Volunteers from Oberlin : an update

19 January 2014
Hello!  We thought we would send another update now that we are more settled in here.
The Hamara School is an orphanage that houses, feeds, and educates 80 Indian children.  We are teaching fifteen of the kids violin and cello.  Many of the children do not know their age, but most are between 3 and 16.  We work with each student for fifteen minutes every morning and teach one group class a week.  In the afternoons we teach longer private lessons, coach small chamber groups, and give lessons to the violin teacher here.  Most of the students do not speak English, so we are learning little bits of Hindi and also the importance of demonstrating and gesturing. The children have an excellent Suzuki foundation and they play very well in tune with a beautiful tone.  We are particularly impressed by how motivated the students are to come to their lessons everyday without any oversight.  Often they are standing by the door waiting for us each morning and they greet us by saying, “good morning teacher!”  It is amazing to see the young children so grateful for the opportunity to play music.  Child’s Play has provided a way for the kids to do something that requires patience and dedication.  The little students are so supportive of each other and they sit quietly through each other’s lessons, often singing along to the “busy busy stop stop” songs. It is amazing that they practice without  any parental encouragement and watching them smile, sing, hum, and help each other is one of the most rewarding experiences we have had as teachers. The opportunity for these children to learn an instrument has profoundly changed their lives.  The kids are appreciative and attentive in a way we have not seen in young American music learners.
Along with its many rewards, teaching here has proven challenging as well and while the children seem to focus without problems, our own attention spans are being tested! There is never a moment of silence here and the rooms where we teach are flooded with a constant flow of kids coming to listen, ask questions, or get something. Somehow our students don’t seem distracted, but we certainly are! The windows don’t have glass in them, so people peer in and the cars honk every second of the day. Despite this, it is wonderful that music is so present in these kids’ lives. They all know about the stringed instruments and many beg to take lessons.  Even in the week that we have been teaching, we have learned so much about music and the power it has to impact kids.  We are very lucky to be a part of this project.  Another challenge has been learning how to read the facial expressions of the Indian boys and girls.  When we ask a question and are looking for a yes or no response, our students wobble their heads in a nondescript sort of way that could mean yes, no, or maybe.  Apparently Indians know how to discern the difference, but we are struggling.

In our spare time we have been rehearsing chamber and orchestral music.  We are playing with the Camerata Child’s Play–a small string ensemble with the most advanced musicians in Goa.  On Thursday we gave our first performance at the Goa State Museum.  We are also playing string quartets and quintets with Luis (Child’s Play director) and Lee (violist from Canada).  We’re putting together a short performance for the children at the Hamara School.  In addition to playing and teaching music, we have also had time to explore and are getting more comfortable navigating the streets and the public bus system.

It is hard to capture the true spirit of Panjim through pictures.  Life seems chaotic, except during the early afternoon when many Indian men take an afternoon siesta.  The streets are trash receptacles, and when the rubbish grows into a big enough pile, someone lights it on fire.  It is difficult to escape the smell of smoke here. It is strange to observe the differences in lifestyle among the rich and poor. Often a large, well-kept home sits next to a slum that is pieced together with cardboard, metal scraps, and other trash. Some people eat with their hands and some people eat with utensils.  There are starving dogs everywhere, beggars, and pushy salesman that try to make us buy tacky souvenirs. We miss clean air and silence, but we have discovered a beautiful beach not too far away that is a wonderful respite from the dust and street noise. That’s all for now, but we’ll write again soon!

Josie, Sophie, and Jaime
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