Last year, I spent one month volunteering at Awantika Vidya Bhawan (avb), a school run by the


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NameLast year, I spent one month volunteering at Awantika Vidya Bhawan (avb), a school run by the
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Last year, I spent one month volunteering at Awantika Vidya Bhawan (AVB), a school run by the ARPAN Society. The AVB school is located in a rural area about 20 kilometers away from the city of Bhopal. It serves four nearby villages, and provides instruction to 178 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The school has one classroom for each grade. In grades 1-8 the subjects taught are Hindi, English, math, and social studies and in grades 6-8 students were also learning science, geography, and Sanskrit.

The majority of the children come from very poor families. Their family members are either farmers or manual laborers. Most of their homes lack running water and sanitation systems and have limited electricity. Many of the students did not attend school before the AVB school was started three years ago, as the local government schools are in poor condition and the children's families cannot afford to send them to private schools. Hence, the AVB school seems to fulfills a critical need in the area.

During the weeks I volunteered at the school, I taught the kindergarten class and spent time teaching in the other classes as well. In the kindergarten class, I taught the students basics like the ABCs and counting and poems in both Hindi and English. In grades 1-8, I taught English. This involved helping the students learn how to read and also teaching them common English words (water, food, book, tree, animal, etc.) and common English phrases that were relevant to them (come here, raise your hand, sit down, stand up, what is your name?, etc.) to familiarize them with the language. In addition to teaching English, I taught geography to children in the upper grades. At the time, the eighth grade class was learning about North and South America. Since the students and most of the teachers had limited access to the internet, they had to rely on the maps in their textbooks. To make the material more real for them, I found photographs of what they were studying online and incorporated these into their lessons.

Since the school relies completely on personal donations and donations from charitable organizations like ASHA for funding, its resources are limited. Thus, the availability of school supplies, and teaching aids, was very limited. At times, this made teaching difficult. For instance, sometimes class would be stalled because three children needed an eraser while doing diction, but all had to share the same one. I feel that the school would benefit greatly from supply donations or monetary donations for this purpose. However, I found that though such resources were scarce, the teachers, particularly in the upper grades, were committed to giving their students the best education they could, even if this meant at times using parts of their own salaries to buy supplies for their class. In fact, at times, due to shortage of funds, the teachers would have to go a month or two without salary till more funds came in. Thus along with supplies, donations for teacher salaries seem to be among the most important needs of the school.

One thing that struck me during my visit was how much the kids loved being at school. Each afternoon when they got on the school bus (which was bought by the school and made possible in part by ASHA) to go home, they were excited about coming back the next day. At recess break and lunch, they would happily recite the poems they had learned in class or the multiplication tables they had just memorized. The school provided sports and games such as badminton rackets, cricket sets, footballs, as well as carom boards and jump ropes, which most children did not have access to at home, and playing with them was often the most exciting part of their day. Uniquely, the school also organized events such as school-wide field trips to local parks, which were real treats, as most of the students otherwise would rarely go on such outings. Part way through my visit we took a trip to the nearby BHL park which had a miniature electronic train on which all the kids rode around the park. The kids were thrilled to be able to ride on the train and play on the slide and play structure.

From my visit it was clear that the administrators and teachers were working hard to provide the students with a well-rounded education, and trying to make the most of all the resources available to them. The school clearly fulfills a need in the community and provides the children with an education and an experience that they would otherwise not receive. I hope to volunteer again sometime in the future.

Anjali Shastri

Stanford, California

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