Add to GoogleReader

Add to Google Reader or Homepage


Back in B'lore, But Not For Long: Service Learning

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written, so I have a lot to catch up on. After our long field trip and spring break, we had a short return to "normalcy," Hindi and cooking classes, papers to write, and hanging out at the apartment. After a few weeks of this, we started off on our next adventure: Service Learning. This is supposed to be an opportunity for students to learn about an NGO and help them with their work. Alex and I chose to visit a school for the disabled, rather than go to another organic farm (how much compost can you really look at with any interest?). So the two of us were picked up and driven out to the boonies early one Friday morning. Naturally, I slept the whole way there, but according to Alex, the trip was rather tumultuous, with the driver having no idea of where we were going and having to stop and ask directions regularly. The NGO was the Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind. We started out visiting their rural project several hours outside of Bangalore, where they had established a school to help disabled kids in the surrounding villages receive traditional education as well as vocational training. The first morning we had a delicious breakfast, brought to us by the schools warden, who turned out to be a very sweet man. After that we had a discussion with the principal, who was blind and incredibly awesome. He told us all about the organization, which had received one of the highest honors from the Indian government, and the school, which he was very proud of. He took us on a tour of the grounds, which were extensive and very beautiful. The principal asked to take our hands to walk with him, so I tried to walk very slowly and smoothly to facilitate him. Finally, he said, "you can walk a little faster if you want," and he took over leading! He was better suited to the rough paths than I was! I later learned that he walked the sever km from his home to the school everyday, alone. He said it was easy for him because he was born blind, so he had no fear of not seeing. He was a really amazing character.

On our tour, we saw the different classrooms for the hearing challenged and the mentally challenged. All the students were young boys, no girls, which I found a little disturbing. And there was only one female teacher, so we were quite unique amongst them. The teachers used different methods of teaching the kids, some that I was familiar with, and some not. For the hearing impaired, they did a lot with lip-reading and common sign language. Out on the grounds, we saw the vocational training. First we visited the chicken coup, where there were tons of cute little peeping chicks! The man in charge of the chickens and the teaching was blind, partially deaf and mentally challenged. He had an amazing skill with the chickens, and easily plucked one up for us to admire. Behind the chicken area was a fish tank, silk worm production and different crops like bananas. After that we visited the cow barn. The school produced milk for its own uses as well as for sale. The head cow-man was blind but he milked the cow with incredible efficiency. A few days later, Alex was excited to fulfill a life dream and learn how to milk a cow. I tried it out too, and it was a lot harder than I imagined, those teats are slippery!

We didn't do a lot of interacting with the students, as the program director (a different man from the principal, not disabled and a lot less charming) wanted to lecture us on how the organization ran. We had a few lectures where I really thought I was going to fall asleep and had to keep pinching myself and biting the inside of my cheek to stay awake. The next day he took us to a village center where the coordinated outreach programs. Mostly women workers were trained to teach and aid disabled children in their villages. We met a really inspirational guy who had been paralyzed by an auto accident. He had been really depressed after the accident, but he had turned his life around and even written a book! It was a pretty awkward day, because Alex and I didn't really know what to do. The director seemed to think we knew about case documentation, so he would show us the case reports of students and different patients. Apparently, he wanted us to reform the documentation style, but we had no idea what to do! Later that day we had a meeting with all the local case workers, which was also really awkward. We couldn't understand what they were saying, but again we got the impression that they wanted us to help them improve their system. Finally, we were released to out young guide who took us back to the school on the bus. Later on, we tried writing out a new documentation format, and the director just looked at it like we had handed him a steaming turd. I'm still confused about what he thought we were or why we were there!

Living in the school was interesting. The sounds the kids made when they were playing were often disturbing screams and howls, but I know a lot of this came from their disabilities. In the nights, when the electricity went off and it started to rain, we gathered out on the balcony and tried to interact with the kids. The most we could really to was pantomime animals or play hand games. It was like one step up from our normal communication difficulties, because not only did they not speak english, they had trouble speaking at all! Whew, but they were all very sweet to us and seemed excited to have us staying there. The warden even brought us a candlelight dinner in our room so we didn't have to go out into the rain to the kitchen. When we did eat in the dining hall, we had separate room with the director. The kitchen women were really nice, and we got to know them. One of them, who was partially blind, had a new baby and wanted to show it to us, so we sat around with the little family and played with the baby.

On the last day of the trip, we went to the Blind School in Bangalore. We took a tour of the school, which was much more traditional and uniform than the rural school. They also had vocational training as teachers, gardeners, and dairy workers. There is also training in traditional instruments and folk dance - they even tour around the world, including the U.S. This school admitted women and men. We had lunch there and then headed home to our apartment.

It was a cool experience to learn about disability in India. It really is a big problem here. The causes are also often sadly preventable. Poor prenatal care and childhood illness like polio are big causes, as is marriage between relatives. There is a negative social stigma towards the disabled which the organization is trying to change by making them self-sufficient, so that they don't have to rely solely on family members or hand-outs. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a thought? Share with the class!