Reports From India


Katie Barry.

 Last Updated  31-Jul-2005 12:00 PM





well I'm nearly here a week and it has been amazing. We arrived in the
airport about midnight on thursday/friday and jumped into a private
minibus- it was hot! Coming in on the plane the outside temperature
read 37 degrees celcius. The roads here are manic but more about that
later. Watching out the window of the bus we saw all the indian people
sleeping out on roofs of cars, buses, balconys, houses just
everywhere- it was amazing.

The accomodation is pretty good- we are three to a room, with
airconditioning and an ensuite bacthroom with sink shower and toilet-
in theory. In fact our airconditioning hasnt worked since the first
night, our janitor keeps coming in to fix it and it works till he
leaves the building and then breaks down again- there have therefore
been some fairly hot and sweaty days and nights since I came! the
bathroom sink is perfect, the toilet is the traditional eastern hole
in the ground but we are getting over that, but the shower takes the
biscuit. there is a drain in the corner so its level access- very
impressive from ot point of view! there is an immersion heater in the
same corner which is plugged in guess where in the corner. The wires
are torn and are held together with insulating tape- not exactly ideal
electrics but since we dont use the immersion we have put the wires up
out of the way of the water and its all good!

The accomodation is in Jamin Hamdard university. College is off at the
moment so things are pretty quiet around there but everyone is back
the beginning of june so hoping to get involved in something through
the college- indian dance or something a bit different! - maybe a few
hindi classes wouldnt go astray! The university is about 40 minutes
from the centre of delhi but the area has a few markets nearby where
we can get pretty much everything we need. We went into delhi city
centre a few days ago and we went to an underground market in
connaught place. I refused to buy anything because I think I'm going
to be ripped off all over the place and I was right! The shop keepers
eyes light up when they see a white face! One of the other girls was
buying a skirt in a shop and the other shop keeper tried to sell me a
top for 450 ruppees (about 9 euro) and I kept saying no cause I didnt
want to buy anything- it came right down to 50 ( 1 euro) Its good to
know! Everything here is so much cheaper- I dont know how I will ever
survive when I come home! For the most part we are eating out every
evening for less than a euro although what we found a more upmarket
area which has some really nice restaurants which cost about 5 euro
for a maincourse but they will have to be a treat!

I think the thing that has amazed me most since I came are the roads.
Everywhere is either dual carraigeway or bodhrin and an equal volume
of traffic on each. We travel mainly by autorickshaw. The rules of the
road are drive on the left and give way to things that are bigger than
you. As with all rules these are bent a little- from what I can see
the rules are if you think you can fit (right or left side of the
road)- go for it and if you think you can make it before the bus can
-go for it. My first rickshaw ride was terrifying but I'm getting
pretty used to them now and they are actually a really nice way to
travel for short distances. Unfortunetely for slightly longer
distances they are very hot and you come out of them looking like you
were swimming in your clothes! The driving here makes crossing the
road almost impossible- as a pedestrian you are bottom of the food
chain- everybody is able to run you over and some even make special
attempts to do so!

We started school on monday. We are working here with a local NGO
called Prayas. It is one of the largest NGO's in delhi. The set up
they have is fantastic- they have orphanages, bridge schools,
vocational centres, womens help groups, a rape crisis centre,
counselling services and really impressive social work services. We
spent monday morning going around the main buuilding and learning
about Prayas itself. One of the founders nicknamed Ram spoke to us and
he was truly inspirational. He was hilariously funny too! Having been
outside and come back in he commented how we had had an expierience
which would make us identify with tandoori chicken! Everybody loved
him. Then we got to visit our schools!

