A Full, Full December / by Aedin Wright

I arrived November 17th so the month of December, as well as being jam packed with holidays and events, was still a month of getting my bearings here at Manav Sadhna. As I mentioned in my previous post, MS has four community centers which serve their respective communities around Ahmedabad. One main function of these centers is to act essentially as schools for the kids of that community. They aren’t technically schools - the way the education system here works is that public school is only half day. Typically, families that can afford it send their kids to some sort of schooling/activity based learning program the other half of the day. The wealthy families send their kids to private school all day. For the kids of the communities that Manav Sadhna serves, even affording uniforms and school supplies for public school is difficult, let alone the supplementary second-half-of-the-day-“school”. Therefore, the kids can come to our community centers before or after school (depending which grade they are) for further classes, activities, value based learning, homework help, a nutritious snack, and to be surrounded by teachers who care about them. 

I arrived right after Diwali break, (the Indian New Year’s celebration that leaves the city lit up with colored lights for weeks and is definitely the largest holiday of the year). It’s common that the families that live in the communities we serve have within-a-generation relocated from very rural areas and that the grandparents or extended family still are living in those small villages. Many of the students go to those villages over Diwali break and therefore there is a slow trickle of students back after the break as they slowly come back from the villages and make their way back toward the routine of going to school. Because of this, after Diwali break, the teachers go walking through the surrounding community (which they usually also live in) and visit each students’ house to check in on them and encourage them to come back soon or at all. In these visits the teachers also speak with the parents about any relevant issues - a main one is to encourage delaying marriages of young girls until after the graduate high school. So fresh off the plane, my first week of work was walking around our communities with our teachers, visiting all the kids houses. My role was mainly to distract the kids while the grown ups talked, which I was more than happy to do!   Below is a glimpse at the neighborhood, Tekra which surrounds Manav Jatan.

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We were served countless chais and so intensely welcomed into home after home I quickly understood what some of the other volunteers had mentioned about the intense generosity and hospitality of India. It was a perfect introduction to time here for the next many months and even as I reflect and write this post weeks after, I am inspired again with a desire to practice this intense generosity back. My favorite thing I learned on these trips was a handshake that every child here seems to know and love - put your hand in the ASL symbol for love, index and pinkie out with the middle two fingers closed. Then you touch index, pinkie, and thumb with the other person’s hand, then, keeping the thumbs connected but releasing the index and pinkie, swing your hand from parallel to perpendicular to the ground and enter into a good ol’ fashion handshake. Difficult to describe, more difficult to do and therefore you can imagine the high giggle to handshake ratio!

The next few weeks I spent shadowing Amy, the previous Sabarmati fellow and her newly instated curriculum. After she’s left, I will continue to rotate through the centers and work with the primary school teachers on her new curriculum. The new courses focus on phonics, or the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the correct English sounds as a foundation to build their English. I have loved every minute of getting to know the teachers, trying my hand at teaching myself and bonding with the students. I am also extremely grateful for the quality curriculum Amy has designed because it makes my role of maintaining and nurturing that much more enjoyable and effective. 

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As December came to a close, we had a very big week. First, Virenbhai, (a cofounder of MS) hosted a Christmas party at his house. There were amazing decorations and a delicious taco dinner. The next day was the Christmas show, where all the centers’ kids and teachers attend and perform choreographed dances. The other volunteers and I sang Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer along with a little dance. This was well outside of my comfort zone but I am glad I did it! 

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The next day was Jai Jagat. Yet another program that MS organizes, Jai Jagat is the name of this years’ play staring MS students. This year, eighteen students were chosen based on their display of Gandhiji’s values. These students then spent the last year rehearsing for a play written by one of MS’ board members, Nimo Patel (seriously go check out his music). The students perform in Ahmedabad, and throughout India and in three months will tour the U.S., Europe and South Africa. As a reminder, these students are their families would likely not leave Gujarat let alone India in their lifetime. The play is about a future in which world peace has come, the boarders are marked by trees, and there are no refugees as the only citizenship is the “global citizen”. The whole play is a conversation between a grandmother and her grandchildren as they curiously and confusedly ask her about what the world was like before peace, non-violence and compassion overwhelmed the earth and healed war, climate change, and inequality. It was powerful… The grandmother describes the pivotal moments in history that lead to such a shift in human relations to each other and to the earth, beginning with Ghandiji’s story. If there’s any chance you can see the show, DO. The tour cities have not been finalized yet but for updates and more information about the show, check out their website

The final piece of December was to say a very heartfelt “see you later” to Amy. The picture below is from her good-bye dinner. In the month I got to know Amy, she made me feel so welcome. I am so grateful to have overlapped with her here and am excited for her to come back! 

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With love and light, 

Aedin