VOLUNTEER REPORT - Rahul Madhavan
A school providing children a world-class education, in a clean, safe, and beautiful environment abundant in greenery, with proper labs for the sciences, books of all sorts, nutritious and delicious meals five times a day, clean and spacious dormitories, a caring and loving staff, committed and highly intelligent teachers, and programs ranging from art to computer science, all for free. Seems unreal? Far from it. I can personally vouch for the amazing work being done here at
Most of you reading this report have already heard of nearby Bangalore in its glitz and glamour as being the Information Technology hotspot from the turn of the century. The benefits from the modernization that has occurred in this city, not far from
Shanti Bhavan is itself a unique epicenter, potentially one which the ripples of effects ideological, cultural, ethical, ad societal, will extend far beyond any distance imaginable. The school, along with other nearby projects of The George Foundation, serves as a constructive force aimed at balancing the drastic disparity that exists between the poor, rural sector and the nearby booming metropolis by providing education, healthcare, job opportunities on farms, and aiding the empowerment of women.
The nature of the foundation’s mission, to provide opportunity to those that would have otherwise been denied it or had no access to it, was almost immediately apparent as I first made the turnoff onto the road towards the school and other projects of the foundation. Set amidst the vast scenery of rows after rows of crop, ranging from huckleberry to banana trees, Shanti Bhavan is truly a haven of peace, as the name translates to. As we entered the gates of the school I first noticed the colorfully painted buildings that were staff and volunteer living quarters, classrooms, offices, and dormitories. Inside the guesthouse, the rooms are spacious and clean.
The excited greeting the children gave me pleasantly surprised me as I entered the dining hall that evening itself- a precursor to the warmth and energy the children would continue to radiate. Trust that the children will know, or will immediately want to know much about you upon your arrival, if you are a volunteer here. The first question they asked me was how long I was staying- to which my answer of two months did not satisfy them. Rather, they were already prodding me to stay longer!
I informed Mrs. Law, the principal of the school, ahead of time that I would like to teach English and perhaps Geography. I taught English language, literature, creative writing, Geography, coached a few tennis, basketball, and baseball lessons, and taught the tabla (an Indian percussion instrument) to children in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. In my free time, I helped organize the library and on a few occasions helped the kitchen staff cook for the two hundred students. I also had the pleasure of reading bedtime stories to children in the kindergarten through fourth grade.
Through various interactions with the children in different settings, the children impressed me with what all they know. One child asked which presidential nominee I preferred during the 2004 elections while we played a game of basketball- the child was only in the fourth grade. During an English literature class, I presented William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The seventh grade students chimed in and one child talked of how poetry is the ultimate “human platform for expressing emotion, be it admiration, love, lust, distaste, or sorrow.” They then proceeded to offer insightful commentary stanza by stanza. What this said to me, and what I am trying to convey, is that Shanti Bhavan has offered a continually solid, world-class education to these children that were fortunate to have come across such means and access to a bright, gifted and talented present and a surely successful future, all from a destitute past. These children come from extremely poor families that pursue jobs such as ragpicking, being coolies, quarry workers, and sometimes work as bonded laborers. Some children used to call home a small hut in a filthy and disease-ridden village, and some sheltered under old blue tarpaulin atop rocks. Here, at Shanti Bhavan, they are offered a world of opportunity in a safe and clean environment.
On a daily basis, the children are given the world news, and, most of the time participate in delivering the news after having read the paper or being given summaries by their teachers. Therefore, the students are socially, nationally and globally aware, at least certainly more so than other children of their age. Speaking of the news, New Delhi Television (NDTV), a premier Indian news channel came to campus during my stay here to do a report on the school. Other exciting news includes the near future visit from Indian President Abdul Kalaam.
I cannot seem to deviate from talking of the generosity and warmth of the children. Another instance that occurred shortly after my arrival to Shanti Bhavan was in the sixth grade classroom as I sat aside to let the primary teacher distribute class material. I was still a bit jetlagged, so I must have looked tired. A student approached me and noted in a quiet whisper that I was “looking a bit bored.” He offered me an English grammar book, and said “read this!” At first, I thought he was being sarcastic, but the smile on his face was indicative only of the pure pleasure he had in being able to share his reading and learning material with a volunteer.
As an American citizen, I was able to celebrate the 4 th of July with the children and teachers of Shanti Bhavan. On that day, the children had made little flags and pinned them to roses. They had practiced playing the Star Spangled Banner for us American volunteers to sing to.
I come away from Shanti Bhavan both impressed and touched by the confidence and security exhibited by the students, a progression made possible by the staff and faculty that are so dedicated to enriching these students’ lives on a continuous basis. They serve as fitting role models for the children that they both teach and take care of.
This may surely be a “haven of peace”, as Shanti Bhavan translates to, but hardly peaceful are the minds of these intelligent, curious, and witty children that seize any opportunity to further their skills in language, math, science, computers, art, and music, as they all the while enrich the lives of those around them.