a number of stunning waterfalls, with the best saved until last. I lost my glasses there but at least my friends told me that the waterfalls looked really nice… actually I could still see pretty well so it wasn't a problem!

I almost stood in some animal muck just then

I love forests

This is just before I lost my glasses

School's been ten times better this week - I've been able to teach a series of lessons rather than being given random topics by teachers with no notice. I've just finished going through different categories of animal and plant life with Year 10, whilst for Year 11 I've been able to bring some Uni knowledge into science classes on pollution. Overall, working with the same classes each day has been a lot more productive and enjoyable than before!

Simple drawing and labelling exercises on the board

Praise Points:

  • Praise for the continuous kindness of the men and women at church and at the orphanage. who have generously looked after us and invited us into their homes
  • Praise for further opportunities to read the Bible with some of the older guys at the orphanage
  • Praise for having the most enjoyable week so far!

Prayer Points:

  • Prayer for the world we live in - from Tianjin to the Middle East
  • Prayer for wisdom and love as I prepare to leave in two weeks time

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Week 6: Football Fun

This week, Mark was given a huge responsibility at the school. He was asked to be the Head Coach of the School Football Team for an upcoming tournament (I didn’t even know there was a team!). We’ve consequently taken a lot of joy from organising training sessions and transforming the children from Heskey’s to Henry’s – although we’re not quite there yet! 

We also had an awesome weekend; we started with taking a boat ride to Elephanta Island in Mumbai, which held caves in the midst of dense forest with ancient Hindu statues carved into the rocks. Unfortunately Mark took all the photos that day so you'll have to wait to see them!

I also had the chance to look around the local fishing village and meet the families of some of the school children. I not only saw the children but also met their brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, aunties, cousins and grandparents, all of whom seem to live together! It was the day before the fishing season started, so dozens of large boats could be seen along the nearby shore.

Grabbing some Indian street food on the weekend

Whilst this week has been good fun, little progress was made at the school. Exams took place each day in the morning, which meant that I was asked to play the fantastic role of the invigilator. After the morning tests, the children would either be extremely jittery or just sleepy – either way, most of them were disengaged throughout the rest of the school day.

During tuition time, the children would ask if Mark and I could help them to memorise the exact answers written out by the teachers for the following day’s exam. Whilst a fair number of them had little trouble learning the answers, it was pretty astonishing that some of the older children could not understand the meaning of the questions, let alone the answers. Ultimately, it was sad but unsurprising that a number of children failed in their exams. Teachers blamed them for not working hard enough and asked them to move down a year group until they pass their retakes.

10th Standard Maths Tuition

Mark and I were able to fit in another Bible story with the children on the weekends. We focussed on the message of ‘turning the other cheek’ and got them to act out different scenarios. There’s a quite a bit of pushing, shoving and name-calling that takes place amongst the younger boys, so hopefully the stories help to spread the love here!

The boys at the chapel

Praise Points:

  • Praise for having the opportunity to try and help children in their studies amidst the various difficulties at the school
  • Praise for having the privilege of sharing Jesus’ love with the children, some of whom have been through a lot of pain

Prayer Points:

  • Prayer for the fathers, uncles and brothers of schoolchildren, who have travelled out to sea this week to catch fish in the middle of monsoon season
  • Prayer for an end to the fierce blame culture that exists amongst teachers, parents and children

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Week 5: Monkeying Around

Last Thursday was an interesting one. Mark and I were asked to be on the judging panel for a poetry competition at the school. A number of the younger children performed songs and dances such as Old MacDonald and the Hokey-Cokey, which was very sweet but left me wondering if anyone knew what a poem was.

After it had all finished, I was asked to teach History to a class of children around the age of 12. I had usually avoided teaching the younger years but I agreed to go ahead anyway. After I had failed to get the class engaged through a starter game and activity, some of the children decided to start doing the opposite of anything I said. I decided that the easiest thing would be to get the deputy head, not really thinking about the kind of punishment that would be administered. Teachers came in to deal with misbehaving children and ensure that everyone was ready to learn. At the end of the school day, the kids who had misbehaved came up to me in tears and apologised. I realised then that my decision to go to the deputy had ultimately led to physical abuse…

The following day was the orphanage manager (Norbert)’s birthday. All the kids were happy because it meant they got cake! I had the crazy idea of getting one of the children to dress up in my monkey onesie and deliver a birthday card to Norbert on my behalf. To my amazement, he agreed, although he said afterwards that he was afraid that Norbert wouldn’t be too impressed. At least the children found it funny!

