I kept smiling

Yesterday was the last time we worked with our Teach for India fellows, and it was also the last time the Akanksha group was together. Lily, Michaela, Jessica, and I headed to Kurla  where we would meet “our” kids for the last time. We arrived there at 12:30 p.m. Because our classes were located in the fifth floor, or the fourth floor in India, just getting to the place the kids were already represented a challenge. But we continued because our kids were waiting. Several feelings came to my heart during this journey with Teach for India and with the kids, and I would like to share some them with you. In the middle of our hike, we started hearing “Hi bhaiya, hi didi!” A wave of smiles and hugs made our walk upstairs much easier and faster. As we approached the 5th floor, the temperature increased too because the roof of this floor was made of a material that did not resist the heat. One of the kids saw me sweating, and I said, with a huge smile on my face, so that I could pretend that I felt great: “Hi, good afternoon, how are you?” He kept looking at me and said “it is hot, bhaiya.” I felt so ashamed because he had noticed that I was uncomfortable. Instead of agreeing with him, I said: “bhaiya sweated because I ran up the stairs to meet you!” I thought to myself, if I had confirmed to him that it was very hot, what would I make him feel?

After singing the national anthem during the assembly, the kids headed to class while I organized together with Jessica, Michaela, and Lily the material we would test the kids on. We were in a dark corridor with no windows, and no wind. To the left, the Teach for India teachers continued motivating the kids to learn more Math, and English. One by one, the kids came to the desk I sat at, and I gave them a text to read aloud. The texts we would ask the students to read varied from level A to Z. In my classroom, the level of fluency in English varied from level A to level Q. One single classroom exemplified the huge gap between the students. I continued testing the students, smiling regardless of their results. As Shobana, my TFI fellow, taught me: persistence was much more important.

After testing a kid who started at level D and lowered two levels, I wondered: is it worth to keep testing these kids like that? I asked Shobana to go to the bathroom, and once I got there I kept cleaning my face. I was not just refreshing, but I was instead trying to find an answer. I went upstairs again, and kept smiling. I kept smiling for the people that passed around me, mothers wearing burquas, teachers who screamed at their students, kids who smiled back at me. I smiled to all of them because as I smiled to the Abdal, I wondered: if I take my smile away and look pessimistic, how will I affect these people? I was in their environment, their community. I was in the place that they have come and will continue to come for several years. If I looked pessimistic, what impression would I pass to them about their community? So I continued testing the kids and smiling.

I wrote to them in a thank-you note: “Dear class, thank you for always welcoming Bhaiya with a huge smile.” Some people have almost everything but a smile in the faces. I am so proud to say that the kids that I worked with during six really hot afternoons, like our TFI fellows, never let their smile wither.