Engagement in Chennai

Over the course of the two school years 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, I was actively involved in the service group at my school called Jumpstart. Jumpstart is a student lead club dedicated to supporting local communities in Chennai, India. We worked together with Teach For India, a non-profit organisation, and invested our energy and time into planning and executing Saturday sessions with the children from local schools to work with them towards our goals.
 
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Throughout my time in this club, we, the club members constantly collaborated with the teachers and representatives of Teach For India, as to which skills and concepts would be most beneficial for the children to learn. Together, we identified and specified five different things which we wanted to work towards, which became the guiding mission behind all of our actions and planning. We wanted to make an effort to teach the young children English, to teach them about the importance of communication, the importance of teamwork, and the importance of planning, and furthermore, we wanted to work towards a more neutral perception of gender in the young indian children, so to overcome the barrier between the boys and girls, as gender roles and stereotypes were very visible. In the planning sessions which took place at least once a week (typically during lunch), we planned how to undertake this mission and come closer to our goal, hence we considered different possibilities such as organising physical competitions, teaching the children in classrooms or supporting the schools financially. In order to help the children in the most effective, sustainable and meaningful ways, we decided to tackle the mission by a combination of different actions.
 
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We organised fundraising events such as bake sales to raise money to support the schools financially and invest into english school books, as when visiting a local school it became clear that not only did they have very outdated copies, but there were also only a few for far too many children. This way we hoped to support the community in a meaningful way as the schools were able to educate the children with better and more materials in the long run. In that way we were responsible for the improvement of their education, but we managed to enable the schools to keep up the better quality of teaching by providing them with better materials. Furthermore we organised lots of sessions in which we worked directly with the children, every second Saturday we invited the children to our campus to teach them about the importance of teamwork, communication, planning and overcoming gender roles.  
 
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We planned games such as strategic ball games to teach the children about teamwork and planning in a playful way, and we planned competitive relays for instance to bring the idea of communication and teamwork closer to them. Furthermore, throughout these games we constantly mixed up the teams, so that children from different ages, classes, and genders had to work together, and wanting to succeed they had to collaborate and overcome these differences. Additionally, we planned sessions which revolved around music, in which we brought instruments and asked them to sing in English with us. We planned artistic sessions in which we drew and painted with the children, again to strengthen their English skills by asking them to explain their art pieces.
 

After a few of the Saturday sessions, the children knew us and we built personal relationships and connections with them as well as with the Teach For India representatives. The consistency with which we saw them and worked with them helped to build trust and facilitated the learning, as the children became more and more eager to play our games and work with us cooperatively. They were looking forward to coming to our school and learning from us, as well as with us. After having left this community and the school, I can say that we had a significant impact on these children’s lives connected to improving their learning experience academically as well as promoting their individual growth in a way in which they’ll benefit from it in the long term.

 
After reviewing my initial post, I had this reflective conversation with my GCD Coordinator:

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