This summer our group of six volunteers travelled to Shillong to work in Providence School. A lot happened, and it’s very difficult to fit it all in a blog post, but we’ll try! It’s impossible to describe the friendships that were made and the experiences that were had. However, below are a few of the things we did during our time in India.
The highlight of all our trips is teaching in Providence. The students are eager to learn and we have great fun teaching them. This year we were very lucky to have primary school teacher Agnes Fitzgerald with us. Agnes brought an amazing folder of resources with her and introduced the volunteers and teachers to some active learning methodologies. Every evening she would go through games and interactive lessons with us so that we could use them in our classes the next day. We took five groups a day – Class 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. These classes came to the school hall in the morning and were split into groups between all the volunteers. We then had 25 minutes with them to try out the new methodologies and give individual attention to the students. They loved reading aloud and playing the many games Agnes had created. In the afternoons we worked on autobiographies with Class 5. They had two weeks to create and write their life stories. The students loved writing about themselves and decorating their books. One student refused to do his until he had sourced some ribbon and glitter!
In the mornings, the volunteers got involved in the trade subjects. During the trades, the volunteers became the student and learned how to cook, knit, cut hair, or make paper, while also practicing English with the students. This time of the day was important to get to know the Providence students in a more informal setting than the classroom. From 10.30-12 and 1 – 2.30 we had English class, and then in the afternoons we played games with the students and visited their homes.
Visiting the Homes
In our second week, we visited the homes of our students. This is always an eye opener for the volunteers. In school, kids are just kids and they seem no different to students you’d meet in Ireland. When we visit the homes, we see their reality and hear about the work they do when not in school. One student was telling us how he lives with his brother as his parents had to go away for work, so he has to do his share of the cooking and cleaning. The same boy had no electricity or running water in his house. Another student was saying how she had to get up at 4.30 every morning to start doing jobs. One of her jobs is to walk to the local water pump and carry home 10 litres of water. She then does the same for a few neighbours to make money for her family. We walked around the neighbourhoods our students live in, meeting their families and seeing how long a walk to school they have.
Competition was fierce again this year in the Providence School Masterchef competition. One of the main aims of this trip was to have a cultural exchange between Irish students and students of Providence. We organised a few events that would see the three students from Mount Mercy College in Cork working together with their Shillong counterparts! We had planned to have an Irish team in the competition but decided against it when we realised they’d have to make more than frozen pizza….
So after a quick change of plan there was on Irish person on each of the teams. The students had just over an hour to create a starter and a dessert to present to the judges. In the first ten minutes all teams went hell for leather before they all quickly got exhausted and cooked at a more reasonable pace. There was the odd disaster, including one team discovering mid-competition that cheese cake takes hours to set, but as the professionals they (almost) are, the chefs were able to save the day and turn their dessert into a mousse! The winning team made chicken balls and a homemade sauce as their starter and had chocolate mousse for dessert. They were delighted with their win! Laura, Wanda and Wanprang’s group came in second with their spinach and cheese rolls (after recovering from their earlier cheesecake disaster).
in 2009 we were asked to create an exam system for Providence School.They had a situation where many of their students were starting school years after their peers, and were then being made leave school to work at age 15-16, often younger. These students were educated, but didn’t have a certificate to show it, as they hadn’t done the required number of years in school to do the Indian equivalent of the Junior Cert. We also had many students who didn’t have birth certs and so couldn’t apply for state exams. So we came up with our own exam! We set the syllabus together with a team we put together in Ireland, set the papers and ran the exams. The exams were supported by Dundalk Institute of Technology. In 2016 we conducted a review of the exam system and found it wasn’t necessary any more. Our students were now passing state exams, even having done less years in school that students of other schools. It’s now rare for parents not to get a birth certificate for their child, as birth certificates are required for a wide range of reasons. Our students who sat the exam in 2017 are the the last to do our Irish Certificate! The partnership with Dundalk IT ended in 2017 so St. Joseph’s CBS in Drogheda kindly provided the certificates for our students. They now have another year of study to do their Class 12 exams, and many hope to go to university next summer. We’re currently fundraising to offer scholarships to those students (if you’d like to get involved and sponsor one of our students – get in touch!).
Fun and Games
After school we spent time with the students, and visited some of our former students. Earlier this year a group of Providence alumni got together and started up their own coffee shop. They were supported by their former school with funds for equipment and were given a location free of charge by a friend of the school. We helped them out by buying them a coffee machine. They now operate their canteen in the local swimming pool, True North Leisure Centre. We visited their business while we were there, and Claire gave a swimming demonstration to the local swim team!
Other after-school activities included football, gymnastics, visiting waterfalls and watching tea grow.
It’s a long way from Ireland to Shillong! We broke up the journey by staying in Kolkata for two nights on the way over. Local photographer Manjit Singh Hoonan collected us at 6am one morning and brought us on his Cultural Kaleidoscope Tour, through the various neighbourhoods of Kolkata. He introduced us to the neighbourhoods’ way of life and showed us the morning rituals of the people of his city. We saw goats that go door-to-door to be milked each morning. The goats get milked at your door, so you really know how fresh your milk is! We tried chai from Manjit’s favourite tea-stall, had some local sweets, went to a Chinese temple and visited the market. Later that day we strolled around the city, visited St. Teresa of Calcutta’s home and Victoria memorial. Below are a few photos from our day (click the arrow to see other photos):