Girls interrogated over school payment slips

No, this is not a joke.  I sent money with the girls to pay their computer fees for the year, along with a letter listing their names.  But a teacher told them that I had to fill out special forms and then take the money to the bank.  The teacher put four payment slips (see illustration below) in with the money and letter and sent it all home to me.  The next day when Gibi and another of our staff went to pick  up the girls, she stopped in the office to find out which bank, as we had never done this before. When she took out the slips, the man in the office became angry and accusatory, wanting to know HOW and WHERE the girls had gotten these forms.  It seems the forms are sold in a booklet  (below) at a cost of five rupees (ten cents) for twelve pages.  So the girls were called to explain how they got the forms. They related that “Aunty” had put them in the envelope.  He asked for the teacher’s name, class, when this had happened.

Two days later, after the money had been paid to the bank, the school asked that the girls bring proof, even though the bank is to do that.  I sent one of our staff, who didn’t know what had already happened, and she proudly brought home a book of slips for five rupees for the rest of the year (not knowing the fee was already paid for the full year.)  But then if she hadn’t, I couldn’t have scanned it for this post, so it’s worth the five rupees and more.

The five rupee fees book

I imagine that some teacher had helped the girls by putting four slips in the envelope with instructions to have them filled out.   She is probably in trouble now, like the teacher who was chastised  for tutoring  our girls with her other students and made to send our girls away.

We all had such high hopes for this school.   Something is terribly wrong there.  Many days only 2-3 of their teachers come.  The girls each keep a diary book to show me each day of what classes they had, subjects covered, and homework.  Many days they write for one or two subjects: teacher did not come.  It’s how they learned tense, positive and negative:  teacher came or teacher did not come.   Before exams the girls are told to stay home and study instead of coming to school.  For people here, none of this is surprising. 

It’s a struggle for the girls every day, but they are really determined.  And I’m determined to do more and more for their education  Next week I’m going to a conference of WORLDDIDAC 2011 in Delhi — immersing myself in education and technology.  There will be speakers from the Gov. of India talking about education plans.  I’m really excited, always trying to see our organization and home in the context of what is going on around us and what is possible.  There will also be talks about inclusion, so it’s nice to see issues of disability included in general education.  And then there is the Exhibition Hall where I want to look at teaching materials as well as hardware, interactive boards, touch screens.  I want the orphans to get what the “rich kids” get.  Orphans need it even more.  They have scars on top of early deprivation and abandonment.  Sometimes that produces enormous barriers to learning.  So we have to be more innovative, we have to try harder.

A New Low in English Teaching

The girls at Shishur Sevay study in “Bengali medium” which means all of their instruction and printed books are in Bengali, except for English.  One of our girls is switching to English medium learning, and is being homeschooled.  Therefore we must have at least one good English teacher. as she now has to catch up with English reading in all subjects.  Simultaneously I have been working with all the teachers on verbs and tense.  I’ve discovered the girls are confused about tense in English AND Bengali, and that they also lack an understanding of the formal and polite verb forms of Bengali.  So grammar and parts of speech are on our minds, and hopefully theirs at least some of the time.  Two years ago I tried but the Bengali teacher walked out instead of teaching tense and verb forms.  I believe this is about lower expectations by teachers because of the backgrounds of our girls.

Last week I let a teacher go because I discovered she did not know tense  in English, and didn’t really know parts of speech.  She mixed up nouns, adjectives, and verbs.   Today another English teacher, one with years of experience, was teaching how to write a letter.  She and the student spent most of the afternoon working on the letter.  At the end of the day I asked for the final product.  I was really shocked!  Please look and see if you can figure out the mistakes.  If you do, you win a teaching job at Shishur Sevay.  Remember this letter is the end result of three previous drafts.  The red marks indicate the teacher’s corrections.  The language style was provided by the teacher.  (the rule seems to be never to make the student struggle.) 

Find The Mistakes!

I asked the teacher to meet with me.  She could only say that she made mistakes.   I told her I could not have her teach my children if this is her standard.  No, this is not the first “mistake.”  I know exactly what is going on. 

1. She wants the girl to like her, and boasts that she is favored.  I have warned her over and over that this is a trap.

2. She has adjusted her expectations because the student is an orphan, and so this may have seemed “good enough.”

3. She did not expect me to look at the work.   In spite of my work load, I remain quite vigilant in all areas.  It’s how I keep standards from dropping.  Everyone knows my pattern but no one thinks they will be caught.

