When I came back to Janwaar in March, I felt more connected with the kids. They were more comfortable in sharing their feelings. Some of them were angry because I didn’t meet them before leaving and they didn’t know I’d left. Some were really happy I was back 🙂  

My focus in March was:

  1. Open School/Education
  2. Next Generation of Kids
    Link to an article on the same
  3. Passports for the women
  4. Villa Janwaar
  5. Village Vibes
  1. Open School Project

During this one week I was gone, Anil fell behind in his schedule. He missed homework deadlines and did not follow his schedule. So I sat down with him and helped him to stick to his schedule. We discussed his schedule, listed all the pending work and I was with him until the work was completed. I didn’t have much to do. For him, my presence and guidance was important. He finished all the pending work in the first evening. We adjusted his schedule according to his current needs. The goal is that he is able to adjust his schedule on his own at the end of every week.

Asha, Arun, Anil and I sit together for one-two hours in our daily communication sessions. In these sessions, they post on social media about their projects and findings, reply to all their mails and messages, update their schedules and discuss their challenges. They learn to talk about their problems, to help each other and to think critically in order to find a solution. In short, they learn to work as a team. Anil helps Arun and Asha to write in English as he is the best in studies and Asha suggests activities for the kids as she has conducted most number of sessions with the little kids. We also learn where there is space for improvement. Asha and Anil, for example, hesitate to take initiative. Whenever they are on a call, they poke each other to speak first and no one takes the lead. They also have to learn to handle negative feedback – they easily get irritated when critique drops in. They should build upon the feedback to improve themselves. 

A major part of Open School Project is to pass on learning. Asha conducts sessions with the youngest kids in the arts, nature, basic language and numbers. She also aims to improve their daily habits such as washing hands before eating, how to talk with each other and meditation. Arun holds exercise sessions to improve the skateboarding skills of the kids. Anil explores the computer and robotic kits with the kids. He has downloaded educational games which tests their basic maths, language and memory.

My role was to attend these sessions, observe and then guide them.

Asha is repeating certain activities over and over again – without taking into account to check the kids’ progress. She mentioned the same learning outcome for the past four months: learning the alphabet and counting till 100. Ulrike and I asked her questions like have the kids not learned the alphabet and numbers? If they have, should we include new activities? Then we suggested to her to find more activities which include writing and reading. We pushed her to build teams so that kids learn to work together. In the next session Asha divided the kids in three teams. The teams were asked to give themselves a name. Then we wrote some letters/characters on paper and pasted them in the room. The kids had to identify the letters which are included in their group name and write two words from every letter/character they found. It became obvious that the kids were neither used to writing words nor to work in groups. They fought a lot, some kids quit the class and some knew the words but could not write them. So Asha’s next task is to get actively involved in the team work and guide them purposefully. 

Aaha and I took the kids for a jungle walk last week. Their job was to collect various items to decorate the Villa Janwaar. Back at the Villa they had to write down the names of the items. All of this in team work. We stayed with the teams and helped whenever they went off track. 

Arun is conducting exercise sessions with the kids in the morning. His task is to enable Vinay and Rajaram, the rising young skateboarders of the village who have gone to two national championships, to conduct exercise sessions on their own. Vinay and Rajaram have to learn how to plan their sessions, engage with the kids and become physically fit. Unfortunately Arun neither prepared nor handled the sessions well. He was very often late and hardly guided Vinay and Rajaram. 

We discussed the matter and advised him not only to conduct a session for the sake of it but to enable and include the two in preparing and holding the session. He is now including Vinay and Rajaram in making a plan and includes them while conducting the sessions. At the end of every session all three discuss the session and provide feedback. So hopefully in a few weeks, Vinay and Rajaram will be able to conduct the session independently. Sadly Rajaram has to help his parents a lot in the fields which makes it difficult to attend every session. Hopefully this will change once the harvest is over. 

I’ve helped Arun to register the Barefoot Skateboarder Organisation with the All For Sport (AFS) platform, an initiative of Decathlon India. It’a mobile app which connects learners and coaches. The intention is that Arun will provide skateboarding classes – in theory and practice. His dream is to become a skateboarding trainer, so this can be his first step in this direction. And it can be a source of income. He acquainted himself with the platform while attending a few online sessions on skateboarding. In preparation for his own sessions he is exercising with the kids in the mornings and records skateboarding videos. We’ve created our own youtube channel – so Arun is “feeding” the channel. These videos will be the basis for his work with AFS.  

The maker space in our Villa Janwaar is moving forward. Anil has taken the lead and is holding computer and robotics sessions. Before the beginning of his sessions, we discussed that he should be an enabler in his sessions, not a teacher. He doesn’t need to bore them with information, rather he needs to explore with them. Explore the computer and the robotics kits with them so that they get comfortable with the technology. He has downloaded educational games on the computers and the kids are getting quite good at them. 

  1. Next Generation of Kids

Asha, Anil and Arun are the first batch of the Open School Project. Now, it’s time for the next generation of the village kids to join the game.

We have started three projects in March to do exactly this!     

Mannan was with the Janwaar kids for more than two years and is adored by all the kids and adults in the village. After a break of more than 1.5 years he is now back, virtually. On his initiative the Open Schoolers have chosen two kids of the next generation who will be mentored and trained by Mannan in cooperation with Anil and Asha. Anil and Asha have chosen Kalpana (14 years old) and Priyanka (13 years). Kalpana won the gold medal in the National Championships last year. She has also travelled to Jaipur where she participated in the Outreach Program of the Jaipur Literature Festival. It’s a 10-day program in which the participants write their own stories and put them into a short theatre play. Yet, she is a shy girl but eager to learn. Though she has a lot of work at home, she always makes an effort to come to the Villa especially since she has been selected for the mentorship program with Manan. Priyanka on the other hand is hard to stop when she starts speaking. She is fast in learning and doesn’t shy away from a task. She is not interested in studying but I saw a spark in her eyes when we talked about her interest in acting. Therefore we decided that she can work with other kids on theatre and dance. They will learn while helping Asha and Anil in their sessions. Parallel they conduct sessions on their own. This will ensure they get the guidance they need while at the same time they are independent to shape their own sessions. 

