Day 53: Woman Leaders

Over the last year, I’ve been observing leaders in education closely, and I’m pretty impressed with the contributions made by the women in the industry. It’s unfortunate that a number of these talented ladies do not hold positions of power, but when did a position or an official title ever stop someone from being a true leader?

I met Dr. Shalini at a conference on Service Learning and was immediately impressed by her thought process. She’s accredited for being the only Indian author to have published a book in Service Learning. Her clarity of thought on the subject was extremely clear when she made the distinction between Service and Service Learning. While a number of presenters at the conference treaded left of center, and tried passing off community service as service learning, she was very persistent in her stand point. It’s maybe that attention to detail that caught my interest, but I left the conference impressed with the lady. 

None have influenced me in recent times as much as Ms. Shanti, at the Bethany Special School, has. Ms. Shanti Gnanaolivu moved from Southern Tamil Nadu to Bangalore in the early 1980s, looking to get a degree in Special Education. It was a time when kids with any mental disability were automatically branded as mentally retarded, and there were only 3 special schools in Bangalore. She attended one of the 3 centers that trained teachers in special education needs, while teaching Math at a mainstream school to make a living.

We’ve had the pleasure of listening to her life story over the many weeks that we visited Bethany. She has never shown an air of being the Principal of such a successful establishment, has never turned us away when we went looking for inspiration. Simplicity and passion for her job resonate in everything that she does. She answers her own phone calls and treats her assistant like a human being.

She shared stories of her trips to Holland and Netherlands in the 80s, and anecdotes about learning from such diverse cultures. She told us about how she coached and escorted the women’s basketball team to the Special Olympics in 1992. The team won gold in Minneapolis, and she was there to make sure every child reached home safely.

She comes from a generation that saw education as a necessity and not as a business prospect. She started her first teaching job not worrying about what the take-home salary was. Truly inspiring!

Women do make the world move around. They run the house, take care of their babies and find time to stay socially active.

Maybe if I kept string at Amma like this, she’ll get off Facebook and bring me a treat. What say, S?” Scotch 


Day 39: Respect

We spent the afternoon at the Special School, preparing props for their upcoming Prize Day. The theme for the year is “Respect: Give it to Get it”. Could any other topic be closer to my heart than this one? We were excited to watch the kids rehearse for the skit that we put together based on this theme. We had fun writing the scenes for the play. Equally fun was preparing this colorful backdrop for the skit.

My hair inspired the yellow boy, I think

As we were working, Jeslyn, one of the children in the fast learner’s class hung around, trying to help us. She is one of the most chatty ones in the class; she took us around the lunch group on our first day and introduced us to all her friends. She sings ‘Jesus loves me’ beautifully and tells me that Jesus loves her a lot because she prays to him every day when she goes home.

In the course of the two hours that we spent there working, Jeslyn asked me thrice if I had lunch, about four times what I had for lunch, definitely about five times if the Principal had allowed us to watch them sing during the Prize Day, and another three times if I knew her name was Jeslyn. She reminded me about four times that her Johnu also studied at Christ, asked me about five times what happened to my hands and if it hurt, and mentioned around ten times that she loved singing ‘Jesus loves me’. She asked me about five times if we could go down to play and about ten times where her class teacher was.

As she asked me the same question over and over again, and as SrA’s responses to her started getting more and more snide, I wondered what was really going through this little child’s mind. She is in the top performing class in the Special school, but was removed from regular school for being slow and disrupting others in class. What was truly going through her brain that made her forget what was said only 5 minutes back, and yet remember the entire lyrics to her favorite Jesus song? She never missed reminding Stuti to wipe the drool off her face, or helping Kelly find her favorite crayons. But when she was looking for her own English book, she looked over and over at the same spot, expecting it to magically appear.

It’s funny when we see movies like 50 first dates and laugh off at people that forget the present within 10 seconds. But what would life for Jeslyn truly be, if her mind worked so fast that it did not even capture what was responded to her first question because it was already making up the third question to ask? Would everyone have patience like her dear teacher, to tell her for the fifth time that we will come back next Thursday to help her finish the scooter prop?

Sometimes I wonder if you’re a little slow and suffer from memory issues like this Jeslyn too, S. Why else would you not give me food right now and make me wait for it instead?” Scotch 

Day 32: Dog eaters and Occupational Therapists 

Dog eaters

We had an interesting conversation over tea today. My classmate is from Manipur (a state in the northeast of India) and we got talking about how some tribes in the north east eat dog meat. Continue reading →