Finally i managed to break the ice today! It is not easy, as i came to experience, to entice hardcore street kids to study. We have managed to make other children attend our weekly study classes, those who already attend school and have proper homes, no matter how small they are. But to tame the wild ones whose beds are the tarmacs, and whose pocket money is earned by gripping the legs of people who turn out at temples and who finally succumb to the innocent eyes pleading them for money and grub. These kids are characterised by their really dirty appearances - matted hair, a foul smell emanating from their thin bodies, and an I-don't-give-a-damn attitude. They leverage people's conscience and beg all the time for a living - for both themselves and their families.
There is one such group that we wanted to target, in front of the Sai Mandir at Kandivali East. After trying for a few days to catch their attention with the alphabets, I gave up. They were simply restless, no matter what pictures you showed them, no matter how interesting you made things for them, studies seemed to be a strict no-no. They simply could not concentrate for more than 10 minutes. These kids are born to make a living from a very early age and most of them have not even sniffed the scent of a classroom atmosphere. They resist all efforts to pull them into the mainstream 'study circle'.
So, following the advice of a friend, I went today armed with a memory game in hand. After convincing two kids that I was not about to ask them to monotonously recite the alphabets, I sat down with them and we all started to play. It was a simple game...a board which contained small boxes with pictures in them. All the boxes were covered with small coins. Every player had to pick two coins, one after the other, and if the pictures under both the coins matched, he could keep the coins, else he should place them back. At the end of the game, the one with the maximum number of coins, wins! So the challenge is to watch the co-players play and remember where each picture was, so that one could pick out its pair during one's own turn.
After ten mintues, two more boys joined in and very soon, the game became furiously addictive. Gaja was winning hands down and slowly, the tardy Ravi and Ankush started to wonder why they lost repeatedly, and by the end of the play session, though Gaja was still winning, the margins were a lot lesser.
In between play, I told them the English words for animals such as Cow and Goat, and also taught them to say "My name is", followed by their names. I could see that they lacked confidence. As and when I slowly opened them up and became more comfortable with them, the initial brashness was replaced by a shyness of not being able to talk, or even repeat what i said, in English. In fact the best player, Gaja, turned his face the other side, when i asked him to repeat the "My name is" sentence. Almost as if bride from the village coyly looks away when her hip husband asks her to try out the computer.
They dont have a sense of belonging, they feel as if English and in fact, even education, is for the rich masses. Given a chance and if made to understand that they also can study, they also can go to schools and have a classroom atmosphere and become 'big' like the people they beg in front of, 90% of the underprivileged children in India would do well. And who is to give them that chance? People like you and me... Think about it...
(I will keep posting updates on this frequently)