Archive for February, 2012

Feb 11 2012

India III: Part 2 – Schools

Published by under India

On one of my last trips to India, I wrote about how Indians don’t use toilet paper. They use their left hand to…take care of business, if you know what I mean (don’t worry, they wash their hands). The great mystery is that, in spite of this, many flush toilets in India are set to flush a volume of water roughly equivalent to a medium-sized bathtub. Later this week, I’m going to try flushing a brick. I’ll let you know how it goes.

TRAVEL TIP: If you think you can just put Pop Tarts into a checked bag without them cracking into 80 pieces, you’re wrong.

Today we visited Khalpar, our project in a slum, right in downtown Calcutta. Khalpar literally means side of the canal as the slum used to be… well, next to a canal. I say “used to be” because Khalpar is an unauthorized slum. The residents illegally squat on government property. From time to time, the government has other uses for the land and they’ll bulldoze the people’s dwellings (dwellings is a more appropriate word than house) and the people will have to move to another piece of land. The people in Khalpar are some of those in the world living on less than $1 per day.

If you’re interested in seeing what day-to-day life is like in Khalpar (and other similar places where people live on less than $1 a day), see this 4-minute video. There’s no commentary – just short clips of the people living their lives. We’re not attempting to artificially stir your emotions. We’re just showing what’s there.

Khalpar has about 1250 residents and roughly 50% of those are children under the age of 16, very few of which have the opportunity to go to school.

Khalpar was our first location and its strongest program is education. In fact, out of all our locations, Khalpar has the strongest education program. A total of 114 students are now getting educated through Khalpar’s education program.

Since many of the students have never been to school or only attended another school for a very short period of time, we begin them in the slum school – a remedial school directly in the slum.

The absolute heroes of this project are the teachers! Below is Khalpar’s teaching staff (from left to right – Minoti, Modumeeta, Sima, Helena, and Puja).

Minoti cooks a hot lunch for the children every day. Modumeeta is one of the main teachers. Sima is the head instructor. Helena is in charge of spiritual development for the children. And Puja is also a teacher.

While all of the teachers are incredible, it’s Sima I want to highlight. Sima travels 2.5 hours EACH WAY from her home to the project. Travel times like this in India aren’t atypical, but it’s still a noteworthy fact that shows her commitment and belief in the students. Sima could work in another school much closer to her home but she believes her role in the slum is an extremely unique opportunity – to take some of the most marginalized children in the world and build them to maximize everything about their life that God intends to maximize.

The Model
Students who show rapid advancement in the slum school or who are beyond the curriculum currently being taught are enrolled in one of three types of schools near the slum.

The Bengali medium school (EC School) teaches classes in Bengali with a more rigorous curriculum.

The English-medium school (Agape Mission School) teaches English with even more rigorous classes.

Finally, at-risk children are considered for the possibility of boarding school. Rape and substance abuse are very real issues in the slum. While parents work during the day, kids are often left unsupervised and get themselves into trouble. Only with the parents’ blessing, select students are enrolled in boarding school.

The Success
Since inaugurating our slum school three years ago, we now have 51 students (1st through 6th grade) enrolled in the Bengali-medium school, 9 students at the English-medium school, and 6 students at two boarding schools. In other words, more than half of our students have been remediated and are on the road to potentially becoming college graduates – something their families truly and literally never dreamed of until recently.

School for most of the children in Khalpar isn’t something they’re forced to attend like it is in America. School is an opportunity they’re seizing by the throat. Many of these students are slowly choking the life out of grinding poverty through their courage, hard work, and determination. These aren’t feel-good words for a blog post. It’s the reality of brave kids who suddenly see a future when they, only recently, couldn’t even see to tomorrow.

In just five more years, the first group of our students will sit for their Standard XII exams that determine what Indian colleges they’ll be eligible for. Sima and the rest of the teachers will rightfully be called “life-changers” because they helped to so drastically alter the trajectory of entire family trees. Sometimes I think about their graduation day and I picture them walking across the stage. And it makes me cry because people are so rarely able to make something from nothing and I’m watching it happen right in front of my face.

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Feb 10 2012

India III: Part 1 – Prasan

Published by under India

People sometimes ask me why I’ve committed myself to doing work in Calcutta. As a partial  answer to the question and an introduction to this week, I’d like you to meet Prasan. Prasan is just to the left of me in this picture. This is his story.

Prasan is 12 and lives in the Khalpar slum with his family. He’s been attending the slum school for a year. Last August, Prasan suddenly stopped coming to school. Unable to talk with Prasan’s parents for three months because they’re constantly working, Jaiashree, the director of the organization we work with happened to see Prasan working at a fish market, cutting and packing fish.

Jaiashree went up to Prasan and began asking him some questions: “Why did you leave school?” Prasan answered that some kids had been teasing him and he couldn’t take it so he left and got a job (very poor Indian parents are permissive of this type of thing because working children mean more income for the family).

Jaiashree asked Prasan if the boys who teased him were still in school (she knew they were). Prasan answered, “Yes.”

So Jaiashree told him plainly, “Then you are a fool. The boys who were mean are getting an education so they won’t have to work in a fish market. And here you are cleaning fish. Do you want to go to school?” Prasan answered yes.

So a day later, Prasan came back to school.
The week after that was the final exam to pass 5th grade. After missing four months, Prasan passed and continues to go to school where he has the opportunity to be the first in his family to get out of poverty.

Down Not Out
Those who live in poverty are fighters. They’ve had to fight from the moment they were born. The problem for most is that their families have been fighting against poverty for generations and there’s little hope of change so they don’t expect much from their lives.

And poverty is tough enough by itself, but living in a culture of Hinduism, where the caste system almost explicitly forbids life improvement between one generation and the next, requires outside agents who can build systems that work like ladders to help the poor rise from their desperation and misery. That is what’s happening with our programs in Calcutta. Over the next week I’ll walk through all we’re doing here. Prasan is just the beginning!

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