VOLUNTEER REPORT - Elbereth Walker
My experience here at Shanti Bhavan has been both amazing and rewarding. The school is very well run, especially considering the large number of children, the range of ages, and all the daily activities. In spite of the busy schedule, the children seem to be relaxed, have a great deal of fun and there is also great harmony.The children are quite active. There seems to be adequate play and rest time and a good balance between academic and fun activities. Nutrition and hygiene are also such a way of life that the children accept eating nutritious foods they may not like and practice cleanliness when they do not want to, all without complaint. I have not before experienced, either in my home with my younger brothers and sisters or in other schools and daycare environments, such cooperation from children. With all these outstanding qualities, excellent staff, beautiful homey environment, and of course the "super-duper" marvelous children Shanti Bhavan stands out as a top school and wonderful learning experience for life.The staff, while dividing their attention among all the children, maintain personal relationships with each child. Many have expressed a love for the children as though they are their own family. The children shared with me both the love they have for their homes and families, as well as the love they feel for Shanti Bhavan and the staff, their second family. I read in a previous volunteer's statement from the Internet that she saw some displays of discipline, which for her were disturbing and abusive. This worried me, but I have not witnessed anything abusive myself and hope that this means it does not exist. What discipline I have seen I have always been free to discuss with the staff.
The few things that I feel could be corrected are the rough manner children can be yanked around, for example when trying to arrange for an assembly or story time, and the harsh manner in which they are sometimes spoken to. The two more severe disciplinary practices that I have seen are the smacking up side the head and hitting on the face. Otherwise spankings and time outs I feel are appropriate and, on occasion, necessary. In general though, the discipline I saw at Shanti Bhavan only goes so far as scolding and restrictions of activities or snacks. However, the balance found in the daily life at Shanti Bhavan is not just bacause of a well coordinated schedule, providing nutritious meals, proper hygenic or discipline, rather it is the practice of ideals set out for the school which are fundamental in life. The staff and children are encouraged to pursue excellence in everything they do. Respect for others, all religions and cultures, and the feeling of ownership and personal belongings, is also upheld. Children are taught the value of right and wrong and are rewarded and praised when respectful behavior is demonstrated. Because Shanti Bhavan is non-denominational the daily prayers are not directed to any one religion, but remain open and all encompassing by simply giving thanks for what they have and blessings to everyone in their lives whether at Shanti Bhavan or outside.Listening to the children I have not heard many complaints, but a happy staff is another piece of making the whole function, and both in the class and in the living situation I feel there are areas for improvement. As far as their academic standards went, I was not very involved in that area and only heard from teachers a feeling at times that the children were not yet meeting the high standards desired in the world class education aimed for at Shanti Bhavan. I did see both in and out of the classroom how difficult it can be controlling the children and their behaviors. I think it might be useful for the teachers to gain some more effective classroom control techniques which Mrs. Law and other experienced teachers could offer. If children act up too much and it effects their studies, then different methods should be shared to allow teachers to get the most out of their class time while keeping it on task and enjoyable.
Life at Shanti Bhavan for staff members I found to be a bit rigorous. While the goal is to hire and retain staff members who want to give their full effort and commitment to the school, I find retaining them can become hard under these circumstances. Not everyone can dedicate themselves to their work in the same way. While I found the food wonderful and nutritious, it is not always what the staff can be expected to eat. A simple improvement for example would be access to a communal kitchen or refrigerator in the staff quarters, which I think would greatly enhance the living environment for the staff.In my role as a volunteer, I found everyone very caring and willing to help. It was obvious that the staff gain as much from the children as they offer. My stay here was very rewarding and I gained more than I could ever express. I will never forget my time at Shanti Bhavan. I am sure the things I have learned will continue to influence and improve my life for years after. As I continue my travels and prepare for college, I hope one day to return to India and the children of Shanti Bhavan.
Providing even minimum common cooking facilities for teachers will create problems with other categories of staff, as well as administrative problems of cleanliness and maintenance in the teachers' quarters. At this stage of the project, we are not able to consider the suggestion.