Wednesday, March 09, 2005

After school program

Our company participates in after school program in which under privileged children come to our work in the evening and employees tutor them. My coworker who participates in the program went on vacation and had asked me to step in for her while she was gone. I readily agreed; I had wanted to participate earlier but it was already full. I like my company that way. Our company has a lot of such programs for charity, and volunteering. It had set aside $50,000 for Tsunami to match employees’ contributions. The employees actually exceeded that amount in donations so they increased it to $100k.

At the after school program we first eat dinner with the kids and then we get assigned a child to tutor. I got a girl, Patricia, in the 6th grade. She had homework for Language Arts. I didn’t quite understand what that meant; I was hoping for algebra. She said it was it was a class where they taught them about words like Onomatopoeia (I had to look up the spelling here). We made a quick stop at my desk where I had lots of balloons from a party we had last week. Patricia took a couple and we went to study in a conference room.

She seemed very curious about me. She kept firing questions – “Where are you from? Do you live with your parents? Don’t you miss your parents? Are you any good at reading? I like your hair, did you color them?” I warded off her questions and got her to pay attention to the task at hand.

She pulled out a book titled Con-fidence. I asked her to read to me. She read surprisingly well, just asked me the meanings of words like sheen and radiate. She asked me to explain "nor" to her. I explained it mathematically, x nor y = not x and not y. (Now that I think about it, my grandfather had explained it to me this way when I was little. It is weird how I remember that after so many years.) After reading one page she asked me to read to her. I thought I might be doing her a disservice by reading to her, but decided to read anyway. I hardly ever read out loud, at least not English. (I am trying to read a Hindi book these days which I find hard, just because I haven't read Hindi in so long. So to grasp it better I read out loud to myself.) I actually didn't like her assigned book, at least not the 3 chapters that we finished.

Here are the things I found wrong with it -
1. It was about how "pretty" girls got to sit in the middle of the cafeteria and not so pretty ones were socially outcast and sat near the exit. One line in the chapter was "looks were everything in Middlefield High." I asked Patricia if that was true and she said no, attitude was everything.
2. The book was in second person. So it had sentences like "You are not a part of the "A-list", "you sit in the corner with your drab cheese sandwich," "you had tears spilling from your eyes." I didn't finish the book so obviously have no clue what the message was, but this was definitely not boosting my "confidence."

Patricia told me that there is segregation in the lunch room, like the Filipinos sit separately. I was still reading to her when she suddenly stood up and starting packing her things, including a half eaten slice of pizza. When I enquired as to where she was going, she pointed to the clock saying it was 6:30, time to go back. I made her stay and finish the chapter. She didn't have a bookmark so I gave her mine. She looked at it and asked me what was written on it. Turns out it was one from Crossword in Bombay. It had all the neighborhoods listed - Kemps Corner, Chembur, Andheri, Bandra, Kandivali, Powai. I didn't pay much attention to it till she asked me about them. I explained to her, a bit nostalgically, remembering how much fun I had there last year.

We went back up to the kitchen where all the children got together and went home. All the kids started asking Patricia where she got the balloons from. She gave them all away keeping one for herself; not everyone got a balloon though. I realized that it was a mistake to have given her balloons. I should have either had one for everyone or not give anyone any balloon. I hadn't dealt with children in so long that I had completely forgotten how to behave around them. The coordinator comforted other kids saying that next time we'll have one for everyone. I felt terrible.

Despite having acted like such a klutz, I asked the coordinator if I could do this more regularly. Another woman offered to alternate weeks with me. I hope to do better next time: live it, learn it.

Keep up the good work.
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