In the warmth of the glowing sun, the lush green farm spread its arms over the land of Village Mangar. On the first glance, it lay still, trees calmly swaying and cows passively grazing. But as our car rushed through the long corridor of trees and into the wider area of the farm, we saw it exploding with energy. Everybody greeted us with big smiles and bigger hugs. We met Ila Aunty and Shakti Uncle and their wonderful son Shiv. We met Madan ji, the brains behind the Laksh programme and we were also greeted by Shrini, a volunteer on the farm.
Shrini gave us a quick induction as we devoured our lunch. Every meal at Laksh was just as good as the last. Most of the food was grown organically on the farm and made by the hands of the loving Rajjo Didi and other members of staff. It was always delicious and aplenty.
After touring the farm and resting for a bit in our rooms, we were taken to each teaching centre. Over the next four weeks, each of us was to go separately to a different teaching centre every two days. The centres were sparsely furnished with a plastic chair or two. Most were a mix of outdoor spaces and roofed rooms. They were modestly built and were being used by inspiring young teachers to teach even younger minds. To me, the four teaching centres seemed like islands of revolutionary sparks, growing and altering the lives of so many. What started out as a small effort was now reaching out to about five hundred children from the villages. I was awestruck by the dedication of the teachers and students.
The next day was our first class with the teachers. Every teacher on the Laksh programme was brilliant. Each one was very distinct from the others. Each had their own strengths, teaching techniques and tools of comprehension and problem solving. They were all good at grasping concepts; some took more time than others but once they found a comfortable pace, they would all reach the end point. Every morning, I’d look forward to seeing their bright smiles and eager faces.
We started off with some really fun introduction exercises to break the ice and went on to gauge their current knowledge in English and Maths. In the first week, we focused on Conjunctions. We began with simple exercises and went on to display their usage in more complex sentences. We also ran through rational and irrational numbers in class. The teachers seemed to gain confidence slowly in this topic, but once the concept was grasped, they were quicker with sums and questions.
One of my favourite sessions with them was when we had a discussion on Brexit.
It was interesting how everyone we met in India had a strong opinion on it and what it means for the world. Quite a few hours were spent arguing over the dinner table, as opposite sides went at each other with mouths filled with opinions and lamb chops (thank you, Chef Shiv). As Shakti Uncle would begin the war with salad, Rishi would continue it till desert was served. We’d left Britain, but there was no escape from the topic of the most popular divorce in the world.
Bringing this discussion to the classroom was exciting for us. After Emily explained the context surrounding it we had a simulated debate and a vote at the end. Rob passionately explained why Britain should leave the EU and Rishi vehemently urged the teachers to stay. I gave a brief overview of how Brexit would affect India. Finally, we had our referendum and had Britain chosen the path that our classroom did, Cameron would have been one happy man. When we told the teachers what had actually happened in Britain, they were quite surprised.
We ended the week with a trip to Agra, to see the stunning Taj Mahal. We went in the early hours of the morning, when the air was cooler and the tourists were sparse. Our tour guide Haji was a humble, old bearded man who seemed to know everything about this mesmerizing monument of love. He also helped us with some great photoshoots that scream “I’M A TOURIST I LOVE INDIA”, but I have no regrets.
We also saw some other sights in the city like Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, the city built by the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. All in all, it was a wonderful week. It was only the beginning with the teachers, but we had started to become much more familiar with each other. The farm already felt like home, thanks to the lovely people staying on it. On the sleepy car journey back from Agra, amidst the light snores of new friends and Hindi songs (interspersed with Taylor Swift) I was comfortable, and ready to take on the next week.
Watch this space for updates in the coming weeks. Or for pictures of monkeys. I have a feeling we’re going to spot loads of monkeys.