2023 Visit to Niranjana Learning Centre
Education is the steering wheel of life!
Our mission is to improve students' learning experience by providing them with desks and chairs. So far, we have provided over 328 desks and chairs to 12 schools.
However, we also know that many children are living in extreme poverty and are in need of basic education in rural areas in India.
So, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, we built a school in Bodh Gaya, India to provide free education, including literacy and numeracy to these children. The school has been up and running for a year now, and during the Easter holiday break in April, I flew to Bihar, India, to volunteer at the charity school we built called Niranjana Learning Centre to observe and understand their challenges.
So, here we go. Let me share with you what I have done in these few days.
Day 1 - 08.04.2023 Saturday
Alan, the president of Hundred School Project Inc. and I attended a school assembly, where students introduced themselves and asked us many questions. We were very impressed by the students' self-confidence and eager-to-learn attitude. They filled the room with positivity, gratitude, and happiness.
Alan shared stories to inspire the children. I found many of them had ambitions to become an engineer, a great occupation of pride for them. Coincidently, both Alan and I are from an engineering background.
Since it was day 1, we went easy and relaxed. I was very impressed by the childrens’ excellent manners and etiquette. They're taught not to waste food because everything they received was from donations. Everyone washed their bowls after lunch. Not a single drop of congee was wasted.
It was on this first day I was told that these children do not have a toilet at home. That is the biggest challenge for the teachers. They patiently taught them how to use the toilet, but when they went home, they returned to square one.
The positive news is that the government is providing aid and helping the villagers to build houses with at least one toilet. We had seen some work started, but still a long way to go. That is why education is very important to transform the lives of these villagers.
Day 2 - 10.04.2023 Monday
We took over the classes on the second day. We did music classes and introduced science to the students. We taught two English songs, "You Are My Sunshine" and "Do-Re-Mi" from the Sound of Music with hand gestures. My intention was to help them understand that they are the sunshine and hope for their family. I noticed that the children have phonetic problems, so we identified that as one of the areas we need to improve moving forward.
During the science session, we used magnets to demonstrate the magnetic field of "pull and push." We demonstrated the attract and repel properties of the magnets, explained the concept of magnetism to the children, and gave them exercises to identify ferromagnetic materials in the school. The students were very smart and understood everything we taught them.
After class, we decided to do a few home visits with the teachers for brief interviews with the parents and guardians. The majority of homes were mud houses with no separate rooms, and only one bed. We learned that many of our students’ families live on 200 rupees a day (less than $3USD), and many are single parents. With this family income, they could not afford three meals a day.
Our students progressed to grade two this year, and we are looking at more students next year when they progress to standard three, and we recruit kindergarten students. Unfortunately, our school won't be able to fit all students because of a lack of classrooms and toilets. Therefore, on a very hot day, we went out to look for land and properties for possible expansion. Even though it is an underdeveloped village, the scenery is beautiful, and people are happy!
Day 3 - 11.04.2023 Tuesday
Our plan on day 3 was to revise our learned songs and introduce "the world" to the students. However, while setting up the projector and YouTube channel, we found a very popular kids' song, "Baby Shark". So we introduced it to the students, and they loved it.
They very quickly remembered all the hand gestures from Baby Shark to Grandpa Shark 😁. We noticed a few phonetic and tone-deaf problems, including our teachers. 😟 This is a big concern that we need to rectify before students follow teachers’ bad example.
After the music lesson, we taught the standard 1 & 2 students about the 7 continents, 5 oceans, and countries on the world map, followed by videos of the ocean and sea animals. Bihar is located inland, so ocean and sea animals are eye-opening experiences for the children. Unfortunately, there were a few blackouts on the day, and we couldn't use the projector to display on a bigger screen and had to fall back on the iPhone display instead.
I taught the new students how to draw lotus flowers. Some are very talented and grasped the tactic right away, while others find it hard to start the first stroke. I used this lesson to teach them about colours.
Day 4 - 12.04.2023 Wednesday
It was the last day we were teaching in Niranjana Learning Centre because the school would prepare for the Annual School Function for the 1st anniversary the next day. The teachers invited all parents and guardians to watch the performance to see the results of their children learning in our school for one year. The teachers also invited people from the community to come and enjoy the night.
Unfortunately, we continued to experience a few blackouts as the weather was extremely hot!
My husband and I attended the monthly parent-teacher meeting in the morning. The parents and guardians expressed their gratitude for giving their children a chance to receive an education. They are extremely happy and grateful. We explained how they could support their children at home. We helped the children now and hope that in the future, the children will give back and help the community.
We were able to use the project despite the blackouts. We continue to play the video of the ocean/sea life and animals on the project for everyone to observe better. We explained to the students about mammals, fish and birds. We think amphibians and reptiles might b e too complicated at this stage, so we left them out.
To complete the last class, we let the Standard 2 students build a T-Rex using Lego. The objective was to teach them about following instructions and teamwork. I must say, this lesson was the most challenging. Despite my emphasis on following the instructions and working together, the students still tried their own way, which led to failure. Unfortunately, no one was able to complete the task on the day.
Day 5 - 13.04.2023 Thursday
We went to the school to watch the students rehearse the dances and dramas they prepared for the Annual School Function. We were asked to perform with students showcasing the song "You Are My Sunshine" and the "Baby Shark" dance.
Women friends and aunties came to help dress up the students and do their makeup. Then, despite experiencing blackouts, the function started. It was a spectacular night with many amazing performances. Parents were in tears, thanking us for the opportunity given to their children.
Day 6 - 14.04.2023 Friday
We went to the school to say goodbye to the children before flyingback to Delhi, then Melbourne. That concluded our volunteer work in Bihar, India. The student representative sang a farewell song for us. After that, we took a school photo with all the students and teachers before sending the children home.
So what is next?
For our next project, we plan to teach the mothers to sew. We were told that only men could go to Gaya, the bigger town, to learn how to sew. So we want to raise funds to buy four sewing machines to put in the school and start sewing classes for mothers. Hopefully, this will allow the mothers to generate some earnings and provide a bit of relief to the family.
I hope you enjoy reading my blog about my volunteer days. All the best to the students and their families. I strongly believe education is the steering wheel of our lives to seek the right direction.