This was my third time in India and my second volunteering with Asha in Tigri, a slum area in the South Delhi. Coming back was so different from the first time I came to Delhi. Then, all I knew was that I was going to volunteer as an English teacher in a slum in one of the most crowded cities in the world.
The very word ‘slum’ conjured up images of families living in houses put together from cardboard boxes and plastic sheeting. But what I found were well-built, two storey homes all painted in different pastel colours – sky blue, pink, green, orange, purple, cream. I soon learned that one of the things Asha did for Tigri when it first went into the slum was to get government permission for the people to build permanent homes. This was so important. It transformed the area into a vibrant community.
Going into the homes of my students was something I loved — seeing where they lived, meeting their mothers and siblings, gaining some impression of the crowded conditions where they studied. It made me so proud of what, with the help of Asha, they were doing for themselves, their families, and their community.
So what does it mean to volunteer as an English teacher with Asha? Maybe the best way to explain that is to talk about the classes. I generally had four or five classes each day – two boys’ classes in the morning and two or three girls’ classes in the afternoon. The classroom in Tigri is very small, which limited the number of students in a class to between twelve and fifteen. We’d sit in a circle on mats on the floor. Often we started either by singing an action song or with conversation about what was going on in their lives. Then we’d go onto the more formal part of the lesson learning vocabulary and talking about the topic for the week.
What I feel the Asha programme gives is an opportunity for the youngsters to talk freely with people who speak English as their first language, to have fun learning the language, and to put into practice the values held by the NGO.
Working with Asha in Tigri has given me so much. For a start, it was the chance to be part of an Indian society missed by most visitors. I was allowed into the daily lives of my students, not only to celebrate their accomplishments, but also to share their more difficult times. These youngsters live in crowded, noisy, and often very hot conditions, and, yet, they are excited by life. I was touched almost to tears by their generosity and by their determination.
So a big thank you to all my students who worked so hard and were so fun to be with. I love you and will miss you! Also thanks to the Tigri staff for their support and to Asha for making it all possible.