“Forge Through Ambiguity”
Forge through ambiguity. This was a phrase that AIF Clinton Fellow alumnus Ted Samuel brought up in his incredible keynote during orientation in Delhi. It’s a phrase that has stuck. I think about it on the road from Jaipur to Sawai Madhopur, as the driver maneuvers between potholes and herds of cows. The cows here have become a defining characteristic for me; they stand obstinately on the side of the road and waggle their ears at me as I walk around them. They frequently try to bypass the office gate to get at the office campus’s luscious greenery—and quite often, they succeed. They and the monkeys are the office’s most frequent crashers, although the other day a sweet stray dog jumped the wall and trotted around the campus for a while. A few days earlier I experienced a brief moment of panic when a huge langur seated himself in front of the (open) door of the room I was working in, trapping me inside. He was just resting though and moved on after a couple of moments.
Things move both slowly and quickly here. A trip to the local police station to register as a foreigner takes hours—not because of tedious paperwork but because we all take a break to drink chai and read the newspaper for an hour. The commute to one of the schools involves tightly gripping whatever I can hold on to in a jam-packed jeep as it deftly and swiftly makes its way up and down the hills of Sawai Madhopur.
Shiksha Ka Matlab
On a Saturday night, I sit down with a co-worker to discuss my project. I’m here for ten months to research local culture so that the organization, Gramin Shiksha Kendra, can incorporate my findings into their schools’ curricula. He suggests preparing questions by generation—asking elders about Sawai Madhopur’s past, adults about its present, and children about its future. Ask them about the role of education, he advises, its impact, its purpose—“jaise shiksha ka matlab?” (like the meaning of education) I pipe up. He nods, “jaise shiksha ka matlab.”
This also sticks with me. Several weeks earlier during orientation a presenter commented on there being a difference between literacy and education. I think about this and the conversation I had with my co-worker as I visit the schools. Here, education is an interactive process; the children learn by doing. A science teacher demonstrates pressure by poking a hole in a plastic jar filled with water; children discuss colors while painting toys they’ve made themselves from clay.
During a teacher’s workshop one day, we break up into small groups and I sit with one of the English teachers. As we chat, he explains to me that the process of learning to teach is never finished. “I can never say that I am a good teacher.” He tells me, “Because I am still learning, I am still growing to become a better teacher as I teach the children.” His statement hits me because I realize how true it is on so many levels. There is no finality, no plateau to our growth, to our strive to become good (however we ourselves may define good). Whether it’s as a teacher, as a fellow, on a personal level—or the myriad of other contexts that exist here—we are still growing, we are still engaging and still learning to become better. And so, when I think about shiksha ka matlab, I think that life itself is a form of education.