It was July 2013, when I went for an interview to AAM Foundation office in Vasant Vihar. I was impressed with easy tone and temper of the recruiter. After the interview, I was very expectant and hopeful. When the anticipated phone call came through,  I was found not ready for the job and recommended to the Training Academy so that I could polish my language before being assigned a position.

The Training Academy threw a series of revelations and realisations. There were some words that I repeatedly mispronounced and the organisation was keen that I correct those sounds before I can be entrusted to lead, guide and teach the students. For instance, I struggled with ‘zoo’ and ‘preposition’. My sounds were clearly all over the place. I was struggling with my facilitation skills as well. Within a few days, I nearly convinced myself that this was not my cup of tea and decided to quit. While I had given up on myself, the organization had not.

My trainer made me understand that FAIL means “first attempt in learning” and it is not the end. In fact END means “efforts never dies” and if I received NO for an answer, it means “next opportunity”. It made me optimistic and hopeful.

never-give-up

 Photo Courtesy- www.funatiq.com

After successful completion of my training, I went for induction. I was rejected and asked to work on my facilitation skills. But I did not give up this time and was called for induction again. Having learnt from my past mistakes, I got selected and was assigned Freedom English Academy at Wazirpur Industrial Area (110052A).

The road to the center was covered in industrial ash. It meandered like a snake across the landscape, dotted with factories on both sides. At the end of this path, stood my center. With the help of gloomy looking factory workers, I was able to locate it. My center was a dim lit room with one window and witnessed regular power cuts. The students were the proverbial silver lining, beaming bright in the dark. That was all that I wanted. My reward for the perseverance and efforts was their smiling faces and confidence while conversing in English.

A few months later, I was given a new responsibility – Field Support Trainer – to guide and support facilitators. Initially, it was a struggle. Earlier I had to take care of only one center and 90 students who were keen to learn from me; now I had 28 centers and 56 facilitators who were reluctant or resistive to my guidance.

I did not give up and realised that because they were distinct individuals, they have different needs and strengths. That made me individualise my attention and focus to make my support more relevant for them. Within a few weeks, I started enjoying my job. This made me more flexible and responsive to the needs of the facilitator and made me polish my tools and enrich my repertoire. I was able to work consciously to fix my grammatical errors and pronunciation.

I am determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I encounter.  For me -“Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to wait for; it is a thing to be achieved.”

 

Amit Sharan

Field Support Trainer

The days were turning mundane and I was definitely itching for a switch, but there didn’t seem any opportunity worth pursuing. And then it came…..suddenly!

On August 13 last year, my first day as a facilitator, I was welcomed with anger, dissatisfaction and tears. The students were certainly not to pleased to see me replace their old facilitator. I felt was dreadful!  But I stood firmly facing the the 59 students students, driven only by my passion for turning impossible into possible. I had to keep the faith – theirs and mine.

Every time I began to become complacent or complaining, my students snapped me out of my stupor. Rain, hail or cold winds, most students would turn up early in the morning; housewives and young mothers would leave their babies to their neighbor’s house; girls would fight with their orthodox families- all to learn from me.  When I heard about the obstacles they were overcoming to learn English, I began to reflect on my own life. In comparison to my students, I had more riches, they had more resilience and perseverance. I taught them English, they taught me positive outlook.

Courage

During the days of my rich experience as a facilitator, life of one particular student was my lighthouse of self-motivation and perseverance.

The student, let’s call her Anu, has graduated from Freedom English Academy now. Her  father was an Army officer, but under the influence of his friends took early retirement to devote his life to worship. Since money was short, he stopped his children from pursuing education and forced them to follow in his footsteps of devotion to a godman. But Anu didn’t give up. She continued her studies on the sly. She would always hide her books and pursued the medical stream. She joined Freedom English Academy (FEA) one and half year ago and came regularly without disclosing it to her father. She saved her money by not shopping and not recharging her phone. The money she saved was used to commute to the center that was about 4 kms away from her house. Often, I offered her help, but her response was a very confident, “No Ma’am. I have made this choice so I have to pay for it.” It left me both, speechless and inspired.

