Jakoba Shares Joy Found in ABC School & Slum Visit
“ABC’s Edelweiss; a colorful, loud and bustling school, but all in a well-organized harmony. This day with the ABC students has given me a heart-warming feeling. A feeling which increases my confidence that education will make a difference. – Education as the ABC of a bright future!”
Colorful, loud and bustling, India in short: “organized chaos”. It is this dynamic environment that made me decide to move to India for a year. Leaving the overly structured banking life in London to indulge in a country where flexibility is key. A sabbatical year with the objective to devote time to helping others, from supporting education to social entrepreneurship.
Before settling in Chennai, I had the honor to visit the AlphaBet Club Edelweiss School in Bangalore together with Troy, Meena, Danielle and Wouter. What I have experienced there has had a tremendous impact on my view of educational importance. I’ve always been in favor of the “teach people fishing instead of giving them fish” theory. But the Edelweiss School has shown me this in reality, the children living in slums are actually obtaining skills to break the cycle of poverty. Learning English really makes a difference in a country like India, where the local language, for these mostly migrant children, will most probably not guarantee a decent job in 10 years’ time. From this perspective I dare to say that ABC stands at the basis of a bright future for these slum kids!
Edelweiss School – Organized Chaos turned into Calm Harmony
Entering the school, it was nothing like I had expected… 85 bright, smiling and energetic little kids looking at us when entering the class rooms. I’ve never seen school kids, aged four to six, being so cheerful. The genuine joy they bring works so contagiously, that I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.
After the warm (flowery) welcome from the school head, Suvarna, the teachers and the children, we joined them in their classrooms. Experiencing the student’s eagerness of sharing their newly acquired English knowledge; “red, blue, yellow, purple, those are my favorite colors”. They were showcasing their skills by naming the days of the week and writing names and sentences on the board. To top it all off they taught us a famous Bollywood dance, resulting in enthusiastic dance moves, bright smiles and a lot of giggles. I fully realized that in addition to learning English, these children gained confidence and increased their self-belief at this school, crucial skills when growing up!
All students are clearly aware of the daily routine. After class they go in small groups to thoroughly wash their hands before having lunch. As I have been in India multiple times, the food (i.e. hot spices) have grown on me and I really enjoy a proper Indian meal. Therefore, I can say that the food we were served during lunch with the kids was delicious and full of nutrients. A healthy start of the afternoon when the young kids leave for home…the slums…
Additionally, when the children graduate at six years old, they have the opportunity to attend the “after school program”, where they are supported doing their homework while they attend the English medium schools in town. With this continuing support from the Edelweiss school in the afternoon, the children have a stable base in the afternoons where they can complete their homework and ask additional questions.
Edelweiss School – Behind the scenes
Cooperation with other NGO’s; sharing best practices and local operational power is the key to success in my perception. With AlphaBet Club’s founder, Troy Swanson, we visited James Ambat, the founder of the NGO “Building Blocks”. We learned about the selection process for students from the slums and the difficulties they face with the long term vision the parents have for their kids. Local social workers meet the families and win their confidence by explaining the opportunities for their child. Once the child joins the school, the social worker will help the family to open a bank account for their child. Since ABC’s Edelweiss school is for free, the small “commitment contribution” from the parents will be saved on the student’s own bank account. This system assures that the families understand the importance in investing in their child’s education and creates a savings for the child to go to English Medium school once they graduate from Edelweiss. I feel this is a very smart way to create a longer term awareness within the family and enhance the opportunity for students to attend follow-up, quality education.
Furthermore, I was very impressed by the way AlphaBet Club and Building Blocks manage the day-to-day operations of the schools. They have an amazing group of staff, who are all genuine people persons who love to make a difference in their own community. A lovely example is how brother and sister are both involved with the schools. While he works at the office, she is a teacher at Edelweiss. Jobs are created, women are educated and empowered to become teachers and cooks. A beautiful initiative that lifts the society in a broader way than providing education to underprivileged children only.
Slums – Organized Chaos – structured in its own way
The unbelievable contrast in the students’ life becomes visible when you visit them at home, in the slum. In the morning they were neatly dressed in their school uniforms. The afternoon shows playing children, chickens, dogs and cows, filling the narrow streets of the slums, while open fire is used for cooking outside every little shed…A jaw-dropping sight for most Westerners… but a structured chaos for a slum, organized in its own way with little shops, workshops, bicycles and motorbikes.
ABC’s Edelweiss; a colorful, loud and bustling school, but all in a well-organized harmony. This day with the ABC students has given me a heart-warming feeling. A feeling which increases my confidence that education will make a difference. – Education as the ABC of a bright future!