The Allure of SE Asia: Inspiration from my Daughter, Anna

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.facebook_-376579100   I was never surprised when my daughter said she wanted to study in Cambodia and Vietnam!

In fact, I encouraged the opportunity to experience the culture of a developing country.

However, my protective, loving, husband, John, was a little skeptical. He assumed she would follow the traditional study abroad program in Europe and learn a universal foreign language. When she proposed the idea, he said,” What will you do with the language of Cambodia?”

Little did he know………..

It’s what Cambodia does to you!

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Anna, our independent, spirited, and caring daughter, is studying the

psychology of poverty.

Her latest email proclaimed, “Mom, I know why you are fascinated with SE Asia:  succulent mangoes; fresh,vegetarian meals( we both love healthy food); ancient history; Eastern philosophy and art; Buddhist monks in saffron-clad robes; tuk tuks (taxis); utter chaos; and heartwarming people.

Her research thesis:

 The effects of the 1975-1979 Cambodian genocide on contemporary Cambodian art

She met one of the 3 survivors from the torture and death prison, S-21. Bou Meng, an acclaimed artist was selected to draw portraits of Pol Pot, the head of the Khmer Rouge (Communist group in Cambodia).

This is why he is alive today!

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Following my natural curiosity, I began reading about Pol Pot. In the beginning, he lived a dual life: teacher by day and revolutionary at night. Eventually he emerged as the head of the Communist group, Khmer Rouge. The Viet Cong launched attacks from Cambodia into Vietnam during the Vietnam War . The US began bombing Cambodia to drive the Communist out; as a result, Pol Pot became a freedom fighter to his followers, proclaiming the end of Western imperialism. He followed Mao’s philosophy, advocating for an agrarian society and killed intellectuals, former government leaders,…( est. 1.5-2 million) with the objective  to restore the peasant lifestyle. In open fields, he killed innocent people with hoes (he did not want to waste bullets). Hence, the name of the famous movie, The Killing Fields.

Anna’s email confirmed what I had read. The visit to the genocide museum and killing fields was disturbing and emotional.

This building houses thousands of skulls as a reminder of Pol Pots massacre of his own people.

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While writing this blog and reading about Cambodia, I made a decision to take an excursion from Thailand( my next teaching mission) to Cambodia. The wheel has  turned

My daughter is now inspiring me!

Love you Anna.

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Teaching under a Bridge

“Build a bridge and get over it”

My daughter’s extraordinary second grade teacher had a collection of quips that she would use to teach lessons beyond the textbook.  When they whined, she replied, “Build a bridge and get over it!”

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The bridge quote resurfaced after reading an article about an Indian shopkeeper, Rajesh Kumar, who saw the value in supporting education in his poor community. In the slums of New Delhi, he organized a classroom under a bridge, creating an opportunity for his students to cross over from poverty to prosperity. The article goes on to say his students also attended a government school, but their classrooms were overcrowded with 60 or more students in one room, and the teacher would instruct by writing a problem on the board then leave the room.

In Rajesh’s makeshift classroom, A painted rectangle on a broken concrete wall serves as his blackboard. The students sweep the dirt to provide a surface to place their mats.

They attend this school to learn!

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The shopkeeper is providing these students with one of the greatest gifts we can give a child: Access to a quality education!

I experienced the reality of government school while training teachers in Zimbabwe.  After visiting a rural, public school, I was disheartened by the school environment. The walls were blank; desks were in poor condition and the teachers were exhausted( up to 55 in a class). The school housed grades 8-12 with a morning  and evening session to accommodate the sheer numbers. I requested a meeting with the principal- careful, not to sound condescending…. I had some ideas to share. With a smile, The principal said his school was the best in the area, so everyone wanted to attend; he would add students to the attendance list just to give them the best opportunity. I thought, wow, I can’t even imagine what the other schools must look like if this is the BEST. He said the teachers’ salaries were so low that they would often not show up for class. I inquired,” What would the students do?” He said they would scrub the school. Hmmm, maybe I should try this with my American classes. I tried to convince him to hire more teachers. “No money from the government,” he responded. (That’s another story/post).

