36 Hours with the Slum-Girl Whisperer
10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
I go back home and help my mom with domestic work, like washing clothes, scrubbing pots, sweeping the room, preparing the monthly budget, going to the market to buy vegetables and other required things, whatever needs to be done.
11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
I walk to the SAKHI Girls’ Learning Center (GLC), the small space I rent for classes and the place where I prepare my lessons for the day and worksheets for our weekly exams. The Center is very near my home – only a two-minute walk on a small, dusty road that is always crowded with vehicles. Our room is small, with a cement roof and brick walls mixed with sand and cement. It’s not well insulated, but I do my best to accommodate my girls there in two batches in the evening.
This last academic year, I have been paying 3,000 INR per month (about US$50), along with a deposit of 30,000 INR for a year (about US$500). But it is a very small room. I hope in the next academic year, I will be able to get a bigger space in my slum area.
1:30 p.m. – 2: 00 p.m.
For lunch, I go back home to eat with my family. Most of the time, my mother makes lunch. Sometimes I help when she does not feel well or when I get free time.
Usually, I prefer to have chapati, vegetables and rice. Either once or twice a week, we have meat in our meal, but other times, we eat vegetarian food.
Then I head back to the classroom.
2.00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
I tutor Guddi, the 23-year-old first student of my new initiative from SAKHI, Girls’ Dream School, where older school dropouts can fulfill their dream of education. I focus on basic literacy and numeric skills. Only one year prior, Guddi could not read or write even simple sentences. And she had a lot of anxiety about her educational progress. But with my help, she recently got admitted to the National Open School, and now, Guddi is studying Indian culture, Marathi language, home science, data entry and drawing (chitra kala). I tutor her every weekday for an hour.
3:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
I take a break, go back home and have tea.
3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
I plan the next day’s lesson for Guddi and write her progress report.
4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
I clean the Girls’ Learning Center. We all sit on the floor for our lessons, and the room’s walls are not in great condition. But I make sure it is clean and comfortable.
5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Around 35 girls show up for the classes. I lead group activities in singing, drawing, puzzle-making, theater, word games, and then on every Thursday, I give a weekly exam.
Here is an example of a word game the girls love to play. The girls sit in a circle. One girl whispers a word in the next girl’s ear, then that girl tells the same word to another girl sitting next to her, and the word makes its way around the circle, often ending up not being the word we started with! This game gives girls the message that we need to listen carefully.
Sometimes, I also do the day song. It’s a song where every girl does a certain action that corresponds to the name of a day. The girls learn to write the names of the days in logical sequence.
And at the end of each class, I have each girl write in her progress diary. This is a reinforcement tool for motivating and inspiring the girls to stay actively involved in their own learning. Each girl shares her diary with her mother so that her mother can follow her progress.
8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
During this time, I speak to the girls or their mothers about any personal problems.
And I meet with supporters like Savita. Savita is the mother of Bhakti, who comes to GLC, and she always inspires me and supports my work. Savita is always giving me updates about whatever is happening in the slum community, and she always tries to guide and support me when I have to deal with difficult situations.
10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
I head back home, and help my mother make dinner. Usually, we make chapatis, dal (red lentils), vegetables (palak [spinach], potatoes or lady’s-fingers [okra]) and rice. We use a pressure cooker to cook the dal and rice, and the chapatis are made in a round iron pot. After dinner, I wash the plates, and if there are any dirty clothes, I wash them.
11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
I go to bed!