Goodbyes at Akshar

Traditional dance by students at Akshar

Welcoming Eric

Welcoming Hal

Hal and Dr. Tapare

Akshar students

Women teachers at Akshar

Men teachers at Akshar

These goodbyes were full of tears. I will miss meeting with these teachers and seeing the students.

“And in this way the work continues.” a mantra by Dr. Tapare



October 12: Goodbyes and Hellos

My last week in Wai was a mixture of many emotions. I said goodbye to so many friends and said hello to my brother, Hal and my son, Eric. They came to Wai to travel with me for 2 weeks in Southern India.

I spent time visiting all of the schools that I have been working with these past 2 ½ months. My intent was to thank them for welcoming me so generously and to say goodbye. As with my first visit to each school, I was reminded how unique each of these six schools are and how the faculty and students differ.  The whole project started with the Westminster students doing English vocabulary lessons and Kristi presenting a workshop to 40 teachers from these six schools. I then followed up at each schools with a discussion about methods that might be used to create a more student-centered classroom. Lastly, Lalit asked 4 teachers from each school to meet with me on the Saturday before I left to discuss future directions at their schools. These teachers face many challenges that make it difficult to teach in more student-centered ways, but these teachers are also very resourceful. I believe they have found and will find ways despite large class sizes, 30 minute periods, very few resources, high stakes exams in the upper grades, and strict requirements to follow their grade-level syllabi. I was sad to say goodbye to these teachers. I hope to keep in touch with many of them.

Saying goodbye to the teachers at Akshar was heart-wrenching. They planned a two-day goodbye. Last Thursday, the first of two goodbye programs, each teacher spoke of their learning in the 34-two hour sessions we spent together. Then, I spoke of what I had learned from each one of the teachers. In the middle of the teachers’ presentations, Hal and Eric walked in. They had just come from Mumbai, and they were able to be part of the ceremony. Everybody watched in awe as I ran to them and threw my arms around them. Dr. Tapare later observed that universally, mothers and sons have a very special relationship and that they could all see it by the way I hugged Eric.

The second day of my two-day goodbye involved a cultural exchange. Some of the Akshar students presented a cultural dance, and Hal played several traditional cowboy tunes on his banjo. The students loved hearing the banjo—I am sure for the first time.

Earlier on this same morning Hal had also played his banjo for students in Gulumb. I was scheduled to visit the teachers in Gulumb on that day, and Hal and Eric came along. The teachers arranged for the students to listen to Hal play banjo in an Hindu Temple located in the town.

I am going to include several pictures of my goodbyes and my hellos. All of the Akshar goodbyes will be included in a separate post.

My last visits to Surur High School and Surur Primary School included a scouting demonstration at the high school and celebration of national heros (because of Ghandi’s birthday) at the primary level. I was lucky enough to attend both events. At the scouting event many of the students cooked an Indian version of camping food on an open fire. The food was delicious.

Surur Highschool planned an incredible demonstration of their scouting program. The students and faculty worked hard to put on this demonstration. Hal and Eric were able to attend this event with me. The photo is of a band that played during the event.

Hal and Eric at the scouting event



Teachers at Gulumb with Hal’s banjo

Hal playing in the Hindu Temple

Students listening intently to Hal’s banjo

Last visit to Shivtar–teacher singing a traditional song

One of the last visits to Wai High School–Students dancing for Ganesh’s birthday

One of the last visits to Wai High School–me with sari from women teachers at Wai High School

These are just a few of the photos that represent my last visits to Lalit’s schools. These photos and many more will be a treasure for me as I remember my time in India.

Once again–I send my love.

October 10: Shivthar–The sixth school

October 9, 2012: Shivthar

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind—so much so that I neglected the blog until now. I visited my last school, Shivthar and once again was warmly welcomed. Shivthar is near Satara; it takes about an hour to travel there. Each day I visited the school, my driver insisted on taking a shortcut through many tiny villages. It was a very bumpy road, so the short cut took much longer than the regular highway, but seeing the rural areas has been one of my favorite parts of my stay in Wai.

Meeting the teachers at Shivthar was very enjoyable. They were always joking and laughing. Even though I did not know all they were saying, I realized what a good time they were having together. During one of our class session, we were discussing pollution. They were talking about the different types of pollution. Whenever one of the teachers started talking, another teachers would joke about the problem with noise pollution. We all laughed hard each time this teacher made reference to noise pollution being a problem with teachers talking too much. When I visited the classrooms, the teachers seemed to be joking with the students also.

I was able to observe a few teachers teach, watch the students perform some of their cultural dances and have some delicious food prepared by the cook. The teachers and students asked many questions about the US. Their curiosity matches mine, as I seem to endlessly ask questions about India.




Above is a picture of the Shirthar teachers giving me a statue of Ganesha. Perfect gift for celebrating Ganesha’s birthday.


