Salaam Baalak Trust
For our first two days volunteering at SBT we were expecting just to observe some of the permanent staff to get an idea of what level the boys were on. We then thought we would get a small group each to teach some English too or to develop their existing knowledge. However, this is not the way it happened. Instead we arrived on the Monday (after me passing out on the metro on the way) and sat down waiting to observe only to be surrounded by boys talking to us and playing silly games. Eventually the group dissipated as they went to their lessons and we sat with six boys who had workbooks out and looked keen to learn. We started off just asking them some questions and trying to gage their knowledge of English. It was extremely limited and so we went through their workbooks with them trying to help them with the alphabet and basic maths. After this initial 'lesson' and a reduction in numbers from six to four we have been adopted by the four boys as their teachers for the next month. They are not the brightest of the boys at SBT and we think they have come to the shelter quite recently so we have no idea if they even went to school at home or how long they have been out of education.
Their names are Krishna, Sunny, Yogesh and Vishal. Krishna is adorable, so keen to learn, smiley, quiet and reserved, he isn't like some of the other boys who fight for your attention but waits patiently to be noticed. He likes playing games and he is good at maths but hates writing and uses the word 'No' a lot when is asked to write! Sunny is also quiet and when we first started working with them he was moody, didn't like playing games and just copied work never thinking for himself. We have seen the biggest change in Sunny, he is much more smiley with us now and is happy to play games and is a Uno shark! I think and hope is has a little more confidence in his own ability as he doesn't copy anymore and even got upset when we left early one day to watch another group of boys at cricket training. Yogesh started off as frustrating as all he ever wanted to do was write in his book but wasn't actually learning anything. He now works really well, and enjoys lots of other activities. He has one of the greatest smiles I have ever seen and could cheer me up in my grumpiest mood with one of his gorgeous smiles. He and I have become good friends and he insists on sitting next to me every day. He is probably the funniest of our small group, he doesn't mind losing and always tries so hard. Vishal is by far the most advanced and we try to push him by getting him to spell words and encourage him to complete more advanced tasks. He has a tendency to walk off which can be annoying but we punish him by not letting him join in when we play games, funnily enough he doesn't walk off anymore! They all love colouring and are such boys when it comes to games, we have to make everything competitive to engage them more and they are extremely strict when James does the scoring ensuring his accuracy!
We expressed interest in sport when applying for volunteering and with our meeting with Poonam and Suchi on arrival. They have a program for some of the more athletic boys whom they have picked based on stamina, agility and speed. There are also a few boys who attend local cricket, football and athletic teams. We wanted to get involved and after the first week of asking we finally met Sandeep the sports co-ordinator, who does about as much work as Rousey (which is nothing) and is just as nice!
The boys that have been picked because of ability attend a squash session three times a week. The program is sponsored by a company and a lot of NGO children attend, they also get a drink and a snack at the end of the session and are coached by top quality coaches in the building that was used for the commonwealth games. James and I had to get an auto to the stadium as the small minibus was full of children (they clearly hadn't seen the minibus we saw in Cuzco). Sandeep kindly called one and asked him to put it on the meter, a luxury us foreign folk rarely get. The journey took over an hour as we had to drive around the outskirts of Delhi, we couldn't believe how far it was, the auto still only cost us £2.50! On the following two weeks we left a bit earlier and took the shorter and cheaper route on the metro. The stadium is a bit worn around the edges but the facilities and the coaching staff are top notch. The boys from SBT were the best of the NGO's (we are not just being bias) but I was pleased to see some girls and one in particular who spoke English very well soon became our friend. She made us laugh when we told her James' name as normally the Indians respond with 'ah like James Bond' she went for a more sporting approach and said 'ah like the cricket player Anderson'! When I nodded in agreement she thought James was actually Jimmy Anderson, we stupidly corrected her.
The first week we just watched the squash but the next two weeks we paid the small fee and joined in. It was really fun and the boys enjoyed it. They were really cocky at first beating even James a few times but when we were warmed up we upped our game. Sandeep was funny as well, in the first week he played us we were beating him for the most part and the last week he upped his game, James thinks he trained for the whole week just to beat him! The girl took it upon herself to be our personal coach but this got her moaned at by the boys as she can chat for India and England, I don't understand Hindi but I am pretty sure they frequently said 'stop talking and play!' Krishna (a different one from the boy in our class) found it hilarious to continually say the word 'Golden' after every point. I made a comment to the girl that he is competing with her for who can talk the most, she looked at me shocked and exclaimed 'are you saying that I talk a lot?' my response, with a smile was 'urmm yes, just a bit', she laughed. She will make a great teacher one day, bossy and chatty two great traits!
