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Federica - St. Mary's Matriculation – India

RESEARCH AND INNOVATION PROJECT

August 2018

“I left at the end of July with the idea that it would be an especial summer. I had looked for some information about the city, Tindivanam, about the school and the family who runs it, but I couldn’t have imagined what I experienced for a month there. I arrived at the airport early, trying to make sure that all my luggage was in order, thinking about the few certain things and the many emotions. My job was to teach in the morning, while in the afternoon I helped with fundraising activities. I had prepared lots of Power Point presentations on several topics about Italy: from geography, to food and celebrations. Maybe my expectations were too high: I imagined I would have used a projector, proper desks and chairs for the children, I wondered what kind of questions I would have asked to my future students and their answers. When you fly at night and you wake up in another continent the morning after, the different reality could seem a dream. Still confused I reached Tindivanam. Three hours spent driving on streets that were becoming rural paths. Cows walking among people, cars and motorbikes. No give way streets, just engines and horns sounds.

If I had to describe in a few words my experience, I would say: family, smile and smells.

I stayed at Sharmila and Anand’s, husband and wife who run the school in Tindivanam. Their daily motto is “Every child deserves an education, regardless of their social status, religion, caste or color”. Living with an Indian family, I could unfortunately experience servitude and the caste system. I listened to them and their traditions. Some seemed archaic, others a little bit funny. The surprised looks on the children’s faces when I explained that my sister and I are not married even if we are already 22 and 25.

Tindivanam is a little village that is looking for its place in the world, it is evolving. Sharmila and Anand have understood that they get stronger when they collaborate with the outside and this is the reason why they look for volunteers willing to go there and help them with the school activities. Together they form a big family that grows up. They host anybody with good intentions.

Every day at school was a party. When I, or any other volunteers, entered the school courtyard, we were overwhelmed by the children. They came to say hello, to smile, to ask how we were. After the initial shyness, it was amazing noticing how they tried to understand us. They tried to tell us stories and to ask us questions. That’s how they learnt from us new words, sentences and games.

I taught a class of 9/10 year-old children. Every 45 minutes I changed class, which was of 6/7 students that were eager to start their class with me. They had different levels of schooling, some just listened, other spoke, and you couldn’t understand if everybody was able to follow the lesson. The only thing they had in common? Their smile when entering the class. Since day one I understood that my Power Point presentations would have been useful: they were curious and commented every single thing. The frontal method is useless: children need to move and express themselves, so I let them be creative. We started the lessons dancing and singing in English, we learnt some words, some grammar and we talked, then we practiced what we had learnt with games and acting. It was exciting to see them having fun and becoming more and more at ease. Step by step, each child became more confident when speaking in English and wanted to talk to me.

They are not used to travelling, since they live in the neighbouring poor villages. Maybe they will never fly in a plane, so they try to take the best from this exchange. They laughed awkwardly when I showed them how Europeans say hello. They asked me how Italian families are, what we eat and how we live.

One day after school I visited a village where some of the students live. I found myself in a surreal landscape. Rudimentary houses, cabins, some without roof or tables. Objects scattered on the floor or on the walls. Some could afford a bed to share with the rest of the family. They were all happy of what they had in the warmth of their village. Without words a single smile expresses all the magic of communication.

I visited a lot in the Tamil Nadu region, together with the host family and the other girls that lived with us, whenever I had the chance. The bazar in the main street of the village, the sound of the waves on the Pondicherry cliffs, the temples in Mahabalipuram, the worships in Auroville, the peculiar DakshinaChitra and the hectic big city of Chennai.

Everywhere tastes and smells entered your soul. I tried every dish of Southern India, surrounded by the spices used by our cook. I spent hours doing yoga with the family and the other volunteers.

During my stay I started a fundraising campaign. The school has documents in paper scatted all over. They are not well organised, even if they are getting better. They asked us to update their website and their social network pages to give visibility to the school.

Sharmila and Anand talked about the past volunteers, about their success or failure in the fundraising campaigns, and about how these have helped them in keeping the school alive, in buying shoes and clothes for the children, and in expanding the buildings. Stories with few documents, so any possible donor could not believe how the money would be spent. That is the reason why, together with another volunteer, I made a website to raise funds to buy desks and benches for the children. We made video showing how students are having lesson. We started to receive some money and the project is still running even after I returned home in Italy.

This trip gave me a lot and a part of my heart is still there, that is why I will continue to help the school even from here.”

Federica

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