About 2 months back, I finally overcame the inertia of taking a late afternoon nap on Sunday and turned up with my bicycle at the location. It had been about 2 months since I had signed up for the Robin Hood Army, but not turned up for the Sunday drive for some reason or the other.
We were just three of us that Sunday, so we distributed food amongst the street-dwellers in the Churchgate area. The next Sunday I turned up, due to the presence of more volunteers, there was an education drive as well. Kids from all ages, living in the streets of that area, were gathered in a park in the same locality. While some of them knew addition and subtraction and were taught by one group of volunteers, I was in the group that taught the smaller kids simple mathematics. Most of them hardly knew how to count, some had no idea about numbers, whereas some had brief encounters with the digits. It was a test of patience yet a fun learning experience keeping their ever-wavering attention while teaching them basic concepts of numbers. The drive ended with distribution of food.
The calendar had turned. I had a missed a few drives since I was away from the city. A few pictures from these.
The next Sunday I turned up, some of the elder kids were grappling with their geography lessons that were given in an earlier drive. I interacted with kids from mostly the smaller age groups, whom I could teach a few more alphabets of English than they already knew. I managed to make a slightly elder kid write out his full name, and considered it a success.
I have noticed a disturbing trend among a few kids: while not trying to learn themselves, they were also disturbing the ones that were. A fear of being high-handed drove me to keep my calm but I did feel a strong need to scold some of the trouble-makers. I realized that we are not teachers in school, and do not have even the basic rights that teachers enjoy, so we got to be careful.
The next Sunday, which was yesterday, I had a very good experience with some of the senior kids. While a few of them were trying their skills on multiplication and doing decently, there was one particularly bright kid with his writing arm fractured, who could do his multiplications quite easily and had a vague idea of division. I had fun taking him from one level to another, challenging him, teaching him how to add without writing (using his inability to write as an excuse), egging him on to recite one more multiplication table, and doing simple divisions. Whenever it was required to write, it was him dictating and me writing. Next Sunday, I am looking forward to teaching him 2-digit division! At the end of the drive, in addition to the usual food, we distributed chocolates — but only to those kids who had studied. The idea is to use this as an incentive to make them study. We are hoping that some of the kids who wanted the chocolates but did not get them this time will turn up the next day instead of just playing around.
It is sheer joy when some of the kids greet our arrival with “Hi didi!” and “Hello bhaiya!” When the sun has gone down and none of them is in any mood to study anymore, some of the really smaller kids hold our hands to use them as levers for swinging in the air! Some just hide behind our legs while playing hide and seek with their mates and giggle away! The kids don’t know the difference between rich and poor, they are happy to be around. Their happiness is priceless. Those hours at the Sunday drive are indeed worthwhile.
I see some of the volunteers starting early, collecting food from the contracted restaurants, going around different localities distributing them before the start of the education drive, and doing the same afterwards, making sure all the pockets of street-dwellers in South Bombay Town area are covered, that everyone gets food at least for one night of the week… What drives the volunteers? A will to change. Change is not driven in the bulk; it happens in small, incremental steps. I am reminded of a story that I have heard as a kid: Sister Nivedita was trying to set up a school for girls in the locality where I grew up. She was going to the houses asking the parents to send their girl-child to her would-be school. In one particular house, referring to the general inert mentality of conservative Indians, a father said to her, “What if I do send my daughter to your school? Will you be able to convince the others? Will you be able to change the system?” Sister Nivedita replied, “I will be able to impart education to at least one daughter, your daughter.” A small positive change in the locality can go a long way. The school was indeed set up and holds a certain name and quality even today. Similarly, we hope that our efforts can drive a bigger change in the future.
Personally, I am looking forward to joining more drives, taking up more responsibility. I am looking forward to interacting more with the kids and igniting in them a passion to learn. Because only education has the ability to give them a brighter future, a shelter over their heads… some day… Even if one kid from the lot passes the boards exam, I will consider it a collective success of all the volunteers involved. Every week I see new faces on the drives, both volunteers and kids. I am yet to get acquainted with all. But the energy of the volunteers, and the sheer promise that I see in some of the kids are what drive me. There is still a long way to go.
To know more about the activities of the Robin Hood Army in Mumbai, you can visit our Facebook page. However, Robin Hood Army is not limited to Mumbai. These are the main Facebook pages: 1 and 2, for this volunteer-driven organization that operates on the idea, “We don’t need your money, we need your time.” You can join us by simply accompanying a Robin, or via our website. Here’s us on Wikipedia.