I’ve Missed Blogging

WHAT I WROTE TEN DAYS AGO……

Reasons I haven't been blogging:

1. Twelve kids to take care of

2. Twelve kids to take care of

3 Twelve kids to take care of

I could go on, but it would be more of the same.  In addition I have other problems:

1. The government

2. The government

3. The government.

I could go on…..

But there is also the joy of the twelve children and joy takes time.   I have to hunt for the camera, take the pciture, download it, and then wait and wait, and try again another day.  I have to change my provider. IMG_0811w

It's noon and I'm reporting on the day so far.  Seema took the girls to school today, as she usually does, but I usually go too.  On Saturdays though I don't send Ganga and Bornali as the time is used for testing, and there is no real activity in the classroom.  I woke with a headache — went to bed with a headache — took my homeopathic med which I believe keeps the headache from developing into a full blown migraine.  So I luxuraited in bed (my mat) while Shanti Devi gave me a head massage and used her magic oils and then I was fine.  Then she went to work massaging the four little ones.

Seema came back from school to tell me that math-sir was upset with our girls and felt they had too many deficiencies.  I agree.  I have battled with teachers since we started because I felt the standards were lowered, expectations were lowered and even the term "mercy for the orphans" has been used.  We went to the school together at 10 because I wanted to meet with math-sir.  I brought all the reports, pages and pages, lists of rememdial programs, and at least showed the school I was aware and concerned and doing everything I could.  I pointed out to them that their giving easy marks made it more difficult as the girls had confronted me with the fact that the school thought they were fine so why was I not happy with their perfomance.  Actually today he had marked hard, which is great.  He gave one girl a "0" because her work was technically correct but illegible and in all directions.   I thanked him.  We went over the evaluations I've had done.  I think we are working better now and I will have our math teachers meet with him.

The new LD consultant is finding the same things though she feels we have the infrastructure to provide the remedial help.  So I feel that at last I am beginning to get genuine support for my educational ideas andprograms.  This is a very tough challenge.  I did not find any other places doing intense education of older girls, and older is really after about 7 or 8 when they have not been educated at all before.  This is an experiment which also means I learn as I go.  And it means I don't know how it will turn out.

An example of what I've struggled with:  Two years ago the teacher told me the girls knew up to 50 (in Bengali).  I knew they didn't understand any of it, but they could count as rote, as prayer, as monologue.  I made a game with candies.  We sat on the floor and I gave each a handful to count — tell me how many, and you stay in the game.  I was handing out between 4 and 12.  About half got it.  They didn't equate the numbers with quantity.  I also tried writing 1-50 (in Bengali) and would point to one number.  None could get it without starting from the beginning.  No, they didn't know their numbers. 

Bengali math books do not have word problems so I got some English ones and tried working it out… But I have little time to teach, consumed mostly by one government induced crisis or another.  I remember our first summre vacation and I'd bought some English activity books that I thought we could do together.  But the first day of vacation I leaned of a new government problem when they tried to force us to take more children and then threatened to close us if we didn't.  We survived but they held to their threat about our license and it took another year to get the renewal.  Teaching was lost.  It's not just the loss of time, but of sapped energy.  The same is true today — battles for survival of Shishur Sevay, battles over protection of the children.  We just got our license renewal again but it again required complomises over my time.

When we picked up the girls, one came running with a young sparrow in her hand.  They had found it in a classroom and it couldn't fly.  So we brought it home and I put it in one of the rooms of the rabbit cage (rabbits doubled up at the moment).  A few minutes later the pillow maker man came on his bicycle and I decided to have him fill up the huge stuffed teddy bear that someone had cut and taken stuffing from — our own lilttle vandalism.  I have pictures of the bear getting re-stuffed, and even his bowtie back on.  Then I had four more small pillows made as our original ones were really grimy. 

Then I went back to dealing with math.  I met with the girls and the teacher — actually the Bengalli teacher is here today but I asked her to do math, given the problems.  I had a heart to heart with the girls.  I said I was not upset with them specifically, but they had to work harder at getting the information into their heads.  I said these were battles I'd had with all their teachers and reminded them of the candy game when they didn't know numbers.

I often use the metaphor of cancer.  In fact I once wrote CANCER on the board to shake up the teachers!  Illiteracy for these children is a cancer.  it will kill them.  You don't ask a child with cancer if they want chemo — even if they are orphans and have suffered.  Or, at least I don't.  I told this to the kids.  I told them I really knew how terrible their lives had been and what they had been through — that if I didn't really understand that, I wouldn't be here.  But learning is their survival now.  It is their chemo.  They know about my chemo.  If I hadn't had chemo I wouldn't be here with them.  "Mercy" is not letting them die of illiteracy.  I told them they were each very strong or they would not have survived, and that each had don'e things to protect themselves, had acted strongly.  Several looked reflective and tearful.

Can girls at this age — probably about 8-12 when they came two years ago, be educated if they have had no prior education?  I think of this question also in relation to Interntional adoption, particularly when the language is different.  If it is this hard for them catching up, learning concepts, what must it be like if they also had to do all of this in a new language, with not substantive assistance in their own language?  How do you learn math concepts when you don't understand the words being used to explain?  How do you learn grammar when you do not know grammar in your mother tongue?  The girls' Bengali is improving dramatically (I am told) but it is not yet what it should be for them to integrate into a community of educated people.  This is NOT like the situations of immigrant families with children who suddenly change languages, but often do extrememly well, because of their foundations.  How do you build when the foundation is so weak?  Where do you start?

I am comfortable with where we started, the basics, colors, shapes, alphabets, numbers.  I think some of our early teachers were rigid and stayed only with the methods used in the schools,   These are methods Indians complain about, rote memory with passing grade being 40%.  As I write this I know it is hard for anyone today to realize how deficient they were.  When I look back, as I write this, I am actually thrilled they have come so far.

But, they do not understand that multiplication is a short form of addition.

They do not understand the concept of borrowing in subtraction, so sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong.

See, I"m still worrying.  But in spite of my worries, this IS Saturday night and so they will stay up until midnight watching movies.  I KNOW they need down time.  I read somewhere that watching funny movies before sleep makes sleep better so sometimes in the evening I let them watch a funny movie before sleep time. 

As the day ends, the girls have turned on TV, and will be up long after I've fallen asleep.  The baby sparrow is doing fine, but calling out, pacing in front of the cage.  I put a potted plant in the cage but the bird shows no interest in this mini tree and has instead gone to sleep in the corner.

Tomorrow is Sunday.  The girls will sleep in, and then work on a drama they are doing — learning scripts.  I want to get them to a play.  They didn't really understand that in drama the actors repeat the written script.  It's not improv, but rather another form of disciplined learning.  They are really enjoying the process.  With them, everything is new.

July 2009
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