Saturday, October 3, 2009

Week 1 in India

I’ve completed my introductory week at Shanti Bhavan and I must admit that it has been a tough adjustment and very exhausting. I finally got my schedule. I’m teaching 6th grade math, 9th grade creative writing, 12th grade thesis writing, 4th-8th grade health, and 1st-5th grade art. Here’s what a typical day looks like (they also go to school ½ day on Saturday):

8:30- 9:15
1st Period
2nd Period
3rd Period
AM Snack
4th Period
5th Period
6th Period
7th Period
8th Period
Afternoon Tea
After-school Activities

Evening Session

A few of my art students below:

I’m also helping the administration with some fundraising efforts when I get the chance.  The school cut a significant number of full-time staff because of the recession and the school has deferred enrollment for the next two incoming classes.  My art classes have limited supplies - there aren’t enough crayons and colored pencils.  Paper is cut in half to conserve resources and the children are asked to use the opposite side for additional writing or art work.  The kids use their pencils until you can hardly hold them.  I have big blisters on my fingers from sharpening pencils using those small portable pencil sharpeners – what I would give for mechanical pencils or an electronic pencil sharpener!

Teaching is easier said than done – commanding the attention of young children is a difficult challenge.  Plus, things change at a moments notice here because of the limited staffing. For example, I covered 3rd and 4th grade grammar and 3rd grade creative writing today because the teacher was sick.  You have to be flexible with whatever they throw at you. 

I’m really living in the sticks.  We are 40 minutes from a real town. I haven’t seen a Starbucks nor McDonald’s yet - a true sign that I’m in the depths of the 3rd world.  The power goes out every afternoon around 4 pm for a few hours.  I’m glad the gentleman at the outdoor wilderness store talked me into getting a headlamp because I’ve used it several times already. 

Along with the modern conveniences of electric pencil sharpeners, the internet, and my Blackberry; I really miss good coffee and a hot shower.  The food is ok but monotonous - it’s usually a starch and a vegetable curry.  My roommates and I are already daydreaming about our first meal when we get home.  Of course, mine is DiFara’s pizza…I salivate just thinking about it…

The Shanti Bhavan grounds are bucolic – there are beautiful trees, plants, and flowers everywhere.  I saw a huge flock of parakeets today – though I really hate birds, I thought it was really neat to see.  There are also bats, big black crows, lizards, cobras, vipers, and bugs on the premises.  Oh…and let’s not forget the random cows that roam the campus and wander around chewing up the grass.

There are 11 volunteers so far – 2 more are coming in the upcoming weeks.  9 of the women are from the US (CA, TX, NY, AZ) and 2 guys from Europe (Spain, Denmark).  Everyone so far is really great and we all seem to get along despite our sordid backgrounds (theatre, dance, science, accounting, robotics, engineering, economics, public health, music, visual arts).  Here are some of us on our way to Hosur (the closest town with an internet café) in the back of the school jeep:

The Shanti Bhavan children are really what make the inconveniences worth it.  Though they can test your limits at times, you know that they all they are looking for is a little attention and love.  These children learn early on to be very extroverted – they jump at the chance to read out loud, volunteer their answers without hesitation, and are well versed in greeting international guests and visitors. When you see the desperate conditions they come from, you realize that their transformation is extraordinary and that a good education is the best gift that you could ever give them.  My short time here makes me appreciate my life so much more!  We often forget how privileged we are to not have to worry about clean water, buying books, consistent electricity, and reliable methods of communication and transportation. 



  1. Ah yes, the power going out...brings back fond memories of being in the dentist chair in Pune only to have the electricity go out as she was starting to drill. After waiting for a bit she said, "Okay, go outside but don't go too far from here. If the Christmas lights come on, run back", which they did...and I did...then the electricity went out again. A few days later I had my new crown. X-rays and crown? A whopping $US 68! Worth the trip. ;) Namaste

  2. OMG, Vivian. This is a great thing you are doing. I admire you for volunteering yourself for such a great opportunity. I wish you well and if I could help just let me know. Maybe, I could collect some pencils/crayons here for you and send them to you.. How long will you be there? Take care. Ruthie

  3. Hey Vivian, it's great to keep up with you via your blog. Just drop me an email if I can help at all.


  4. I want to send pencils and art supplies! Can we help?

  5. Vivian - I'm loving your blog, thanks for keeping me informed. It must be wild to actually be at the school you were talking about for so many months during acp! I'm sure it's not at all what you imagined...
    Your day is really busy!! But I'm sure the children are loving you, and you are making such a difference in their lives.
    I too would be happy to send you anything that you need - pencils, kleenex for the dining room, pizza crust...Please let me know.

  6. Wow, shaping up to be quite an experience for the next several months! I'd love to help out too, let us know a mailing address if it's possible to ship stuff to you.


  7. viv - i'm missing you!
    your daily schedule sounds crazy. you wanted to check out and i think you're getting what you ask for. just think how fantastically wonderful that first hot shower and cup of java are going to be.

    as all the others have asked, let us know what we can do to help.

    you're my hero. the children are lucky to have you!
    love you,

  8. Viv, you are the best! I applaud all that you are doing. I just returned from Utah. Will e-mail you tomorrow. Love, Mads