Anu cleared entrance examination for B.H.M.S. without informing her father. By that time, I was promoted as Compliance Supervisor and was about to leave the center. I was not sure how she would respond to the news. Inevitably, I shared the news with her and  saw despair in her eyes. I made her realize the importance of her goals and jogged her down the memory lane to her first day in the center. She seemed upbeat and had resolved to continue when Ileft.

On day, I received a call form Anu informing me that she would not be able to come for 2 weeks as her father had passed away.  Promptly, after 2 weeks she returned with a smile and asked for her workbook to complete the lessons that she had missed. I was present at center on that day and her behavior amazed me. She didn’t expect sympathy but was focused completely on the lessons she had missed.

No amount of wealth or money could have taught me what Anu did!

On that day, my lesson in self-motivation and courage was complete…temporarily, at least.

Pallak Gautam

Compliance Supervisor

Doubts stop countless beings from transforming their powerful thoughts into significant actions. For those who banish their doubts and fears, a treasure trove of wonderful experiences is in store for them.

It is rightly said that life will be much better if we stop stressing out the things that are beyond our control and start doing something about the things that are.

The students of Ganesh Nagar exemplified this showing how our life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.

The objective

We always talk about that we should throw garbage into dustbin not on the roads. But the problem is people don’t have dustbins on the roads. So my students and I decided to do something regarding this issue.

Change-makers at Ganesh Nagar

Change-makers at Ganesh Nagar

Day 1

We prepared posters and a funding box to collect some funds from nearby residents and shop keepers. Each one of them contributed happily, because they all needed dustbins on roads. I assigned the task of looking out for some places where we can put the dustbins. We identified few open areas where garbage was disposed off and spoke to the  residents who can take the responsibility of dustbins so that dustbins don’t get stolen.

Day 2

There after, we purchased 10 dustbins from market at reduced prices. We painted them green, wrote some quotes on them and FEA on them, so that all dustbins look uniform. By the end of Day 2, our dustbins were ready for installations.

Day 3

It was a most important day. We finalized some places after brief discussion with students who had already surveyed the area and identified spots where these bins could be installed. We spoke with shopkeepers and residents in the vicinity to take care of the bins.  They were very happy by this move and assured us that they will take responsibility and keep dustbin inside a shop at night and bring it out in the morning.

Everyday my students check on the dustbins, educate all to use it and the community around appreciates their effort.

Martin Luther King Jr. rightly said, “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”

This was one such moment in my life.

 

Anjum Shakir   (Facilitator of  Ganesh Nagar center)                                                                                                                                                                 

&

Avishek Singh  (Curriculum Manager)

 

As I was walking through the overflowing streets of Sangam Vihar, one of the most poorly maintained parts of the city, I heard someone calling my name aloud. I ignored and kept walking towards the bus stop. I heard the voice again. This time it was louder. I stopped and turned back, only to find a young boy in his early teens, dressed in a government school uniform and waving his hands ecstatically. He rushed to shake hands and greet me. He told me that he saw me taking a session at the Tughlakabad center. I was surprised as I generally visit a center only once a month. I noticed that he was trying to hold the conversation in English. On my way to the bus stop, I kept smiling ceaselessly.

Barely a few months ago, I was having the time of my life as a facilitator at the Tehkhand center when I was given the responsibility to support other facilitators. At first I thought that life as a Field Support Trainer would not be as fun as it was as a facilitator. It turned out to be even better.

There have been so many unforgettable moments filled with immense joy that I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Earlier I had eighty odd students, now I have more than thousand students to interact with, every month. Most of them recognize me by face and some of them can even recall my name. Some of them look forward to meet me every month and are prepared with questions, riddles and puzzles. They try to outdo me and I in return always leave them with something to think about. We share a very special bond that keeps strengthening with every smile shared. It is their smiles which keeps me going on a hot and humid day.

Source – www.bethpetersonauthor.com

Supporting and training facilitators has been fun too. I am delighted that most of the facilitators I support are extremely creative and open minded. Each one of them, with their distinct style of facilitation and unique perspective, makes our program richer and holistic. They welcome my feedback and try their best to implement them. Their humility amazes me. It has also been a great learning opportunity for me as training people ensures that I too fix my own grammatical and pronunciation errors.

