We arrived in Agra (home of the Taj Mahal, among other things) in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday afternoon, and made our way to our lodging. We were told the Intel-powered classmate PCs would be arriving the next evening (Thursday), so our plan was to go and teach at the first school in Hathras Thursday morning. Once we returned to the hotel that evening, we’d prep the systems, and then return Friday with the new systems in hand. We’d go to the Mainpuri school on Saturday and Sunday (these are all-girl residential schools, so the teachers and students would be at the school during the weekend), then continue on to the third school in Hardoi the following week.
After a hearty Indian breakfast Thursday morning, we met Shaleen at our hotel. Shaleen is the CARE India representative for 11 schools in western Uttar Pradesh, including the two that we would be visiting. He is a friendly gentleman, and was as excited as we were about this project! Without further ado, we headed to Hathras through bumpy, dusty roads that at times seemed more akin to dry riverbeds than streets. Our driver (who could pass as Tom Selleck if he had been born in Delhi) did a fine job; he kept us moving and mostly intact during the 55 km, one hour and thirty minute drive. We arrived at the school in Hathras with presentations prepared, but not quite ready for what would come next.
As we pulled up to the school, there was a group of uniformed students waiting for us. We exited the car to a cheerful chorus of “Good Morning!”, and we were each handed a beautiful handmade fabric flower and a tie-dyed handkerchief. I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I found the gesture both incredibly welcoming and immensely humbling.
We made our way into the school, into the room that housed their one computer and served as an entertainment room and music room. This would be our home away from hotel away from home for the next two days, as we would be holding our training sessions and doing our deployment work here.
The hospitality was nothing short of incredible. Not two moments after putting down our things, one of the students was offering cups of water on a tray, followed shortly by a tray of crackers, grapes, pakoras, and mithai. This was more than expected and very well received after our long and bumpy road trip. We took our refreshments and met with the five teachers at the school.
Our plan was to run through our training with the teachers first. Our thought was that by first helping the teachers become comfortable with the systems, they could help us when we taught the students. With this much exposure, hopefully both the teachers and their students would be comfortable enough to use the PCs as a part of some of their classes.
Since there was one computer at the school already, a couple of the teachers were fairly savvy. However, it was clear that not all the teachers used the computer, and those that did not were definitely beginners.
As the session expanded, the team began to slip into natural roles:
Venkatesh is a great MC – he’s fluent in Hindi, he took the lead on introductions at the schools, and was good about keeping things moving. He’s a sharp photographer and a patient instructor.
I have no Hindi skill to speak of, but I was able to assist one on one. I was able to answer simple questions by example on the PCs, and would get the attention of a Hindi-speaking team member if I was out of my league. I also took note of improvements to the presentation as we went and suggested changes in the pacing and delivery of the content.
Sriram is not easily fazed (so long as he gets to have some local chai) – he remained focused and positive and in his own zone. He’s friendly and loves to educate and explain. His exuberance sometimes exceeds his Hindi skills, and he seems to wander off in thought sometimes. Still, if he can’t get the right Hindi word for what he’s explaining, he manages to go around it one way or another. It helped that he wore many a kurta, which made him fit right in.
Sandeep was a little unsure of leading a class in Hindi – his Hindi is intermediate and was a bit rusty, and there were some strong accents in the schools. However, he found his niche helping teachers and students one on one. His language skills were better than intermediate when it came to a giving a personal helping hand, and before too long he was addressing the entire room in Hindi.
Jyoti was shining as the lead teacher of the group – not only is she fluent in Hindi, she seemed to be able to speak so the teachers and students understood. She wore traditional Indian clothing and fit right in with the teachers. The students and teachers alike were impressed by her poise and presentation skills and have suggested not so subtly that they’d love for her to visit and even teach at the schools!
During the course of the day’s lessons, we were disappointed to hear that the PCs would not be arriving the next day, but would likely show up during the weekend or as late as Monday, April 26th. Taking it in stride (were used to doing that by this point ), we decided to visit the Mainpuri school the next day and work with those teachers with the presentation and systems we had. It would be tight to make it to Hardoi on Tuesday, but if the systems arrived even as late as Monday, we could set up what we needed at the hotel at night, drop them off at both schools, and continue on to Hardoi.
The next morning, we were up bright and early to have breakfast and head for Mainpuri. The trip would be 135 KM over two hours and thirty minutes, one way. The ride was much smoother than that to Hathras, and it was much more rural – more fields, less towns, more animals and fewer people.
The Mainpuri school was simpler than the Hathras school, with fewer amenities but the same crisp level of hospitality. We were warmly greeted by a single teacher, and given a quick tour of the classrooms. The students stood and greeted us as we passed by. We recognized the layout of the building, as it was the same floor plan as the Hathras school! We once again found ourselves in the large room with the single computer, although its orientation was different and there was less in it than in Hathras.
There were eight teachers in the Mainpuri school, and our focus once again began with them. We ran through our presentation, and the teachers’ enthusiasm helped to keep it fresh. It was a bigger class size, and there were a few more teachers than at Hathras who seemed comfortable with computers. There was more interaction, and the teachers warmed up sooner. I think they saw fewer visitors in their school than Hathras, and were glad to have us there (not to mention the PCs we would be bringing!). It was markedly warmer in Mainpuri, and the team probably did not drink enough water throughout the day.
The training was smoother than in Hathras, since we’d run through it once already and had worked the jitters out of ourselves . Worn out from our travels, the long day, and the heat, we climbed into our car in the mid afternoon to make the long drive back to Agra. We were hopeful that the new systems would arrive within the next couple of days so that we could keep to our adjusted schedule. We won’t be frightened by more curveballs, we’ll just do more of what we’re good at: improvising!