Tuesday, 30 October 2012

V for Vote not Van

1st Day at work:

Reached the office around 10:00 am (fortunately its located close to my house), met their team. Most of them belonged to Quetta and were here for a short visit. Had a brief interaction; they asked me about TISS and my field setting, earlier experience, etc. After that, they told me that today after an hour their team will drive to Baluchistan to visit their centres. They asked me to come along. I was confused and did not know what to do especially after the conversation I had with my father yesterday. I had the opportunity to meet each of the team members separately for info, hence I took this opportunity and asked each of them whether I should come along or not. One said you can, other said you should not, another said it is insecure but you decide. I was still confused, so I spoke to Dr. Bakhteari and asked her the same. She responded, "it is as insecure for us as for you". I think that answer was satisfactory, or so I thought - called my father and told him that I am going to Baluchistan (the closest city from Karachi) and will be back by night.

The journey was 2 hour long; yes when we reached the border of Sindh and entering into Baluchistan there were quite many army men around but it was nice, fresh air, outside the city and luckily no one stopped us, so we reached the IDSP (Institute for Development Studies and Practice) Centre. The journey was really informative, asked a lot of questions about Baluchistan. I remember, we as a family often used to drive to Baluchistan a few years back and used to travel into the north of this province - it was beautiful. But since the conditions got worse, we haven't traveled in this region.

At the centre everyone was really hospitable. We ate lunch together - biryani :) They have two programs that they run from this centre under the project ZAANTH (a Balochi term that means knowing). One is District Professional Centre. The training is divided into three parts: computer skills, English language and secretarial work; including skills like mobile repairing and other. The purpose is to facilitate especially the drop outs and provide them opportunity to work in the administrative section within companies and organization.

The most interesting is their second program; Community Learning Centre. These centres  are loacted in the villages within the community. Each district has 20 such centres (10 for each gender). It works on the lines of the philosophy imbibed by IDSP; critical pedagogy, influenced by works of scholars like Paolo Frère. I remember study Frere and also including his work in my graduation project; but the entire challenge is how does one use that in a creative manner. Hence I really looked forward to visit the centre and interact with them. We went to a village nearby and met  the facilitator as well as around 14 students. The teacher is selected from the same community, trained for 6 days by IDSP and then conducts a 6 months course with the children of that community. 

The method of teaching is the most crucial part of the entire program. Please Note: none of these kids have ever been part of any formal education - age between 12 and 16 yrs old. The alphabets are not taught they way they are in schools (A for apple and B for Banana). Instead each alphabet is represented with a  picture; for example A for agriculture, N for Nasha. To come up with these words (called as codes), the IDSP team had collected 1500 such codes from five districts of Baluchistan via creating district literacy resource groups, comprising of youth, committees, education department, politicians and social activist, who suggested what is most crucial to the lives of these children. Each work comes with a picture (code) (e.g. A for agriculture depicts an old man farming on a land). Now the purpose of the facilitator is to facilitate children in decoding this code. To decode this there are five steps:
1) Describe what you see in the picture
2) Have you seen it or experienced it
3) Why it happens (raise concerning issues)
4) Identify those issues and discuss and deliberate over them
5) Outline an action plan (awareness campaign, etc)

All these questions are asked keeping in mind the purpose to highlight the social, economic and political significance of each term.

We visited a village in the vicinity, Ghot Gulsher (approx 20 km from the centre). There we sat in the CLC and interacted profoundly with the facilitator Mr. Saddam Hussein and around 12-14 boys (age 10 - 16 yrs). The interaction was about how the class is facilitated, what is taught, how long is the course duration and how is the response. The seating was on the floor; courses taught include mathematics and critical learning through alphabets. The ZAANTH literacy book is used to facilitate where by students are asked to decode each word. During interaction students were asked to share which code they like the most and were countered with questions inciting their creative capacity to respond from their experience. The students responded with confidence and shared their insight; one student shared how learning about weights made him aware that the shopkeeper cheats him by putting his hand on the weight machine, hence increasing the cost; another students spoke about the code V for Vote, explaining how vote is an important tool of power and taking the minister's name said that if we vote we can hold him accountable if we do not receive electricity in our village; another said U for urea, explaining the benefits of organic farming and harmful effects of using pesticide. Also after students learn, they then share their knowledge with the community at large by visible representation and use of other mediums like telling jokes to first attract attention.

This all happened in 6 months: It was wonderful to see these kids speaking with such confidence and responding to our counter questions with a critical mind. Amazing - I was really happy. 

