Summer 2017 I volunteered at Friends Society, Vadodara, where I taught kids who came from tribal areas basic science lessons. The first day when I walked in, I didn’t know what to expect, I saw 20 pairs of curious eyes staring back at me. Each one had incredible energy, a zest for life, and a unique personality. It felt like a chaotic symphony, as they were all of the different ages and had different backgrounds. Volunteering can be one of the most transformative experiences, not only for the person you are volunteering with but also for the person who is volunteering.
Every time I entered a class, I would enter this tailored, one-of-a-kind world of color: blackboards with multiplication tables in colorful chalk, school bags, and water bottles with prints of superheroes and scribbles, and notebooks where verbs and adjectives sat comfortably beside doodles drawn in glitter ink.
Initially, it was a little difficult as they saw me as an alien who tried to enter their life, I started experimenting with different ways to connect with the kids, it was a trial and error method to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I understood that they absorbed actions more than words, they would imitate what they saw and remembered that. Furthermore, I was more motivated to understand their way of thinking so that I could figure out yet another approach that could work for them.
I wanted to create a world that is vibrant and is not limited by the boundaries of fixed syllabi or the constraints of academic pressure. A place where children could be nurtured to learn, grow, experiment, and discover themselves. One of my biggest lessons from this experience was: If your student fails to understand what you taught, it is not your student who has failed. Being a teacher is a test of sheer resilience, conviction, and empathy. There has to be a drive, more than just clocking in your community service hours. One has to be fully present and engaged each and every day. In addition, empathize with a child’s family to understand their situation at home because more often than not it will affect the behavior and performance at school. Over time, kids will come to see that you genuinely care, and only then they will be able to communicate freely, feel safe, and trust you.
Although the changes I sought to implement were slow but quite permanent. If we want the next generation of citizens to vote, to not throw trash out on the road, to be ethical in business dealings and respect one another’s religious beliefs we have to empower them to be the best possible version of themselves — to be independent thinkers and doers. We celebrated their smallest achievements or when they helped their fellow mates in learning, hence, developing a culture of collective growth. A child’s background should not determine its destiny. Every child has an infinite potential to shine if given a chance.
I understood myself better by spending time with the kids. I might have embarked on the journey to impart knowledge, however, I always left the place learning more.