Back to School…

Gema Benavides Jimenez


October 3, 2018

At all times, First Days of school are worth remembering.

 Without a doubt, I’ll say that the one at Sant Tukaram School in Pune has definitely been the most overwhelming of them all.  Like in every first day of school, the moment you step a foot in the school, all eyes are on you — from stares of genuine curiosity to stares of judgment. Nevertheless, the difference this time was that in a question of seconds at least 8 kids or more, gathered around me to grab my arms and hug my waist while screaming: Didi, Didi! Are you the new Didi? What is your name? Didi, Didi!*

After such a warm welcome, I somehow managed to find my Teach for India mentor who quickly showed me around the school “facilities” (more like, the inexistence of these).  Lastly, we entered the 3rd and 4th-grade classrooms, which will be the ones where I will be teaching and assisting at.  Why are they constantly moving? Why do these kids have to run everywhere? Why don’t they just sit down instead of jumping out of their chairs every 5 seconds? — I asked myself in the middle of such chaos.

I immediately noticed the stinky smell of the bathrooms, the suspicious puddles of “water” in the corridors, the lack of furniture; such chairs, tables and cupboards, and the thick layer of dust covering everything. However, of all the things these kids could possibly ask for, they only asked for one: My attention. These kids who carried a smile on their faces non-stop and were willing to open their arms and hug you as if there is no tomorrow, truly made my heart jump out of its place every time a kid wanted to give me a kiss on the cheek and hold my hand to take me with them.  I really did not have to try to be liked, they just loved me because I was there new “Didi” and for them, that was more than enough reasons.

After my first day of school I was given a drawing a student did for me, a letter that said I love you Didi (below, her phone number so that I could call her at 5:30 pm that afternoon), a rush of oxytocin (after all the hugs I have received throughout the day) and miiiiiillions of thoughts.

Once inside my rickshaw on the way home, I started wondering a lot: What is the reason for these kids to be desperately seeking for love? Does this come from an absence of love and affection at their homes? Therefore, they are left with no other option but to search for love from other adult figures that are not their parents? Or is it just part of the purity and nobility of 7-8-year-old kids’ souls? Maybe it is a combination of both?

As curious as I am to understand better the behavior of these kids, and to know  some of their background stories, I can’t resist the fear of wondering if knowing too much would set me on an emotional tide rope — At the end of the day I’ll be here for no more than 7 months, and as we like to say in the “Western world”: This experience will have helped me to build a more holistic and aware perspective of the world to become a more empathetic person. Nonetheless, after I leave “this changing experience” these kids will still be a subject of their society and the discrimination within it. Even when I knew since the very first moment that I decided to take part of this journey that in the long term I was doing this challenge for myself and not for anyone else, such fact hurts a thousand times more once you are surrounded by the reality– to know how little impact you have and how little you can change in a society that has been characterized by inequality and discrimination for the longest time.

Yet, what aforementioned is a dangerous spiral of thoughts in which we don’t want to find ourselves trapped in too often or for too long. Therefore I would like to end this entry by giving a huge shoutout to all the kids out there. Because kids are the masters of appreciating instances, of enjoying and finding fun in every moment and, specially, of not keeping their happiness to themselves but to openly share it with whoever wants to take it – Thus, us, the more “grown-ups”, should learn from them sometimes.

*Didi: The name by which Indian kids call their teachers.

Gema Benavides Jimenez