Interacting with such a diverse group of people has changed me as a person. I have begun to listen and respect other’s perspective more empathetically. Also, I have realized how futile egos and prejudices are and how deeply they can impact work. I now believe that if we really want to solve issues that engulf us, then we must learn to rise above our egos and get things done.

When I started my journey, I had no idea that I would come so far. On the way, I did face some challenges, both physical as well as emotional. I struggled to travel around due to severe backaches. Also, it was very challenging to communicate ideas, set expectations, reflect sessions, train people and interact with students, all in a single visit. However, I was able to overcome them by the affection and support of people who make the AAMF family. The space they provided me played an important part in my growth. And the experience changed my own perspective about growth. Growth, as I now see, is not a vertical phenomenon but a horizontal one. My approach towards growth and work has become more holistic.

Words can express experiences, only partially. Suffice to say that it has been quite a ride so far and I am gearing up for more.

 

Ashutosh Ratnakar

Field Support Trainer

“Thank you, Sir ! Thank you, Sir! Thank you very much, Sir! You have changed my life, Sir ! “- She ran into me with an envelope and hugged me ecstatically. Unused to such receptions at our centers, I was a little overwhelmed. I struggled, unsuccessfully, to recall her name.

She is one of the 1600 learners whose learning and progress is the responsibility of the 20 facilitators under my supervision.

“She had been waiting for you since morning to show you something.”- the Facilitator chipped in while I was struggling to frame my response to her exuberant outburst.

Softly, I asked, “What’s her name?” “You will get to know. She is the host today!”- responded the Facilitator with a smile.

The occasion was a Parent-Teacher Interaction (PTI) attended by some parents and about 18 students. After welcoming everyone, the hostess introduced herself as Chhavi and invited her peers to share their experience at Freedom English Academy (FEA). The Facilitator was translating it all into Hindi so that the parents could understand and participate.

Students shared experiences about how their parents were proud of them, how well their Facilitator responded to their learning needs and how they had struggled and overcome inhibitions to speaking in English.

At the end, Chhavi shared her experience. I was very attentive, hoping that I would be able to get some hints, when she speaks, that will help me recall who she was.

“Hello Everyone! I would like to share something about my mid-evaluation which was taken by Mr. Pushkar.” I was hanging on every word she uttered.  “It was the month of October and I had recently joined FEC. I was very hesitant. With Ma’am’s help I learnt how to introduce myself and talk about my family and general things. But before evaluation, I was very nervous and by the time I was called for evaluation by Mr Pushkar, I forgot everything. He asked me first to introduce myself and I did so. I also told him about my educational qualification that I had dropped my studies a year ago after doing 12th because my father did not want me to continue studying. I also told him that I wanted to study but did not want to go against my father’s wishes. He asked me a lot of other questions like what I want to become in my life ad how willI achieve that. He also took my father’s phone number.” She stopped to let the Facilitator translate.

“That evening, when my father came back home, he told me that somebody called him from her English ‘tuition’ and that my mother was asked to come in. I got scared as I was not sure why my parents were called to the center. My mother came to meet Mr. Pushkar at the center. After that my father was also called one day but alone. After one week, my father asked me to fill up the admission forms for B.A.”- she stopped to look at her parents sitting in the middle row.

In the meanwhile, the facilitator translated.  By now, I was beginning to recover from my amnesia and memories of the evaluation and meeting were beginning to trespass my mind.

Chhavi continued, “I don’t know what you told my parents.  But today I have this.” She was waving her examination ticket for B.A. (First Year).

She went on about how her life and relationship with her parents had changed  and broke into tears and this time after the facilitator translated, her mother got up to share her views. Her father joined in as well. There was general applause.

“Thank you, Sir! Thank you, Papa! Thank you, everyone!” the very emotional Chhavi finished her speech.

At the end, I congratulated all and motivated all the learners for coming regularly for their sessions and awarded them their Level 2 certificate. Their parents left after thanking us for our efforts.

That day, I walked out of the center, an inch taller, marveling at how one little effort could transform into a milestone !

 

Pushkar Ranjan

Compliance Supervisor

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” ~ Henry Miller

Day in and day out, since the first rays of sun until the birds return to their nest, our united efforts to bring in self reliance in students by learning communication and thinking skills, go on ceaselessly.