The pincode in the letter  is wrong (32 should be 38), but I had ignored it.  I learned later that there had been an argument over the pincode.   Gibi, Mrs. Jasvinder Kaur) who is our Vice President, and co-founder with me lives about ten houses away.  She monitors many of the classes.  But the teacher refused to believe her that the code was 38, and insisted that the student was right.  Again, this is an experienced teacher drawing an excellent salary from Shishur Sevay.  We don’t try to “save money” on teachers.   Last week this teacher had another girl in tears about her speech defect, made fun of her, said the others would laugh at her.  I spoke to her about it.  I’m sad about the speech defect because four years ago she was assessed by two experts who said she was fine and would outgrow it, but instead it is worse, especially when she is tense. 

The girls sometimes get very angry with me because I want work corrected until it is perfect.  It’s doable in an assignment like this.  We have had temper tantrums over having to redo work, but eventually it gets done and then the girls always feel good about having something perfect.  Remember, they are always fighting their sense of inadequacy.  It’s a really good feeling to get something right.  It takes work.  I want them to have this experience, the rush of getting it right. 

This evening the girls all went over the “letter” and had fun finding mistakes.    I’m consistent at least — I don’t accept from teachers what I don’t accept from the girls.  These are important lessons for the girls about standards, work behavior, expectations, and getting things right.

Finally, to my blog readers,

Thank King you

I remain

yours faithfully

Dr. Michelle Harrison

ShiShur Sevay school

Civil Disobedience in the Park: Over Before it Began

I went to the park this afternoon just to put in an appearance and to reassure my childcare workers,  but the conflict had already been resolved.  There had been some meetings in the background, leading to the Councilor sending a message that we could use the park, but we would be responsible if anything were to break.  I refused.  I told the “messenger,” a local goonda, that no one else had to do this, and that this had become a white skin/money issue.  I sent him away.  Bijoy went back to the Councilor’s office and came back with the issue resolved.  If something broke, many people would be involved.  The councilor also added that no one should be harassing us as this was her domain, and if anyone had questions to just go to her.  Bijoy brokered peace in his own quiet way.  I’ve learned though that you can’t negotiate from a weak position.

It was a great afternoon for a photoshoot of large people on play equipment.

The complaint had been that this duo of childcare worker and child was too much for the swing.

The fragile link

Four Boys on the Back of the Swing seems to be OK

The self-appointed park keepers kept their eyes OFF us -- didn't seem to even notice we were there

These ladies took turns sitting on the swing, three at a time.

Big Boys just having a good time on see-saws.

Mother and Child on Swing

Yesterday we were told that no one over 14 could use the play equipment. I wonder who "carded" this guy.

Well, it really was a nice afternoon in the park. 

As parks are meant to be

Kites in the stormy sky

Building the Puja Pandal in the park

This year’s Durga Puja Pandal is very small, unlike the extravagant ones of the past years.  But this year the “Club” spent its money building a clubhouse, a place for gathering, table tennis — lots of activities, for boys only.  I don’t know that there is a sign saying that, but I’ve never heard of girls taking part.  Maybe I should go and talk to the lady councilor.  She isn’t actually the councilor of our Ward, as the split is on the road between us and the park. I wonder if she would be interested in girls’ sports.  On the other hand, I have enough on my plate right now, and so do the girls. 
I’m glad this problem was resolved.  I know my family in the US is relieved.  They worry about me, but if I don’t tell them what is going on they worry more.  Smart kids.

Recitation — Disabilities — Civil Disobedience

The day was a school holiday, a chance for us to do something special in teaching the girls.  This would not necessarily excite everyone but the day’s activities were split into Recitation in the Morning, and Verbs in the Afternoon.  I know I’m laughing as I write this.  We are still playing catch up.  The Class V girls had a Bengali poem that was fun and not too long, a poem about environmental pollution.  So it was a chance for them to get past just reading as quickly as they could, while staring painfully at the ceiling.  The girls were nervous so I suggested they do a show for the little ones, and for the teachers downstairs.  I tell them nervous just signals you have to get used to doing something.  Well, it was a lot of fun.  Each did her recitation, and then I asked them to do it together and then I suggested the little ones try with them.  Our little ones can’t speak, but they love being part of things. 

