Ongoing Challenges in Learning


I’m so behind in blogging, and I miss it.  I’ve been teaching the girls a lot.  Rather, I’ve been teaching them how to study.   We are making new starts, with English as their language of study.    We made this change from Bengali for many reasons.  One is that I was never able in five years to find anyone to take over the responsibility of managing their course work, homework, tests, study methods, etc.  And coming from the US, I had zero credibility with the Bengali teachers I hired.  As the girls get older, some of the fundamental weaknesses show up.

We have a strong teaching staff for the big girls now especially with Dr. Purba Rudra joining us, and with Maggie.   I hired a young man to be my assistant, Sudipendu Dutta as he has experience in admin.  But he turns out to be an incredible teacher also, so I get less help, but our teaching is stronger.  The part I bring is really more about how to study, how to learn, how to help each person learn her own way to get the information into her brain so she can use it, recall it, think about it.  In the pictures above the girls had put together lists of words they didn’t know, and then I had them put them on flash cards, different colors for each girl.  Then they alphabetized them.  It was just a way of getting them to actually examine the  words, letter by letter, and a way to think of them as groups related to a letter and a sound.

I’ve tried some of this before.  I’ve talked with them about how to find what a paragraph is about, the when where, why, how, who, etc., but they are listening more now.  They are taking me more seriously.  I believe that fundamentally they do not believe they can succeed, but they are beginning to realize their failure to convince me!  I just keep saying, “OK, so then we have to try harder, or a new way.”  The ones who really cannot learn are doing other things, including training as helpers to the special educators.  And they are helping with the little ones, giving them big sister care… and also getting special treats along the way.  Recently they have asked for some teaching and so they are getting some low stress teaching.  But my hard core smart kids who have tried and tried to convince me they cannot do the work, and now applying themselves more and asking questions more. It’s not a smooth process.

The early deprivation has taken its toll.  I’ve had to try to understand  how they are thinking, or not thinking.  They tend to compartmentalize as if each subject is a separate language.  My favorite recent problem was in physics, and Big Bang.  They didn’t connect Bang of Big Bang with bang as in, “Don’t let Rani bang her head.”    They thought it was a proper name.   In their early childhood, and also in their Bengali education, children and teachers didn’t engage in discussion.  It was only, lecture, memorize, repeat back.  The repeat back had to be exact, whether it was understood or not.

Well, this isn’t exciting stuff, but it’s the stuff of my days.

We are churning out (slowly) grant applications;  we are almost done with the website.  In fact our part is done but there are lots of little things to be fixed which aren’t getting fixed without many phone calls, Google chats, and emails.

I will write more, as it is, as it happens….


Cancer Is A Special Clock – A Personal Post


This morning I heard from a friend of mine who is living with cancer, and that started me thinking, remembering, and wanting to write about that part of my life that was really the beginning of my life in India and what I am doing now.  We just don’t ever know what is coming next, what will be presented and what we will choose.

We all live with clocks in our minds, how we see the span of our lives, knowing it is all a guess anyway because mostly we don’t have much control.  But some events, like Cancer for me, changes our perception of time and we make different choices based on a sense of time running out, and of the preciousness of life as we live it.  For me, January 1999 when I discovered I had cancer forced me to take a new look at my “To Do” list, short term and long term (the big “if.”)  With one child still in high school all I wanted was to live to see her graduate.  My older daughter was married and I trusted her and her husband to do everything necessary and possible to take care of her (except making sure she did her homework!)  Yes, I really worried about that.  In some ways we never change.

Below is a poem I wrote in 2001.. then a two-year “Still-Alive’r”

I’m a Cancer Still-Alive’r


Why do they call me a Survivor —

When I’m just a still-alive’r?

Really now, truth be told,

You don’t outlive your cancer

‘Til you die of something else.

One year, two years, five years, ten years, six months,

Who’s counting?

I am

Every day in fact.

Survival is for things that are Gone,

Done, Finished,


I survived rape once… long ago…

Lived through that night with a knife at my throat.

I survived, and

It’s over and done with,

Except for the part that never goes away,

But that man doesn’t still lurk in my shadows, he is gone.

My cancer cells though,

They lurk,

That is how they are,

They rape forever.

Some tell me Cancer isn’t such a bad disease anymore,

They know,

Because a good friend of theirs, a Breast Cancer Survivor,

Just died,

A “good death” though –

Family and friends around, and peaceful music….

Frankly, I just want to scream – or maybe throw-up,

I do not want to hear all of this!

Are they crazy!

There is no “good death” when all you want is to live.

Anyway, if I don’t have such a bad disease,

Why are all these other people dying from it?

Some tell me I’m so lucky to have it now,

In this time of great new medicines, and

Public Awareness

(Like my cancer cells really care about public awareness!)

If I’m so lucky to have it now,

Instead of yesterday,

Can’t I just trade it back, be “not-so-lucky” for now,

Instead have it in five or ten or twenty years, or


Well, what more can I tell you?

I still walk among the living, me and my cancer cells,

My heart does beat to a different time clock,

Every day counts —

And every day happens to be

More beautiful and

More treasured

Than the one before,

I may not earn that title of Survivor

Since only time can tell,

But I’m sure happy just to be

A cancer Still-Alive’r.

Cancer freed me to look at my To Do list and say it was now or never, and thus began the journey that led to the founding of Shishur Sevay.  It was a dream since high school when I’d written in an essay called, “The Meaning of Life”.

I wake up every morning grateful to be alive.  My life has always been filled with meaning, and with love.  This was another chapter waiting to be lived.  At the time of my cancer there were some other terrible things happening in my life.  I remember thinking to myself, “If I survive all this, I’m sure going to be one tough lady.”  

October 2021
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