Here’s a story of a student from the center Samaspur : 110091A.

Back in March 2013, when I was a facilitator at this center, a girl (lets’ call her K) joined the Free English Class. On most days, she waited outside the class ahead of her scheduled session. When I asked her why she wanted to learn English, she replied, “Sir when the time comes, I’ll tell you.” I was intrigued.

One fine evening, just before the class she asked me, “Sir, is it true that a student from a government school can never speak English as well as a student from a private school.” I answered, “That’s not true.” She probed further, “So please why do my friends , their parents laugh at me when I try to communicate with them in English.”  Without waiting for my response and with tears in the eyes she touched my feet and requested, “Sir, I will put on my heart and soul into learning. Please continue showering your blessings.”

Rainy day, festival, celebrations, exam – she was always there, waiting outside the class ahead of her scheduled session.

Life moved on and I joined as the Coach (Music-based Learning). Aabout 8 months later, when I met her, she jumped with joy, with beaming smile that spread ear to ear, she said, “Sir, I have graduated.”

The best was yet to come. She insisted that I accompany her as she had something to show me. She took me to a very nearby market to meet a vegetable vendor and proudly introduced,   “Sir he is my father Mr. Hari Prakash and father he is my teacher from the English class.” She was as fluent and well punctuated as the best student from a private school.

It was my turn to shed some tears – tears of joy. I was moved by her words and touched by her zeal.

With grit and determination, there is no adversity that cannot be overcome. NO adversity at all.

K has taught me that for she is the living example of Vince Lombardi’s belief, “…..any man’s finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the fields of battle – victorious.”

 

Avishek Singh

Coach (Music-based Learning)

As a Music-based Learning Coach, I visit different centers to engage and interact with students. Most of our students are first generation learners of English language and have little or no opportunity to practice the language outside our center. Therefore, our facilitator are expected to maintain an English-only learning environment in the centers.

As with any policy, making it is the easier part, implementing it is the more difficult part. Both the facilitators, despite being well-intentioned, and students often breach this. The habitual comfort of the mother tongue or vernacular prevents both the facilitators and students from maintaining an English-only environment in the centers.

I tried a trick to enforce the policy. I explained the trick with help of the question. I asked the students, ‘Who is your good friend?’ I got answers such as, ‘One who helps us’, ‘One who tells us when we are wrong’, ‘One who is happy with our progress’ and ‘One who understands us.’ Thereafter, I joined the dots for them saying, ‘A person who uses Hindi with you does not understand that you need to practice English or maybe is not happy with your progress because if you use more English, you will learn English. He/she is not telling you that using Hindi in the center, will not help you learn English. Therefore, that person is not your good friend! So, don’t respond to that person.’ Students seemed to like the trick, but, it was not very effective in preventing the use of Hindi in the center.

Thereafter, I asked students the reason for speaking Hindi in the center. I overruled reasons like problems in expression, not knowing how to say a word in English and hesitation stemming from embarrassment of speaking incorrectly. I concluded that speaking Hindi was a habit and came naturally. Even in a completely controlled environment, when asked something in Hindi, students would respond in Hindi, as it by reflex action. It was this cycle of input-habitual processing-output that had to be disrupted for students to overcome this habit.

So far I had been out-focused with little success. Now, I decided  that it is the input of Hindi that needs to be stopped. To do so, I developed a new trick and tried it in one of the centers.  I explained to students that they are free to speak in Hindi. But, starting that day, they must stop listening in Hindi. They need not ask the person using Hindi to switch to English, neither remind nor reprimand.  Simply ignore that person , student or facilitator, by putting hands on their own ears, showing that they are not being listened to. I explained that listening is input and speaking is output. So, if we stop input of Hindi and the output will be stopped automatically. I figured that gesture of putting hands on ears was funny and explicit and so would work – non-verbal communication of a powerful message

Photo Courtesy – http://www.chinasmack.com

 I asked the facilitator to enforce this consistently. After a few days, the facilitator informed me that the trick was working like magic. Students have started using the trick without reminder and speaking in English more often. Encouraged by this response, I tried the same trick at a few other centers and, so far, I have received positive feedback.

Thus, another alternative to ‘Don’t speak in Hindi’ can very well be ‘Don’t listen to Hindi.’

