Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My lesson in life skills

Some of the loveliest moments in life are absolutely free of cost. This thought was reinforced when I recently volunteered with an NGO called Dream – A – Dream. They work with underprivileged children and one of their highly successful initiatives is called Udaan (teaching Life Skills – interpersonal skills, communication, empathy etc to underprivileged children between the ages of 12 to 18 years). Now! wait a moment, before you conjure up an image of me as “Ms. Life Skills Incarnate”, let me remove all misconceptions through a disclaimer “I am no expert at Life Skills, but I sure can talk endlessly about them!”.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon I walked into the activity centre of a small school building. The moment I entered I exploded with childlike glee. My eyes beheld a gorgeous view of 2 little girls, dressed in long, shiny skirts dancing unabashedly to Kannada movie songs. Rasathi and Revathi, were the two livewires in the activity centre. They were about 8-9 years old, and they captured my heart. Their energy levels together were not R+R = 2R, they were actually R X R = R square, because they energized each other through their antics. When I jumped onto the “dance floor” and started dancing along with them, they hugged me and starting shouting “Aunty, Aunty”. Some more children joined us in the dance. Only after a couple of minutes did it register to me that the staff was smiling and wondering who I was, though they soon realized that I was a volunteer with the NGO.

Imagine my joy when I heard some Daler Mehndi beats in Kannada music! It touched some Punjabi chord in me and I did a few Bhangra moves, much to the delight of the little livewires who followed suit. We also did a bit of “desi” Salsa and the little girls jumped into my arms as we tried out some twirls. They hugged me tight and I realized this was one of those moments when language becomes impotent. In great sorrow and in great joy language loses its potency and no words are needed to communicate. The bond between me and the girls was instant, love was flowing spontaneously and maybe I got a glimpse of heaven in those few minutes.

R square got a bit too fond of me though, and when I actually started teaching the older kids, both the girls stomped into the room and wanted to sit through the session. One of the boys told them that this session was for older kids and they should go out. Little did the poor fellow realize that “hell hath less fury than a woman scorned” as the two cheeky girls growled at him “Aye, Baai Mucchu” – (Hey, Shut Up). It was obvious that I had to step in now and firmly escort R square out of the room.

With R square out of the room, I could concentrate on the job that I was actually there for - teaching Life Skills There were 10 children in the room and all of us sat on the floor. Since this was a new batch, I explained the concept of Udaan to them. I spoke about how teachers at school taught them science and math, and then asked them about the teachers who taught them how to live life. Many of them have parents who work as auto-drivers, housemaids or have other jobs in the unorganized sector. Some of them also have parents who could be alcoholic or abusive and hence are not good role models. So, Udaan is intended to be one of the teachers that would equip these children with the skills to live life.

All the children had studied English so they could understand the language, but to explain deeper nuances I realized that Kannada was a much better medium to communicate. Thankfully, in my 10 years in Bangalore, I have learnt enough Kannada to be able to hold a conversation. Interestingly, this is where I realized the potency of language. Just as language can be impotent in intense, emotion filled moments, it can also be deeply potent in making strangers feel they’ve know each other for a lifetime. My broken Kannada and their broken English bound our hearts together. They accepted me as one of their own, and soon “our” group was breathing with a new sense of belonging to each other. I knew that the ice had been broken successfully, and I would now be able to do a much better job of imparting Life Skills.

As I looked at the children’s faces around, I saw my childhood and teenage years in their eyes – the shy girl in the corner, so unsure of herself, sitting in a huddle trying to become invisible, hoping that the teacher would not pick on her to answer the question. Or, me - the eager beaver, wanting to be the first one to answer the teacher’s question, because now I happened to know the answer. A young teenager, with kajal lined eyes and curls outlining her face reminded me of my teen years and the hours I spent in front of the mirror trying to hide the gawkiness of teenage. Yes, I did take a trip down memory lane and relived some wonderful moments through the children.

The children were enthusiastic, willing to learn, absorb and share. The session was interactive, and the children really enjoyed it. When the session was over, I walked out with a deep sense of fulfillment of having made a difference, in however small a way. As I pen down this experience, I have been there for the last 3 consecutive Saturdays by now. And, every time I wrap up a session I feel recharged to take on the world for a complete week.

The great poet Khalil Gibran wrote on “Giving” and said “It is when you give of yourself, that you truly give”. While I was the teacher for the children, I believe I walked out as a learner learning the life skill of “giving”. The reward of truly giving is joy, a wondrous joy which can only be experienced and is difficult to communicate through words.

As an end note, I would like to quote a few verses from Gibran on “Giving”
“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
………….There are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
……………There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
………………..And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'.
You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.

……..In truth it is life that gives unto life - while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness. 

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