There are 20 of us plus two coordinators so we are placed in pairs in
ten different schools around the city. My school is about 10 minutes
walk from the university. There are approximetely 40 in the class(
aged 6 to 14) although this fluctuates an awful lot. The room is about
12 foot square so there isnt really alot of room for games and dancing
but we have tried none the less! Everytime I look at the kids I think
they are packed in like sardines and yet another three come in and
find a place to sit. There are three different classes withing the
room-1st 2nd and 3rd but I'm not sure whether these classes are split
by age or by standard. In fact I'm not sure where they are split. I'm
having trouble learning names there are so many with names like
vajidali and rajababu! The teacher's standard of english is very poor
so its dificult to know what she wants of us. Admission to mainstream
is the 1st of july so she wants us to do revision so the children will
pass the entrance exam but we dont know what they have done for us to
revise! When we asked if the children had learnt time she told us we
come 9 to 1, the children come 9 to 1 and there is a half hour break!
It should be interesting. We have thought them the classroom objects
over the past few days and played games like "katie says" show me the
wall. They seem to wrote learn everything so it is difficult to know
if they actually have any idea what we are doing the game helped
though. I'd do things like say point to the floor and I'd point to the
ceiling so they would have to think for themselves. Other than that we
sang our national anthem and they sang theirs, we did some irish
dancing and they did some indian and they sang all the songs the Suas
volunteers thought them last year like twinkle twinkle and once I
caught a fish alive. They had all these actions which last years
volunteers obviously made up and they are confused as to why we are
doing diferent actions! There are some serious fans of head shoulders
knees and toes in the class and teaching them their threes in such a
small room was hilarious- we had alot of hopping at least! The birdie
dance was also a big hit. The temperature however (about 44 degrees)
does not make dancing a favourite activity of ours! We do it anyway
and come home very wet and very happy, praying that today our
airconditioning might be working!

Lots of love

  To begin with I apologise for any spelling mistakes I make. I blame my
father's genes! Also if you know anyone interested in this email
either sent it to them or send me their address and I'll add them to
the list. I apologise that I didnt get time to collect emails before I
left so hopefully everyone whose interested is getting it.

well its been 2 weeks but it feels like years since I wrote my last
email. I dont know where to start. Its been amazing. My last email was
written on a wednesday afternoon and everything was wonderful in the
world- that night delhi belly hit- and hard. Not an enjoyable
experience but I'm all recovered and hopefully have some level of
immunity. We really have no idea what caused it but 7 of us went down
the same day so there had to have been something! Because there were
so many of us sick we got a doctor to do a house call. Because it is
the medicentre's policy they also brought an ambulance so we got stuck
with the cost of that too. We ended up with a paramedic, a doctor and
a nurse. They checked us all out individually and gave us all
perscriptions. The whole cost came to 4 euro per person, the
antibiotics came to 2 euro. This country is crazy!

The monsoon also hit the same night. Well actually it was apparently
only a premonsoon shower, but I have never seen the likes of it. It
came out of nowhere and there were gale force winds, thunder and
lightning and hailstones the size of ice cubes. no exaggeration. It
lasted about 10-15 minutes and then brightened up and dried off almost
completely within an hour! We have had a few showers since but nothing
as dramatic and the monsoon proper hasnt hit yet. Its gotten cooler
without a doubt though, Its now a cool 25- 30 which is very
manageable! In fact it's almost cold. We have stopped using the
aircoditioning. Once the monsoon hits proper, we will have to be very
careful. We have been advised not to go out if the roads get
waterlogged because most manhole covers have been stolen and if you
fall down one during monsoon - tough!

The road our school is pretty muddy (to use a nice word) on a good day
but after the showers its like walking through a slurry pit. I'm
getting used to it though. Its just a matter of stepping in the dryest
shallowest parts, but when there are so many people its difficult to
dance around them. I have no doubt that at some stage over the three
months I will loose my balance and end up in a heap in the mud! Today
it was raining so people were using umbrella which really added to the
lack of space. Before we get to the small muddy street we have to
cross a dual carraigeway. I dont think I'll ever get used to it. It
takes us ten minutes every morning. One morning we spent so long
stepping forward and back towards the other side that an Indian man
shouted "go now , go now". It was hilarious. I have figured out a
system whereby I position an indian person between me and the traffic
and try to shadow him/her. It seems to be working pretty well.

School is great. We have really settled in at this stage and have a
good idea of the needs of the different children. The levels of
ability within the class are very different so its pretty challenging
but we are getting there. The rote learning that is going on is crazy.
They know all the letters but not the sounds. For example Ann Marie
was doing Y with one of the kids and she said Y is for yoghurt- and
the kids got very upset and said no Didi y is for yak! no idea! I was
doing the continents yesterday and we photocopied a map for them to
colour in and we had the names written on the continents and each one
had to be a different specific colour to revise the colours we did
last week ( I know all my colours in hindi). The teacher said they
knew them so we began by them calling all 7 continents out and we
wrote them up on the board. Then they coloured in the continents,- in
fact I'm not convinced they know the colours in hindi, never mind in
english but anyway. Explaining the sea was hilarious. We just said
water water water water blue blue blue in hindi and english, but it
was a very difficult concept to grasp. How do you explain that much
water to kids who dont have enough to drink on a daily basis? But the
funny part came when we were correcting them and trying to get the
kids to read the words Begining with north America Spelling-
n-o-r-t-h looking at the ceiling ang then saying australia, no asia-
no europe! Only a small few had any idea what the letter sounds were.
the ones who know are amazing the ones who dont are even more amazing!
We did some work on only the A words that we have covered since we
came and we came up with quite a list, trying to emphasise the A
sound in each word. The children took down all the words and then
brought them up to be corrected, we tested their reading and we got
things like a-l-a-r-m - ceiling. Patience is virtue. Determination is
esssential. Some of them did seem to be grasping it more than others
though, so hope springs eternal! If anyone has any advice on how to
overcome rote learning, I'd love to hear it.