The principal working against all odds

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As an  educational specialist with a wide range of classroom experience, I am crossing the “American bridge” to the developing world where I can train teachers who are often young, inexperienced, and overwhelmed; in return, they can make a difference in their communities,bridging their students from poverty to prosperity.

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Teaching is my profession and mission!

 Teaching is my profession.

As summer approaches, I close another chapter in my full time teaching profession with an energetic and memorable group of eighth graders. This class has been uniquely special since I taught about half of them as their sixth grade teacher- I will miss them ALL!

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Teaching is my mission !

I am preparing for my third summer abroad as a global teacher trainer. This summer I will be in Bangkok, Thailand with a side trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Bangkok, Thailand

thai children  I will be working in Bangkok, teaching students English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). My intention is to gain some experience in this area since there is a high demand for instruction in English, especially in competitive schools where the goal is for the students to attend a top ranked high school.

Summer 2012

 

While training teachers in India, I noted the instructors would often revert to Hindi when they needed to convey a challenging concept. After the lesson they would look at me and ask,” What is the English translation?”  With a smile, I would respond, I don’t speak Hindi.” We would  work together to create a Hindi/English version. Then the students were really confused! However, I was highly motivated to learn Hindi; my school did offer Hindi classes, and I sat on the front row and just like a sponge absorbed the lessons gratefully( sponges are probably not grateful). No, I do not speak fluent Hindi, but I expect after a few more summers I may surprise myself. Saubhagya! Wow, I may be multi-semi-fluent in Hindi, Thai, Vietnamese, and Shana (summer 2011 in Zimbabwe) after this summer.

Stay tuned  for summer overseas reflections before I embark on my next venture, June 7th.

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Still Going With The Flow………But With Style!

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Glaring poverty surrounds Calcutta (Kolkata), but its nickname-“City of Joy” can be seen in the friendly smiles, colorful street life, busy merchants, intellectuals gathering at  coffee shops, and the SWEETNESS of Calcutta’s pastry shops. To maximize my three day trip, I hired a guide to transport me around this massive city of 15 million. Our first stop was the Missionaries of Charities: Mother Teresa’s home. The center was simple, understated, and peaceful. Her follower’s were dressed in the traditional blue and white “habit.” My eyes filled with tears when I saw the room where she slept and prayed. Beside her bed was a crown of thorns and a cross. I was informed that on her death bed she looked at these symbols , smiled and took her last breath. She knew where she was going.

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The British influence on Calcutta’s architecture cannot be overlooked while touring the city. The London style taxis, Victoria Memorial and Marble Palace are all examples of the Raj or British colonial rule in India.

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Victoria Memorial

After an exhausting,(temps over 100) noisy day, I asked the guide, “What would India do without their car horns?” He replied, “Those are not horns; they are  Indian music.” I should have known an Indian would find an artistic expression in this chaotic mass of honking vehicles.
Speaking of art, I visited Tagore’s house, Shakespeare of India-  composer, artist and literary genius.

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Tagore’s home

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Goodbye Nirman school children. I am leaving for a four day trip to Delhi and then American bound.

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The Monsoons Have Arrived!

The rains have brought cooler temperatures, but the trade off is sloshing through muddy water and dodging the piles of floating trash- The solution:  hire a RICKSHAW!
I’m now with my home stay family for a ten day experience . The first night I was horrified to find geckos plastered to the ceiling and big poisonous- looking  spiders peering down at me: I  guess this is what local life offers. On the other hand, my host family has been so gracious; I’m learning Hindi and eating traditional Indian food.
This week I traveled to the Village School, Betawar. What a contrast to the city school. We travel an hour by bus through the countryside, viewing lush farmland, village huts, women carrying all sorts of items on their heads, and stands filled with an abundance of colorful  fruits and vegetables. The school is more laid back, and a majority of the students are from agricultural families where education is not emphasized. However, math is a popular subject, and I found myself in the middle of a 9th grade algebra class trying to demonstrate math techniques – the students were teaching me while I was teaching the teacher-it was hilarious. Connecting to the local bird life, we made colorful  peacocks with our hands in the first grade class. I used  Hindi to emphasize the multi- colored feathers: “Add lal, nila, pilla, safed, and hara.” I’m not sure if they were laughing at my Southern accent or my Hindi!

