Teaching in Maharashtra for a UU Holdeen India Program partner

By UUA International Resources

For two months during the summer of 2008, Laney Ohmans, a Unitarian Universalist from Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, MN, offered English language instruction at the Eklavya School for Katkari Girls in the Maharashtra region of India. The Eklavya School was founded by two of the closeset partners of the UUA Holdeen India Program (UUHIP), Vivek and Vidyulata Pandit. The Pandits are social change/human rights organizers who have had a profound impact on Indian society. Unity Church-Unitarian has been developing a partner relationship with them and Vidhayak Sansad/Shramjeevi Sanghatan, supporting their mission to release and support bonded laborers. Laney's work with the Eklavya School is one example of their partnership in action. Upon her return to the United States, Laney shared a report about her experience that will inspire all who read it. The report includes information about the context of the School:
When I arrived the girls sat on mats on the floor and the teachers stood at the front of the room, but after about two weeks a massive donation of wooden benches and metal teacher’s desks came in, and soon the classrooms were organized into neat rows of benches. The girls sleep in the school, one level above the classrooms in little metal frame bunk beds. They wake up every morning at 6:00 am to raise the flag and sing “We Shall Overcome” in Marathi, the state language of Maharashtra. The flag-raising is followed by calisthenics and breakfast preparations, and their school day begins at 9:00 am with a story-telling and current events discussion led by one of the teachers. Class starts at 10:00 on the dot, which is when I would make my appearance, loaded down with bags of crayons or drawing paper, ready to lead the girls in chants of D - O – G (dog!) or C – A – T (cat!) and endless verses of the Hokey Pokey.
As well as information about a typical day in the classroom:
The girls were wonderful students, eager to learn and enthusiastic about every game we played and dialogue we role-played our way through. I’ve never before seen a classroom where students will wave their hands in the air and shout, “Me, teacher! Me!” when the instructor calls for a volunteer to come to the board. Most American students are too jaded to do anything but slouch in their seats and stare fixedly at the floor in an attempt to avoid participation at all costs. The girls at Eklavya, on the other hand, would practically leap from their seats in their attempts to be the first to be called on.
And an illustration of Shramjeevi Sanghatana/Vidhayak Sansad in action:
Everyone at the offices kept telling me that the Shramajeevi Sanghatana/Vidayak Sansad Independence Day celebration was like no other celebration in India. “So many of our union members are former slaves. They are people who know the true meaning of freedom and independence,” they would say, “No one else in India takes this as seriously as we do.” When the day arrived, I saw how right they had been. Tens of thousands of union members marched through the streets of the nearby town of Ganeshpuri, singing and chanting, with my students leading the way, beaming and brandishing their lajims. It was an amazing moment, a moment that made me proud to have been witness to their revolutionary strength – they were changing their world, and building a new world for their younger sisters, a world free of the knowledge that they would grow up to work in the brick kilns, or that they would be married at fourteen and have babies at fifteen. These girls were truly freedom fighters, and their independence was, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me.
View Laney's Complete article online Thank you, Laney, for your excellent ministry on behalf of Unity Church-Unitarian. And, for sharing an inspiring word about your experience with all of us. For more information about how your congregation can support the UUA Holdeen India Program, please contact the UUA's International Resources Office.

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