September 29: Ganesha’s (Ganpati) birthday

This past week, I have been part of the Ganesha Festivals. It has been fascinating to learn about Hinduism through the celebration of this God’s birthday. On September 19th all of the families carry a statue of Ganesha into their homes. We had a big ceremony when Lalit brought the Ganesha into the house and placed him on a highly decorated stand.  Once Ganesha is in the home, food is place in front of the statue. This represents feeding a living idle. Families pray to the Ganesha during the days while Ganesha is in the home, and after a certain number of days, Ganesha is taken to the river (Krishna River) and submerged in the water. As far as I understand, this festival last 10 days; however, different families take Ganesha to the river after 3, 5 or 10 days. This whole process is very complex, so I may have some of the details wrong. I am learning by seeing and doing, so my interpretation may be way off.

I am including this description of Ganesha from a website:

“The most striking feature of Ganesha is his elephant head, symbolic of auspiciousness, strength and intellectual prowess. All the qualities of the elephant are contained in the form of Ganpati. The elephant is the largest and strongest of animals of the forest. Yet he is gentle and, amazingly, a vegetarian, so that he does not kill to eat. He is very affectionate and loyal to his keeper and is greatly swayed if love and kindness are extended to him.

Ashok Joshi was visiting Wai during the festival. Ashok is the scientist in Salt Lake who helped initiate the partnership between Westminster and Wai. We were able to spend a lot of time together. I loved talking to him about Indian culture, because he has the perspective of an Indian who also understands American culture. Ashok’s uncle is from Wai. His uncle is quite famous here and all over India really. He was a scholar and an activist. When no priest would perform the marriage of Ghandi’s son—because he was marrying out of his caste, Ashok’s uncle agreed to perform the marriage. Ashok is also revered in Wai, and I understand why the people here love him. He is an amazing man.

Ashok and I are standing in front of his uncle’s house.

Ashok performing a ceremony at Lalit’s house

During the festival, I also had an opportunity to visit several homes with Vrushali. Everyone decorates the areas surrounding the various statues. The women travel from home to home to see the decorations, so I was able to go with Vrushali.

Vrushali with Goddesses

Food for Ganeshe

Each night of Granpati, there are street plays all over Wai. The plays depict several events from history, or they depict a current social issue. One of the teachers at Akshar, Vijay, has been involved in writing and acting in the play by his house. The theme of his play highlights the social problem of discrimination against girl babies. In India, people have two children only. In the past when ultrasounds revealed that the baby was a girl, there was pressure from the family to abort the child. Now there are laws and a social movement to “Save the girl child.” Vijay’s play was about this issue. I was able to see his play and a few others that dealt with historical heroes. I absolutely love the idea of street plays. They are free and accessible to everyone, and they are very well done.

The cast in Vijay’s play

Vijay in yellow

Vijay’s daughter

Today, September 29 is the last day of Granpati. Arvind is going to take me to see the procession of people going to the Kristna River where all of the people will submerge their statues in the river.  In Mumbai there are millions of people in a procession to the beach where the people submerge their Granpati statues. Environmentalist here in India are discussing the problem of water pollution due to the millions of statues that are put into various bodies of water. It is a hard questions. These practices are so much a part of the culture here–

The parade in Wai–

Even the animals are covered with colored powder

I think I will end with Mickey holding Ganesh-What a clash of cultures!

Love to all of you.

September 19: Satara and several Wadis

Last week, I stayed with a family in Satara, a bigger city close to Wai.This family has been involved with the Westminster projects. Animish, the father, is a psychiatrist, and his wife Vaishali is a doctor too. Sunita, Animishs’ sister has been instrumental in the library project here in Wai. Animish and Vaishali have one son, Aman who is 15 (I think).

It was a fabulous weekend. Vaishali arranged for me to visit several wadis (smaller than villages) so I could see some innovative programs in the primary schools —focusing on constructivism. Vaishali, Sunita and I traveled to seven schools in two days. We traveled with an extension officer of education, Pratibha Bharade, a wonderful woman who has worked with the teachers in 30 primary schools on implementing constructivist methods. The first school required us to park our car on a dirt road and walk through mud in order to get to the school that housed 11 students. It was so interesting. The students are involved in growing their own vegetables and creating their own compost. The teachers have task cards for each month, and the students work through the task cards at their own pace. They also encourage the students to play games that have originated from their villages. They spoke of the regeneration of rural games to keep their students interested in school.  I am going to include several photos of these schools. At each school we received a warm welcome, and many times the students performed their local dances—Lezim and Zaanj.

Saathewadi Zilla Panshad School: 11 students

Saathewadi: Zilla Panshad School: Shelves for the monthly task cards

Saathewadi: Indian heros

Saathewadi: Science center

Zilla Panshad School Shelkewadi: Lezim and Zaanj


A sample of some of the crops. All of the school gr0w their own vegetables.