One of the boys at SBT was delighted when he found our James was a sport teacher and liked cricket, they were never interested that I was also a sport teacher (women, eh?). We made the busy and sweaty walk to watch him and another boy at cricket training one afternoon. Ellie came with us and we wished, whilst sitting on the grass listening to the summery sound of bat on ball that we could have enjoyed the scene with a glass or two of Pimms. There were over 100 boys at training ranging from about 8-16 years old. As teachers James and I started to critique the terrible organisation skills and colossal waste of time the coaches spent on the warm up and setting up drills. We were there for an hour and a half and only managed to see the boy from SBT show us four catches and throws! It was good to see him even for a bit and again, not being bias but he was the best in his age range and he seemed delighted that we had watched him. On the last day James spent lunch time going through some skills with him and left him our tennis ball to practice.
Our last sporting event was with Roshan. He is about 16 and enjoys football, athletics and his best friend James! James made him a training program for his sprinting and we (Ellie included but she had different motives) went to watch him train. Getting into the athletics stadium was like getting into Fort Knox. Nobody else had to show a pass, but strolled on through, we asked the ever pressing question 'is it because I am white?' We had to walk the whole way around the stadium, lie to another guard and finally we were permitted to enter, but only for one hour. It made us laugh that after all the questions they didn't even check our bags, what were they possibly worrying about? James was able to coach Roshan for the full hour and Ellie and I chatted on the side lines. Roshan is a really nice boy and he spent a lot of his free time chatting to us and we attempted to teach him some basic French as he attempted, more miserably to teach us some Japanese! On our last day he gave James a Man U t shirt, which although isn't a great t shirt it is such a sweet present and we will look forward to seeing him in December. Hopefully we will be able to give him something in return.
During one lunchtime I was able to observe a dance group rehearsal. Their teacher is a world renowned Indian contemporary dancer and he was very strict but the result was an amazing performance by the boys. They showed such strength, balance and focus that one dance had me mesmerised for 15 minutes. I was so excited with their skill that as soon as we were back to Smyle Inn I vibered Flynn, I mean Waggers! She asked me to get a video or photos so when they were next performing I asked their permission and emailed the strict but amazing instructor and he said it would be fine. I found out they were going on tour to Mexico, Colombia and Spain with 14 performances in two weeks! I suggested they should go to England so hopefully on their next tour we can watch it live, with VIP seats as I am now best friends with Astad the instructor!
There were a few turn of events during our last week and a half teaching English. Krishna's parents came to collect him when we were at squash so we didn't get the chance to say goodbye or to give him his work folder. I was being really selfish as I wished he hadn't gone, he was so lovely and one of my favourites but his parents must care about him to take a 14 hour train to collect him themselves so hopefully he won't run away again, or feel he has too. Our small group, was soon down to three and then Vishal started up his old tricks of leaving to go to the nurse and then returning about the time we usually played games. James sent him away and then he got in a big sulk and refused to talk to us. When we tried to explain to him, using the computer teacher to translate, why he can't just join in when he likes he still didn't join us in class and we realised the teacher didn't exactly translate for us properly and he had stolen him for his class-what a tool! We soon got a replacement for Vishal with the lovely Nadeem. It happened by accident that he joined our class. We were setting up for our afternoon activity when I pulled out a metro map from the bag so I could reach the work. Yogesh's face lit up when he saw the map and he shouted across the room 'NADEEM, something in Hindi, METRO'. His friend Nadeem came running over and they excitedly looked at the map. After that Nadeem didn't leave and became a regular at our class. He frequently sang the song of the metro by humming train noises and calling out the name of the station with the exact voice we hear from the computerized announcer, much to James, Yogesh and mines amusement.
