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Our weekend at City of Child

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No sooner had  my computer class finished, was I planning the next thing to do! And what better choice than to spend a day with over 200 kids at a sports day then a weekend living with around 50!

City of Child

City of Child

When Dunc was with Deep Griha in 2005, he spent 1 month volunteering at City of Child. It is a orphanage of sorts for children from the slum communities of Tadiwala Road, Ramtekadi and Bibvewadi. Social workers from Deep Griha perform frequent home visits to families that they have identified need more support or where the children are in a high-risk environment. Usually, the process would be that the children are nominated for sponsorship, and if accepted and they need to move out of the family home, they leave Pune and are given residence at City of Child. Children can stay here from around 5 to 19 years of age, with the aim to give them a safe and friendly home environment, and send them to a local school for a solid education. After completing school, the children with the desire to do so are also assisted through college.

On Saturday 27th November, we heard that 20 of the kids from CoC were participating in a sports day in Pune so we went along to check it out. From 9am until 5pm, around 200 children from 9 NGOs throughout Pune took part in various heats and finals to win gold, silver and bronze medals. Concern India Foundation organised the event and their kind sponsors provided all children with t-shirts, caps, socks and trainers to give all atheletes a fair chance at the competition, as well as protection from the blazing sunshine. The training of the City of Child team paid off with them scooping medals in the 50m sprint, the 100m sprint, the shot put, the sack race and the 3-legged race! Although they didn’t win the coveted trophy for the Highest Medal-Winners, the City of Child Team Co-ordinator Santosh, believes that this experience will give the children the drive to compete more fiercely in the 2011 event.

To read a wee bit more about the sports day, take a look at the article I posted on the Deep Griha website and the photos on their Flickr site.

After their big day out, Dunc and I caught the bus back to Kasurdi village to stay with the children for the remainder of the weekend. It is an extremely rural area, but this was exactly what we need after our busy few weeks previously. We ate A LOT, watched some Bollywood films with the kids and just played around in general. It was really great to see all of the children getting along so well with one another. It is rare to see such a large group of children of a mixture of ages respecting each other so much. Older boys looked out for the younger girls at the sports day, young boys shared ice-cream with each other instead of wasting it, and best of all, they all played really well together. This may not sound much, but after 3-months working in a youth centre, it really was refreshing for us to see all of this and to see and hear so many success stories of the sponsored children.

City of Child, 2010

City of Child, 2010

My computer class students pass with flying colours!

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First off, I’m really sorry for not giving you more updates over the last few weeks – my workload with Deep Griha had been pretty hectic! To try to redeem myself, I’ll give you a couple of articles now 🙂

So the last update about my Basic Computer Skills course was that we had just completed lesson 1 of 4.  The remaining 3 lessons were pretty intense as we kept up the 5 groups of kids per week; to make things a little easier, the numbers had dropped to a more manageable 8ish students per group.

My 4-week lesson plan went through a few revisions before it was suitable to take to the classroom – the joys of teaching 10 – 18 year olds who only associate computers with playing games! Some things that I thought would take 15 minutes to discuss only took 5, and of course some other things were quite the opposite.

Dunc shows inside the computer

Dunc shows inside the computer

The main lesson topics were: computer hardware, computer software, MS-Word and the Internet – of which the last 2 were most popular. I got a lot of help from Dunc and Praveen (a 19-year old staff member at DIYA) to make sure I had a good mix of theory and practical knowledge so I didn’t overload the kids with too much information, but also to make sure they got a decent chance to try out what they just learnt.

On Friday 26th November after teaching the last lesson to the final group of students, we had a small certificate ceremony for the ‘graduates’ to reward their commitment and enthusiasm throughout the course. Only about 15 kids completed the course, compared to the original 85 who signed up, but I don’t see that as a negative of the course. We always knew that the number of computers in the DIYA centre would dictate the number of students we cater for, so we actually ended up with the ideal number.

Kiran and Ajay complete their MS-Word exercises

Kiran and Ajay complete their MS-Word exercises

I’ve uploaded the photographs of the certificate ceremony to Deep Griha’s Flickr account – if you’ve not seen them yet, you can check them out here. I awarded the students based on how many lessons they attended and their general performance, but because I’m a big softie nobody got less than a B! Some of the boys were really exceptional and got an A+. One student, Abishek, told me (via Praveen!) that he had a computer and the Internet at home but didn’t use it for much other than games. During the Internet class, I set him a challenge to find out the population of India and compare it to Scotland. When he got home he put his newly learnt skills to use by researching all about Scotland and proudly told me all about the scenery in class the next day! 🙂

The children in my class really are a great bunch. Dunc and I also saw many of them during the twice-weekly drama classes at DIYA and got to know them really well. I must admit, the high-point for me was seeing Ajay transform from a typical 11-year old boy from the slum –  craving attention but only knowing how to get it by being really loud and acting up – into a star pupil. By the time our classes finished up, he was the one child who really showed true commitment to the course by arriving early for his 9am Friday class and even popping in during the week to practice or help translate the lesson from English to Marathi. (In the group photos, he’s the small boy in the orange jumper, next to Yamuna in the green sari).

