For the past month, I have been tap dancing to work every day and have been waking up without Monday morning blues – thanks to the incredible experience of interning with Teach for India (TFI). I joined Teach for India as a classroom subordinate and was assigned to a government school as a co-teacher for class five – a classroom which had 40 girls. The best part of this job has been working in an environment which is full of positive energy, laughter and joy. Moreover the girls in my class are not just adorable but also exceptionally bright. Every day, they bombard me with unconventional questions which are thought provoking and hard to answer. How many earths can you fit inside the sun? What is everything made of? What is your life’s vision?
When I experienced such brilliance first hand, I couldn’t help but wonder about why the attendance was so low and why these students had performed badly in their previous exams. Moreover, I also wondered why most of the students at the school did not continue with their education. I started exploring the answers of these questions by going for community visits, talking to their parents, and understanding the grass root level realities. The answer to these questions, in my opinion, can be best explained by referring to a small story which I had read as a child.
Once upon a time there was a huge army of frogs which lived inside a deep well. Generations of frogs lived and died inside that well without seeing the outside world. If any of the frogs expressed their desire to go outside, they were made a laughing stock. The task of going out of the well was deemed impossible, since the well was so deep. One fine day a small group of young frogs decided to do the impossible. They set out for the journey to go outside the well. Soon those young frogs realised the task is going to be much tougher than they thought because every time they jumped two steps up, an old frog pulled them one step down.
The condition of these kids is similar to the young frogs. They have unfortunately, been born into abject poverty and have little knowledge of a better life. The whole world around them including the society, community and sometimes even parents discourage them to fight for their dreams because they believe it is a battle which they are bound to lose. If any child dares to defy the norms and strive for academic excellence, he/she is pulled back by the web of poverty and the challenges which come with it. Inside the school, they are a bunch of jubilant kids who are getting enough food to eat, clean clothes to wear and ample time to play with their friends but outside the school they are facing the hardships of the real world. Most of my students wake up at around 4:30 to finish their household work before coming to school and they don’t have enough money to buy books and food.
Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder, how well these kids could have done if they were in households with adequate resources, and if they had access to greater opportunities. It is problematic when poverty is only understood in terms of statistical definitions like “1.25 USD per day”. They often forget that poverty is a human condition; it is despair, grief and pain. Poverty is the longing of a young boy playing outside a village school wanting to sit in the classrooms instead. It is the plight of a father of seven children when he joins the swelling ranks of unemployed. Poverty is the grief of parents watching a three year old die of a routine disease because they cannot afford any medical care. If this isn’t lottery of the womb – then I have no idea what is.
Having such a comprehensive understanding of the educational reality of this country, is what helps all of us at TFI to internalise the importance of the role we play and drives us to give our hundred percent commitment. We believe that every child has the potential to reach for the stars and it is their financial poverty that has blocked their vision by trapping them in a well where they are surrounded by a fatalistic mindset.
It is crucial that every child believes that they are masters of their own fate and this what we as TFI interns aim to inculcate in our students, by exposing them to a vast ocean of opportunities. A few days ago, a girl came running to me and said, “Didi, Anamika wants to become a model when she grows up.” I went to Anamika and asked her if she wants to become a model and she look at me straight in the eye and said, “Didi, I don’t want to become a model. I want to become a super model.” It was in that moment that my beliefs about these were reinforced and I knew that they can always beat the odds and fulfil their dreams.