SEPT 15, 2008 – MAR 15, 2009
STUDENT SERVICE INITIATIVE
KATHA MILL COLONY, SHIVPURI, MADHYA PRADESH
Priya Agarwal, August 2008 Fellow
Happy Days School
Background and Project Vision
Happy Days School (HDS) was founded in 1988 by Gita Diwan. Seeing the lack of quality education in Shivpuri, she began a nursery school with her neighbors for the children of her colony. Her nursery school enjoyed early success and within two years of founding, she was persuaded to apply for a Central Board certificate and open a first grade. What followed over the next fifteen years was the expansion of a nursery school of 50 children to a two-medium school with a student population of 2,000. Happy Days School celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2008 and is widely considered one of the premier schools of Shivpuri.
My project at HDS is twofold; first, to develop a culture of service for the students and second, to raise social awareness and serve the community surrounding the school. In essence, my task is to get kids involved in community service out of their own initiative. With tuition and academic coaching being the most predominant time commitment outside of school, the major challenge of my work has been convincing students that community service is not “time pass” and holds inherent values and skills that cannot be taught in the classroom. I envisioned tying leadership skills with community service; essentially, framing my students’ community service efforts within organizations in which they would be the custodians. Thus far, my efforts have translated into conducting weekly assembly plays on samaj seva and founding two organizations: the Paramhans Samaj Seva Club, a weekly hobby club that meets to undertake various social service projects and “Little Buddies,” a weekly commitment by the eleventh class to tutor the students of a nearby government school. By the end of my fellowship year, I am hoping to have two sustainable organizations in place as well as an HDS teacher take over my role in directing weekly plays.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
Value-Based Education and Community Service Activities
During the first two months of my project, I focused on the abstract values behind doing community service. I held leadership activities before school began with sixth, seventh and eight English-medium grades alternatively in addition to running the National Social Service period in the afternoon with the eleventh grade Hindi-medium students. Looking back, I would say that it was during this time that I became an expert in teaching community service within the classroom. I did not so much organize community service activities as lead discussions on values such as truth, courage, and leadership that entailed service-based action. My approach to emphasizing the values behind community service rather than actually doing community service came to an end of November. After discussing my approach with Gita Maam and having the opportunity to test it out, I realized that I needed to modify my frame of mind. I had been operating under the mindset that if the students understand the reasons behind community service they will be inclined to see why its worthwhile and valuable. I completely underestimated my students’ immaturity. Reflecting on how I became involved in community service, I realized that the value-based education I have been trying to promote was not a major factor in my decision to join community service clubs in high school or even in college. It was at this point that I re-read and recalled the objectives of my project description. I need to create community service opportunities in addition to fostering a culture at Happy Days School. While my efforts had certainly been directed at fulfilling the latter, I neglected to do as much as I can to do actual community service activities.
National Social Service Camp, Paramhans Samaj Seva Club, Theater
In December, I had my most valuable learning experience through the National Service Camp. This week long camp is a compulsory part of the eleventh graders curriculum in which they engage in various community service projects. I helped plan and facilitate the camp and my experience shaped how I viewed my project and how I interact with students. In short, in the span of a week, I came to terms with all the challenges-from logistical mishaps to defiant children-that I would be dealing with for the rest of the year. NSS Camp provided me with a new lens on how to move my project forward while at the same time presenting me with a reality check on how to incentivize to make my ideas work.
In order to address the service culture aspect of my project, I initiated weekly community service plays to be performed during assembly time. My students adore opportunities to be onstage and by brainstorming plot lines that have a higher message of why we should do community service and what doing service entails, I have been able to promote samaj seva, work for the welfare of society, to a school wide audience. The second component of my project is to find tangible ways students can help the local communities of Shivpuri. I have founded two organizations, “Little Buddies,” a partnership between the 11th grade class of HDS and Prathamik Elementary School, and Paramhans Samaj Seva Club, a community service student-run organization. The first is a weekly commitment by the 11th graders to spend 45 minutes with the elementary students of a nearby public school, tutoring in various subjects and teaching them new learning games. The second is an extra-curricular club that meets on Fridays and Saturdays to undertake various community service projects. While I am currently the president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, I am hoping to transition these duties to students in late April.