Graduation Day!

Graduation Day!

I’ve now handed over the Basic Computer Skills course to Ashlesha Onawale who has promised that some volunteers from Deep Griha’s corporate partners will continue the same lesson format for Batch 2 of students (and so on…). She has also said that the pack I put together with the lesson plans and teachers notes will be a great help when it comes to teaching Deep Griha staff the basics about computers. I couldn’t be happier to know that not only the future students at DIYA will benefit from the course Dunc and I designed, but also the staff who looked after us so well while we volunteered with them.

Diwali in Hampi

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View to "the other side of the river" in Hampi

View to "the other side of the river" in Hampi

On Saturday 30th October, 9 Deep Griha volunteers took a bus-ride to Hampi, Kernataka, to enjoy the Diwali Festival. Dunc and I had always planned to visit Hampi after leaving Pune, but by going now rather than later on, we are able to buy a few extra days in Goa before flying home to Scotland 🙂

Hampi is absolutely stunning: the ruins of the town are a UNESCO World Heritage and the scenery is described as “the aftermath of giants having a rock-fight”. While we were there, the weather started off grey and wet but thankfully it brightened up enough for us to enjoy a swim in the lake and get a bit of a sun-tan!

We stayed in bamboo bungalows at Sunny Guest House on “the other side of the river” in Hampi, which had a lovely relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff and excellent homemade food. The comfortable lounge area had backgammon boards on every table so we even learnt how to play in between our food and drinks 🙂

Diwali in Hampi was quieter than we expected, but the staff at Sunny went all out with the decorations and celebrations for us. Our lounge/ dining area was packed full of candles and we even got treated to a mini-firework display and Harry Potter sparklers! I’ll not tell you how they lit the fireworks, but lets just say it wasn’t at arms length!

Diwali decorations in Sunny Guest House

Diwali decorations in Sunny Guest House

During our stay in Hampi, myself, Gaia and Katie signed up for a 5-day yoga course on a roof-top over-looking the river. As you can imagine, the view was amazing! The class started at 8am so we were up at 7am each morning to catch the boat across the river. Anyone who knows my sleeping habits will know that the first morning was a struggle, but after that, we all looked forward to a nice relaxed start to the day, followed by a big bowl of banana porridge or fruit muesli at a nearby restaurant.

On the second-last day of our trip, Dunc and I hired bicycles to do a bit of sight-seeing round the most famous monuments in Hampi. We saw lots of rocks and temples (obviously!), but also enjoyed seeing the old elephant stable and a pack of water buffalo taking a dip in a really big puddle!

By the end of our trip, we all felt completely relaxed, regenerised and refreshed – ready to start work back with Deep Griha – which is just as well as there are lots of big plans for this week! Eva is giving her drama class a bit of a restructure, my computer class is in full swing, Gaia is working with our photographer Avinash to make our 2011 calendar, and everyone else are enthusiastically preparing for World Aids Day as part of our Wake Up Pune! campaign. It’s just sunk in that Dunc and I have only got around 3 weeks left with Deep Griha now  so we will also be working hard to finish our projects and hand them over to the volunteers that will be here for the coming months.

Ceremonies and Parties at Deep Griha

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Women's Empowerment Ceremony at Tadiwala Road

Women's Empowerment Ceremony at Tadiwala Road

Never a day goes past at Deep Griha without something happening, as you’ll know if you’re keeping up to date with us on Facebook 😉

DIYA – the youth centre at Ramtekdi) was the location for the October Birthday Party for the children on the sponsorship programme, Aadhar Kendra (which Dunc wrote an article about for our website).  Many of us Deep Griha volunteers worked with volunteers from Family International (the local charity who donated a truck-load of food to DGS) to put on an outstanding party with clowns, balloon animals, face painting and a magician!

Last week, the Varsha Memorial Hall in the Family Welfare Centre at Tadiwala Road – and DIYA at Ramtekdi – were host to ceremonies for the ladies on the Women’s Empowerment programme and the Literacy & Post-Literacy classes.

And the students from the Yuvi Sphurtu Kendra IT School were due to receive their Certificates of Achievement this week, but unfortunately the ceremony is now postponed until next week. I’ll be sure to get lots of photographs of the event and have also asked some of the students to write a case study for our website 🙂 Although I’ve not been as involved with these students as I would have liked since we arrived about two-thirds of the way through their block of lessons, there are still a few in the class who I’ve got to know and their stories are really quite interesting.

My New Computer Class!

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IT School Batch 16 Graduation

IT School Batch 16 Graduation

So as I’ve mentioned before, the promise of teaching in the IT School at Tadiwala Road didn’t quite go to plan. A combination of the English – Marathi language barrier, inconsistent classes and the 3-month batch nearing completion when we arrived, meant that I wasn’t able to do much more than act as a classroom assistant… and a miming one at that! Batch 16 of the IT School graduated on 15th November, and I managed to get a couple of photos with them first. There is also an article on the Deep Griha website if you want to read a wee bit more about their day.