Vaishali and Pratibha


I had a very surprising experience before we went out to the schools on the second day. Vaishali told me that we were going to meet with a couple of block extension officers of education. We ended up meeting with several officers, and they grilled us about constructivist education. I did not understand most of the conversation; Vaishali translated a bit for me, but most of the time, I was merely guessing what was being said—trying to read body language as best I could. One education leader questioned whether these methods would contribute to the downfall of the youth. He seemed to be equating constructivism with western society and all of its ills. Vaishali was very outspoken and supportive of educational reform in India.  At one point a man started asking me about my background and what I thought the west could learn from Indian education, and in turn, what Indian education could learn from the west. I answered the questions as honestly as possible. Later, I found out that he was a local reporter. I still don’t know if he ran the article. I actually hope he didn’t. Since I didn’t realize he was a reporter, I was not particularly careful about what I said, and once again, I really don’t know how Vaishali translated my responses.

Our last stop was at a wadi called Kari. We arrived after the school had adjourned for the day. So, instead of meeting at the school, we met in a local Hindu temple that had space for all of the students. Once there, we saw an amazing performance of yoga and another form of yoga called Mallakhamb. It is done on a rope that is attached to the ceiling. As it turns out, we were watching several national champions. My battery on my camera ran out about the time the team started performing, so I only have a few photos. Seeing the students perform Mallakhamb took my breath away!

The last day of my stay in Satara, we went to some beautiful waterfalls. Everything is so green here right now because we are at the end of monsoon season. The scenery was spectacular. We also stopped for a boat ride on the backwaters of Koyana Dam. Again, it was beautiful.

Vaishali and Aman

Sunita and Aman

Staying with Sunita, Vaishali and Animish was such a gift. I didn’t know them well before the stay, but I felt like a family member when I left Sunday night. Another wonderful family doing very meaningful work here in India.

P.S. Someone just showed me the article in the paper. If the translation was correct, I don’t think I got myself into trouble.

I send my love to all of you.


September 14: Akshar Families

Last week, I had a very interesting experience at Akshar. The week’s discussion was about teaching leisure skills to students who attend Akshar. The teachers and I set up a mock meeting where we brainstormed leisure skill ideas for some of the students. While we were brainstorming ideas for one student, one of the teachers left the room. Soon she returned with the parent and the student who sat down to join our meeting. Immediately and much to my surprise, I realized our mock meeting had turned into a very real meeting. I took a back seat while the teachers brainstormed with the parents about possible leisure activities for the student.

We spent the next two days meeting with 4 additional parents and their son or daughter. I felt somewhat helpless while the parent spoke of the difficulties in engaging their son or daughter in leisure time activities. There are not many options in the community. The parents spoke about the lack of friends for their sons and daughters and some neighbors’ attitudes toward people with cognitive disabilities.

I felt like it was a privilege to be able to listen to the parent’s heartfelt struggles. Dr. Tapare said they had not had the opportunity to discuss issues in a meeting like the one we set up. Dr. Tapare’s dream is to create a mothers’ organization with the moms of his students and to create a sibling organization. If anyone could do it here in Wai, it would be Dr. Tapare.

The second surprise of the day came while we were having a break in between some parent meetings. One of the teachers asked me to step into a room. She brought out a kurti that somebody had stitched. It is beautiful.


I really enjoy working with the teachers at Akshar. Their dedication is something I admire more and more as I learn about their challenging jobs. I only wish I could understand Marathi. It seems there is a layer of interaction that I just can not penetrate because I don’t know their language.


September 13: Surur–Do Teachers in America Teach with Heart?

I have spent the past several days working with the Surur teachers. Surur is another small village near Wai, but it has significance because Lalit’s family is from Surur. Their ancestors have lived in this area for multiple generations (something like 12 generations). The school in Surur is bigger than Kenjal or Gulumb. There is an English medium school (K-4) connected to the high school. There is also a Jr. College (11th and 12th grade) connected to the school. By the time I finish at Surur, I will have worked with almost all of the teachers (about 35) who teach there. So far, I have worked with most of the highschool and Jr. College teachers. On Monday, I will work with the primary teachers. Typically, when I visit a classroom, the students ask me questions about “America”—many times they want to know the differences between education in America and education in India. While in a 10 standard classroom, the students asked if the teachers in America teach with heart  like the teachers in Surur. I was happy to say that I thought they did teach with heart. I have talked about morning assemblies. Here is a photo of the meditation.

I was able to observe in a couple of classrooms. One of the teachers taught a fantastic lesson on force and motion. He made effective use of some very simple props and some role plays.

While there, I was also able to observe an art lesson. The teacher was skilled in one of their cultural traditions, Rangoli (sand painting). He demonstrated his skill with a beautiful welcome design. Art is a very important part of the curriculum here in India. In certain grades, the government requires the students to be assessed on their art skills. I happened to be in Surur on the day they were giving the art assessment to 8th grade students from 11 schools. The students have about 3 hours to draw a still-life picture and a picture from memory. I think I have commented on the quality of the student artwork here. It is quite amazing.

My final activity last Wednesday was watching another Kabbadi game. Teachers and students seem to enjoy this game, and after watching so many matches, I am enjoying it too.

As I was leaving the school last Wednesday, one of the teachers said, “And I want to thank you from the heart of our bottoms.” It was such a sincere thank you, I just could not correct him.

It is hard to believe that I have been here almost 2 months. The time is going so fast—I want to savor every moment.

Love to all of you.