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A woman sitting in a chair at Hawa Mahal (Palace of Wind) in Jaipur, India. Photo by Eliana Rothwell (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist).

A Lesson in Service

These past few weeks I have been working at the Ganga Learning Centre (GLC), a school that aims to provide holistic education for under-resourced children and skills training to women. GLC gives young children free preschool education as well as after-school classes and homework tutoring for elementary school students. In addition to GLC’s work in education, the organization offers skill building training to mothers of the students at GLC. The mothers can sell their products at GLC’s store and save money to pay for their children’s future educational fees.

 

Most of my work at GLC entails teaching in one way or another. From the morning until lunch time, I spend all of my time with the older preschoolers and teach their English, math, and computer classes. The students are incredibly adorable but also extremely mischievous–sometimes they will all suddenly run up to me in the middle of class or a kid will attempt to climb on the walls. And I totally get it. They are only preschoolers after all and having to sit in classes for a few hours a day must make them restless, but it has been a significant challenge for me to find a balance between disciplining them and letting them do the wild things that hyper four year olds normally do. I’m still dancing across that line every day, trying to find a good middle ground, and I think the best solution is just to be patient and give myself time to find the right balance. After the preschool is over, I work with a class of about eighteen students, all of whom are enrolled in various elementary schools and in grades ranging from one to five. I teach them English and help them with their homework.

 

I am the first volunteer at GLC from the Bridge Year program. Being a “pioneer” is exciting because I have greater flexibility in forming my role and get to set the precedent for future volunteers. Of course, being the first volunteer also presents its own set of challenges. In the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be doing at GLC, and a large chunk of my first few days there involved closely observing the organization to see how I could best use my skills to meet their needs. After discussing with my supervisor and observing the organization, I realized that their needs did not align with my initial expectations of what I would be doing and I needed to drop my expectations altogether. At first, I thought I would be spending some of my time working at GLC’s store, but it turned out that my skills in English and computers matched best with their needs for an after-school English class and an additional teacher for the preschoolers.

 

Every day is challenging, rewarding, exhausting, and exciting. The students are so bright and energetic, and I continuously feel grateful for the opportunity to teach them. Although I am their teacher, I truly think that they are teaching me even more, and maybe that’s what service is really about. As an instructor told our group in the first month of our trip, service is not a one-way road; it should be filled with exchanges between for lack of better words, the “server” and “the served.” I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant one month ago, but I think I have a much better understanding of that notion now.