Shishur Sevay Recitation Team

A couple of years ago Ganga joined in recitation, and did her recitation in her sounds, with a rhythm, and then stopped, pleased with herself.  I asked her if she wanted to try.  She did.  But sounds did not come out.

Ganga trying, and big sister trying to help

 Ganga shows her feelings.

Bornali (front left) and Rani (back) are having a good time. Ganga knows the word "jealous" as we tease her with that often.Bornali tries too....

 Ganga doesn’t really belong developmentally or cognitively in this group.  She does if measured strictly by her disability in that she cannot care for herself at all.  She cannot walk or talk or feed herself.  She can tell us when she needs to go to the bathroom, but she cannot take care of those needs on her own.  But cognitively she is among the smartest at Shishur Sevay.  She is also among the hardest working.   
Well, Ganga is funny too, very funny.  I’ve started taking her along with the big girls when we go places.  I ask myself, “If Ganga were not in a wheelchair would I be taking her?”  We went shopping for Puja outfits and took her along, just the day before the recitations.  The girls took turns carrying her as there was no way to use a wheelchair, and she has outgrown it too.  She sat patiently while eight girls tried on outfits.  She looked out the window at another stall where dresses were hanging.  I thought we should get her an outfit too, as she clearly wanted to join in, and so I was set to get new clothes for the other little ones.  We left the store and went to another downstairs store, walking past the dresses hanging from the ceiling.  In the other store, Ganga kept saying no to whatever the man brought, and kept arching her back and looking with her eyes at the stairway going up.  Finally I got smart and asked if she wanted to go upstairs to where she had seen a dress.  That got a big grunt, her current form of yes.  We took her up and she showed the dress she wanted.  She would have no other!  Then we picked out, or rather she helped pick out dresses for the others.
So on this day, following the Recitation, we decided to bring out the new dresses. 

Ganga is pleased

 Ganga chose this one for Bornali

Bornali is very happy with her dress


Sonali, the most spoiled, the most adored

 The dresses cheered everyone, except Rani, who had fallen asleep in her chair.
Ganga requested one more photo.
 I write about Ganga because she is on my mind a lot.  With all the others, abled and not, I think we are providing all the resources we can to meet their needs, given where we are.  With Ganga, I feel limited by where we are, by lack of expertise, lack of vision.  I have technology but I’m still the IT person here.  When I had the children with disabilities in special schools, they basically got the “orphan treatment.”  And of course, since Ganga cannot speak, there are those who think I’ve lost my mind and just imagine her interest and intelligence.
If Ganga were in the US or UK or Australia or New Zealand where her role model Mackenzie Kench 
is, she would be in school, probably at grade level for her age.   This is her favorite video.  I should show it to her again regarding recitation.  In the video Mackenzie is failed on recitation because the voice is not her own.
I’m constantly interrupted as I write.  I just learned that our children with disabilities are being harassed at the local park, or rather the childcare workers are being told they cannot sit on the swings with them.  These swings are used by adult men and woman all the time.    The first person who objected, a few days ago is the mother-in-law of the local councillor.  She said the swings are only for her.  The next was a very large henchman of the local councillor who said the swing was his.   Today the harassment came from a neighbor two houses away, a nasty man who came to “mediate” the night of the riots and grabbed my arm to move me inside the house.  I yelled at him to take his hands off me and leave.  No, he was not being kind.  He was trying to be the big male who would control me by sending me away.  His involvement in this now makes me think it’s personal.
So I guess tomorrow I will go with the kids and I will sit on the swings with them, and tell any complainers to just call the police.  The irony of it all is that when we first started, and long before we had kids here, I gave the councillor money to fix up the park, and the swings.  I just wanted to fix it for the local kids.
We used to use the park a lot but as the girls got older, they were harassed by boys, which happens here in all parks eventually.  The parks are mostly for big boys, men, and little kids. 
Another irony, I was appointed as Honorary President of the Puja Committee for that park three years ago… it’s really hard to follow the politics here.  
Recently someone offered to intervene on our behalf with the new administration, at a very high level.  The local councillor was told to protect us.  But instead he made it public in the neighborhood that he would not, which leaves us more vulnerable than before.   People often ask me why I don’t go high up to ask for help.  Well, I don’t really have those contacts, and if I try and fail I’m worse off than before.  It has happened more than once.  It was a lesson in not asking for help.
Well, tomorrow I’ll do my civil disobedience.  It used to be so great in the park.

The Early Years When We Could Sit On The Swings


September 2011
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