Building India

I entered the Learning Space and wondered if we would be ready by tomorrow to welcome children. The place looked empty and uninspiring. Walls were blank and boring, computers were not yet installed, furniture was dirty, shelves were empty, and I struggled to walk bare feet on the floor. It would be a long day for sure.

Seeing the eager volunteers calmed a fraction of my anxiety. We divided the work at hand. Mahadev took to installing computers with Muthuswamy. Raghu cleaned the furniture and floor, and helped Asha to organize books, puzzles, and art supplies in the racks. I took the task of transforming the walls. I opened the suitcase packed with wall displays made by another volunteering team that included my two little girls. All my pride of being organized shattered when I realized that I had some 60 sheets to be laminated. Shivamurthy came for my rescue and zipped on his bike to the market. Mahesh and Jagadeesha helped me as I covered the walls with chart papers. There were ideas flowing from everywhere. Should the table turkeys be put in a straight line, a circle or a wave? Should the dolce words tree stand alone in the center of a wall, or should we make it part of the larger display? Cycle of Life was too colorful to have anything else around it. Fractions had to go on the same wall as tables. Chromosomes illustration made on a black chart needed a special place. Some more display space would have helped, but I appreciated the ventilation due to windows as well. Finally after hours of discussions and collaboration, we managed to put all pieces together.

While we worked inside, students kept peeping. A younger boy who could not reach the window kept climbing to have a view. The scene was very different in the community Learning Space where half the community was inside the space. They could not contain their curiosity. A village man actually surveyed the wall displays with focus of a shooter, and wondered if Yak was a real animal. A drunken man thought it was a temple, probably looking at the number of shoes outside. And then there was the man who painted the place, and did not charge a paisa for his labor, saying it was his contribution to the place. Looked like the vision of having community ownership and participation was taking shape.

At one point, the place was full of children. Someone came up with the idea of engaging them. The patriot in me picked the India jigsaw puzzle, and offered it to them. Most of them could not read English, so resorted to matching colors. It was nice to see how the group organized itself. There was a clear leader, some kids were sorting pieces, others were trying to work on a color and give relevant pieces to the leader. I wondered how nice it would have been if we could organize so easily even as adults without letting our egos spoil the play. They persisted and slowly the shape started coming in.

We definitely cannot build India leaving these children behind.

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