One of the things we have noticed is that they all have quite alot of
vocab but no verbs and therefore no way of using the vocab so
hopefully going to do some conversation work- particularly with some
of the older children. We have being doing the news- today is,
yesterday was, tomorrow will be and the weather is. It going ok but
I'm not really sure how well they understand it. We have one girl
named Pinki in the class who is excellent. She is always finished
before the others and I know she understands what she is doing. We
brought books into her yesterday to keep her busy while the others
were doing their work and she flew through three english fairytales in
about half an hour. It could be a bit of work keeping her busy.

State school entrace exams appear to be on Saturday but details about
them are very vague. I have no idea who is going to sit the exam or
what they will need to know so cant help prepare them that well. It
will be interesting to see how things work out in the next week.

We usually take 2nd and 3rd class who are aged betwee about 8 and 14
and who in theory have a basic level of engish, but today they were
doing hindi so we worked with the 1st class, who are aged about 6 to
9. It was one of the most manic experiences of my life. There were
about 40 of them squeezed into a classroom about 10 foot by 10 foot.
The teacher wasnt there for the first hour or so and they were all
fighting and jumping up and down and moving about. We tried to do the
alphabet doing a and b words with emphasis on the sounds. Then they
had to write them in their copies. As we were correcting them one of
he kids went up to the board and edited banana so when the teacher
returned we were teaching them to spell banana -banann. She corrected
us- we were mortified, tried to blame it on the kids but how lame an
excuse i that! Dying to go back to my 2nd and 3rd class tomorrow, they
are a million times more manageable.

A group of us went to Jaipur last weekend for a bit of sightseeing. It
is an amazing city but the experience of being a tourist was probably
what impacted upon me most while we were there. We had a big white bus
and we were big and white. Naturally we stood out a mile and peoples
eyes lit up with dollar signs when then saw us. Its low season at the
moment here for tourists so we basically had everyone in the city who
lives off tourism follow us all day. It was far from enjoyable.
Everywhere we stopped there was a group of 20-30 people waiting to try
to sell us postcards, elephant souviners, memory cards for cameras,
Photos, everything and anything really and beggers then as well. We
went on an elephant ride up to the amber palace and a photographer
took photos he proceeded to follow us for 6 hours trying to sell us
the photos. We ended up buying most of them. Everything or everyone we
took a photo of had to be tipped -minimum 1 euro. Even the gaurds at
the palaces would call us over and ask if we would like to take photos
with them and then charge us. It got a bit tiring and aggrevating.
Even bringing our cameras into attractions was a problem. Most places
charge an extra 2 euro for cameras but the last place we went to we
were assured there would be no extra charge for camera. Phew at long
last! Got to the door- no photograhy allowed - fine 10 euro! So you
can bring your camera for free just dont use it! The whole experience
really made me appreciate the experience I am getting here in the
schools. I am living as part of the community, meeting and working
with the people and getting a very rich idea of the reality of India
and its people. If I came only as a tourist- it would be very easy to
believe that India and it's people consisted of the hastle and stress
which we went through last weekend. That said Jaipur was an amazing
city- the architecture there was just out of this world and we had a
really good guide who gave us a great insight into life and times in
Jaipur past and present. I think I would like to go back at some stage
but never again in a big group.

I'm staying around this weekend- going to do a bit of shpping and a
bit of sightseeing around Delhi- chill out a bit and relax. Up to now
I have only been working mornings in the schools but from next week
Eamhnait, Kathryn and I are starting a dance, drama and art group with
some kids, The details of which are still very vague, but I'm looking
forward to it! I'll hopefully find out more before the weekend and be
able to put the planning stages into action over the weekend.

