Some Observations and a Day in the Life

We’ve reached the “1 month left mark” meaning that the deadlines for our project goals and objectives at Seva Mandir are creeping closer. So I decided to talk a little bit about why I’m in India, other than to complain about dairy, and enjoy the company of my incredible Indian host family.

My project focuses on data collection about the Residential Learning Camp run by Seva Mandir. The camp was initially created to provide basic literacy and mathematics to children unattached to formal education programs, or Non-Formal Education (NFE’s) Centres run by Seva Mandir. Many of the children attending the camp live in migrant worker families, who move between Rajasthan and the neighboring state of Gujarat to follow agricultural employment opportunities. The camps run 3 times a year for two months, and have now adopted an unofficial purpose of transitioning students from the learning camps to government schools, NFE’s or other institutions of basic education. Evan and I are interviewing stakeholders in the transition (teachers, administrators, parents and students) to examine the methods currently used at the camp to encourage students to enroll, as well as collect suggestions to further ease and support students attachment to education.

This past week we spent several days and an overnight at the Residential Learning Camp, which was an incredible experience.

We had an amazing translator who had some interesting thoughts on how language creates and sustains a hierarchy in India, which mostly, but not always runs parallel with the caste system. He speaks English, Hindi, and 8 or 9 local languages of Rajasthan and Gujarat, as well as some Urdu. The hierarchy explained looked something like this:

Mewar (the local language)- the language of the rural and poor, but still widely spoken by all levels of socioeconomic class.

Hindi (the ‘national’ language)- India’s unifying language, which he argued was promoted through Bollywood and national media preferences as a language of the middle class, and urbanites.

English (the global language)- A gateway to tourist dollars for some middle class, or a symbol of power for many others in the upper and middle classes.

The impact of the language hierarchy on educational priorities, and implications on identity and values could lead to an entire separate post, but I’ll move on for now. Our translator helped us navigate some of these language barriers, and we were able to interview 23 teachers about their opinions on the camp, and efforts to encourage students to enroll in government schools. We also were able to experience a full day in the camp, and here are a few observations.

  • With student teacher ratios of about 12:1, the classes are generally well behaved, and the teachers are encouraged to use storytelling, and activities to keep students active in the learning blocs- 9-12 is Hindi, and 3-6 is mathematics
  • The students all sit in rows for meals, and usually clean their own trays after eating meals, which are usually rice, daal and chapati
  • The classrooms are open and airy, and also serve as bedrooms during naptime and at night. Rolled up bedding is stored on the side of the room during lessons and activities.

We also played with the students during their afternoon recess, watching cricket, jacks, and other games including one solo badminton player. After dinner the teachers were debating whether they should have a Gujarati Dance called “Garbah”. One teacher said that dancing was essential to help with digestion, and then they danced… and we even tried for a bit, with much less rhythm than the children…


And now for a breakdown of the mundane daily routine…

5:45/6:00AM- Wake up, have a mandatory cup of chai.

6/6:15AM- Go for a walk around the neighborhood with my host father, or go to a family friend’s house for Pranayam or yoga, which involves breathing exercises, while their purebred indian hunting dog tries to eat my shoes.

7:15/7:30AM- Have a second cup of chai on the porch, and stare at the hindi language newspaper for a while.

8/9AM- Get ready for work, refill water bottle, apply sunscreen, etc., have breakfast parantha then grab my lunch container and walk towards the tempo transport stand.

9/10AM- Hop on a tempo, which is like a tuk-tuk with predetermined routes, and supposedly standard fares. ( Picture a yellow 3 wheel taxi/amusement park ride hybrid that gets stuffed with a minimum of 10 ppl plus the driver) and ride from Badgaon to Fatehpura Circle and then hassle the driver to give  change, while he covers his coins with bills, and pretends that he doesn’t have paanch rupees. Then walk a few blocks, past solicitations for rickshaws, mango, watermelon, and various street food to Seva Mandir.

~10/10:30AM Either find transportation to the Residential Learning Camps at Kaya, or hunker down in the library for research. Meet with staff members, have chai, interview/observe, repeat.

1/2PM – Lunch, usually consisting of chapati, vegetable with spices (often okrah, potatoes, or squash), salad (pieces of onion, tomato and cucumber) and daal, or curry, or chutney.

~Predetermined time posted daily in the paper -Power goes out, fans stop, and I start sweating, or sweating more profusely. Many people leave the office for naps, or to sit in the shade, or to find any breezy or cooler location not already occupied by street dogs.

5/6PM Finish up with work, head home in the tempo, or maybe stop at FSD for Hindi lessons, or workshops.

7-8PM Free time for blogging, bollywood dancing, excursions, chai time, etc.

8/9PM Dinner with the family, discussions, language lessons, etc. maybe watch one of the  Indian Soap Operas, one on a divorced child bride, or about a family that adopted their orphaned servant

10/11PM Scope out my room for crickets and lizards, and then bed.

Sorry for the long post!



4 thoughts on “Some Observations and a Day in the Life

  1. Don’t be sorry for the long post…I can hear your voice talking in my mind and makes me ..even more feeling like I can’t wait to hear in person about all you are doing…surely a full day! I am curious about the differences in the NFE and a more formal education…beautiful faces of the children dancing~ the picture looks like all boys~any girls?

  2. Mike, I’m thoroughly enjoying your posts. It’s amazing how little I know about the Indian culture. You’re brave to consume the food, travel to the NFE and dance in front of the students. Keep on sharing! Sarah McQueen

  3. Sorry forgot to mention , if you had internet access you should have checked udaiipur[dot]com for the local news. You can still do it from NY!

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