First 5 days in Anupshahr, March 2014


by Melanie Closs, March 2014

I’ve been in Anupshahr for 5 days, and I feel like no time has passed since last year. In my heart, I’ve been here for years. I settled right into life here. After taking the familiar route through crowded village markets with sleeping cows, women carrying large amounts on their heads, oxcarts and motorcycles, flat fields and piles of dung cake, I finally arrived at Pardada-Pardadi Educational Society in Anupshahr.

My first day I spent getting my bearings, working out my schedule and plans with different administrators and teachers, as well as greeting the Call Centre girls. Right now, 3 girls are employed by a car insurance company, making and receiving calls, and 5 girls are working for Kingdom of Dreams, booking tickets for the spectacle show in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi. The 10 girls who are not yet employed by Kingdom of Dreams are still in training, and they are the ones I am working with the most.

This is the first time any large company like Kingdom of Dreams is employing girls in a rural area. As with anything new, these things take time. But it really is an incredible opportunity for these girls to be doing this kind of work.

The Call Centre has become a hub for volunteers. It has a nice working office environment where I can sit at a desk and work on lessons along with everyone else working on their particular projects.

So after a few years of working here, I decided to change things up in my classes this year. Instead of having a teacher translate my classes, I’m having the Call Centre girls do it. Their English is actually better, and when the young girls don’t have their teacher ma’am in the room, they express themselves and their opinions so much more freely! It’s amazing to see how much more comfortable they are with “Didi” or “sister”, which is what they call the Call Centre girls (who are aged 17-21).

My 4th grade class watched the video of Emily and Qyun from our PS 8 LISTEN class singing their Hindi song today, and then I made a video of the girls here singing the same song. They want to learn an English song to sing for them. What song should I teach them? Party in the USA?

They are also preparing videos to send to PS 8 and PS 58, as well as a play about their needs and problems. They will be responding to PS 58 letters as well.

My 7th grade class has started to make their videos. They are very short and simple introductions. They are nervous about their English. But I’m hoping that after we send the first two, then everyone will start to open up more.

The Call Centre is working on their play for women’s day. It is really an awesome story that combines the true stories of a bunch of girls in the group, plus a fantasy ending based on an image theatre exercise.

Here’s the synopsis.

A girl in born in a village. The father tries to kill her. Mother saves her. When she gets a little older, she goes to school, Pardada-Pardadi Educational Society. When she is about 9 or 10 years old, a beggar comes to her door. She lets the beggar in and gives him food and a blanket because it is very cold. She takes care of him, but one day she comes home from school and the beggar is gone. She finds out that someone in her community didn’t like that there was a beggar in her house (people all live in colonies or complexes of homes) and kicked him out. She is angry at the injustice.

When she is older, she wants to learn how to drive a car. Her brother tells her no, because it isn’t right for a girl to drive. She is upset but she must obey. Then she gets a job opportunity at a Call Centre that is outside of her village. She asks her brother again, and he says no, it isn’t right for a girl to leave her home for anything but marriage. This time, she doesn’t obey him. She leaves for the job, and leaves her brother and parents behind. “Society” talks behind her back, she now has a bad reputation, and her brother ignites the social gossip.

While she is working the call centre in her new life, she meets a man. She starts to date him as a boyfriend. She wants to have a love marriage with him, but she is afraid of what society might think. How will she manage?

She goes for the love marriage anyway. She and her new husband find a new home. She is successful in her Call Centre job with her new loving husband. Society, including her brother, now see her success. They suddenly want to be her friend, to know her and be around her. She realizes that it’s because of her money- not her merits.

This play will be performed at our International Women’s Day celebration on March 8th. It will also be performed for older women in villages, and performed for the skype play exchange with our teen girls in NYC. In addition, when Samantha and Ariana arrive, the girls will turn this play into a series of small films. Each play – 4th grade, 7th grade, and Call Centre, will be performed for each other on one day at the end of March.

I also have a class of teachers. These teachers are creating their own play and learning how to make an image theatre/Theatre of the Oppressed play. This play will not be performed for the school community, but recorded and shared with a group of university students in Chile learning English and studying Education through drama, who will also make their own play to share.

This week I also had a fun adventure going to the market and buying a Saree! I went with Elsa, the school nurse, who helped me pick it out. It is purple satin with gold trim. I also got bangles, anklets, and a necklace. After purchasing all of this, we went to a tailor. The tailor (a woman) measured me and then overnight she made a blouse for me using the material from the Saree fabric.

The market experience is always a little intense. There are so many people, animals, motorcycles, moving fast on winding dusty teeny tiny streets. Everyone is staring at me as I am the only white skinned person for miles, and I need to be careful not to make too much eye contact- I might then get some unwanted attention.

Those of you with a break from school, I hope it was a nice break, and welcome back!

Sending you love and support from India!