At the start of the month I decided to come up with some objectives and aims of what we hoped the boys would learn from us by the time we left. Through a variety of activities, a lot of worksheets and exercises (thanks Mum for some help) we managed to successfully teach them colours, numbers to 20 (apart from 12, they just couldn't get it), body parts, basic words, manners, how to make a box, sportsmanship, shapes and the alphabet (apart from R-U which they struggled with). We were delighted with their progress and I wanted to kiss Sunny when, on the last day we bought in some play dough he cut out all the shapes he knew and named them perfectly in English!
Our last day of volunteering was certainly one to remember. We had asked Roshan to tell them it was our last day and despite knowing this Yogesh still asked a few times if we were coming in tomorrow. We told them we would see them at Christmas (if they were still at the Shelter). We spent the morning checking what they had learnt and finishing off sheets but they kept asking to do drawing. For the last hour we let them draw and they made us notes and pictures (Nadeem drew a picture of the metro-he really loves it!) for us to take home. That is why they were so insistent on drawing. The pictures and notes are so sweet and although it is mainly written in Hindi they have written 'Thank you' and 'I love you' in English, it was real lump in the throat stuff! James thinks they have written thank you but we can speak English fluently and we have been humouring you for the past month! I hope this isn't true as Yogesh should be very concerned that I am going to steal him or squeeze his face on an hourly basis. We bought the boys from our class, including Krishna and Vishal a small bag to put their work in, a pencil case, crayons, colouring book of the alphabet and stickers. At the end of the day we gave them their bags, when they realised they were for them to keep their faces lit up with excitement. Yogesh just stood staring at me smiling and Sunny immediately put on his bag with a big smile and said thank you over and over again. Nadeem excitedly looked through his bag and gave James and me a big hug. I told Yogesh to thank James and he continued to smile in disbelief looking back and forth from James to me and quietly thanked us both. It was so humbling to see how pleased they were with such a simple gift and for the rest of the afternoon they walked around with their Ben 10 drawstring bags on their backs. They couldn't believe it when James then gave them their pot of play dough to put in the bag as well; bless them. Vishal wasn't as happy with his bag, he was still sulking with us and we barely got a thank you! However, when we were leaving I tickled him and said 'are you still not our friend?' he finally smiled and gave me a cuddle, all was forgiven. Ellie, James and I also bought a bag of sweets to hand out, this was a nightmare trying to give them out as the boys were like 100 moths to a flame, in the end we gave the rest of the sweets to Suchi to hand out at dinner as some boys were getting 10 sweets and others weren't getting anything. Our best move was during lunch time, Ellie and I went out in the hunt for fruit but we were told they get fruit at dinner. We tried to think of something else we could feasible buy for 150 boys, when an ice cream cart rolled up beside us, it was a sign. His cheapest ice creams were 5 Rupees so we got him into the grounds and for the few boys who were outside already Ellie started handing out ice creams. I went in to make sure the boys we taught got one and the word 'ice cream' was quickly sent around the shelter. We gave away 120 ice creams to the boys and teachers and they were all so excited and pleased, even the grumpiest teacher took one with a smile. It was a great 15 minutes and the ice cream seller must have been pleased; it was his quickest and most profitable sale ever. Some of the boys tried to get in the queue for a second one but when we pointed out the ice cream still left on their face they realised they couldn't get away with it! When we left Ellie's boys were sticking their hands out of the small gaps in the cement wall screaming 'Ellie, Ellie' she nearly got her shoulder pulled off when she shock their hands! We treated ourselves to a meal and beer at Metropolis and left our bags with Ellie for the week before we leave to explore some of the north.
Volunteering at SBT is one of our highlights of travelling. Although the shelter is chaotic and disorganised, it works, the older boys are successful in whichever field of work they choose and some excel in jobs and at university. SBT is a great place to volunteer in terms of freedom of what you can teach and for James and I we felt we made a difference to the small group we taught. I can understand non-teachers being frustrated as there is a lack of guidance, but for the boys to spend time with adults from different cultures and to have some displays of affection is enough. We are excited we can go back and see some of the boys at Christmas; in a selfish way I hope we get to see Yogesh, Nadeem, Sunny and Vishal again. We know Roshan will still be there he even made a sarcastic comment when I asked him if he will be around at Christmas 'where else will I be? This is where I live!' We will also see the boys who play squash and cricket and the amazing dancers. When we return to England we will keep the good work of SBT in the fore front of our minds and send clothes and money to them when we can.