The boys in their dormitory (note the triple bunk beds!)

I made a start on my two University projects this week – interviewing the older boys at the orphanage about their education and about their expectations of future life in India. One of the older guys who grew up at the orphanage was an enormous help with arranging interviews and translating for those who struggled with expressing themselves in English. At one point a power cut came midway through an interview, which suddenly made everything very awkward so we decided to finish it the next day. Overall it’s been really exciting and I’m looking forward to learning more about life here!

In other news, Mark’s been really excited about the number prophetic words that have been spoken over his friends at Oxford University in recent weeks. In a variety of places, from the UK to Bethel Church in the US, there have been loads of believers saying that God is going to lead a revival amongst young people in Oxford. Mark, who helps to lead Just Love with other students in Oxford, has been buzzing and really hopes that people will come to know Jesus.

Another photo of the beautiful fort, with Ganesh (one of the boys at the ashram)

We're fed very well here!

Praise Points:

  • Thanks for another week of building stronger relationships with the teachers and students, having good conversations and playing games.
  • Thanks for being able to read Bible Stories with the children (we did Daniel and the Lions last time!)
  • Thanks for the exciting prophecies about Oxford!

Prayer Points:

  • Prayer for wisdom in understanding how to deal with rewards and punishments at school.
  • Prayer for perseverance with teaching, especially when the children only want to memorise or copy information.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Week 4: Delhi Belly

Last weekend I took a flight to New Delhi to meet up with my school friend Michael and two of his friends, Rob and Dan. It was without a doubt the craziest city I have ever visited, with people riding elephants on city streets and cows roaming around as they please. You could buy street food (samosa burgers, rotis or just lemonade) from any corner. As a foreigner, I was widely perceived as a walking wallet and was often approached by men in the street to buy anything from SD cards to toy helicopters.

We visited a large palace called the Red Fort, which was home to the Indian emperors up until the battle for independence in 1857. Whilst the markets, gardens and monuments inside were supposed to be the main attraction, we were asked to pose with Indians on around 10 occasions in the space of just a couple of hours! In the end, we decided to tell people that they’d have to pay a small fee if they wanted a photo with us.

A couple of days after returning back to Vasai, I had my first proper dose of illness, with vomiting, fever and ‘loose motions’. One of the guys took me to a clinic on a motor scooter, where I was given an injection on my right buttock and was asked to take 6 tablets with every meal for the next 24 hours. To be fair, I felt a lot better the next day!

I haven’t really been teaching much this week. Other than taking a day off to recover, a number of lessons were cancelled because a lot of the children hadn’t paid their school fees. We also had preparation for ‘Parents Day’, where children spent half the day making cards for their parents.

Praise Points:

  • The people at the orphanage are really good at making sure the children are fit and healthy, with good food, sports and a nearby clinic if necessary
  • I've been able to speak more with the teachers  this week, which has been really important for understanding how the school works

Prayer Points:

  • Prayer for the children at the orphanage who were unable to celebrate Parents Day
  • Prayer for the families of the children outside the orphanage who are struggling to pay for school fees

Friday, 24 July 2015

Week 3: Settling in at School

I’ve been at my placement for around two weeks now, so I’m more at home here than before. The boys are mostly between the age of 6 and 17. The little children love to play at the playground, whilst the older boys like a bit of dancing, wrestling and sports. In our naivety, Mark and I decided to join in on a cricket game – we were humiliated to say the least! Football’s been fun – but the boys play a version called “rowdy” football, which means that a mob of children constantly chase the ball, desperate to kick it as hard as possible. Reminds me a bit of football at the school playground!

