Pom-Pon Jungle

Little balls of fluff are flying everywhere. The sound of children screaming, “Didi! Didi!” fills the air. Outside, the monsoon rains are falling ceaselessly, inside the classroom; there is barely room to breathe. The room feels hot, and the single modest fan on the ceiling does not provide the much needed heat relief. Over the course of the past two days, working with Teach for India fellow Sharanya, I realized how difficult it is to be a teacher, always on high alert and rushing from one student to the next while trying to stay organized and composed. I gained a new sense of respect for the profession, especially in India and with TFI. It must take an incredible amount of conviction and trust in the righteousness of one’s purpose to dedicate their time to teaching, in particular under the conditions at the school that our fellow taught in. Hayaderi School is located in the community of Jogeshwari East, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Muslim conflicts dominate the climate of the community. We heard stories of bricks flying in through classroom windows, and fights taking place right outside the door. When we asked about a hole in the wall, we were told that it was a bullet hole, but not to worry, because no one had gotten seriously hurt in that particular gunshot incident. Worst of all, we heard a story about a third grader bringing a knife to school and threatening his fellow classmate, all because of the Shi’a-Sunni conflict carrying making its way into the classroom. In the words of our fellow, “Jogeshwari East is not a safe community.”

Now imagine teaching at an elementary school in this community. Located at the end of a narrow alley, not even wide enough to fit an umbrella, is the two-story building with just enough classrooms so that it houses middle school and high school students in the morning, and primary school students in the afternoon. The way to the school follows narrow pathways; massive pits in the earth line the wider streets, and feces is sprawled along the sides of the main road. It is not a nice community either. Once you successfully overlook everything I have listed up until now though, you realize why the TFI fellows are still making their way up to the school every day. Inside the classroom that we got to observe sat a group of the smartest and most inspiring forty kids I have ever met. Within three simple days of classes, they learned from us. They showed such visible progress in everything from math to reading comprehension, that every minute of teaching, all the energy and sweat that we extruded and every minute of trekking through the muds became worth it.

All memories of conflict, even my thoughts about the bullet hole in the wall were forgotten when we worked on art with them. Made collages for the kids and decorated them with little balls of cotton. Watched the kids run around the classroom looking for certain crayons or markers. Sat with the kids as they cut out pictures of dogs, cars and movie stars from magazines. The pom-pon jungle that we’d produced was full of life, and its creations full on wonder. Leaving Jogeshwari yesterday after our last day of teaching I couldn’t help but feel that teaching is a contradictory profession. On the one hand, it is incredibly draining, and required more energy than many other jobs in this world (for lesser pay for that matter!) yet it also struck me as one of the most fulfilling. I left the community that day feeling like I had made an impact on the kids, even if it was only in my mind.