Instead of giving up on using my IT skills after this revelation, for our first few weeks with Deep Griha Society I concentrated on internal IT work at Tadiwala Road.  Although these were all worthwhile tasks and interesting (for a geek anyway 😉 ), it didn’t take long for me to realise that I should be concentrating my efforts on what I came here to do: empower the youths of the slum communities by teaching them about computers.

After a long conversation with Duncan and Anurag (who volunteers at our DIYA Centre in the Ramtekdi community), we spotted an opportunity for me to setup a computer class and teach a younger audience at DIYA. The proposal that I outlined to Rajendra Aher (the supervisor at DIYA), explained that I wanted my classes aimed at 10 – 18 year olds who had little to no computer experience but were keen to learn.

I planned an ‘Orientation Meeting’ at DIYA on Monday 11th October so any kids who were interested could come along to register then learn about the 4-week course. Because there are currently only 4 working PCs in the DIYA Computer Classroom and classes in the past hadn’t generated much interest, I only expected about 25 kids to come to the meeting to sign-up. You can imagine my complete shock and horror when I was called in an hour early for the meeting as there were over 100 children in the room!! With the help of Rajendra, Eva (one of our volunteers) and Praveen (a full-time worker at DIYA), we managed to get the numbers down to a more realistic number of children. After the mad dash of kids then sigining up for their preferred session, we came to realise that instead of 2 groups of children having 2 lessons per week for the length of the 4-week course, we had to be more realistic and have 5 groups of children, each with only 1 lesson per week. Already I felt tired at the thought of it!

On Wednesday and Friday of the same week, we had a test-run of my lesson to guage the number of kids who were actually serious about coming to class. Between the 5 sessions (Wednesday 4pm – 6pm & 6pm – 8pm, and Friday 9am – 11am, 4pm – 6pm & 6pm – 8pm), there were still about 60 kids who came to class! As Nick would say, too many kids was “a happy problem”, since although it’d be a challenge to accommodate them all, it was great to see that so many children wanted the opportunity to learn new skills. Pune is well-known for its recent technology boom, and it has clearly caught on even in the poor communities!

I’ve just finished my first week of the official first lesson for the 5 groups of kids… and it was a big success! With an average of 12 kids per class, Duncan was a star in helping to keep the kids engaged (and under control!), and Praveen translated the lesson, where required, from English into Marathi, as well as adding his own computer knowledge to enhance the lesson. We’re off on 10-day holiday now for yet another Hindu festival – Diwali – so I’ll be sure to use the time wisely to relax for my next 3 lessons! Wish  me luck!

A twist in the tale at Deep Griha!

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So as most of you know, my main focus at Deep Griha is working in the IT School as part of the Youth Empowerment Programme and Dunc was hoping to work alongside the DISHA team to spread awareness about HIV prevention and treatment. But the life of a volunteer is never as clear-cut as that!

It was obvious from Day 1 that all the programmes here require assistance in some form or another, so we’re all pitching in to help wherever we can and whenever we can! Dunc has assumed the role of Volunteer Coordinator to help out the guys who were trying to take on this massive responsibility, along with their massive workload. As for me, word has got out that I’m a computer geek so I’ve been involved in producing new brochures, PowerPoint presentations, updating the website and creating a Facebook Fan Page for Deep Griha Society (which you should all become a fan of)!

And as if that wasn’t enough, Dunc is working with Child Sponsorship Programme and other volunteers to organise their frequent birthday parties, and I’m now also teaching English to the IT School students! Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just us that have obtained these super-human powers, there are now 13 international volunteers who are all as manically busy as us! It’s hard work but extremely rewarding and a harsh reminder of just how much we are all relied on.

The End of Ganesh Fest :(

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Boats lined up at the riverside

Final day of Ganesh Festival

On Wednesday 22nd September, the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival came to an end.  The days leading up to this final day were amazing: the shrines where Ganesh was worshiped became even more extravagant with lights and decorations dripping from every free square inch of space and people coming to deliver their offerings and prayers in their masses. It wasn’t uncommon to see street-theatre productions depicting the story of Ganesh, and dancers and musicians playing the tabla (drums, to you and me!) through the streets while throwing red powder paint at one another!

Perhaps even more amazing, was the final day of the festival.  Our friend Anurag kindly invited all 10 of us volunteers along to his home in Aundh to join in the celebrations with his family. His mother treated us to an outstanding traditional Maharashtran meal, complete with all the spices that  most restaurant chefs leave out!

Once we’d all eaten, we were invited to join in the prayers to Ganesh and then accompany Anurag and his family down to the river to immerse their household idol.  The atmosphere was truly amazing! Families were making their way to the river in droves, all with their idol on proud display with offerings to share amongst their friends – and us tourists! I’ve uploaded some photographs of the scene down by the river, but I would be very surprised if our real-life experience comes across as magical as we witnessed on the day. There was actually quite a somber mood as families said farewell to their idol and prayed for him, before rowing out to the centre of the river to be immersed.

The walk back to Anurag’s house was full of celebration: we passed truck-loads of families making their way down to the river to pay the same respects as we had done, and those who had already made the trip were celebrating with yet more music and dancing… and lots of red powder paint!

The whole festival was extremely entertaining, but the celebration on this final day really was the icing on the cake!

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