The Wind Beneath Their Wings

‘Swapaksh’ loosely translates as ‘by the power of your own wings’. We chose the name because that is exactly what we believe our students need. They move forward in this world, soar to the skies by dint of their own hard work and determination.  Our school is simply the wind beneath their wings.

So its a matter of great pride and joy to us when we see our kids take their learning into their own hands.

It has taken time but today, they actually step up and say “I didn’t understand that… Can you teach me again?” 🙂 The first step towards change is awareness is it not?

Today, each child tries to complete the work on their own rather than just copy and get it over with. Each child makes sure the teacher takes a look at their completed work and verifies their understanding. And if they get something wrong the first time, they go back and do it over. And over and over!

As a school that aims to educate the heart as well as the mind, we are loving this. Touch Wood.

Of Diyas and Topis…

Its been a festive November at school – could you expect any less from a month that starts off with Diwali?

Kids and grownups alike listened enthralled as one of our volunteers presented an animated narration of the Ramayana. The magic, emotions and bravado came alive for us right in our little classroom.  You could tell the story really caught their imagination when the circle time discussions continued to be about Ramayana for at least a week after! All the students then made pictures of diyas and with those we decorated our school for Diwali.

We barely recovered from Diwali and Children’s Day was upon us. How thrilled the kids were to know there is a day dedicated to them! They learned about Jawaharlal Nehru and his love for kids by making a Nehru topi out of newspaper. Just look at our little Jawahars in the photos below – aren’t they adorable? A special C-day treat little expected by our kiddos – a puppet show with full on drama and theatrics, followed by some fun and frolic.

It has been a good month! 🙂

Our School Gets a New Home

It takes all kinds to make an endeavour like Swapaksh tick. Volunteers who generously donate the time required. Sponsors who generously donate the means required. Community leaders who provide on-the-ground support. And a whole lot of luck.

How fortunate are we that we have been blessed with all of the above! With the efforts of all these people, we have now secured a better school room. The new premises was inaugurated to great fanfare this past Sunday.

The kids turned up in their best clothes, looking so colourful and happy and excited about their new school and their performances.

Parents and sponsors arrived to lend an ear and show their support.

After a short prayer, the kids showcased what they had learnt over the last few months.

We distributed new uniforms and water bottles to the eagerly waiting kids.

And just look how smart they looked in their uniforms the next day morning!

Last, but not the least – our team of volunteers and teachers who worked very hard to make all this happen.



If the mountain does not come to Mohammad…

Student attrition is one of our biggest problems. Kids float in and out of the school almost on a weekly basis. Many of the kids we originally started with are no longer attending. Some have moved, some have been sent ‘home’ against their wishes, some have been put to work, some would just rather play. Or, there is simply a lack of commitment given that our school is free!

The reason we house the school in a shack right in the midst of their neighbourhood is to specifically address this issue of apathy. Kids who want to come to school should be able to get there on their own. Kids who don’t should be within reach of our house visits and cajoling.

And when Sama does not work, there is always Dana. While we try and make the entire learning experience fun and play, also sometimes resort to out and out bribing. Kids who attend a whole week without missing a single day get to take home one crayon from their box. Let’s see who earns their whole box. For long term retention, promises of a year end celebration where all students who attend regularly, work at their studies and make progress will receive prizes.


Hopefully, we will not need to apply Danda or Bedha. 🙂

Work and Play

Sometimes, these kids do come up with such funny things – their sense of humour and powers of observation are amazing. So while explaining few and many, distributing worksheets, doing exercises like circle the few or the many, one of the kids suddenly comes up with – “Oh, I understand it’s like few ma’am, many children “.
After that we just sailed through the concept.

On completing a join-the-dots worksheet that made a house, one kid proceeds to draw a clothes line next to it with garments of all description drying on it.

Another day, we were working with flash cards for words with A. After the usual apple, ant, ankle, etc we decided it was time for a bit of vocabulary building. So out came the next set of cards – A for abacus, aeroplane, asparagus, almonds, air! Picture of Almonds enticed all, asparagus took some explaining but the pretty pink and green was great for drawing. The outright winner though was “air”. So much huffing and puffing meant we all learnt “A for air” but needed a big breather soon. I thought the boys would go for the aeroplane, but one of our girls picked it up and said I’ll fly in it one day. May that happen!

There’s a girl in our school, lets call her B. About eight years old – very bright, eager to learn, loves to draw. My sister, who was visiting from Delhi, came along one day as a guest teacher. That’s when we realised B was a great sketch artist – she had a new face and with deft strokes sketched her portrait. And it was good! With formal training, she would stand out for sure!

