Remembering the Essence of Our Work


In the midst of all the problems of the neighborhood, finding a new home, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from why Shishur Sevay exists.  We are here for the children, our children, for their education, their safety, their growth into confident and competent young women.

Among the 12 girls, we actually have several different streams of education and programs going.  It will be nice when we have a bit more space in which to do all this.

  • 1 girl has severe learning disabilities and is not literate in spite of four years of effort here and in special schools.  Other areas of her knowledge and skills have improved remarkably, but she cannot read or write.  She can draw and she can dance.  But most of all she is an incredibly competent and reliable caretaker of the children.  So we are training her to be an assistant to the teachers who teach the children with disabilities.  At the same time, we keep up some special education for her, working with her on communication, thought formulation, stories in pictures instead of words.  We work with her in English as this will greatly improve her earning potential. 
  • 4 girls go out to United Missionary Girls High School, a fine Bengali medium school.  These are our four top performing, hardest working, best behaved girls.  They have aspirations that motivate them to study.  They are years older than the others in their classes.  It is hard.  Their ages do not go unnoticed.  These girls have courage and I let them know how proud I am every day, every time they get on the bus and go to school.  It's a new school.  They have not made friends yet.  They have each other, a wise decision of theirs to stay together this year.  One girl wants to be a teacher, another a doctor, one a dancer and disc jockey.  These are normal children who got a late start — late learners.  The day starts early for these girls.  Seema comes and tutors them from 6:30 am to 8 am and they leave for the bus at 8:30.  They come home around 4:30, have a meal, and then study until 8:30 or 9.  We have tutors here to help them with homework. as is the norm here in Kolkata.
  • 1 girl is a year behind the others.  I am amazed at the progress she is making now.  For the first three years I wasn't sure she would learn at all.  I questioned what we were doing.  But I held to the principle that we would not give up on education.  Then over the last year she really started working!  She has her own tutor from when she comes home from school to 8:30 at night.  It is working.  This is costly.  How do I not do it?  These are the learnings, that sometimes it takes a few years for them to "kick in" so they can study.  Hopefully she can join the others next year, still a year behind, but going off on the bus with them each morning.
  • 2 girls are very smart, but they are being educated at home this year.  For the last four years they have intermittently been in school and at home, depending on their behavior.  They would go to school for exams, which is how they got promoted.  But now they are in secondary school, and we cannot do that.  They could use another year at home anyway, with the goal of improving behavior enough to be mainstreamed.  What are the behaviors?  They can be disruptive, disrespectful, and getting into fights.  Each has tremendous insecurities about learning, and their fears are expressed as refusals.  One girl is on heavy medication which makes her sleepy so our home schedule allows her to start the day later, which is working well.  We bought two sets of books identical to those being used for the UMGHS, and follow the similar syllabus.  Again, our hope is to have them pass into that school next year.  As an alternative we are also enrolling them in the Open School, Level B program which would give them a Class V certificate.  Two teachers will be working full time with these girls.  It's exciting, as we have a chance to work with more innovative methods.  These two girls are more receptive to the less structured methods, although we insist that a certain amount of rote is necessary.  We are eclectic. 
  • 1 girl with cerebral palsy is smart, and attends the local government school, sitting in class II.  She can't talk, but she loves her school, her books, and has made friends in school.  This is her third year there.  A massi takes her to school and stays at the school until she comes home.  At home she and the others have special educators, but she also sits in on classes with the big girls.  She loves the computer and we are trying to find people to work with voice output devices to improve her ability to communicate.
  • 3 girls with disabilities including severe developmental delays have special educators over the course of the day.  The children are learning vocabulary, behavior, motor skills, and take part in exercises to try to improve developmental milestones.  Of these three girls, one is autistic and mentally impaired.  When she came she used to spin all day and ingest potty.  Now we take her to weddings and reception.  Another girl is visually impaired and microcephalic.  She is a joy, and well able to get us all to do what she wants.  She is learning to say sounds, and to sing tunes.  The third of these also has cerebral palsy.  She lives for approval (and food).  She loves action.  For a while she went to school but she just cried and cried so we took her out.  She loves reaching her arm out to visitors.  All four of the children with disabilities receive physical therapy once to twice a day.  We have exercise balls, standing boxes, walkers, and were about to put up rails, but this will wait for our next home. 

That's our 12 girls.  Everyone is being educated.  It's our way of life here.  Education gives us choices.  Education gives us a way to play with ideas in our minds, and to communicate our ideas.  For the children with disabilities this is especially difficult.  We want to know what they need to tell us, to break their sense of isolation.  Shishur Sevay is an experiment in many ways, with a broad brush of education being applied across the canvas, yet with fine lined adaptations according to need.  We just don't know what, or how much we will achieve.  But we are also learning, learning about these children — the ones no one wanted.  We are learning how to reach them, how to enrich them.  And in the meantime, separate from any goals of the future, they are living safely and productively in the present.  In a way, that's also enough.




1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sameer
    Mar 24, 2011 @ 08:50:12

    Dear Michelle Harrison,
    I am 34 year man of Indian origin now living in Dallas,TX. I came across your blog through Ashanet. I do not have any words to describe my feelings. You are God. Who would have thought that sacrificing the comfortable life in US and moving to a completely different culture to help the needy will be faced with so much resistance. My heart breaks knowing about all the ills in Indian society, but I bow to you for your courage, commitment and tenacity. Please never abandon these girls. I have a 3.5 year old daughter myself and I am just amazed how much love and affection a woman gives to everyone around them. In form of daughter, sister, mother, wife etc. I bow to all the women of the world. When I see so much pain and hatred in the world, I just wonder why? why do we even exist.
    May you be blessed with all the courage and you will find a way out to find a safer home. Let me know if I can help.


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March 2011
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