It was a little before Teachers’ Day that I joined CRY. Sick of a life where the only things that mattered were a university degree and café visits with friends, I wanted a little something to confer meaning to my life, a little more to look forward to every week. However, when I walked through the door on my first day at CRY I wasn’t sure how much I could help the kids.
The kids seemed shy and even scared of me. So, when on my second session, a kid I had never taught came over and shyly wished me Happy Teachers Day, I was overcome by a sense of guilt. It was then that I decided I had to work to live up to the image of a teacher.
Soon after I started accompanying some of the older volunteers to the kids’ homes to let them know that the session was about to begin. It was during these house visits that I actually got to know the kids beyond their academic performance. The very kids who were scared of me at first started greeting with the smile of a familiar friend. The younger ones took my hand and led me back to the club taking new (slightly longer) routes. I let them do so and talked to them about their school, their teachers, and their hobbies. Soon, much to my delight, there were kids who jumped up when they were asked to study with me.
Though I’ve just been a part of CRY for a year the change I have seen in the kids in just this short period is incredible. The youngest kid of the lot, who used to be more interested in convincing the volunteers to let her climb up the window grill than study, now loves doing math and is pretty good at it. The slightly older kid who refused to talk to any of the volunteers seemed to have recognized a fellow introvert in me and insists I give her homework after she is done with the assignment I give her. And it’s not just them who have grown.
Working with these kids has changed my perspective in so many ways. Remember how your elders used to ask you to look at “that skinny little, sad, underprivileged kid from that slum” and be grateful for what you have? Well, that’s not exactly how things are. The kids we work with each have distinct personalities and traits like all kids should. They like to play, are eager to learn but will poke the kid sitting next to them with their pencil when you look away like any other kid would. They are not black and white pictures on a wall, they are bright smiles and dreamy eyes like any other 6-18 year old you’d see and they have a lot to teach us.
The older volunteers tell me that one of the kids used to bring a pink teddy bear to the session every week and insist on sitting with it. It was while walking down Gole Park with this kid one day that she pointed to a jet plane and asked me if I knew what that was. I said it was a plane while she insisted it was a rocket. While I was trying to figure out how to explain the difference between a plane and a rocket to a 6-year-old she startled me with a second question. “Do you know where it came from?” she asked. “Why the airport of course”, I said. She looked at me like I was mad. She then proceeded to explain how the rocket comes from the world of clouds “You see, the rocket is white just like the clouds”. This is when I realized how precious a child’s world of imagination is, this is when I realized it was our duty to protect it.
I work with the Dhakuria Public Action Group in Kolkata. Every year our PAG organizes a cultural event called Think Free. It was at this event that the kids yet again taught us how to leave all our shackling thoughts behind. During our meeting, we had talked about asking the kids if they wanted to recite any poems for the event. When I brought this up and encouraged the kids to try something new on my way back to the club with some of them, two of the kids had shown interest. After this, I referred them over to another volunteer who trained them while I got more involved with preparing another group for a dance performance. On the day of the event, these two kids surprised me with their choice of the poem “Koshishkarnewalokikabhihaarnahihoti” (those who try hard will never fail). I realized how well suited this poem was to these two kids who just never give up. Once again, the kids taught me what true optimism means.
Like my primary school teacher used to tell us, teaching is a two-way process and I am still learning!
Anushka Dey, CRY Volunteer, Kolkata