[Post updated on April 20, 2016] There’s this organization in Pune called Eklavya Nyasa, that works with the children of Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs.) Recently, my employer wanted some volunteers to go to this NGO and interact with these children every weekend. I jumped at this opportunity!
It was an overwhelming experience! For the first session, we decided to play with them and to generally speak to them about traffic rules, personal hygiene, and about India, by asking them to participate in skits. Since we were the first batch to go, we also had to share our experiences with the batches who would go on future weekends. This post contains a part of an e-mail that I wrote to the group about our experience:
“All right, as far as yesterday’s experience goes, there’s loads and loads of stuff to write. For starters, I would like to say that these few hours that we spent with the kids gave us peace of mind, and disturbance of mind, in equal proportions. Peace, because it’s a wonderful and soothing feeling to be amidst these children; and disturbing, because behind those smiling faces is hidden a truth so bitter, that makes us feel very, very fortunate as compared to them. And the difference hurts!
Okay, so after a fair amount of brainstorming on Saturday, we met at the DagduShet Halwai temple on Sunday, practiced our skits, our dialogs, went through our “Do’s and Don’ts”, and went to the building where the kids gathered to read and play! Indrayani Gavaskar (The chief coordinator and daughter of the founder Renutai Gavaskar) was there and so were a couple of kids. We sat down and started speaking to them, sticking to our formula of “likes-n-dislikes: yes, personal-n-family questions: no”. Slowly, lots of other kids started flocking in, and believe me, if one did not know their background, they would seem very normal. We started asking their names, their favorite movies, games, actors.
We played Antakshari with the kids, and the younger lot seemed to enjoy it a lot. But there were older kids too, and they looked a little bored.
Hmm, then it was time for the long-planned skits. But no, the children refused to do any sort of skit. They were pretty much interested in mimicry and stuff like that, but when we tried coaxing them to do skits on topics, they wouldn’t budge.
So, the change of strategy: we simply had to get all of them talking about how much they know and understand about traffic rules, personal hygiene, and India.
Much to our surprise, they knew most of the things. Traffic Lights and Zebra Crossing, washing hands and having bath, dressing wounds, brushing teeth, they knew it all. That they didn’t really practice all that is another thing.
They knew our National Anthem very well, and the Pledge too (which I’m sure most of us volunteers did not.) They also knew the 3 colors of our flag, the Ashok Chakra, etc. And they had a quest to learn, because when we mentioned Ashok Chakra to them, they started asking us questions about the Ashok Stambh, the Sarnath Stupa, the “structure with 4 lions” on currency notes, etc.
I mean all-in-all, they were a bright lot. They were extremely interested in listening to stories, so we had story-telling sessions with them. We played games too, and they knew all those games before.
One thing that many of them did not know was reading the clock. So each of us grouped a few kids and taught them how to do it.
There were quite a few talented kids, and well informed ones too. For example, we were pretty surprised when a boy called Ramzan told us that Italy won the FIFA World Cup, and that there was a head-butting controversy during the match!
Vaibhav is very good at painting, Sooraj at making crafts (he had made this very cute caged lion), and most of the other kids seemed genuinely interested in learning something creative, BUT not in form of lectures or the usual “study” ways. That was pretty obvious by the fact they rejected our idea of skits forthright.
Okay, now to the darker side, because the above description shows only one side of the picture. There was this girl Pooja, who asked me at least 4 times whether they were going to get “dabba“. (they were hoping we had brought them goodies). There was this girl who was called “Don” by her friends because she was quite aggressive at times (the reason for her behavior being her abusive father, which we learnt later), there was this guy Ramzaan who generally kept to himself and didn’t get involved with others, simply because if there was a fight, he couldn’t control himself. Well this list could go on and on and on, but I don’t know whether this is the right platform to list everything.
Neha came up with a very good idea that we can have some kind of a collaboration with the Andha Vidyalaya, wherein the older children from Eklavya Nyasa could write the exam papers of younger kids. This would have 3 benefits: 1) the kids would get to interact with the outside world, 2) the ones who will write the papers will feel that they too can be of some use to others and may be 3) they will realize that there are other underprivileged people in this world.
Another thing I would really like to appreciate is the way the guys gelled with the kids. I have always observed that boys generally don’t take to young kids, girls are better, but I must say that all 4 of these guys completely washed away my belief. The children really flocked towards all of them, and they too handled them absolutely comfortably.
Well, there’s a lot more to say, but I’ve written such a long e-mail that I think half the recipients are not even going to read it fully :-)))))
So more about this, when we actually meet.
But as a bottom-line, this was definitely a very enriching experience, and it would be a pleasure and an honor to have more of such kind.”