A member of the invisible support cast working really hard & helping us with this blog, installing the "read more code". Infact i met him through blogosphere, some similar musical interests. But it was just great for him to come over & help us, Thank you Manu.
Mahalaxmi from Chennai was a Management Graduate from Symbiosis, Pune. Unlike others of her age and background she chose to work for the education of children who were not fortunate to get good schooling, through Akanksha, an NGO working in Pune and Mumbai. She stayed in Adharshila for One and a half month and put her heart and soul in teaching children. She also helped in developing the math curriculum for the 1st level.
Here is what she has to say..........
All characters and events mentioned here are real and any resemblance to fiction is purely coincidental and unintentional. This village looks like a beautiful dream and it feels good to stop somewhere and look around you. And the people as we call them- are kamaal ke bande- for you hardly expect to ever meet people who seem to have it all figured out in their head- who have so much clarity and then you chance upon people here and you wish you would reach that stage soon too.
I heard of Adharshila through a friend who was also planning to visit this organisation. I looked up their website and was quite interested in experiencing this place for it promised a chance to see alternative education.
When I spoke to Amit from Pune to ask him what to get with us- his answer interested me. He said - bas tum khudi aa jao- just bring yourself. I understand that better now - this is a place where all you need to do is to allow yourself to experience, learn new things and question and challenge your persepctive and view on things. You immerse yourself completely and allow yourself to learn from everthing and everyone around you. Be ready to question and challenge your beliefs and ideas on what is good education, what is the real issue for the problems that we see and many things that you thought defined you.
One of the first things Jayshree and Amit asked us was what were we passionate about- what could we teach and what did we want to learn? There is this huge writing on a wall that says – seekhne ki jagah-place for learning- in Bareli- and that is the most appropriate description of this place.
I think staying in Adharshila is a must for anybody who is thinking about education – alternative or mainstream or any other.
Things that I have learnt:
Learning is not restricted by time or space
The fascinating part about real learning is that you are never either just a teacher or just a student- there are no fixed roles that you need to fit into for you shall be both and there is value in both
Waking up early may/may not be a virtue but staying up late is- for that is when you can have the most interesting conversations with Amit and Jayshree- and if you do nothing else but just this you may still leave richer in your thinking process.
The kids will accept you into their fold very easily and make you feel really comfortable
That I love feeling I am cared for and people are concerned about my well being when they are worried about whether or not I eat enough, make me some nice hot tea when I am ill
It is not too hard to laugh at yourself and your ideologies and I may be very beneficial
Family feeling is not defined by blood relations and you feel you are in the midst of family when you have a group of people that you eat, cook, chat and share with
Picking every grain of urad that’s fallen on the ground made me realise what it means to have a bowl of dal on my plate
Beautiful sunrise and sunset is not to be found just in paintings and romantic movies but also in real life.
You can see a full sun and a beautiful moon both at the same time.
A mirror is a non necessity- it only creates self obsession
Running water, attached toilet bath , 24- hour electricity are all a privilege and we must be able to appreciate it.
Even though in some ways this seems very unlike the world I have known but in many ways it does not seem too different and I feel like I could fit in.
The difference between jowar and bajra
That khatpuliya – a red flowering plant has a nice sour/tangy taste
Many types of weaving and other craft Jaya & my teachers were extremely patient with me even though I made many mistakes and asked a thousand questions- for the first time I felt like I could learn craft work
How to turn the soil with a phawda and gheti
What mulching means and how it is done
Simplicity does not mean compromising on great learning resources like a well stocked library, a great craft room, a TV and DVD player, a telescope, a variety of games and a few computers.
The main role of a teacher here is that of a facilitator for learning here is a process of experiencing and experimenting.
This school is almost a true representation of life- as in how differen people enter our lives for different time durations and we learn from each one of them somthiing that is important and they learn from us what they need to
About nitrogen fixing and how it can be done
Jute pods make an amazing muscial instrument for they sound like ghungroo
Being with kids and playing games with them and telling and listening stories is what I enjoy the most
3 Bareli songs
2 Hindi songs
How to sow garlic
Many new games
That palak and onion too have seeds to be sown
That I actually enjoy cooking and trying out new things if I have someone to cook with and talk to while cooking
Healthy food, Shramdaan and Sunday walks make for the best way to gain good weight.
