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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).

The Start of Our Service Sites: Jeevan School

I was lucky enough to end up working at the Jeevan School! The Jeevan School has preschool, K-10 school, and hostel components, while also funding the tuition fees for their Class 10 graduates to attend a nearby “college” for grades 11 and 12 (after which students apply to universities). The students at the school come primarily from illiterate families with very high rates of substance and sexual abuse living in the slums of Varanasi. The unsafe environment in which many of the kids grow up sometimes leads to stunting or impairment of certain cognitive functions, including memory and other-oriented empathy. Many kids from the most dangerous living situations end up living in the hostel.

I’m currently working in a couple different capacities in the school. Part of my morning involves working with the preschool kids, primarily in reading simple English books with them one-on-one. At the older school, I work with two 12th graders who need to learn everything in their NIOS (an Indian testing board) Political Science curriculum from scratch before their standardized subject exams in April. These exams – which are critical for university admission – are unfortunately all based on rote memorization, so I’m trying to balance learning for the sake of the exam with challenging the students to think critically about the material, improve their written analysis skills, practice evidence-based argument-building, etc. I also work in more of a tutoring capacity with an 11th grader on Political Science and more sporadically with a couple older students in math. Additionally, I do a good amount of work on the more big-picture side of the institution: searching and applying for Indian educational grants, making study materials, and studying the Indian solar energy market and associated legislative initiatives in order to get rooftop solar panels installed at the school. Days are never boring at Jeevan – each day presents challenges, moments of learning, and lots of laughs (only occasionally directed at me by my students)!

So far, my time at Jeevan has been an exciting mix of: learning about the institution and community and its complex web of relationships, dynamics, and issues; relationship-building, with the younger kids, with the older students (some of which are in fact older than me!), with my colleagues, and with my mentors; teaching/learning how to be an educator for the first real time in my life; and working on longer-term projects that will (hopefully) contribute to the school for years to come. I look forward to continuing to learn from and build relationships with all the incredible humans that are a part of this school community, while also working hard to make a positive impact within it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… I can’t wait ’til Monday!