Hope everything at home is all good. Thanks to everyone who sent
emails, its really great to keep up to date on what's happening at
home. Sorry I cant send personal responses. Hope everyones summer is
going well. Take care

Love Katie xxx

27th of July 2005

Hello again everybody,

I know I've said it before but thanks to everyone who has sent me
emails, It has been great to hear everything thats going on at home.
Dont think what you have to say is boring because to me, Ireland
sounds pretty exotic at this stage, I'm beginning to feel like India
is normal- remind me what home is like so I dont get too shocked when
I get back!

Its been an interesting couple of weeks since I emailed last, a
rollercoaster as ever. We have started full days of school, and that
is really tiring, but so rewarding but let me start at the start.

My last email was wednesday July 6th, I cant believe it was that long
ago, it feels like only last week but anyway thats what the computer
says so I'll believe it. There was bad rain on the thursday and most
people couldnt get to school, and friday was off because of school
entrance exams so we ended up having a very long weekend to relax and
chill out but it was great.

The weather here is very hot at the moment a very humid also. As a
result we are constantly damp/ wet, either from rain or sweat.
Something we werent really prepared for. As a result we are all
getting colds and sore throats so the pharmacies here are making a
fortune off us on lozengers and vick vapo rub type stuff! For the
most part though we are all pretty healthy which is good.

In my afternoon school I am now only working with Kathryn , Eamhnait
was transfered to another school with Ciara. The school is fantastic.
Its double the size of my morning school and that just makes so much
of a difference. The children tend to all copy off each other or just
off one person and its impossible to stop when the space is so small
but in the large room I was able to send people into various corners
and discover who could and couldnt do the work alone which was great.
There was one girl who couldnt add, and I taught her to add,(using my
expert hindi!) sitting in the corner while Kathryn read the others a
story and did drawing with them. I felt bad keeping the poor child
back to do maths when the others were doing fun stuff, but she refused
to go when I offered her a page to draw on. She really appreciated the
personal attention and really benefited from it too. She has now
grasped the concept very well and has moved on to adding 2 and 3 digit
numbers. I got such a kick out of it. Although I was giving most of my
attention to her, this other girl kept coming up with her copy and I
figured I could spread myself to 2 so I gave her subtraction,
suspecting she would not be able to do it. My suspicions were right.
She got them wrong so I rewrote the sum and began to try to teach her
the method of subtraction and she started giving out to me, says no,
no didi, tick tick. So I put an x beside each sum she had gotten wrong
and she gave out to me again, no. no didi, tick pulled the copy off me
and stormed over to Kathryn. How to you explain to a child who has
rote learnt the correct mark that she is infact wrong. She went back
to drawing and hasnt attempted to do maths with me since! I'll crack
her at some stage though. On the other hand we have a boy in the class
who is fantastic at maths. I gave him a 3 digit addition sum to do
just to see his standard and he went away, changed the addition sign
to multiplication and worked it out. I had to get a calculator to
check if he was right or not- he was!

The plan is to have a big show in about two weeks time with some of
the kids from various schools, so all the kids will come and each
school will individually do a song/dance which we hopefully wil have
thought them, and then all of them together will do a song which will
be the same across schools. Its hoped that working with small groups
will allow some of the kids who need it most to come out of themselves
and perform. It could be an almighty success or absolutely disasterous
but even if the group get more individual attention in the practice
sessions, it will be worth it. The children benifit so much from one
on one attention, because they are all from such big families and
because the classes are so big, personal attention is not something
the children are generally familar with unless perhaps it is negetive.
A little positive attention never did anyone any harm!

In the last week or so both of the teachers in my schools have
dissapeared. It complicates matters slightly to find yourself with
fifty kids, no teacher, no hindi and three hours with which to occupy
them. If we were warned that they would not be there we could come
equiped with so much but without work prepared school is like a mad
house. My beloved 1st class seem to be getting more and more
boisterous rather than more placid and the older ones have realised
they can exploit our lack a clue and run riot. It leads to tired
ladies plodding home in the afternoon and evening. We taught the kids
actions on one of these such mornings. All sorts of running and
walking on the spot, jumping, dancing, swimming, sitting and standing.
Unfortunately this is a little tiring and the children didnt seem half
as interested in sleeping and sitting as they were in jumping and
dancing! You cant really blame them though, it isnt often they get the
oppertunity to be children. I was talking to a man who visited the
school recently who had reasonable english. He said any of the kids
over 10 would generaly be working to some greater or lesser extent. I
know that many of our older kids are sewing in factories. Its so
lovely to see them playing and laughing, and then reality pops back
into the equation when you see a ball of thread fall from a pocket.
The upside of that for them though is that they come to school
imaculately dressed. The older ones in particular. They wear lovely
bight colours and to look at, at first you would wonder if they are in
fact that poor. Then you see the neatly mended rips and the worn
knees, and if you watch for weeks as I have done you realise that most
children have only two sets of clothes- one to wear and one to wash.

