What would it take for you to resign your successful and well paid teaching post? What might drive you to leave the secure luxuries of the English home counties and travel to one of the planet's poorest places?
In April 2009 Andy Robson eft his job as Deputy Headteacher of a primary school and embarked on an adventure which gave him the best experience of his life. Andy left the wealth and stability of Surrey and headed for the slums of Mumbai, India to work with a small Indian charity called Vision Rescue. He's now driven by a passion deep in his heart to help India’s Street Children learn and succeed. In his own words...
Mumbai is the second most populated city in the world. There are an estimated 24 million people living there. 8 million people live in slums and around 300,000 children live on the streets. The majority of these children do not go to school and have never had a proper education because of their family background. Many have to work and beg to earn money for their families to survive. The life of poverty experienced by so many is a vicious circle. They need help to break out. They need support to gain the freedom to live dignified and fulfilled lives.
Vision Rescue, was set up in 2004 by Biju Thampy. On seeing the desperate situation of so many street children he set out to help change their lives. He gave them food, clothing and education. Biju and his Vision Rescue team now educate over 500 street and slum children on 4 yellow buses that they drive around the streets of Mumbai.
Every day the children are educated on the buses for 45 minutes. After the lesson each child is given a nutritious meal. For many, this is the only food they get during the day.
When you see the awful way that so many people live in Mumbai, you feel for them all and want to help. Homes made from bits of plastic, wood, cloth and metal each no bigger than one small room. This will normally sleep between 4 and 8 people as well as doubling up as a kitchen and dining room. The toilet and washroom will be the street outside and bins don’t exist. Many families will struggle through life having to beg for food and money. The ‘caste system’ in India tells them they are not worthy of anything more and so they accept this life for themselves and for their children.
The answer to breaking this poverty lies in education but unfortunately many of the people don’t see the value in giving their child an education. They are completely driven by money and this is why so many children are not at school. They are sent out to work or to beg so the family can buy food and have money. They will avoid costs such as medical treatment, fresh water and clothes which means their health and hygiene is extremely poor. To them having money is what keeps them alive but this money is earned at the expense of their children’s education and health. If educated, these children would grow up with a chance and a hope of one day living a fulfilling life with a real job. This is how the poverty cycle will be broken.
Vision Rescue Education Bus
The Vision Rescue Bus project is so important in helping the street and slum children get on the first steps of education. The part that I have been able to play has been a very fulfilling and amazing experience. Each bus has one teacher who teaches a 45 min lesson in English, Hindi, maths. I spent time at first just observing the teaching and getting to know the staff and the children. Most of the teachers have no educational training and some of them do not speak English. This was a major concern as it was affecting the level of education the children were receiving and could potentially receive. English is India’s second main language but most Indian people will speak their local language and then Hindi. English is seen as an academic language and is the key to education because job prospects will be vastly increased if a person can speak good English.
Training Indian Teachers
Traditionally, English has been taught as A is for Apple, B is for Ball, C is for Cat etc. There is very little knowledge of phonics when it comes to teaching English. Interestingly, Hindi is taught by letter sounds yet they get very confused by the concept of letter sounds for English.
I explained to the teachers that ABC is not the most effective method to help children read and write and they would end up having to teach the children all the words they need to know. By teaching them phonics, they were helping them develop the skills of reading and writing. I started to run a series of training courses for the teachers, training them in the very basics of teaching. This included sessions on lesson structure, behaviour, body language, voice control and teaching methods. I also ran many sessions on how to teach phonics and maths.
One thing that I had to remember was that these methods were completely alien to the teachers as they themselves had never experienced this kind of teaching in their own childhood learning.
A Clash of Teaching Styles
The teaching style in most Indian schools is ‘I tell you and you repeat and learn’ – what we would call ‘parrot fashion’. The majority of the leaning that takes place is done through constant repetition and memory. There is very little opportunity for research, experimentation or being able to learn for themselves.
Many of the government schools that most children attend are very poorly run with classes of up to 80 pupils and no personal learning. There is certainly no thought or consideration for children who struggle with their learning. Many of these schools will not take street or slum children because they are behind in their learning. The whole system is shockingly bad. There are good schools in operation but families have to pay vast sums of money for their children to attend. This automatically rules out the poorer families.
Over the last few years, the education the children have received on the buses has allowed them to start attending their local government school. However, the teaching on the buses has now vastly improved and the children are learning phonics and making amazing progress in their reading and writing. It means that when they start a government school it has a negative effect on their education and they start unlearning what they have been taught on the buses, reverting back to ‘A is for Apple.’
This has brought immense frustration to Biju, the Vision Rescue team and myself. Where do we go from here? All the hard work is going to waste and unfortunately the bus education will never quite be enough to give these children the full time education that they so richly deserve.
Returning to England I took stock of all that I had seen and experienced. I decided I had to do more to help these children. They desperately need good schools to attend and education to free them from the poverty trap. I got together again with Biju and we have created a plan to set up an educational trust and start English Medium Schools in the Mumbai slums over the next ten years.
This project will need huge investment and we will be hoping to fund the children’s education through child sponsorship. In order to start raising money for the schools project, I have set up a new charity in the UK called ‘Street Life.’ Not only will ‘Street Life’ raise money for schools but it will also fund training for the Vision Rescue Team as well as supporting rescue homes in Goa set up to look after abused, abandoned, and orphaned children.
We will also be helping fund another project to help rescue young girls from prostitution. Vision Rescue runs a day care centre in the middle of the Red Light District in Mumbai and they desperately need to make this 24 hour care for some of the children who are now being sold by their mothers to clients for very little money. There is so much that I could continue to tell. There is a blog with details of most of my work. You can read this at: www.visionrescue.blogspot.com
Also, you can visit the ‘Street Life’ website at: www.streetlifeindia.co.uk
The site has very recently been set up and is still being constructed. If you would like to support the work of Vision Rescue or give money towards future projects then you can donate via the website or by transferring money into the ‘Street Life’ account.
Just £40 will feed over 500 children for 2 days or pay for a child’s education for two months including books and uniform, and just £100 will pay one month’s wages for a teacher.
Street Life Account
Bank: The Co-operative
Sort Code: 089-299
Account no: 65454044
Thanks for reading my story. If you would like more details then you can email me at: email@example.com or contact Mike who will put you in touch with me.