Being part of an expat community with cars, big houses and a beautiful school, sometimes led me to forget the environment I was living in and noticeably unaware of, while enjoying my freshmen year of high school in an American International School in India. Although factors such as the unending summer heat and the passing of countless homeless locals on the way to school didn’t let me completely forget about issues and struggles the Indian society was facing, I still felt rather alienated from the culture and felt the desire to contribute to the attempt of closing the gap between expats in India and the local culture. This opportunity was given to me by a club called Jump Start, led by two upperclassmen. This club particularly focused on getting involved with local school communities in our area, that had no access to similar privileges such as technology, game tools, instruments and space, as we did.
Indian public secondary schools, often lack financial support and can only provide education at a sole base. Boys and girls are usually separated and little time is left for team games or bonding. Therefore, the Jump start club organized for a local, public Indian school to come to our school campus for at least one Saturday every month to play games, sing together and have lessons.
Spread out across our campus, we divided ourselves into small groups and did various activities with the children separated by age group, instead of gender. We played capture the flag, relay games and basketball, which to our surprise were unknown to them. It was a challenge to bring across all rules as we were on different English levels, however their interest and excitement to play with us made the experience very enjoyable. After teaching them the games we play in our school, we gave them the opportunity to teach us their favorite game. Although this caused some chaos with the little ones, it was very satisfying to see their enthusiasm in sharing some of their traditional school games, which to our surprise required no equipment such as balls, batons or flags.
After playing in the sun for some time, we gathered inside for some music time. As I enjoy playing the guitar in my free time, I brought my guitar along and my friends and I sang them some of our favorite, usually new-pop songs. They listened interested and tried joining in the second time. As when playing sports, after teaching them our songs, they sang us their school song, which was about the joy of learning, indian pride and religion, as it was a christian school. They then taught us a short choreography to the song and we danced together.
The singing was personally the most intriguing part of the session to me, as myself being a christian too, I was not used to practicing my beliefs in a school environment. It showed me that despite the immense cultural and financial differences, we shared beliefs that go beyond education. After doing some research past the session, I learnt that it was very common in india to have religion play a major role in public schools. With bible class and prayers playing a big part in their daily school life, I reflected back on my own practice of religion and wanted to find out more about the relationship schools and religion have in the indian community around me. I used other Saturday sessions to ask some of the students and they told me about their view of religion and the close relationship they have to their beliefs through their school.
Thus, I learnt power, privilege and money do not affect beliefs, the fun in games or the outlook on spending time together, but rather the practice of those and the extent of their practice that can be influenced by such factors. The activity was very rewarding as I learnt more about my environment and the community I was surrounded by, their mentality and their practices. I believe this club was vital to my stay in a country as diverse as India, as a lot of traditions and beliefs go unseen if not personally explored. Therefore, after every session of Jump start, I felt connected, closer and part of the community and its culture.