The same night I visited my cousins place - he studies in 8th grade in a private school. He had a test for elocution of a poem the next day. So he was learning the exact words of the poem and reciting them without  understanding a word. I was astonished hence I asked: What will happen in the test. he said we will be asked to stand up and speak out a poem we have learnt. I asked him will you have tell what teh poem says. He said no, the test is for elocution hence that is not required. I asked him, if he had a similar test in the past. He said yes, and told me that he scored 2.5 out of 3. So i requested him to tell me that poem and the meaning. He knew the entire poem word by word but had no idea what it meant.

Its' ridiculous if children do not know what they are speaking and marked an A grade. We did practice the entire poem understanding word by word ... but i really dont understand how they are teaching kids. Especially after visiting that village where I witnessed how much capacity children have and can learn if facilitated correctly.                  

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fear Within

Today an incident took place when I was walking towards the station in Byculla after visiting the Byculla District Prison. Outside a school gate on the footpath (only for pedestrians) I witnessed a scuffle between a mid-aged woman and a young man on his bike. The woman stood in front of his bike restricting him from using the footpath asking him to use the road if he wishes to ride the bike. The young man refused to obey her request and responded with rage ordering her to get out of his way or else he will not be responsible if she is hurt. The argument heated up with constant exchange of words. The woman was a teacher and her students were standing nearby including other bystanders; school watchman and I.

She requested her students to come support her and stand next to her reminding them to be courageous and do what is right. Many faced their head down and none of us came ahead!! At the same time the young man on the bike continued to threaten the teacher to hurt her if she refuses to move and exhibited anger by pressing the accelerator and moving the bike an inch back and fro. A few students were standing next to the woman, fearing the man would run over the bike, they moved. The man tried to use that space but nothing seemed to hinder the woman’s assertion and she held the steering and stopped him. Thank fully the drama ended when two mid-aged men walked towards the young man (he knew them) and asked him to use the road. The woman asked her students to promise not to do the same when grow older and said to the guard and others, “this is the respect you give me after teaching here for 15 years”, and walked away.

I was standing right there but acted just like any other bystander and did not have the courage to step ahead and support her cause. Many thoughts went by, I knew what was the right thing to do but my body seemingly was handicapped by the fear of unknown or unexpected. I study social work in a reputable institute, day in and day out talk about individual responsibility and how change can come if we act. Somewhere I feel I and many others have got so used to analyse situations, rationalize them and use politically correct words to escape responsibility. Maybe analysing is good and vital and what TISS is teaching is profoundly essential however only reading the laws and pointing out the loopholes is not enough unless I rid myself of the fear lying within me.

When I looked back at this incident a video (PSA) came to my mind that I had recently viewed. It depicted a traffic jam in Mumbai when it was hard hit by rain. But the traffic jam was not due to the rain, it was because a huge tree log had fallen out of it place restricting the traffic from moving. On the other side of the road a police car was stationed with police officers resting their head on the steering wheel. While everyone sitting in the car caught in traffic was abusing the state authorities, a child wearing a school bag on his back walked towards the log and tried to single handedly push it out of the way. Witnessing this act of courage many stepped out of their vehicles and supported – mission accomplished, advertisement ended with a melodious song praising nationalist feelings. I remember I and many others liked this video, shared it with friends and it spread like a viral on social networking sites. We all discussed about it and felt good !!

But today I knew when I should have acted I refused to do so.

I hope I overcome this fear within me the next time!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

A New World

It has been an amazing week working for the project “Deaf Reach”. I volunteered in an organization that teach the deaf and mute children mostly from the underprivileged background. The deaf world is a completely different world that needs to be experienced more than learnt about. Although I did not get an opportunity to interact with them much, yet since a classroom was situated next to the office, whenever I stepped out through the back door I had a dazzled look on my face watching in front of me a class going on of over 25 students with Pin Drop Silence.

I was taken onboard to plan out activities for their upcoming Summer Camp. My past volunteer and workshop experiences came out very handy helping me plan different kinds of creative activities including theatre, dance and ice-breaking exercises. However the major inhibition I felt was to modify these exercises and create new ones to meet the needs of the deaf and mute. Sound plays a vital role in my life and its’ difficult to imagine a life without it be it in the form of music or normal conversations. I started off by throwing random questions at the co-mates working in the organization: “how do they introduce themselves or call out a persons’ name”, I asked. The response was: whenever they meet a new person they create a sign for him/her keeping the first alphabet constant and making a sign that is most appropriate to the person’s personality trait. Very interesting !! So whenever you meet a deaf person for the first time be sure you act nice cause your name’s sign will be created keeping your personality trait in mind J

Planning exercises for them was a lot of fun and we as a team delved into many thought provoking discussions sometimes imagining a world where deafness was normal and hearing was not. The word ‘abnormal’ is so commonly used by us to prohibit undesired actions and to frame a section of society as disabled however if one ponders through, it is only a matter of perspective and the majority (whoever it may be) has always endeavoured to legitimatize their actions as norms. The history of deaf is no different than that of other underprivileged sections of world society who had to experience many pains before they could unleash the shackles of their imprisonment. Deaf persons, like the indigenous in America, untouchables in India and women throughout the world, had to face the consequences of being so called ‘abnormal’ until they empowered themselves by introducing their own language, their colleges and universities and associations at the national level in states like the US to lobby for their rights and ensure that suitable laws were passed and implemented. This fight continues today in many countries (including Pakistan) where to date deafness is made fun off and words like ‘dumb’ are associated with stupidity.          

