My name is Jemina Auge-Opman, and I am currently spending a gap year living in Pune, India, with Global Citizen Year.
Throughout my six months here, I have been volunteering as a fifth grade teaching assistant at Epiphany English-medium School, a low-income school located near one of Pune’s large slums.
The school, operating on very limited funding, certainly has its share of amenity-related deficiencies. And yet, as I continue to familiarize myself with the establishment and its students, I have come to understand that the level of education of most students, which is generally far behind the accepted norm, poses a far larger problem than the physical haves and have-nots.
Take, for instance, my fifth grade classroom: while a ten year old entering class five is expected to divide and multiply large numbers with ease, only half of my students could initially add 5 and 2 using their fingers. Similarly, less than a handful could construct simple English sentences or give basic self-introductions, even though all of their textbooks (that they should ideally be able to read and understand) are in English.
There are multiple factors that come into play when considering why these children have not thus far been able to effectively learn. Among these, and possibly most significantly, is a fundamental lack of a supportive system of encouragement and guidance, one that would motivate the students to pursue academic goals and apply themselves in class. This became instantly visible once I began attempting to fill this gap in encouragement for several of my own fifth graders: the results, which ranged from an increase in participation and demonstrated interest in the classroom to positive behavioral changes on the playground, all pointed towards the great potential that exists within these children once certain levels of attention are met.
While I’m returning to the United States in April, the question remains how Epiphany students can receive this support in their studies, such that they would begin to reap the benefits of an education and eventually reach gainful employment.
That is where Magic Bus comes in the picture.
Since 1999, Magic Bus has been working in India with children to help them break the cycle of poverty, nurturing them on a journey through from childhood to livelihood.
Local community leaders able to identify with the children in question are trained to deliver an award-winning curriculum that uses games as metaphors to address complex development issues. By focusing on the vital inputs of education, healthcare, gender equality, and life skills, the Magic Bus initiative aims to ensure that young people make the right choices, ideally leading them towards a future of opportunities and employment.
Such guidance would bode particularly well for the students of Epiphany. Most of the children, growing up in the nearby slum, are exposed daily to both verbal and physical abuse. This atmosphere, rarely conducive to supportive upbringings, highlights a striking lack of proper role models - and this is unfortunately reflected in how the students engage with their peers and teachers. Magic Bus will therefore make it a priority to share the values of teamwork, cooperation, and communication over violence when interacting with others, both in the workplace and in daily life. It will attempt to fill the gaps in constructive support that many of these children are still missing to reach their full potentials.
Further, Magic Bus will aim to highlight the vital role of education in breaking the cycle of poverty. The future, for most of the students, does not seem to receive sufficient thought - even as they witness their parents struggle to put food on the table day in and day out. What’s more, applying themselves in their schoolwork has become unnecessary since by law, they cannot fail a class until grade 8 (whether or not they can read, write, or count being wholly insignificant). This is only aggravated by the dismal reality that parents, by and large, remain very unconcerned with their children’s studies - and at the extreme are only interested in having their daughters receive a school certificate as to reduce the cost of her dowry. The driving force of regarding studies as a tool for the creation of opportunities has therefore generally dwindled among the students. By initiating conversations revolving around job aspirations and what is expected in various careers, Magic Bus will seek to rekindle this increasingly important form of academic motivation.
My current goal is for 250 students, ranging from grades 6 to 9, to reap the benefits of this Magic Bus initiative. With a donation of 24$, you are providing a year’s worth of weekly Magic Bus sessions for one student (including summer camp!). Each session will tackle various life skills and discussions on career prospects through the means of engaging physical activities. The sessions will be conducted in the local language, Marathi, as such that each child will be fully able to participate in and learn from them, regardless of their ability (or more realistically lack thereof) to speak English.
By supporting this project, you are providing marginalized youth with the tools and encouragement to break the cycle of poverty. Considering all of the obstacles that they have already had to overcome, I truly have faith that with a little help, this goal is within reach.
Any donations over the 6000 $ target will be used towards expanding the initiative and hopefully impacting the lives of even more students. To learn more about Magic Bus, please visit http://www.magicbususa.org.
Thank you in advance!