Today Calcutta:

I heard Mother Theresa speak in Charleston, SC and will never forget her message of love and compassion. My next excursion is a four day trip to the place where this Saint gave hope to the poorest of the poor in their final days.   More on Calcutta…………..

First graders making peacock hands

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Monsoon riders

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Teaching at the Village School

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School was dismissed today at 12:00 because……….

It was blazing hot ! Apparently, I was not the only one who noticed. We are all praying for the monsoons to lift this oppressive heat and humidity. Actually, a district mandate was issued to close all schools for the week. ( there is no air conditioning) The early dismissal allowed time to give feedback to the teachers who I have been observing. Nita, school director, and I met today to create an official evaluation form. My role has been more administrative which has been a positive experience, but I can’t wait to get into the classroom tomorrow and model a lesson for the 5th and 6th grade. They want me to create an oral presentation based on questions they asked about my life in America.
Shifting from teacher to student:
The school has arranged classes for the interns, and of course I eagerly joined them in Hindi lessons, yoga, Indian history classes with Nita, and Indian classical dance. Nirman (the school) also sponsors performances/platforms for local artists, musicians and craftsmen. Last weekend a sitar player and classical singer entertained us- what an enchanting evening!
Education outside the school:
We went to Sarnath, the city where Buddha preached his first sermon. Temples, museums, and a giant Buddha were all part of the excursion.
Our night life consists of walks to the ghats (steps to the River) to observe the Hindu sunset rituals. Last week we saw a cremation ceremony- kinda creepy!
Next weekend we will take an overnight train to Lucknow, a former Persian city and now a city rich in Islamic culture and architecture. My ten day home stay begins when I return which may be the end of my internet connection?? Looking forward to home cooked Indian food and a chance to practice Hindi.
Love to all. Namaste

My neighborhood shopimage

Nirman class
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Sitar Performance at Nirmanimage

The Ghats at nightimage

The only way to get around!image

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Go With The Flow Like The Holy Ganges River..

As I stepped off the plane and entered New Delhi’s modern and pristine airport, I thought how India had changed. However, once I opened the doors to the bustling streets of mopeds, rickshaws, taxis, honking horns and roaming cows, I knew India was still how I remembered it.  I was almost knocked breathless when the seemingly 1000 degree temperature and 100% humidity hit me with a blast. It’s time to let go of western conveniences and find the hidden gems in this developing country. After a night in a lovely Delhi hotel with AIR CONDITIONING ( I’m not quite ready to let go of cool air), I flew to Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus, where I will spend the next month training teachers with Dr. Nita Kumar at Nirman School. What an opportunity to work with such a scholar who has written books on teaching methodology and is a college professor of South Asian history. She personally trains her staff to instill the Nirman philosophy of integration, environmental awareness and developing life long learners. Her goal is to provide students a quality education regardless of caste, background, religion and wealth. The first day of teacher training I walked into a room filled with 30 eager teachers wearing the most elegant, colorful, jewel-encrusted saris. They looked like princesses right out of a fairy tale book. I guided them in debating techniques followed by a lively debate on a topic that would never appeal to Western classrooms: flowers are useful vs. flowers are not useful. Today we focused on poetry and creative teaching ideas.

I can’t close without giving a little information on this fascinating city called Benares by the locals or Varanasi by outsiders. I began my explorations with a trip to the ghats or step landings that lead into the Ganges River. This is not an ordinary river! Temples, shrines, palaces, and cremation ceremonies can be viewed along the ghats. Varanasi is also famous for its textiles, especially hand- woven and embroidered saris. The galis or streets are bursting with energy. Dodging through the masses of people selling their local wares and produce while riding atop a rickshaw is an unforgettable sensory experience.

There are always challenges adapting to a new culture, but as the Ganges River has done for centuries, my intention is to go with the flow and find my place in this vibrant city.

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