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Small Spaces - Big Results

Student project depicting a volcanic eruption and the aftermath of an earthquake.

It was already too hot and very humid when we arrived a bit sweaty and dishevelled just before noon to attend the Science and Math Fair at Nandchhaya Vidya Niketan English Medium School. Facing a wall of humans which included teachers, parents, and students, we gently pushed our way in to the claustrophobic classrooms, determined to view each child’s project.

Families in the community manage school projects with few craft supplies and very small spaces in which to create them. Living in homes with less square footage than most western bathrooms, family members have to sit outside while their child draws, cuts, glues, and assembles large school projects. Like most of the children, Samiksha created her three dimensional diagram (how kidneys function) on the floor of her home. She took up as little space as she could with her paints, cardboard, and scissors, but there was scant space left for her family to join her. Her younger brother spent his time playing with friends nearby, her mother sat on the pipeline sifting rationed grains, and her father tinkered with his old motorbike. Among her meagre supplies were small pots of craft paint that she had rescued from a pile of garbage two years ago when the kindergarten was demolished and the founder threw his cache of craft supplies into the pile of bricks left behind. She’s been using these tiny pots of paint ever since for large and small projects, carefully closing the caps to preserve the lick of paint stuck to the edges, and then tucking them into a tin box.

Samiksha working on her project in her home.

On the day of the fair there was an excited buzz among the crowd of uniformed children and their mothers who were dressed in their best saris and burkhas. A tent rented for the occasion was used for food stalls manned by students to earn money for the school and themselves. It encroached on the road already busy with traffic and fruit vendors, adjacent to the sprawling ever present garbage pile. While elderly women rag pickers sorted through the mound of garbage for recyclables, the students inside the school classrooms excitedly showed their science exhibits to their parents and guests. The animated, excited clatter of fifty or more children in each classroom explaining their projects at the same time, switching from Hindi to English, made it impossible to hear individual children even when standing directly in front of them. Yet they soldiered on, using sweeping hand gestures to accompany their elaborate dioramas explaining greenhouse gasses, how volcanoes and transportation systems affect our lives, and the effectiveness of wind farms. When confronted with us standing in front of them, excited to hear about their project, they spoke rapid English, sometimes missing a few words, always a bit nervous, and visibly relieved when we moved a few inches to the next person. Memorizing science facts and being able to answer questions in both Hindi and English adds a whole other dimension to their school experience.

Megha rides to school with her project on the back of her father's motorcycle. (Photo taken in 2017)

While we sidestepped down the row of students, stopping to examine each child’s work, we applauded their ingenuity and their knowledge, but we also marvelled at how the projects arrived at the school. Many students had to walk with their projects in pieces through traffic around numerous obstacles, to be assembled later, or, they found a way to sit with it on their laps in the back of a rickshaw with two or three other students and their projects. Some students arrived sitting sideways on a bicycle or a motorcycle, holding their project aloft while the driver weaved through traffic, around people, and swerved to miss potholes or vegetable carts. Some projects were as dishevelled as we were, but most had made the journey intact and now sat ready to be viewed on a narrow desk in a crowded room.

One of the classrooms with eager children ready to explain their project.

In each classroom, proud teachers prodded students to stand straight while presenting their project, parents greeted each other and pointed out their son or daughter’s work from across the room while towing another small child or two behind them. The projects were brilliant, creative, thoughtful, and imaginative. They used dirt, pebbles, cotton puffs for clouds and gasses, electrical switches, and hand-drawn people and animals carefully cut out and glued in place. We noticed that this year there were more projects on pollution and climate change. We finished our tour and exited through the tent, adjusting our sweat stained clothing as we headed into the oppressive heat outside. Trucks rumbled by belching sinister clouds of black exhaust, rickshaws and motorcycles kicked up dust as they swerved around numerous obstacles, and the omnipresent smell of the adjacent garbage pile heating up in the mid-day sun caught in our noses. After viewing the student’s projects, we hope that they’ll use their enthusiasm, their individual skill sets, their education, and newfound awareness, to manage the present and future of their environment. There are big problems to be solved just outside their school door.

This student's project was complex with working fans, lights, and water pumps.

Through the generosity of donors, we give the children who live in communities that lack basic amenities and infrastructure, where life is a constant adjustment to the vagaries of poverty, a chance to bring something to the table, to act and react to events and to help change their world into a place where garbage doesn’t restrict the flow of Mumbai's Mithi river, and industrial waste is not dumped into the drinking water. There is a lot of brain power to unleash. They’re already resourceful and know to waste nothing because they don’t have a choice. An education gives them the tools and awareness to harvest that resourcefulness and contribute to the bigger picture - one we hope they have a say in.

School fees for the school year 2019-2020 paid as of January 26, 2020 - (more fees pending)

Nanchhaya Vidya Niketan English Medium School: 187,700 rupees/$3754 CAD (22 students)

Marol Urdu School: 4,800 rupees/$96 CAD (3 students)

Shivner Vidya Mandir: 16,800 rupees/$336 CAD (2 students)

Shivam Vidya Mandir: 31,900 rupees/$638 CAD (4 students)

Samata Vidya Mandir: 20,700 rupees/$414 CAD (3 students)

Anjuman Shan E Islam School: 4,200 rupees/$84 CAD (1 student)

Nalanda Educational Foundation: 7,000 rupees/$140 CAD (2 students)

RK Classes: 10,000 rupees/$200 (1 student)

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