When I entered the long dark room at Chaithanya centre, I didn’t know what to expect. U&I’s volunteer fellow, Rishika, met me and introduced me to a couple of volunteers, who were waiting for their tutees to finish their Saturday baths. The girls arrived moments later with wet hair and big smiles. They fondly call their tutors ‘akka’, meaning big sister. Soon, fat books emerged from heavy school bags and classes started.
Saturday is Social Studies and Science day, so the girls were learning about ancient Indian kingdoms and Indian Independence and convex lenses and Australia’s coastline. Not all together, of course! They were divided by age from class 6 to class 10 and each volunteer has no more than 2 girls to teach. The best part about these classes is that they are not confined to the four walls of a classroom. The girls spread out in the large playing ground outside St Anne’s School, so you’ll see a few huddled up in the corridor, a few more at the benches and only a few indoors in the common room.
I took turns sitting with each group and eavesdropping on their lessons. Some girls were better at reading than others. Some could read fluently but they didn’t understand a word of what they read. Some could spell out all the names of the temples in Hampi and others struggled to find USA on the map. But the volunteers were patient and I started to admire the way they explained concepts such as population and revenue and the nationalist movement.
One smiling face caught my attention and I headed over to see what she was learning. Divya was studying refraction, so Shubhi, her tutor, took the trouble of demonstrating the concept using a bucket of water. The most beautiful moments of being a teacher come when you see a twinkle in a child’s eye when she finally grasps a new concept and Divya not only understood refraction, but also explained it to me in her own words. I found that quite amazing.
I then shifted focus to a history lesson about the Jallianwalla Bagh incident. The shy and studious, Sneha was pouring over her book with the focus of a spider that’s trapping its prey. She finished the lesson by 4pm and her teacher encouraged her to share best moments from her week. To my surprise, Sneha opened up like a blooming flower and sang a song in Kannada for her akka. It was a beautiful moment that I got to witness.
At the end of 2 hours, the volunteers gathered for a debriefing session with the volunteer fellow, Rishika, and centre fellow, Yashaswini. They shared stories about their best moments at Chaitanya and the love the girls have for their akkas. Some of them even received Teachers Day cards and handwritten ‘Thank You’ notes.
It’s clear to see that the relationship shared here goes far beyond a teacher-student relationship. U&I volunteers do a great job connecting with the girls and making an impact not only in their education but in their lives as well.
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