Sunday, November 18, 2007 Been at Adharshila for 6 weeks and they have already started poking fun of my pensiveness here (they also sell these pretty cool greeting cards as a fundraiser that you can see and read about here) There is a lot to write about and not much time on the net, so I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.
My Daily Schedule (though schedules at Adharshila can be changed at any minute for a variety of reasons)
5:00am-7:00am Yoga and meditation in a most serene environment. Its worth being here just for these 2 hours everday, starting meditation under a blanket full of stars and ending yoga as the sun rises. Some of the kids who have the motivation to wake-up early do so. Oddly enough, its a different group of 3 or 4 everyday.
7:00am-8:00am Teach a math class to kids studying for the 10th standard exams. 8:00am-10:00am Farming time! I can't say that I have mastered anything, but I have dabbled in a few aspects of farming. I've been involved in mulching, planting, adding fertilizer (made of plants, i.e. natural) and picking vegetables. I've taken to the ghethi (pick axe - pictured below) as it feels like productive work that also helps build muscles (which I need). Much of my gethi work is towards some pretty interesting experiments we are trying to level our plots and run-off areas to maximize soil and water retention.
10:00am-11:00am Teach a math class for kids in the 6th or 7th to boost their confidence with numbers. I play alot of math games with the kids, it makes for a nice "rest" after the work in the farm.
11:00am-1:00pm Cook and eat lunch. I have the option of eating in the mess with the kids, but I am keen on learning how to cook, so Amit and Jayshree suggested that the best way to learn is just jump straight into it and cook your own meals. Having to sustain on what what Mahalaxmi and I cook has been great motivation to improve our cooking skills. Our lunch consists of daal and rice. Dinner of roti and shubjzi. I've gotten decent at making those 4 items, although part of the reason that our food tastes good to us is that we usually end up pretty hungry by meal times. The biggest kick for me is being able to go out to our farm and pick some fresh palak (spinach) to put into our daal!
1:00pm-2:15pm Teach the whole 6th and 7th standard math. Over this past week this group has been put into self-learning mode. Basically each student was asked what they wanted to learn and they individually came up with a list of things like juggling, about America, music, organic farming, etc. Later they were guided to create a timetable for their da so that they can learn what the set out to learn. Eventually they are to check-in with one of the adults update us on their progress.
A few things we have kept "compulsory" for these kids, one of which is my math class, with is now shortened to 1:00-1:45p. But most kids had math on their list and I think they enjoy the class. Somedays after my class, Jayshree teaches a class on the basics of organic farming to the kids interested which I sit in on.
2:25pm-3:30pm Break, shower, wash clothes, clean room, etc.
3:30p-4:30p Teach math to the student teachers. The older kids at Adharshila have a lot of responsibility and really do a good job taking leadership of this place. Most older kids are teaching the younger while also independantly studying (i.e. self-stuyding) for their own exams. They also look over much of the day-to-day maintainence of the ashram. I'm pretty impressed by much of this group.
4:30pm-5:30pm Play time for the students. I've used this time to play cricket, read, talk with folks or learn some Bareli songs from the kids. With cricket, the kids have my weakness. I can't hit the "low ball", a ball that bounces in a patch of dirt and thus doesn't come high off the ground. Def. a speciality ball only used on our pitch. Last week I taugt the kids a modified version of baseball which they thought was odd but enjoyed.
5:30p-6:30p Shramdaan - all the kids at ashram are involved in some sort of physical work, generally cleaning or farming. I usually join in on work based on how tired I am. If I am looking for a workout, I try to pick axe. Otherwise its usually picking leaves for mulching.