So far, language, behaviour and learning techniques have been the main challenges whilst teaching the younger years. Since Mark and I cannot explain instructions in the local languages, the younger years find it difficult to understand. Many of the younger children also take advantage of the fact that we will not smack them if they misbehave. We’ve found that the supervision of a teacher with a long ruler in their hand has reduced the younger children’s tendency to wander around the room and pick a fight with someone. In older classes where language and behaviour has been less of an issue, we’ve found that many children go through school by copying or memorising information, without understanding basic concepts.

Whilst we’ve had a few problems, there have also been a lot of positives. We’ve spent most afternoons helping with the children’s times’ tables and have found that the boys are really eager to do sums. Some of them have even stayed beyond the two hours of tuition after school to answer maths questions! It’s also been really fun to get the children engaged through games and competitions, awarding mini trophies to those who work really well (thanks to my sister Anne-Marie, who gave me loads of awesome resources for the school).

On Sunday Mark and I were invited to a party with the church we visited the week before. Two guys were getting baptised in a swimming pool, so there was a big celebration that afternoon. Straight after the baptisms, we all jumped in the swimming pool and played some water polo, before heading to the seaside for some beach football! The guys at the church have been really kind and supportive so I’m looking forward to hanging out with them more.

Praise Points:
  • We’re starting to get to know the boys at the orphanage really well now (even though I still get some of their names mixed up!)
  • Teaching is going a lot better now after a bit of a shaky start!
  • Going to church has really helped to reenergise us and remind us of the steadfast love that God has for us and for the children here.

Prayer Points:
  • My main hope is that our relationships with the children will grow and that Mark and I will be able to give them the love and support they need whilst we’re here.
  • Mark and I also hope that we’re able to make a sustainable impact at the school, but we’re not sure yet about how this can be achieved.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Week 2: Welcome to St Gonsalo Garcia Ashram

After saying goodbye to the other interns, Mark and I arrived at our placement on Wednesday 8th July. Our aim as Development in Action interns was to bring about youth empowerment at an Indian orphanage for boys. This basically meant that we would be teaching classes and providing one-one tuition, whilst trying to be positive role-models.

The orphanage itself is situated in a Portuguese fort in Vasai, dating back hundreds of years. From the moment we arrived, Mark and I were treated like royalty. Whilst the 85 boys at the orphanage slept in a single dormitory with triple bunk beds, we were given an air conditioned room to ourselves. During meal times, the amazing cooking team make a special effort to please us and will always try to stop us from clearing up afterwards as well!

The boys instantly took a liking to us. They were constantly inviting us to play sports with them, asking us questions about England and showing us crazy dance moves they had learnt. Whilst it seemed a bit overwhelming at first, their enthusiasm was absolutely hilarious!

I think it’s fair to say that we were thrown into the deep end in our first week of teaching. After observing a lesson, Mark and I were asked to have a go in different classes. Mark taught English whilst I had a go at teaching Maths and ICT. We quickly realized that we had absolutely no hope in teaching the younger years as we couldn’t help those who struggled to understand English. Another issue was that we were not particularly keen on applying corporal punishment, which was deemed to be the best way to manage bad behaviour. In contrast, we had a lot more joy when we assisted the teachers and when we taught older year groups.

Vasai Fort

Classrooms separated by a thin wooden board

Playground, usually filled with children playing cricket
The oldest part of the school

At the end of a jam-packed week, Mark and I decided to go to a church in the local town. Mark managed to get in touch with one during the week and was offered a lift there by the church leader. It was a small church at the top of a block of flats on the main high street and was filled with local people shouting out songs of thanks to God. In between songs, a number of people took it in turns to say thanks to God for different things in their lives. There was also a time for people to go to the front and share encouraging stories about how God had helped them, which seemed to go on forever. After the service, Mark and I were invited to have lunch with a group of people at the church, including some of the leaders. I left feeling refreshed and challenged to live a life that is completely devoted to God.

Praise Points:

  • I thank God for the love and care displayed here, not only at the orphanage but with a number of kind people who have helped us out during stressful times
  • The beauty of the local Fort is absolutely incredible!
  • The children here are amazing - they seem to be laughing, joking and dancing all the time!

Prayer Points:

  • The local church leader estimated that there are 300 families in the local area who are affected by HIV/AIDS
  • Prayer for the children - there seems to be a real need for attention that is likely to come from a lack of strong relationships