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Friday, November 18, 2011

Children, Part 1

"I believe the children are our future.  Teach them well and let them lead the way.  Show them all the beauty they possess inside.  Give them a sense of pride.  Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be." 

A few weeks ago I was at an ashram in Hunterganj, about an hour away from Chatra, where I live.  I was there to lead several sessions of a teacher training.  The ashram is part of Chetna Bharti and children (mostly girls) live there for at least a year, learning life skills like cooking and gardening, as well as "school skills;"  you know the three Rs- Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.  I spend 4 afternoons a week at Chetna Bharti's main center in Chatra.  Girls come there for a similar year-long training and I teach English to some of the girls there. 

The teachers I was working with at the ashram are new teachers who go into small villages and teach children in nonformal schools.  This means they work with children a few hours a  day trying to teach the most basic reading and math skills.  Ideally, children at these schools will get at least a third grade education.  Some may then go on for further schooling.  Many will not. 

Anyway, while I was at Hunterganj, I did as I do everywhere I go: I took lots of pictures, mostly of the children.  During a break from the training, I was looking through my pictures and the Whitney Houston song I've quoted above popped into my head. 

"These beautiful children are the future," I thought. Of course, this is true of all the children I have encountered, whether in my classroom in the States, a village in Guatemala, or an ashram in India.  Each child in his or her own way will contribute to this world, hopefully in a postive way.  At Hunterganj, children are learning not just simple gardening, but composting and sustainable agricultural practices.  Every child, boy or girl, at some time does every job- cutting vegetables, hauling water, washing dishes, feeding the pigs, or anything else that needs to be done.  They are learning to work, play, and live together as they come from different villages and different tribes.  Their lives are very humble- we played a group game of catch and had wonderful time.  I brought the ball.  I'm pretty sure they don't have one there.   As soon as I took my camera out, children seemed to materialize from nowhere to pose.  They loved looking at the shots after I took them, as they don't often see pictures of themselves.  Apparently, there was a lot of buzz among them about what they posed with- a broom, a knife, a bucket of water.  Many of the pictures I took were as they were working.  And boy, did they work!  But they didn't seem to gripe about it.  They seemed to enjoy working together.  And when the work was done, they seemed to enjoy playing together.  Though I'm sure life at the Hunterganj ashram is not as easy or perfect as I viewed it those days, it certainly seemed to me to be a beautiful vision of how India, or our world, could be. 

Those children are being taught well that there is a time for work and a time for play.  They are being taught well that we are all in this together and we need to work together to accomplish tasks.  They are being taught well that there is dignity in work and that doing that work is something to be proud of, not something to look down on.  And when they finish the work, or even while they are doing it, their joy is evident in the laughter that they share.  This is the type of future I'd like to be a part of.  I am glad I got to share a little piece of it in the present. 

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