Dreaming Big in Udaipur

In February, two Canadian volunteers, Peter Gillies and Christine Beasley, facilitated a learning experience for some students from Hunar Ghar.  Seven children from Class 6 visited Udaipur for the very first time.  Here Peter and Chris share some background to the trip and what they learnt…

Once upon a time there was a boy who had lived all of his 12 years in dry, rural Rajasthan. He had never seen a lake, nor a high hill—and certainly not a ropeway that ran from the foot of one to the top of the other. Nonetheless, he had the perfect metaphor to describe his first visit to the city: “The boat ride was like swimming, and the ropeway like flying.”

In February 2015, we had the privilege of hosting seven Class 6 Hunar Ghar students for five days in our adopted winter home in Udaipur. Our introduction to Educate for Life — in February 2014 — took the form of holding music workshops during which we danced, sang and shared several days of creative activity with the children. We were inspired by the students’ enthusiasm, and the thoughtful, realistic approach to development of Educate for Life management and staff. After returning to Canada, we agreed to help develop a transition strategy for Class 8 graduates. The Udaipur trip was a first step in connecting the students of Hunar Ghar with personal dreams and connections for what they can do once they graduate from school.

The visit itself – captured in our daily blog – was only five days long. We had however been anticipating it since the fall of 2014, with a western planning perspective that had long lead times and high expectations of getting everything in place before we landed in Udaipur three weeks before the students did. Ha. Each of our Udaipur friends said “call me when you get to town.” So we did, and the people of Udaipur opened up their arms and embraced the project with enthusiasm.

One of our greatest joys was engaging with the students. We have our own three kids—aged 28, 29 and 31— who have grown up and moved away. During the project we thrived on, and were exhausted by, the youthful energy and curiosity of these young adolescents…never mind the language difference.

There were reminders about being patient. At the outset, the kids were quite shy about interacting with others, but they seemed to open up as the week progressed. The camera dominated the first day—the students wanting to be both in the picture and behind the camera. We despaired at their fascination with the selfie, but in a village without electricity, and where many don’t even have mirrors let alone digital cameras, a device that can capture your friends’ faces immediately is something to be explored.

However, they surprised us. Once out of sight, the camera was out of mind. And the TV. They sat for almost an hour before lunch one day watching perhaps their first TV show. Similarly, once it was turned off, it was gone from their world. Hmmm.

The children embraced a huge range of new experiences during our five days together and we all came away with fresh perspectives and insights. Did you know that eating the supari nut rots teeth and can cause infertility in women? Everybody learned something during our visit to the dentist. You just gotta be open…

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