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Me and MOP
May 31, 2015
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Written by Asawari

My first official MOP visit was at St Inez-Panjim. I was told to be present at the site at 4.30pm however; I arrived a bit earlier. I found the tiny temple at the end of a lane, which was the landmark I was asked to look for and parked my bike close to a bench and quietly sat there. I looked around, and immediately my mind formed an impression that the community composed mainly of people who were from a non-Goan ethnicity- probably people from Karnataka who spoke mainly Kannada. I noticed around me that as I was looking around, there were also many curious eyes looking back at me. Two girls who were in the 11-12 year age group approached me and said “Bookworm?”- I smiled and said “Haan. Aap bhi library program mein ho?” They laughed and asked me- “Tu Konkani uloina?” I smiled and replied- “Uloitam. Mhaka dishille tumi uloinat mhun”. They had figured me out much more accurately than I had figured them out. This was my first learning at MOP- even before the official sessions had begun- just about 15 minutes into the site- that I should expect what is most unexpected from children.

Two sites were chosen for the South-Goa MOP in Fatorda : Gaulli-wado and Pajifond. At both these sites, I interacted mainly with senior children (9 years+). The Story Read Aloud was the favorite part of the program and we read various stories ranging from Indian folk-tales to true stories from Afghanistan. As I read the story, or as I held the book while Melcom or Sujata read aloud, I loved looking at the faces of children as they listened to the story and listening to their comments. In this blog, I will talk about some of my favourite stories read aloud and some really lovely reactions that we received from the children during the read aloud.

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One of my all time favourite stories has been ‘Nasreen’s Secret School’- a story about a young girl from Afghanistan who loses speech after her parents suddenly disappear because of the Taliban. The book is Nasreen’s journey after she is enrolled into a secret school by her perceptive, modern grandmother. In school, a secret school, Nasreen discovers new worlds in books and the new friends she makes and this finally helps her to come out of her sadness.

The context of the story was close to the children’s experiences and many of the children in the senior section were Muslim girls however, in the beginning it was difficult for them to understand the dynamics in the story. Why were the ‘police/ soldiers’ bad ? Why was there a need for a secret school ? This was mainly because the word ‘Taliban’ was new to all children- at both sites. From the context the children guessed that “he” is some sort of a king as he owns soldiers and when there was mention of soldiers taking over the city, it was assumed that the soldiers had come to “do good”- to free people, or to rescue and liberate them or something of that sort. I found this very fascinating. Have we over glorified soldiers and kings in the stories that we tell children that a concept of exploitative, unfair soldiers and kings is difficult for children to grasp?

Another one of my favourites is ‘The Watermelon Route’. A story of a young boy called Sassou who falls in love with an extraordinary girl the minute he lays his eyes on her. As the name indicates, the story takes us on a journey- Sassou’s journey as he attempts to deliver 10 magnificent watermelons to his love. The story beautifully expresses young love experienced by a boy who is of a similar age as our MOP children and hence was quite relatable. The story provided a platform to the children to talk about love- a topic that is usually tabooed in our culture. I couldn’t stop myself from giggling when I looked at the excitement on the children’s faces when Sassou gets lost in dreaming about the girl or when he receives a kiss from the girl. While all children wanted Sassou to succeed in his mission, they couldn’t help thinking ‘realistically’ when they said “Woh ladki usse thappad maregi” and laughed. For the extension activity, we played Word Bingo wherein the children had to give 12 words from the story that they liked- some of the popular favourites were: kiss, love and romantic and it was quite amusing for them to see a ‘teacher’ put such words up on the board. At Pajifond, two children- Tasneem and Anand came up to me after the story ended and said- “Teacher, end mein accha nahi hua. Us ladki ko aisa nahi karna chahiye tha” I was quite surprised with this response as like the other children I knew that even these children romantically wanted the story to end on a positive note- Sassou meeting the girl. At Gaulli-wado, some girls were quite puzzled as to why Sassou would fall in love with such a girl in the first place. “Woh ladki kitni jhingi, khatari hai. Baal dekho kitne chotte hai. Bilkul acchi nahi dikhti. Sassou uske liye itna kyun karega?” they asked quite ingenuously. These innocent and frank reactions of children quite plainly reflects mainstream attitudes and beliefs about love- the good v/s the bad kind of love, who deserves to be loved and who doesn’t, what makes a girl pretty, etc.

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For the last session at both the sites we chose the story ‘What a Song’ which is a Bundelkhandi folk tale and this was a perfect end to a great summer program. The story talks about the importance of singing the right song at the right time. For the extension activity, the children had to write a song on their own about the library program. Their responses were really heartwarming. From what they wrote. We understood that they perceived MOP as quite democratic, a fun program wherein the teachers “loved all children” and also “played and sang with them” while teaching them to read and write. A few of the children, especially in the junior section didn’t even go to school- a few as old as 8/9 years and this was the first formal literacy program they were enrolled in. It was also the first time I have met children who don’t go to school- a new experience for me too.

These children have taught me many things. Seeing them get happy with a small star sticker, or a lump of dough, or a necklace made from just two beads has been quite something and I feel I have grown so much- stronger, happier and more purposeful. Thank you Bookworm for this lovely opportunity!

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