I’m still not entirely sure what it is I want to spend my life doing. I will say, however, that I’m loving having the opportunity to revisit what it feels like to work with kids. And Pudiyador’s kids have not ceased to amaze, challenge, and inspire me. I’m going to use this blog post to share a couple stories about the kids at Pudiyador. Both of these stories are of children from our main center at Ramapuram, where I’ve spent the most time out of our five Pudiyador centers around Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
I’ll call this first child Balaji. Pudiyador held a 10-day camp at each of our 5 centers during our kids’ term holidays. Each member of the admin team played the role of a facilitator at one of our five centers during this 10-day camp. I, as a member of Pudiyador’s admin, made our Ramapuram center my home for these 10 days. The theme of our camp was environmental sustainability, incorporating ideas of recycling, composting, and helping reduce the toxins and pollution in our environment. One of the activities at the Ramapuram center was for the kids to create two landscapes, all out of recycled materials. One landscape was meant to showcase a rural environment, or a model of what a rural community would look like in India, and the other landscape would be urban. About 7 days into the camp, I thought the kids who were working on the urban landscape had completed their project, as it already included models of buildings, large temples, roads, cars, and even a police station. But Balaji had much more in mind for the urban landscape. With 3 days left of camp, Balaji lead the effort to fully wire the urban landscape, worked with others to create street lamps using real bulbs, and with the help of a few batteries, some fellow Pudiyador students, and a lot of energy, creativity, and drive, brought light to the urban landscape. And it didn’t stop there. Balaji then proceeded to work with his friends to create hanging lamps outside the center. This was especially beautiful because, with this added level of creativity and hard work by Balaji and his Pudiyador classmates, all our outdoor lighting on the day when kids presented their work to their parents was all their own electrical engineering. Balaji is a 6th grader.
The second Ramapuram center story concerns a group of 3 kids. I’ve recently started teaching a spoken English class at Ramapuram, but as Pudiyador programming aims to be interactive, dynamic, and energy-filled, this spoken English class is taught through drama, improvisations, and games. While I was challenged with the process of creatively coming up with a lesson plan that incorporates so much to supplement the actual English lesson, I have been reminded time and time again that creativity is not an issue for these kids. This story is about the 3 kids I mentioned, who I’ll refer to as the Dynamic Trio. My co-teacher and I had asked our students to create short plays. We gave them the beginning of a story, which I’ll share with you now.
“There’s a beautiful peacock in the forest. The peacock is loved and admired by so many animals. They admire the peacock’s beautiful feathers, grace, and agility. But, there are 2 monkeys who constantly torment and tease the peacock. They throw stones at it and bully it.”
We asked the kids to come up with an ending to this story. We had some endings in mind that we expected out of kids, but one storyline in particular we did not expect in the least. The Dynamic Trio begins their skit with a reenactment of the scenario we’ve presented to them. Then they take a step off-stage and one member of the Trio returns to the middle of the stage and announces “flashback.” My co-teacher and I turned to each other with amazement. The Trio then proceeds to create a scene that explains why the monkeys were tormenting the peacock in the first place. See, a few months ago, the monkeys had planted a tree that would grow food for them to eat. The peacock comes to the tree just as it begins to fruit, and plucks all the food and de-roots the tree! The monkeys then show their opposition to this behavior through retaliation, mockery and taunting of the peacock. Once the peacock understands his wrongdoing, he apologizes to the monkeys and the monkeys apologize for their teasing, and they part as friends. A story which we expected to put the peacock on the side of good and monkey on the side of bad, needing to ask forgiveness for bad behavior, ended up going a completely different way. The story these kids came up with challenged the expected notion of good and bad, light and dark, right and wrong. It was brilliant.
I have many more such stories but I’ll stop there for now. I’ll just say that these kids have opened my eyes to so much, but mostly, they have forced me to think more creatively than I have in a long time. I’m compelled to find creative avenues for teaching material, creative means of showing the difference between right and wrong, and most importantly, inventive ways to get to know our kids better and gain their trust and respect. These things don’t come easy with our kids. They are constantly testing me and think I don’t notice, but I do. I notice and make sure I make good use of my 1.5 hour bus ride to and from Pudiyador, reflecting on my day, how I’ve interacted with kids that day, and how to grow with each day I spend with Pudiyador.