As I now sit in my room hoping to pen a volunteer story I am rather rattled by the constant noise outside my window. The pandemonium is in stark contrast with the time two weeks ago when I first arrived at the Lamdon Thiksey School at Thiksey. The hypnotizing hum of the mountains and the chirps of little birds – that I later identified as the Desert wheatear from a poster in the UKG classroom in the school – enthralled me. I wondered how anybody could possibly concentrate and do anything apart from gape at the mountains. As I write now my windows face another window painted with the color of grey gloom. But one must get used to the agitation of city life and build riveting memories of the beautiful times gone by.
My journey started on 16th June 2014 with a visit to the Avalokitesvara trust office where I met Deskit. The office was housed in a tiny roof of a tiny house. Deskit and I discussed the particulars of the modules that I was supposed to conduct and after a discussion with Abhigya over the phone, we decided it was time to head to the school. I arrived at Lamdon Thiksey by bus and was greeted by one of the teachers at the school, Ma’am Dolma. Ma’am Dolma helped me lug my luggage to the children’s hostel next to the school where we were welcomed by the chatter of the children studying in the hostel dining area. As I made my way to my room through the corridor, I peeked into the rooms to see bunk beds and older kids slumped on them doing their homework. They looked up to greet me, smiled at me and then followed me to my room. As I neared my room there was another group of older kids sitting next to the room doing their homework. They whispered things in Ladakhi to Ma’am Dolma who smiled and translated to me what the kids were telling her. After I had arranged my luggage in the room and Ma’am Dolma had left for her home, I decided to go speak to the kids studying in the dining hall. Most were very excited to meet me and immediately started asking me to help them with their readings. While talking to the kids I realized how curious they were. Some kids asked me details of where I lived, what I did, what I would do the next day etc. Some others were a little shy and kept smiling at me longingly but most got talking to me almost immediately. That evening was spent meeting the kids, the wardens, the cook and generally getting used to the lively ambience of the hostel.
The next day I spoke to the headmistress, Tsetan Angmo Ma’am, who readily agreed to give me 1.5 hours to conduct Science and English workshops for the children and the rest of the day to help the Science or English teachers with teaching the students. I decided to conduct the workshops for classes 5th to 8th at the hostel dining hall which seemed to be the only auditorium-like space available. The allotted time for the workshop was 9.30 A.M to 11.00 A.M.
On the first day, I watched from the dining hall windows as 40 kids scampered in through the vast dusty playground towards the hostel. I was excited to start. As they entered the dining hall they asked me what I was going to do. I asked them to first settle down and then I’d do all the explaining. After a brief introduction, I started off with an ice breaking game called ‘Simon says’ wherein the kids had to do whatever Simon says! After some initial hiccups they understood the game and played it quite well – not even cheating during the game! During the ice breaking session I tried to gauge how well I could control such a big class without being all teacher-like. I decided to ask the kids to sit in groups of 4 or 5. They immediately scurried to their friends and made 8 groups. I passed around papers wherein they wrote their names and an interesting name for their group. The group names were – Ghost team, Rockstars Group, GANGstars, Jasmine, Four Rockstars of Ladakh, Snow white, Eagle Group and Don Group. I began with some experiments on air pressure and centrifugal force. The children were quite thrilled to see how easy it was to understand scientific concepts through these experiments. My way of engaging the children was to present them with a problem, give them time to figure out different solutions to the problem and then encourage them to come forward and try these solutions. I made it clear to them from the beginning that it was okay to make mistakes and that nobody would laugh at the kid who came forward to try something but couldn’t solve the problem successfully. Initially the students were a little shy and I had to start pointing out students to come forward and try the experiment. After a while most students were really intrigued by the Science activities and wanted to try them on their own! I think their natural curiousness helped them overcome their shyness and they were ready to try all the new things that I was showing them.
Over the 2 weeks I conducted many experiments like – how to make a toy car from scrap, flying helicopter from paper, lungs from scrap, origami, art work etc. I tried – in the little time that I had- to intensify their curiosity and to lessen their shyness. I started noticing how bright the kids actually were and how they were able to relate their previous knowledge to the unfamiliar activities that I was showing them. Some of the kids from the hostel actually came to me in the evenings after their study-time to ask me about any more experiments that they could try! I thought this was exceptional because when they came to me it had hardly been a week since I had started the workshops. I think all that was required in their case was something novel and intriguing to propel their desire to know and learn.
As I neared the end of my two weeks I decided to have a treasure hunt for the students. I prepared a fairly simple but foolproof (Or so I thought!) treasure hunt wherein no two teams would be at the same place at the same time and all teams had a different sequence. This was so teams that couldn’t find the clues did not just blindly follow the teams that did. Anyway, it was complete chaos! And my “foolproof” game in some ways was not so “foolproof” after all. A bit like the daily life of a teacher where a teacher comes in hoping to teach the kids with something different and something new and hoping that the children are as eager to learn as the teacher is to teach; but every single day is different and as unpredictable as the day before and the day after. The only thing constant in this case would be your motivation to teach and also to learn from the children themselves.
My journey at the school ended with the kids throwing a small party for me where they sang and danced and gave me beautiful gifts that they bought for me. My hand baggage now filled with letters, drawings, paper flowers and memories that the children and I molded together remind me of the incredible 2 weeks gone by. I greet people with a “Jhulley!” and then realizing I am back on the planet replace it with “Err. Um.. Hello” . But I know there are many more “Jhulley”s waiting for me as I plan my next trip to Ladakh. Soon.