Vinay (11 years) and Rajaram (13 years) have shown exceptional skills in skateboarding. Vinay has even won a silver medal in the last national championships. They both are one of the best athletes in the village and are regular in school as well. These reasons helped us choose that these two can take daily exercise sessions with Arun. Arun will guide them for one month and then these two will hold the sessions independently.

I have one-to-one conversations with Kalpana, Priyanka, Sachin, Vinay and Dilasha – five of the next generation kids. We talk about their families, life in the village, their dreams, their travels and the role of skateboarding in their lives. At the beginning Kalpana did not express her feelings, so we started to read books together. Priyanka talked a lot about her brother and sister – her brother is not able to continue studies because of the work in his house and her sister loves to skate when there is no one in the skatepark. I asked her: “What do you want to become?” She had no answer to this. It took a while until she said: “What if I don’t become what I say – that’s why I don’t want to say anything.” This is very, very sad – I find. I will encourage her to keep on dreaming. Vinay is a good team player. He tries to help his teammates and always leads from the front. It would be wonderful if he shows the same kind of empathy with his brothers. With his brother he is rather bossy than initiating a conversation with them. So my next conversation with him will be about his relationship with his brothers.

These conversations will help them to reflect. We will also gain important insights in their lives. We want them to start shedding their shyness and share their stories to the world…. and of course – pass on their learning! 

  1. Passport For Four Adivasi Women

The idea is more than two years old and was stuck from time to time. In March we started just another relaunch. 

Jalsa Bai, Kamla Gond, Kallu Bai, and Siyabail – the mothers of Arun, Asha, Sachin and Ramkeshrespectively – will travel to Germany to visit Ulrike in her hometown, Heidelberg. The idea was born when Asha, Arun and Ramkesh returned from their trips to Europe. The mothers were very curious to learn about the foreign countries their kids had visited. So Ulrike asked them if they wanted to come and visit her. And without any hesitation all of them said YES!!! And all what was left for their husbands was to agree and let them go. They get that spark in their eyes when they imagine what will happen. It’s so lovely to see. 

Jalsa Bai (left) and Kallu Bai eating samosa chaat in Panna.

We feel their trip to Europe will give them a different standing in the village and they will better understand the various possibilities life has to offer for their children. It’s important that they experience what their kids experienced – we believe that will smoothen the processes in the village itself. No longer will only the children be ambassadors of change, but their mothers as well. 

We now have resumed the process to get their passports. The first step was to find out which documents are required for the process and which of them the ladies have. Some changes in their aadhar cards were needed and it turned out that the passbooks were eligible documents and made the difficult procedure to get their birth certificates obsolete. We went to the nearest town, Panna, to get all this done. It proved to be a wonderful trip as we completed most of the work and had some fun time as well.

We are waiting for their aadhaar cards to get updated. It usually takes one week. Once this is done, we can book the appointments in the passport office. 

  1. Villa Janwaar

DIY was once again our motto. We made legs for a new table –  using bricks and mitti. For me personally it was my first try ever to build something out of mitti. My actual idea was to make a DIY session for the kids, however it turned out that I didn’t attract anyone to join. Yet I inspired  the kids to create something of their own.

Dilasha (right), Chahna (middle), and Luvkush making a Ganesh (Hindu deity) with mitti.

While I was making the legs for the table, I really screwed everything up 🙁  I had started to build in the wrong room. It was a miscommunication between which has taught me two things: 

  1. always make a sketch before starting construction and 
  2. communicate properly. 

We had to break the legs and then Seklal (our master mason) made the legs in the right room. We have bought wood and glass and the table is now completed. 

Our new table is ready.

I am very excited about Seklal’s new project. He went for work to Prakriti School, Noida, earlier this month. There he built animals like an elephant, a deer and a tiger. Now, he wants to do the same in Villa Janwaar. Ulrike liked the idea and gave him the freedom to buy the material and then to build the animals. He will make three animals in the Villa – an elephant, a crocodile and a few monkeys. He is very excited about this new job and shows up every morning at the Villa thinking about the animal he will create. He is almost done with the elephant and he has repaired our tiger, only the outer layering of the tiles is left. Soon we will have a little zoo at the Villa. 

Seklal and his wife creating a baby elephant.
  1. Village Vibes 

We distributed 18 skateboards in the village. We covered all the areas of the village and focused more on girls. There is a new breeze in the air. The kids look happy and the skatepark is full. I am happy to see that the girls also find time to skateboard despite their work at home. These young skateboarders have a new confidence with the skateboards under their arms. You can see this confidence in the way they drop from the ramps, and speed up to take off.

To summarise the major outcome of my visit in March: 

  1. Open Schoolers came on track with their schedules
  2. Open Schoolers started coming together for communication sessions in the evenings.
  3. Reviving the process of passport for the ladies.
  4. Observe and guide the younger generation.

Outlook for April:

  1. Send four farmers to Prem Singh for workshop on organic farming
  2. Passport appointments for the ladies and Anil
  3. Priyanka dance and theatre sessions
  4. National Skateboarding Championship in Chandigarh
  5. Ensure open schoolers stick to their schedule for preparation of the exams
  6. Encourage Vinay and Rajaram to conduct exercise sessions in the morning. 
  7. Water filters for the villagers
  8. Kitchen garden next to the skatepark
  9. Sessions on preparation of exams with the kids

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