Recently most of the workshops I have attended focus a lot on body movements enabling the participants to make use of their body as a tool of expression.  In that regard planning theatre exercises for the deaf kids was not too difficult. Mime is quite a challenging task for actors since there is no use of sound and the expressions have to be really loud. However I realized that these children are socially conditioned to use their body to communicate in daily lives hence for them communicating their message via mime is like a natural talent they possess.

All in all, in this limited time I was fortunate to be introduced to the ‘deaf world’ and I am sure the volunteers for the Summer Camp would learn much more from the kids than vice versa.           

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Khula Aasman Band Kamre Mein

Reflecting on 'self' rather than 'others' is the new mantra; all motivational speakers be them religious or agnostic, have used this mantra as a guideline to unveil the secret of happiness. Although listening to such inspirational speakers is a liberating experience it is seldom manifested in practice. Kolkota Sanved commendably managed to fill this vacuum by encouraging participants to use the best resource humans are bestowed with – the body.

Sanved is a prestigious organization that first used this therapy with rescued victims of trafficking and sexual abuse. These individuals were abandoned by society and stigmatized with various names. They lead their lives in destitution, hating their body since each part of it was assaulted not once but many times. In such circumstances this group of young dedicated individuals successfully helped them break the stigma and relive their bodies.

The two day 'Dance Movement Therapy' workshop was conducted in the Common Room, TISS Main Campus, organized by Khula Aasman. Akin to all other workshops the day began with mild gestures, short conversations and eyes searching for resemblances in the surrounding faces. This awkward situation ended soon - an ice breaking exercise was conducted where all participants had to call each person’s name one at a time. The participants included teachers, counsellors, professionals and students. All in their routine chores were either used to command or in the latter case obey orders from their superiors. To such a disciplined group who was used to structure and form, if asked to move their body the way 'they wish' was certainly a challenge. At first instance, all stood staring at each other waiting for some kind of lead / instruction however to no avail.

It took time but soon all participants succeeded in letting themselves go free and allowing their bodies to submit joyfully to the different beats of music. Starting with an exercise of shouting deafeningly 'Ja Ja' to let go of the fears and negative thoughts that restrict them, followed by many exercises that energized them. And once exhausted, the helplessly lying bodies on the floor were treated with meditation accompanied by the exquisite poetry of Rabindranath Tagore in the voice of Indranil Sen.

The first day ended with a writing session where each participant was asked to share their views. This was what I shared:
Space is not what I look for
It is the free space I search for
And surprisingly so, I can't find it in the so called 'public space'
Where I can find it is in a 10" by 10" feet classroom
Where doors and windows are robustly shut
Where no one can enter to enslave me, discipline me, teach me humanity and deprive me of my very 'self'

Only behind these closed doors can I breathe fresh air
As if that air was concealed within me waiting to break the shackles of discipline
Only then I find myself, who neither wishes to be good nor bad, right nor wrong but just 'myself'

This blissful experience made me realize how much we have neglected the role of music, dance and other forms of art when educating ourselves. Our identities today have been carefully formulated around region, race and faith which then strictly observe our actions and set norms as to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. In this unprecedentedly politicized era, religion and nationality have been deeply manipulated to serve the interests of few and alienate the masses from their own natural self. Music and dance are such beautiful platforms to express emotions and convey messages that reach masses and leave a strong imprint. It is but natural for a child to move his/her body when music plays, then why inhibit this emancipatory exercise in the name of ‘God’.

It is ironic to observe how each one of us fears his/her neighbour knowing not how they will judge them. Due to this concern the facilitators had ensured that there were no observers hence no one felt threatened of being judged. Also realized how easily feelings have been undervalued in the name of rationality; preconceived notions of right and wrong have restricted each one of us to express ourselves freely.

The secret of happiness is not hidden in a treasure box but is within. We all need to explore that child within us who fears not and enjoys the process of every task rather than worry about the end result.

This workshop was an enriching exercise where I got the opportunity to learn from all the participants. Each one of us brought with themselves a unique package of experience and learnings and thanks to the conducive environment we were able to share our thoughts and more importantly 'fears' with each other. By the end of two funfilled days, one feeling was common amongst all – We Felt Free and Good !!