Teaching a classroom – thousands of miles away

Volunteering with 100 Books is great..it exposes me to a lot of new children’s books in the Indian marketplace. I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha comics, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I can’t recall very many other options during those times. But now, I see a lot of books, in an Indian setting, with characters and themes that Indians can relate to better. I think that is wonderful..my exposure to books from the West as a child almost led me to believe that only kids in the West have all the fun! And that’s so not true.:)

100 Books gives me an opportunity to help kids from my country..but it’s still a small amount of volunteering time that is spent on any given day. I find that I enjoy working with English..I haven’t had the opportunity to do it very much given my engineering roles in the corporate world. Sadly, there is no such thing as creative writing for technical documentation!:) A dear friend mentioned that I check out eVidyaloka, an organization that sets up digital classrooms in Indian villages. 

I was initially hesitant that this may not work out with the time difference..10-12 hours between California and India..give or take. I went ahead and registered anyway. Within 2 days, I was brought on board and posted as an English teacher to a school in Nilogal, Karnataka (the state I am from). Having never visited that area, I looked it up on Google maps and found that it is approximately 7 hours from Bengaluru.

My 7th grade class of approximately 12 students (some days there are fewer as they may need to go work in the fields) starts at 10 AM Indian time and runs for an hour. The classroom has a big monitor, computer and a fairly steady internet connection..all powered by solar panels..which is a blessing since the village faces frequent power cuts.We use Skype and although there is a recommended textbook for class, students aren’t always at that particular learning level. I find that I have to create a lot of my own content, and also tailor it to each student’s needs as they are not all at the same level.I am especially indebted to the classroom assistant, a lady named Nagarathna, who ensures that everything is intact at their end and ensures that the students pay attention.   

Overall, the English class is more along the lines of an ESL class, as students in rural areas of India are not exposed to English as much. I will say however that I needed to use more Kannada(the local language) in the beginning..but the students have come a long way now as they greet me by asking “How are you, mam?” and respond with “You are welcome!” when I thank them.:)

A reading program – on the other side of the world

Must say I am super grateful that West Valley Community Services has been one of the very few places open to taking in person volunteers at this time.In addition to having the chance to serve the community, I would go stir crazy sitting at home..if my life only involved watching the news and serving the family!:) I started off back at the pantry where we sort and bag groceries donated to us by generous stores such as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Costco..to name a few. We usually assemble a bag of canned foods and pasta, a bag of prepared foods (such as salads and sandwiches) and a bag of fresh produce. Sometimes, especially after holidays such as the 4th of July, clients can take home a huge cake – one that looks like it could easily be enjoyed by at least 30! 

WVCS is also a great option for folks in the area who may have excess produce from their fruit trees or vegetable gardens. They can just hop on over and donate all of that so it doesn’t go to waste. It really is a well run program that is largely facilitated by a group of dedicated volunteers, some who have been serving there for decades! I’ve enjoyed getting to know the clients and remembering all their names, as I go there pretty much every day. It really is a ‘two-way street’ type of opportunity for me..wherein I love them and they love me:)..because there aren’t many volunteers wanting to come out – braving the current covid times!

But when I watch the news and I watch my own kids struggling with remote learning – I wonder..what about kids who don’t have access to remote learning? At least with my kids, they have access to a system..it’s just a matter of figuring out how to navigate it. So, I get back on my searching horse and I google away! I came across this program called the 100 Books Initiative. It appeared to be a program based in Bengaluru(where I am from), India, wherein students read 100 books over a certain period of time, each book being progressively difficult. They seemed to want volunteers who could commit 2 hours per week. I definitely had more time, so this would work for me. 

Upon connecting with the founder, I was assigned a student. The student is given a book to read. In addition to reading the book, the student has to complete quizlet (a flash card app) sets that correspond to the book. The sets contain flash cards with meanings of the most important words from the book in Indian languages, along with images and sentence usage explanations. Quizlet sets help with comprehension of the material. Some books also have questions associated with them that the student has to answer. There is a Youtube video that corresponds to the book..so the student can use it for reference/pronunciation help. 

As a teacher, I am able to check to see if the student has completed the quizlets. I receive a recording of the student’s reading via WhatsApp. I then respond with any corrections to be made via WhatsApp. Once everything clears, we move on to the next book. So, here I am, helping a child read, all the way on the other side of the world, using just a phone and computer, from the comfort of my own living room! I am also delighted at this new philanthropic use of Whatsapp..not just to check to see what mom made for dinner!  🙂