One of the crazy expreiences I did have in school recently was when I
took out the camera. The children went wild. There was such a rush up
into the camera lens that most of my pictures consist of noses and
hands rather than faces and waves! But I have gotten some nice ones
and I cant wait to show them to people when I get back. I've gotten a
few really funny video clips too so, they will be nice memories to
keep. I've now taken the camera out a few times and I think they are
calming, but only slightly, hopefully I will be able to capture the
real essence of the class room before I leave but I'll be lucky. I
have only four weeks of teaching left, so time is running out for me
and my children, I cant believe time has flown by so quickly.

We went to the Irish embassy in delhi the friday before last. There is
another group from UCD over here doing similar work and the two groups
were invited to a reception. We decided to abandon the rickshawss for
the night and get taxis to the embassy, so that our glammed up selves,
remained somewhat glammed up after the sweaty trip to the embassy. It
was the weirdest experience. I was sitting in a car. It felt so wrong.
I just couldnt wait to get out of it and get back into my little
rickshaw for the trip home. I hope this strange feeling of mine
towards cars subsides before I return to Ireland or I could have a
slight problem. We met His Excellency Kieran Dowling and the third
secretary, Gráinne Morrissey. Both of whom were lovely and really
hospitable. Before going there were all sorts of rumours flying about
the dinner we would get, the hopes were high for a bit of steak, spuds
and gravy, or even bacon and cabbage, but no such luck, never the less
the food was out of this world. There was a big buffet of about ten
different Indian dishes, spiced down to Irish standards, and the
ingredients were so fresh and beautifully cooked. I could have sat
there eating for the week, but decided against it in the end! The
other thing offered, in typical Irish style was drink, so we took good
advantage of that too. I had a glass of white wine which I had been
craving since I came, because wine isnt that available over here, and
chicken to go with! It was by far the best night of spoiling I have
had. The UCD crowd were really interesting to talk to as well, they
are involved in three different areas, a group of physios(students)
who are working in an orphanage, mainly with cerebral palsy children,
a group building a school consisting of a couple of
architects(students) and a few others who were willing to help and
then a few who were teaching. They are only staying a month in total
though and had only been here two weeks that night, we had been here a
month that night and it was just weird to think that we could be going
home. I suppose part of it is that we are psyched u to stay 3 months
but I'd hate to have to leave after just one.

We have a break from teaching this week, as we are engaging in a
global perspectives week. This is run by Suas, and is basically a
serious of lectures(some more interative then others) on development,
and basically puts what we are doing in a broader context. It is also
an oppertunity for us to talk about our experience to date and just
reflect a little on what impact it has and on whom. It has genuinely
been fantastic. The group volunteering in calcutta are also up for the
week, so talking to them and learning from their experiences has been
very valuable too. As the group come from a variety of backgrounds,
there are quite alot of interesting topics being raised and debated.
Speakers from unicef, the UNDP and the world back, as well as smaller
indian organisations have fueled most of this debate.

One of the speakers was from an indian NGO called Pratham, who are
involved in teaching children to read and write in an intensive style.
They work mainly in rural india and go to a village and basically
round up the kids all around the village and test then in their
reading ability. Some tests have been completed in trees, others in
ponds, but the net effect if the children get assessed and enroled
into the system. One of their projects which I thought was really
interesting is they write and publish childrens books in an effort to
encourage reading amoung children. They are hoping to start printing
english books and are looking for volunteers to write and illustrate
books which they will then publish, so that is something which can be
done here, in the next for weeks, or over the next four decades from
home. If anybody else is interested in getting involved, they would be
delighted of the assistance. Just a thought!

Anyway, I have probably stolen about three hours from our day by now
so I will stop my ranting and leave you in peace. I hope everyone is
getting my emails at this stage, if you missed one of the earlier ones
you should be able to find it on

thanks to Peter Scanlan.

Also Andrew Forde one of the other volunteers over
here has a testimonial up on the DCU website, so if you want another
perspective, it's a good read, the address is

Take care of yourselves
Love Katie


Andrew Forde, a graduate of the Computer Applications programme at DCU, is also spending the summer months in Delhi, India on the Volunteer Programme organised by SUAS, a youth and education-focused organisation. SUAS facilitates young people to address education disadvantage at home and overseas. Click Here for Andrew's report of his experiences:


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