When we lived in the City, some friends- SAHMs like myself- and I, used to meet once a month to chat, discuss books and current issues, etc. After a few meetings, we decided that instead of just discussing social issues, we should actively do something.
So we decided to start a ‘Sanskarvarga‘.
There was a colony nearby, consisting of five or six buildings built by the government, for people of low income groups. Class four Municipal employees – mostly of the Sanitation department- lived in a couple of the buildings. The rest of the tenants were mostly poor mill workers, Railway workers on day wages, or people of the fishing community.
In the open space at the center of the buildings, there was a Workers’ Welfare Center- consisting of a clinic and a small hall. We were given permission to use this hall for our Sanskarvarga three times a week. We used to go turn by turn- my turn was on Fridays.
We started this activity as an experiment and ended up continuing it for two years. At first we taught the children songs, told stories and played games for an hour each time.
One game everyone was fond of was the map game. We had put up a large map of India on the wall. The children would be divided into two teams. Each team would ask the other team to find a city on the map. As the children learned the names of more and more cities, they began to choose obscure, little-known towns which the opposite team could not generally find, resulting in a lot of teasing and arguing!
After a few weeks, some parents asked if we would help the children with some school work. So we changed the routine a bit, and conducted activities like games and story-telling for half an hour. For an hour after that we helped the children with their school work.
There were generally 20-25 children of various ages. We usually helped them with English and Mathematics, as these were the subjects they found the most difficult.
I often remember the children. There was Johny, who lived with his grandmother. His parents lived at Mahim, where his father caught fish for a living. Johny was about eleven years old, and his grandmother was determined that he should not ‘fall into bad company’. She came to see how we conducted our class, and then started to send Johny. If the other children were occasionally lazy about attending the class, she would round them up and make them attend.
There was one girl whose ambition was to become a dancer in Hindi films. She was convinced that this was the only way to make money. We slowly succeeded in making her understand that there were many other career options too.
Then there was the field trip we took to the Science Centre at Worli. I will never forget the joy on the children’s faces when they realized that they were actually allowed to touch the exhibits and see how they worked.
When we started our Sanskarvarga, we used to have a lot of discussions about what we should teach the children.
Then we began to realize that it didn’t really matter what we taught.
Of course we did try to help them with their schoolwork. We also tried to get them interested in various extra-curricular activities.
But I think even more important than that, was the connection that we were able to make with them. And with their parents.
During the two years we went there, we taught the children a few things. But they taught us even more.
The most important thing we learned was, that if we wanted ‘to make a difference’, we did not need to go out and try to change the world.
We could make a difference in our own little corner of the world. And I like to think that we did make a bit of difference in the lives of these children.
They certainly made a difference in ours.