August 17, 2009
a good day
I had a great day yesterday volunteering with both CRAWL in the morning and Mother Teresa's home for disabled children in the afternoon.
So far this trip I've been noticing a lot of flaws in CRAWL's procedure, many relating to their inability to cope with the environment around them. I've noticed that their lack of a fixed location coupled with factors such as the station's beggars, the police, and a difficult commute for some volunteers leads to a lot of instability within CRAWL's operations. But I also mentioned that on a good day, despite all these hinderances, CRAWL is able to create a sense of community, compromised between itself and the station's homeless. Well, yesterday was a good day.
It was so good because it witnessed the collaborative incolvement of the station's community in directing CRAWL's program, an effort suggesting that my theory of a compromised community was not total mumbo-jumbo. Numeorus members of the community did their part in helping themselves by helping us. They helped keep the beggars and drug addicts away from our area and helped keep the children organized in line. Basically, they prevented the chaos that frequently frustrates our opeartions.
Two members of the train community were especially helpful. One was a mother of one of the children who patrolled the line and who even accosted a man who was quite high and who would not leave us alone. This was great to see, because so often the mothers are actually the ones causing the problem. They cut in line to get for their children, or scream and yell, or hit their kids. To see a mother actively work with us rather than, as is usual, merely passively consent to their child's getting food, was really encouraging. The mother also inspired some other women to join her. In order to build a community for children, parental participation is neccessary. It was great to see that we could inspire such support.
But the real secret weapon to our sucess yesterday came from a young boy, about 14 or 15 years old. Many of our problems stem from an inability to communicate with the stret community, both because of language and just because we cannot fully relate. But our communication problems were solved by this boy, who, to the utmost irony, is deaf and mute. In fact, we call him Deaf Mute Boy. I also call him The Enforcer. The boy is endlessly sweet, and using only body language, is able to keep nearly all of the children in check. He holds the line, tells us who has already receieved their portion and who needs extra for an absent sibling. He even reminds me to wear my backpack around my front side.
Deaf Mute Boy is our bridge to the community there. Everyone--adults and children alike--respects him. The fact that he respects us makes our job so much easier. It suggests that we are not imposing our presence on a foreign people, but that they indeed want to create the feeling of a community, compromised, between us. Even better, it suggests not only that the people will accept our help, but that they want to get involved in helping themselves. And this, after all, is the real goal.
Volunteering at the Mother Teresa center has also been going well. Though all of the kids' activities are kept in extremely limited quarters, its possible that this is done not only out of necessity or pragmatism, but out of forging a place where learning is integrated with the other daily functions of life. They sleep and eat next to where they learn, pray and conduct physical therapy. The sisters live in the house, and so become part of their community as well. Though obviously the Mother Teresa center is very different in function than the CRAWL school, there are some similarities.
I always felt personally removed from the school, and that the school itself was removed from the community, the village of Kardah. But I realize now that this is only because I do not live in Kardah. CRAWL has a living quarters in Kardah, and when this is filled (only girls can live there) there is a great sense of community fostered between the school and the volunteers. A girl who recently left had been to many of the kids' homes, and knew many of the people around town. While she was still here, we volunteers ventured away from the school into the residential neighborhood, to play soccer in a small muddy field. However, that no one lives in Kardah now results in a feeling of removal, like we are merely substitute teachers rather than volunteers wanting to interact. But now I realize that the school can be more successful if CRAWL has volunteers living in the community it is serving. Though in an earlier post I mentioned that living and working in the same place causes complications in maintaining one's "professionalism," I understand now that these complications are indicative of a feeling of community. Like many things in Calcutta, it's a mixed bag.
Posted by cheyman at August 17, 2009 12:09 AM