Independence Day

So we asked the kids at Swapaksh School “Why do we celebrate Independence Day on August 15th?”

“Because of India flag.”

“To sing Vande Mataram!”

“No no – not Vande Mataram – Jana Gana Mana.”

In these times of global influences it is difficult to define “patriotism” and “nationalism” even to ourselves – so how do we convey this to a bunch of kids with no context of history? We kept it simple:

Many years ago, our country was ruled by people of a different country and they troubled us a lot. When they finally left on August 15th seventy one years ago, our land once again became our own and we were free. Now its up to us – its our responsibility to make sure India and all Indians are happy and well. What can each of us do to be good Indians? Keep our surroundings clean. Be kind and polite to our friends and family.

Many of our kids were celebrating Independence Day for the first time. We started with some patriotic songs. “Nanha Munha Raahi Hoon” was a big hit! 🙂

Followed by a confident and enthusiastic rendition of our National Anthem. What was very heartening to see was few people who were working nearby, stopped their work and stood still while our kids sang. Couple of young men walking past stopped and listened. They told us later “We wanted to learn the anthem by listening to the kids”. My, we were very proud, I can tell you! Not far are the days when our kids become role models for others in the community and influence more kids to join school and get an education.

We then had a cleanliness drive to reinforce the idea of keeping our country clean.

The last event was of course, a scrumptious treat with sweets and savouries for all kids.



Opportunity Method

If there is one word to describe our approach to teaching it would be “opportunistic”. The floor is all wet with rain – we stand and play games. Someone sponsors lettering books – we sit down and practice lettering. Kids are in a great mood today grasping everything super quick – we grab at the chance and introduce phonetic difference between ‘a’ and ‘e’. We find a bunch of tamarind seeds – we turn them into math kits. Walk in to the school room and find the kids already engaged in drawing? Get them to draw geometric shapes and learn the names. Crowded classroom? Stagger timings. Wonderful weather? Outdoor class! One particular kid already knows the numbers – hmm lets get him on to addition then. Kids are loving the alphabet flash card game? Ok, Math can wait for a bit!

The challenges we face are – presumably – the same as any school anywhere; you try to maximise the value within the limitations of your resources. Our kids too are – presumably – the same as any kids anywhere; they need affection and they need attention. But the experience for us is completely unique. The solutions we find are for us completely unique. Suffice to say that its not just the kids who are learning.

The Monsoon Term

Mid July implies Mid Monsoon and the rains in Bangalore are tireless by now. Bangaloreans have a love-hate relationship with the rain. Rains bring infinite woes but also bring the temperature down and hey, its rain! Who could resist curling up with a cup of steaming coffee watching the rain paint the world green outside our windows?

The rains have evoked similar mixed reactions at Swapaksh School. The downpour may dampen the floor in our kuccha school room but it doesn’t dampen our spirit! The kids have been hard at work since the start of term and it shows. Their progress inspires us to egg them on further.

In the midst the monsoon and the magic some of our volunteers participated in a lunch service in the community where we run the school. Almost a thousand people partook of the home cooked food hand made by the participants.

For the kids of Swapaksh, it was a PTM of sorts! 🙂



School in full swing

A very productive week this, at Swapaksh School. The kids are thrilled with their desks, and as expected, this has had a very positive impact on the school routine. What was unexpected is the level of ownership displayed by the kids. Their desks, their stationery, their work, their school – from helping us set up to helping each other with the studies they have really risen to the occasion to make the best of this opportunity.

Like in every other school in the month of June, the term has started, teaching plans are being made, things are falling into place. Our aim is to teach basic Math and English and get them up to their appropriate grade level in both. With some divine collaboration, we hope to reach our goals!


Eid Mubarak!

The kids of Swapaksh School are in a festive mood! Eid Mubarak! The occasion was celebrated with yummy laddoos and a school holiday. We announce the holiday and then, believe it or not, the kids announce they would rather come to school! This was soon forgotten though when we started the clothes distribution. Here are some of the kids going home with their loot 🙂

It was a pleasure to see them the next day in neat and fresh clothes. Another exciting development is that we have sponsors for the kids’ desks and the kits have been procured and delivered.

These are portable desks for use in the class room. We packed each with a stationary kit, crayons and notebook all neatly contained within the desk itself. One desk per kid and the raucous stationary distribution is now happily eliminated. They start using these the coming Monday. Can’t wait to see their beaming faces when they get these!