Happiness held is the seed; Happiness shared is the flower. – John Harrigan
In the beginning, it was difficult for me to work with kids. On the first day, as I entered the classroom, I was expecting that children would be feeling shy. They would be reluctant to talk. But, to my surprise the reality was opposite. Except 3 or 4 of them, everyone was busy chattering, singing and dancing. They would play with whatever stuff they find around them. My colleagues Arun and Bhima Sir helped me to calm them down, and make sense of chaos created by these little devils.
Next day, I planned my activities before entering the classroom. When I went there, I saw many kids crying. Most of the children, who come here, are used to living in an open environment, and may be uncomfortable in closed spaces. They are habitual of roaming freely in the forests, but here they were restricted by rules and regulations of the hostel. They were missing their parents, their village, and the ultimate freedom to wander off in the nature.
To get their attention, I thought it would be best to take them back to their villages and forests. On the board, I drew a picture of a village and had them talk about it. This led to a long conversation and sharing of relatable experiences. Children were filled with joy and energy once again. A few of them even started dancing. A lot of kids told us about their own village. It was first such session where we could engage so many kids together for a long time.
After a few days, we conducted diagnostic tests, the purpose of which is to identify the level of education or knowledge these kids have, and how can we divide them into three different levels, on the basis of their learning requirements. Once the bifurcation was done, a team member was assigned a class to work with.
For me, it was a Level 3 class. Kids with mixed age group and basic understanding of Hindi, English and Maths were sent to level 3. Though they were familiar with Hindi, Gondi is their mother tongue and they are far more comfortable interacting in it. In the first session with them, I decided to watch an animated Gondi movie with them. It’s made by Shiksharth, and has subtitles in Gondi, however written in Devanagari script. As I attempted to narrate the story by reading the subtitles, kids started laughing as I couldn’t pronounce the words correctly. They corrected me and also explained what a word means. It was a great chance to let the kids know that mistakes can be made by anyone and we should learn from our mistakes.
These are children who have dropped out from school in Konta block of Sukma, a region highly affected by Naxal Movement. Negativity is a part of their daily life. Whenever they say anything, they feel that it is wrong or incorrect. “नहीं, गलत, पता नहीं” are commonly used words here. With this activity, I wanted to convey that we are always unaware of a lot of things and that’s fine, like I know Hindi and English but not Gondi and I’ll always be learning it from them. This was a tiny boost to their confidence and the joy on their faces was a proof of it.
The other day we had an open ended discussion about food and lifestyle. Children participated with all their enthusiasm. We began the discussion with ChapdaChiti (A local tribal delicacy made out of red ants), and took it to other local cuisine. It’s better to connect a topic with local context so that kids can relate with it more.
Next, I decided to make origami with kids. As I went with the bunch of colorful craft paper, kids were joyful and started jumping around in excitement. “What can we make with these papers?”, I asked. They thought about it. Suddenly one boy stood up and said, “Gun”. I was stunned for a moment and it led to a chain reaction of kids asking me to make a paper gun. “I don’t know how to make one”, I said, to which another boy came ahead saying “मुझे आता है। मैं बनाऊंगा।”
They all followed him and started playing with their guns. It was evident how violence had become an inevitable part of their life. It is said that kids learn by seeing, and we had an example of that.
At Gyanodaya, a project by Shiksharth, we work with drop-out children in the age group of 6 to 12, because we believe that if they get influenced negatively at this age, it would become challenging to later bring them back. Gyanodaya provides them residential facility along with the academic set-up where these children can open up and prepare themselves to join the mainstream education. It also helps them learn human values directly or indirectly.