Sunday, January 13, 2013

RockNoida 2012

I've not had access to the Internet for about a month. No world news, no word from the outside world, but in that period, I felt connected within and without. I feel honoured and blessed to have spent time and energy with great individuals, to have met people who have inspired me, and to have gone through moments which have nourished me.

I know that this post will be deficient in many ways. As of now I feel as if I am only capable of converting a tiny speck out of all these recent whole experiences into words. A very humble attempt, this is.

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India: 

I deeply knew that, one day, I'd find myself in India, but God knew exactly where, when, how, and why. The day came when I found out about a service learning expedition project called RockNoida. Long story short - I got through an interview with the team leaders of RockNoida, met twenty other brilliant individuals who successfully got themselves into the team, and underwent months of bonding, planning and preparations together.

And then the day of departure came. After 5 hours of flight, we stepped foot on Indian soil. Indian soil? Surreal, I thought. India fed our senses - vibrant traffic, constant horning, bumpy roads, foggy horizons, cows roaming freely,  diverse smells which haunted our noses, a temperature drop that urged us to stay snug, women and children begging on streets... India fed our senses and sparked emotions.

Just outside the gates of Nai Disha

First, we had an observation visit to Nai Disha Free Education School. We had activities with students of all levels - Lower Kindergarten to Standard 8. I was assigned to (and had such an amazing time with!) Standard 4.2 and Lower Kindergarten. With 4.2, I had a lesson on sea creatures and then an origami session where we made origami art of whales, rays and sunfishes! Later on I did one on the colours of the rainbow with the younger students. Through the sessions, I had to use my very humble Hindi vocabulary to teach colours and the distinct parts of sea creatures.The zest that one gives while teaching will be reciprocated - I ended each session feeling exhilarated and beyond happy. I was excited to begin sessions in a slum community...

A small whiteboard that hung high, just outside one of the classrooms of a self-sustaining school in a slum

Prayas Vidyalaya. It is a school situated in a slum community in Noida, and it was only later that I learnt that Hindus and Shia Muslims co-exist in that Jhuggi and share spaces and resources. Prayas Vidyalaya, a self-sustaining, low-budget, unofficial school set up by volunteers, consists of three very small classrooms where 130 students of 4 to 15 years sit for their daily lessons. You can take less than seven steps across a classroom, and about five to measure its width. I had to plan a three-day orientation programme along with another, and  we wondered how we could ever execute anything with such space constraints. Then I remembered what my experiences as an educator have taught me - "Kalau tidak boleh, bolehkan sahaja!" Make the best out of conditions or resources given...

So we did. Three days of orientation, and then math, science, art, music, dance, drama, and English language lessons - I cannot describe the kind of life we had in the classrooms! Interactive, truly fun, engaging, full of zest... I loved the experiences. Before we had our classes in Prayas, I had a classroom management session with the team and I must say that they have done such a wonderful job at managing the different age groups.

I remember the moment when I reached the slum, got out of the car, and I had my feet on the dirt. I was overwhelmed with great joy. The tragic sights that surrounded me did not match the feelings I felt. It didn't have to match. Those people are blessed, and we can recognise how blessed they are by their beautiful, genuine smiles. Parting was not easy. We had to part ways with, not only the students, but also with the community.

Roomies quote: "Fly beyond your horizon, discover your potential, dive into the cold ocean, explore uncharted waters."
There are so many moments to share, but this one needs a lot more "alone time", pen, and lots of paper. I hope to visit the schools again, someday.

I end this post with Imam Muhammad Abd Latif Finch's words -

"Work hard on keeping your heart soft." 

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