Anila Yadavalli: Building a Community Specific Math Curriculum
Anila Yadavalli is an Indicorps 2012 Fellow partnered with Ahmedabad based SHARDA Trust. Anila’s project focuses on building and implementing a community specific math curriculum.
Would you call the glass half-full or half-empty? With six months complete and six months left of my Indicorps Fellowship, I am going to declare my glass as half-empty, as there are so many things that I am striving to fill it up with. Halfway through my Fellowship, with only six months to go, I would like to take a moment to pause and reflect on the highs and lows of my time in Ahmedabad and how it will guide the remainder of my time here. The first six months play a very important role in the remainder of my Fellowship, after all, if your glass is halfway filled with milk, I doubt anyone would be too keen on filling the rest up with orange soda.
I am currently serving with the CSR unit of Arvind Mills, better known as SHARDA (Strategic Help Alliance for Relief to Distressed Areas) Trust. The Trust serves children from humble, socially and culturally diverse backgrounds that are enrolled in municipal schools by providing supplementary Math, English and computer classes. Beyond that, it provides monetary sponsorship and tuitions for good performers. It is worth mentioning that SHARDA Trust’s tradition of celebrating religious festivals such as Iftaar and Saraswati Pooja covers their culturally plural student background to reflect an inclusive approach.
Living in the old city, my third-floor room in a humble pol has quickly become my home; my comfort zone. While just across the Sabarmati River, brand new shiny malls and tall hotels give the new city credit for Ahmedabad’s transition into a Megacity, Shahpur remains true to its old city roots, preserving traditions such pol style housing and the “Ravivar (Sunday) Bazaar.” Home to a large population of daily wage laborers and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) sweepers, it is conveniently located right at the riverfront; thus is not uncommon to find groups of boys running around, playing cricket, and flying kites. Families in the slum communities of Shahpur are big. Joint families are common and the average number of household members is six. Unfortunately, drinking is also very common in the slum communities that I engage with. Thus, even laborers who have a decent salary tend to empty out the day’s earnings on milk for the kids and alcohol for the men, leaving very little for a third meal. It took me a while to muster up enough confidence to really engage with this community, as I experienced a lot of closed-mindedness at the front end; even now sometimes I will be walking through a galli and will hear men in their mid-20’s call out mocking comments such as “Hey teacher! Can you teach me too?” through tobacco laced teeth. I feel fear, I make excuses, but I try my best to fully immerse into the community through implementation of several programs for the children. Currently, I am running an after school enrichment program in the home of one student; on Sundays they cross over the bridge to the Indicorps office for leadership skills development and the opportunity to step out of their community; and of course, not a single day is ever complete without “freejbi” (Frisbee) practice.
To be quite honest, when I first applied to the fellowship I put very little thought into project selection. I saw the words “Math” and “Gujarat” and my selection process was complete. Before leaving for India, friends were curious to know what I would be doing, but I was not really sure what to tell them or if I even wanted to board that 30-hour flight. Actually, I did not fully understand the project until four months in—my bright Diwali somehow allowed this post-Diwali workshop to throw light on the project. The first days at my project site were filled with ideas and initiatives that had very little to do with the actual project that I was assigned to. I just saw kids and different ideas kept coming. After many meetings, fellowship support calls, and emails, I finally understood what I was sent to SHARDA Trust to do, and how to focus my attention in order to create a meaningful project and make a sustainable impact on my community. The gist of my project is the following: create a Math curriculum for primary school students wherein concepts are presented in the context of parent occupations, local culture, students’ interests, and games. For someone fresh out of college, with very little technical knowledge in education or curriculum development I had much self-doubt and as a result put off doing my main project. I tried instead to take on many other different projects. It took me a while to get out of this phase of self-doubt and at least give the main project a try. Attempting to follow SHARDA Trust’s approach of teaching through cases, I wrote my first case, which was based on a real interaction I had in my community. There is an enterprising uncle that lives nearby. Despite not completing his formal education, this uncle runs a labor contracting business and has recently recruited me write receipts for his financial transactions. The next day, something clicked and I wrote a case starring this uncle to teach The Order of Operations. The lesson was good, understandable, and I got positive feedback about it. Community interactions naturally keep happening, and now that clicking feeling that “this can be a case!” frequently comes with them. Sitting in a shared auto? I could choose to stress myself out about the crowd, or craft a lesson on divisibility. Playing Frisbee with the kids? Have them try to reach 100 catches without dropping, and ask them what percentage of throws they made! It all just boils down to having a little more awareness.
With a month-and-a-half left before teacher training starts, however, I definitely have a long way to go. The next month-and-a-half will consist of a lot of moments involving me searching for a quiet place to sit down and complete all material development, thoroughly and effectively. After that, I will start training SHARDA Trust teachers, and amplifying energy addressing major needs of the community. I have started to strongly believe that “nothing goes as planned” but there are a few things I would like to accomplish before July of 2013. Time spent in the community and talking to parents has revealed that for many families in Shahpur obtaining money for food is a huge challenge. With so much focus on earning enough money to feed the family, very little attention is placed on sending the kids to school or encouraging them to complete their homework. To tackle this, I currently have two initiatives underway: kitchen gardens and setting up a library within the slum community itself.
While personal growth is an inevitable byproduct of living and serving in one’s motherland, it is a mandatory byproduct of an Indicorps Fellowship. Never will I step into a space that invests so much into each Fellow, pushing them to impact their communities, but also pushing them to grow into leaders and value-based thinkers. To be completely honest, I had initially signed up for this fellowship because serving in another country is the “fad” in the United States, and the program I had originally committed to in Bangladesh lost all of its funding. It took me about five months to actually understand why my gut was telling me to choose Indicorps over living with my parents and working to earn money. I’ve been faced with situations in which I’ve had to understand what it really means to be professional, humble, and enthusiastic, and just be those things through fatigue, disappointment, or fever, thereby earning the priceless ability to live true to my values. I frequently wonder if the Anila that was sitting in her bed one year ago with large quantity of chocolate chip cookies, watching marathons of reality TV knew that a year later she would be sleeping on the floor of an overnight train, not worrying about rats and insects but rather reflecting on her learnings from a journey to some of Maharasthra’s most inspiring communities. While a warm chocolate chip cookie still sounds great, an evening up on the terrace watching tukkals (floating lamps lit for Uttarayan) go up as the sun goes down with an entire community in unity sounds a little sweeter.
 A type of housing community unique to Ahmedabad’s old city in which residents are linked by caste, profession, religion, etc.
 The area of Shankarbhuvan, Shahpur has been greatly affected by the Sabarmati Riverfront Project. Many families have been displaced to Vasna as a result of home demolition.
 Narrow walkways between homes in densely populated housing clusters such as slum communities and pols.