6:30p - onwards Cook and eat dinner. A few nights we have used this time to have meetings to discuss math curriculum that we hope to build over the next year. Otherwise, if I have energy, I'll engage in conversations with people at the ashram, Jayshree, Amit, Mahalaxmi, Badri Bhai, Devika Ben, Yatin, the kids. Sometimes these conversations take pretty philisophcial turns and end past midnight, usually because I end up questioning the heck out of the people here, esp. Amit and Jayshree, mainly for my own clarity on the direction of my life. Luckily the seem to not mind me keeping them up. At least they haven't said anything yet ;-)
And to end it, I hadn't shaved for the past 6 weeks (out of laziness) and grew a pretty gnarely beard.
Once again, New Year and Christmas are approaching. The children are gearing up to make new greeting cards as part of their craft activities. Many of you who have been buying cards will say, "Not again" but we persist :-)
Craft is vital to the Adharshila learning curriculum as we strongly believe that working with our hands and prdoucing something is a very satisfying and creative learning experience. This satisfaction and creativity is the central idea which we would like to promote in our learning programme. Besides this is also a very important educational activity and important for the development of the brain. (remember the hand played a very big role in the evolutionary development of the brain).
It is this belief in working with the hand that keeps us at these little activities like making cards, weaving, craft, farming etc.
We know and have been told by many that in the age of email and sms greeting cards have become redundant.
The funds raised through the sale of cards are used for educational tours. The children just love travelling. In 2006, we visited an organic farm and an NGO working in the health field in Gujarat. Both these places were very inspiring. The children also had fun in the sea in Dandi.They went to Pavagarh and Toran maal - two hill very old hill top shrines in the Satpuras. We saw how hand made paper is made and also a leprosy patients hospital. We also visited our sister school in Kakrana on the banks of the Narmada. This village was submerged partially in the Narmada Dam.
So once again we appeal to you, not just to help raise resources for the children's educational tour but to promote this thought and save the hand from becoming redundant. If you or anyone you know would like to wish to buy the greeting cards that our children have made, then please let us know at the earliest.
We hope to receive your support irrespective of mainstream trends.
Narendra Patil, going on his bike from Leh to Bangalore, dropped in. He’s an old friend from the Attha days. The children were more interested in his heavy Royal Enfeild bike rather than his talk. He stayed with us for 4 days. Most of the time we were discussing our lives in the past 18 years. We met after 18 years – or so !!! He also showed children how to juggle with three balls.
And Two Volunteers
Mahalaxmi and MBA from Symbiosis, Pune and Sameer and Electrical Engineer from the USA reached the same day. While Laxmi is a teaching enthusiast, Sameer seems to be looking for answers to deeper questions related to education and life in general. Right now they are helping in teaching English, Math, teacher training and curriculum development. Sameer is learning to cook and works on the organic farm. Laxmi is learning weaving and also works on the farm.
A Trip to an Organic Farm
Jayashree with 8 children, and Badri bhai, went to see the farm of Mr. Sharma in Maharashtra, who has recently received the President’s Award for high yield through organic farming techniques. The team came back inspired and immediately set to work on the farm. We learnt to see levels and make contours. Sharma produces about 3 tonne vegetables on an acre, in the full year – which is a lot, to say the least. We will be happy if we get a ton.
Watering the Trees
The whole Centre is busy watering the trees and vegetable plots. Remember our resolve of planting and nurturing trees to make our mess fuel self reliant.
The fun days are over. As soon as people have started threshing and preparing their fields for the winter crop, the voltage has dropped to candlelight levels. Those who remember their school physics can appreciate the measurement of light in candles only when they have visited Adharshila in this season. We are desperately running after people to get a DP installed. We realised that inspite of thousands of hits that one gets of searching ‘alternative energy’ and Govt. depts. And NGO’s and elite institutions like IITs there is no viable alternative as yet to the State Electricity Board which relies on Dams, Nuclear Plants and the like. So what is to be done –Alternative Life style lovers ? Any body who has great ideas except saying why do you need electricity, is welcome to help.
Science The children are busy preparing for an Astronomy Olympiad held at the district level. One group is doing a project to find out the ill effects of the loss of bio diversity, in agriculture.