The kids always have a smile on their face. Whatever problems they may be having. Whatever work they are told to do. Always smiling. Deepika just came in to our room. For days she has been walking barefoot around the grounds with a splinter and never complained. Even as the splinter was being removed she was laughing away.
When you arrive here, the first and foremost thought of the kid is, why don’t they wear shoes? When I asked, the response was because they aren’t used to having shoes at all, more often than not they lose/forget their slippers when they are given them. They seem to have such a high pain threshold as the roads here aren’t like the ones in England, they are full of stones. They walk, play and run, all without slippers. I tried to play kho kho with them without my shoes and I gave up after one run.
Even during their colder winter months, they don’t wear a sweater. They have ‘adapted’ or got used to living with very little in extreme weather conditions.
When they come to Madhav Vidyapeeth, they come as 10 years old starting 5th standard. Some previously attended nearby government schools, others none at all. The standard of education is high here, but when the kids come in 5th from government schools, you can tell that the standard really needs to change there. The kids know little to know English even though they have been learning for years. The teachers here work hard in the first year to bring this up.
Upon speaking to Ashadidi, one of Madhav Vidhyapeeth’s karyakartas, she tells me that 5th standard is a crucial year for the kids. While Madhav Vidhyapeeth offers a great, safe and secure environment, a lot of kids find the environment too harsh and run away in their first year. That and they are homesick. The environment is such a change that in that year, life skills are also taught. For instance, sewing, how to wash their clothes properly and also how to open AND close a tap. Many open a tap but don’t close it. Most haven’t even seen a tap before coming to the school. This is the part that I find the most emotional. Madhav Vidhyapeeth is 10 years old, they started the school offering filtered water, but the kids hated the taste of it, and it’s too different to when they visit their own homes. So they changed to offering the kids tap water. Food wise needed much consideration, at home they have one rotlo, maybe shak and lots of rice. Here they offer pretty much the same.
They wash their own clothes by hand daily, wash their hair once a week (but shower daily) and have learnt to be very clean. They are basically self-sufficient and independent. More than I can say about myself. I’ve started to wash my own clothes here on a daily and in this heat, it’s not easy.
The kids speak their own slang version of Gujarati (Vasava), almost a new language in itself so learning pure Gujarati is one of the first things they learn. So in total they speak 5 languages. By 10 years old! The kids are humble, extremely hard working, kind, always happy, sanskari, eager to learn and SO clever. The amount they do in a day is awe-inspiring.On top of that, they always ask if I need anything. I was just told that as some have board exams coming up, some kids wake up at 3:30am to revise! What!? It’s insane how dedicate they are.
I ask them if they prefer home or here and they say here because at home, they don’t have as many friends around. The parivaar atmosphere that Vidhya Bharti creates within its schools is really beautiful to see. Other than the three vacations a year, the kids meet their parents once a month who come on site with home food in a tiffin. The kids obviously look forward to this a lot! They are also getting very excited about Holi.
I asked Ashadidi if Madhav Vidhyapeeth tracks the kids once they leave 12th standard (the equivalent to secondary school, the last year offered here). She said a few attend college but not university. The fees required are too extortionate for the average tribal family to afford. This is why the chief minister’s plans to build a university nearby is so crucial. The kids are psychologically very aware of this fact too. Kids that are getting 100% in their 10th standard more often than not fail 12th standard because they ‘know’ they aren’t going to go any further.
Just being around these kids is so humbling.