Upon arrival at Shanti Bhavan I was immediately awed by the surroundings. The location, landscape, and scenery of the school were absolutely beautiful. One of the other volunteers that I was sharing a room with showed me around the campus within a few minutes of my arrival. As we walked around we were greeted by many friendly faces saying, “Good morning Miss.” This was the beginning of an amazing experience that I will always be appreciative for. I would soon realize how incredible the children and this institution were. Shanti Bhavan is not simply just a charitable school that provides poor children with a basic education; it is an institution of excellence. The belief that everyone is entitled to equal opportunity regardless of social status is exactly what The George Foundation is trying to provide for the children.

Shanti Bhavan not only offers the basic academically required classes, but they also offer classes that will shape well-rounded students. These classes include music, art, computers and physical education. However, these extra-curricular classes must not inflict on the children’s academics therefore they take additional time to participate in these activities. For those students that participate in choir or learning musical instruments, they must take time in the evening to do so.

Recently, a group of students took the initiative to create the first school newsletter in computer class. For the older grades, physical education is taught between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. They learn a variety of sports from various volunteers that come. I participated in the morning games with the children. For one week I taught volleyball, another week I gave basketball classes and we occasionally played baseball as well. Although I am not particularly a morning person, this was one of the best parts of my day. Before I came, I coached a fastball team back home. That gave me the experience to know how to go about teaching the children of Shanti Bhavan other sports that I love to play and am proficient at.

One of the most rewarding feelings is when you teach someone to do something that they couldn’t before. When someone couldn’t hit the baseball after 6 pitches I would show them the proper technique to swing the bat. That kid hit the next pitch. In the first volleyball class almost the whole group could not successfully serve the ball over the net. By the next day the vast majority of the class could consistently serve the ball. It makes me feel just as much accomplishment as the child does.

The most rewarding part of this whole experience was getting to know the children. Immediately I was approached by many of the children welcoming me, wanting to know about my family and things that I enjoy. With time, I learned quite a few of their names and also became quite close with a few. I told a lot of them if they asked me everyday what their name was I would remember it by the end of the week; sure enough when I got their name right it brought a smile to their face. I was always welcome, sometimes even begged, to sit at different tables at meal times. The younger children always asked me to come to their story time. In the afternoon I would go and play soccer with the 1 st grade children. I will never forget the shrill of excitement as I approached the field, “Look!‘Miss’ is coming!!” I was always astonished at the intense level of enthusiasm those kids always possessed…always.

I enjoyed learning about the children’s families, their likes and dislikes and their dreams and aspirations. When I asked a lot of them what they wanted to do after graduation from Shanti Bhavan, I received replies such as, “go to America to become a pediatrician”, “become an astronaut”, “become a physicist” or “run my own business”. I thought these were impressive dreams. The first step to finding success is to have a dream and the second step is to believe in it. Shanti Bhavan gave these children the opportunity to possess these dreams and the tools to make them believe. I look forward to hearing about some of the children’s great achievements that I know are yet to come.

I was involved in a lot of academic classes as well. I helped in the 9 th grade math class as well as gave individual help in the evening to two girls. On occasion, the teacher was absent so I was the substitute teacher. The students constantly had doubts in their work and looked to me for answers, but most of the time they just had to be pushed in the right direction. Most of the students need to find enough confidence in themselves in order to believe that their answers are correct. The only class that I taught on my own everyday was 4 th grade math. I introduced the children to a new problem solving technique and multiplication tricks that helped them learn these concepts with more ease. Some of the children for the first time found math fun and looked forward to it. I also took the 4 th grade to their video class. Each week a new movie would be selected that was either related to a topic the children were learning in another class or one that just had a good moral message. For the most part, it was a fun class for the children to relax and enjoy. There were many DVD’s and videocassettes that had been donated to the school. I was thrilled that the children had such entertainment available to them.

Other academic classes I attended were 6 th, 7 th, and 8 th grade chemistry and physics as well as 7 th grade biology and 9 th grade environmental science. I occasionally taught these classes concepts involving reactions, cell organelles, and other topics too. What I found the most fascinating in these classes were the labs the children were able to participate in. Lab materials are quite costly so I found it amazing that the school could offer the children such a lab experience. With limited resources, the science teachers still managed to provide visual and practical exercises to aid the children’s learning. This made me realize exactly how resourceful the school is. Chemicals were used in the utmost smallest portions and even reused if possible. The gas for the Bunsen burners was used in small rations and equipment was safely stowed away unless it was needed at the present. In the entire school, notebooks were always completely filled before a new one could be taken, only as much paper as needed was given, and even pens or pencils were used to the fullest. It was great to see the value and appreciation the children have for everything they receive.

I had a wonderful experience at Shanti Bhavan. Not only the children, but the friendliness of the staff and other volunteers also enhanced my experience. This is a community that makes you feel a part of it rather than a stranger. During my time here, I felt welcomed into the Shanti Bhavan family. I owe great thanks to this institution and The George Foundation for providing me with this eye-opening opportunity. I hope to come back and volunteer again someday. I will always be grateful to the children for giving me this unforgettable experience and I can’t wait to come back to see their smiling faces again.

Rachel Da Cunha
University of Alber, Canada


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