“Change you Believe in” April and Holiday Camps
Every April, HDS embarks on a month long project that includes the entire school. Past years have included a month devoted to the environment, appreciating the cultural arts and so forth. This year, Gita Maam asked me to coordinate a social service themed month that would incorporate the entire school. Because of the emphasis I have placed on engaging villagers, she suggested I make the villages surrounding HDS my focus. I decided on bringing Obama’s message of “change you believe in” and am currently coordinating the logistics for grades 6-12 to spend two hours daily in different villages doing community service. I have been working closely with another teacher, Anju Maam, to coordinate the logistics. We decided on four areas to tackle: data collection, education/health, cultural training, and suffai. I gave a half hour PowerPoint presentation to the entire staff of HDS this week (in Hindi!) and am in the midst of creating binders with documentation requirements that I will be distributing at our second meeting on March 31st. I’m quite excited to be engaging the teachers and am looking forward to hopefully seeing some genuine interest in these projects and possibly selecting another teacher to carry out the work we’ve started this year. The Paramhans Samaj Seva Club will be assuming a leadership role in our efforts and I’m hoping that it will be good school publicity for the continuation of the club next school year.
Detailed Goal-setting & Implementation Planning
In the next two weeks I plan to:
“Change you Believe” in April
1. Accompany teachers on their village visits
2. Hold a second school-wide meeting to distribute the teacher binders and explain the various “Daily Report Form” they must complete over the course of the month, go over specifics of Education/Health Week, troubleshoot and problem areas, and take an suggestions
3. Continue meeting Anju maam daily or every two days to go over our progress
4. Supervise the work done in Karondi, Takorpura, Badi Nahori, Choti Nahori, and Bachora
Paramhans Samaj Seva Club (English-medium)
1. Hold a meeting discussing their leadership expectations for April
2. Return to the District Collector’s Office to report on our work at Vradrashram
3. Select the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer and incorporate their responsibilities into the club charter
Paramhans Samaj Seva Club (Hindi-medium)
1. Found and introduce club
2. Complement the work done by English-medium students
3. Begin surveying for leadership among students and motivate a Hindi-medium teacher to be the club’s faculty advisor
1. Talk to Gita maam about a potential HDS teacher to take over my role in directing weekly plays
2. Begin compiling previous plotlines and scripts for documentation for the next school year
My most profound learnings have come from the uniqueness of Happy Days School. A two-medium school, HDS, daily, sees the arrival of two sets of students and teachers. English medium students and faculty arrive in the morning and leave at 1:45pm while the Hindi-medium staff and students arrive at noon and begin classes at 12:30pm until 5pm. The differences between both mediums are both stark and disturbing. English medium students are convinced of their superiority and here, English is regarded as a passport to a better, more glamorous life.
The implication for my project was that language was a crucial way for me to integrate myself into my community. I have had to pay special attention to the needs of Hindi-medium students and trying to establish a level playing field has been one of my most challenging endeavors. I am personally invested in opening up the modes of communication between Hindi-medium and English-medium students and have been questioning the status of English in our society. Currently I have more questions than answers. Why has Indian society, at least in Shivpuri, made English speaking skills the most sought after and valued skills? Why is Hindi subjugated and what does it say about Indian society that people use English as a weapon to snub those who can’t speak the language or show off? Can you create a class of leaders that can’t speak English? The reason I am delving into language is because part of what I brought with me was the understanding that social service initiatives come from being a leader. To be able to instigate change you must be able to communicate effectively-essentially with a variety of diverse people. It is those communication skills that I am both honing here and trying to teach.
I came to India to understand what it means to be human. I was not so much interested in learning about my Indian identity than learning about human nature. I don’t know if I’ve made any significant progress but in the process, I have made some discoveries about myself. Perhaps my most important realization is that right now, I believe I can do anything. I don’t think I have ever felt so empowered so before. The implication is not that I am fearless or believe I am invincible but rather that the recognition of fear or feelings of powerlessness has given me strength.
Throughout my life, I have always analyzed every decision from every perspective possible, counted all the “what-if’s” and told myself there were some contingencies that couldn’t happen because I would never be able to recover from them. Fear is crippling and what I’ve realized here is that I have never successfully confronted my fears before. I’ve been able to hide behind different people or things. Here, that is not possible. I am my own rescuer. This lesson is in self-sufficiency is still going on and I am grateful for the number of situations that test me. Learning to breathe and work while still grappling with different fears has been one of the hardest and most extraordinary things about living in Shivpuri.