Thinking on your feet and the rule of three in Kerala – a travel blog

Day One – An hour before my first football session
James: “How many children will there be?”
Director: “20-25 I think.”
James: “OK, what’s their English like?
Director: “Not strong but the warden speaks good English.”

Day Three – An hour before my second football session
James: “So on Monday you said there would be 20-25 kids.”
Director: “Yes.”
James: “Well there were 45 and the warden doesn’t speak English.”
Director: “Great, a good number!”
James: “OK….it’s hard to do training sessions when you have one coach and 45 children and neither speak the same language.”
Director: “Just speak the international language of sport.”

And that’s the type of conversation that has characterised my two and a half weeks at Mitraniketan. If anyone is fluent in the international language of sport I’d really appreciate some help.

Mitraniketan is an NGO school located in the South of Kerala, just outside a town called Vellanad. Mitraniketan is based on the principles of rural, sustainable development and on site has a nursery, school and college where students from the local area and underdeveloped villages of Kerala board. It’s basically a free school funded partly by its own profits from its different business units, but mostly from outside donations. It is undoubtedly successful and employs a lot of the local community and has been the driving factor behind the development of Vellanad. The idea is that students who graduate from Mitraniketan will become leaders of their home village and help to develop local infrastructure.

But life here is very frustrating! The pace is very slow. When I arrived, apart from being told I could teach English for an hour and a half a day, there wasn’t an induction or program that I could follow or help with. So it’s been down to me to sort out things out otherwise I think I’d have lost the plot. There are a five other volunteers here on an organized trip from Edinburgh Uni and they’ve said that a few volunteers have cut their time short due to frustration and boredom and their number has been cut from eight, but I’m going to keep going I hope and try and make things work. I’m now teaching English at the college, taking football sessions four times a week, doing an audit of the shop (they buy Dairy Milk bars for 7.5RS and sell them for 5RS – just one example of strange practices). I’m also helping redesign the website and trying to get more trade to the onsite manufacturing unit. You’ll notice I have limited or no experience in a lot of these areas, so we’ll have to see how effective my assistance is! That sentence is my caveat for if things go wrong…

The experience is certainly helping me to think on my feet and think creatively. In my experience, punctuality isn’t a strong trait of Indians and Mitraniketan is no different, so students and teachers (particularly teachers) turn up to lessons when they see fit. Teachers also seem to think that to observe means to teach, so when I told a teacher I wanted to observe an English class she just didn’t turn up, leading me to teach 6 and 7 year olds to sing ‘wheels on the bus’. I don’t know why I chose that song as I don’t know the words apart from the ‘go round and round’ line so made up my own version. It was pretty catchy though. That night I went on the internet and memorized a few songs just in case, so whenever I ‘observe’ now I just turn up late so the teacher can’t pull a fast one. Football is similar. It’s in the evening and out of school time so the students don’t have to attend. But when you ask if any more are coming and a chorus of no rings out, you have to expect 20 more will turn up at any point, so quick reactions and thinking worst case is necessary.

I’ve learnt that when asking for information you need to ask at least three people before you can get a reasonably reliable answer. Even asking the director of the organisation doesn’t guarantee accurate information; the above extract is a prime example. Taking an average of the three answers or using the worst case as a basis is pretty sensible, unless you turn up for a bus that you understand may arrive between 4.50-7.30am and it arrives at 7.30am. I could have done with the lie-in!

My next blog will let you into more Mitraniketan goings-on and recent weekend experiences!