 

Chintan Parekh

 Coach (Music-based Learning)

 What’s a miracle?

Seeing a child who was quiet and shy,

not speaking English as his vocabulary was dry,

afraid of the world and ready to cry,

 but not willing to give up with a regular practice and a daily try,

and with an each passing day learn the language and get ready to fly,

touch the sky bidding good bye to the shy.

 The joy comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy, no sweeter fruit than to see our endless united efforts bearing fruits in form of students turning into lyricist.

I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Today, was one of those experiences. I went to the Sundernagri Center (PIN 110093A). There I sang A Few of My Favorite Things (from the movie, Sound of Music) with the students. After the music activity, students were asked to compose their own lyrics titled, My Favorite Things.

The magic they wove with their pens was awe-inspiring. I share here two compositions from the students:

Composition  1  

Everybody likes to sing a song,Everybody likes to be a king,

Every girl likes to wear a ring,

These are a few of my favorite things.

I like to drink cold drink in spring,

I like to play with wings.

I like gifts tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

Composition 2

When the child smiles

When the birds fly

when the rain comes,

I love to sing in the month of spring.

These are a few of my favorite things.

When I fall down

When my friends fight

When you cut my kite

I simply remember my favorite things 

  and then I don’t  feel so bad. 

The innocence and delight that I experienced was truly magical and enchanting. I was puffed with pride that these students who a short while ago could not even speak a word in English are turning lyricists.

Move over, Bob Dylan!

 

Avishek Singh

Coach (Music-based Learning)

The Naraina Free English Class center was started in November, 2013.

I was appointed as the evening facilitator of this brand new center and entrusted with the responsibility of getting it to take off successfully. While new is exciting, it is also a  tad bit overwhelming. For first few weeks, I had a hard time connecting with my students. Students found it difficult to understand my accent and the fact that I did not speak any Hindi, a language that came naturally to them, made matters worse. Sometimes when I corrected their pronunciation, they ridiculed it and that made me feel uneasy. But as they say, “No pain, no gain.”

During the oral communication activities, they showcased their individual talents and zeal for learning new things. Although there were a few students who came just for fun and interrupted the class.

During these trying times, I was very grateful for my our seniors – their patience and guidance. Every day brought me one step closer to understanding my students and their learning needs. Aw we began to bond, I started enjoying the classes.

One of the most memorable day in my AAMF journey was December 31, when Mr Avishek came to my center to conduct music-based language learning activity in my students. The key highlight for me was the part where students were asked to make a New Year card for me. I cherish it till today and one look at them makes me smile when I am feeling low or lost.

language-barrier-300x215

As my Hindi is poor penny’s worth, I struggled initially with my students. But adversity is our greatest ally. My poor Hindi is the reason for my students comfort in English. In each of the 4 sessions, I chose 5 or 6 students as my interpreters and I solicit their services when a student is unable to understand the lesson; when a prospective students or his parents visit the center and need info. This has forced my students to be better listeners as they need to them translate it for me in English. I find this technique as an advantage for the students as they are forced to speak to me in English.

Last month, I conducted the first Parent Teacher Interaction (PTI). For the first time, I got to meet the parents of each and every student. My Compliance Supervisor also visited the center and led the first two sessions. Both the students and the parents had a good time with her. For the third session, when I took the floor, there was an uneasy silence as I started speaking in English. But I was unfazed. My students were my interpreters. I let my students translate what I said into Hindi for the comfort of their parents. All I could see was faces with pride written large across them -  I am not sure how well they listened, even though it was in Hindi.

They seemed too busy feeling proud of their son/daughter translating English into Hindi.

 

Shimreiyo Soro

Evening Facilitator

Naraina Center

I used to pen my thoughts regularly, but for unmentionable and uncountable reasons, I stopped. Or rather, my penmanship became dormant. But now I have reason to resume writing, so this blog.

When I joined AAMF as a Compliance Supervisor, my twelve-year experience prevented me from learning, unlearning and relearning. In my earlier avatar with AAMF, I was a successful Free English Class facilitator, but as a Compliance Supervisor, I struggled. Until Dec 26, 2013.

On Dec. 26, 2013 I got a chance to interact with Ashish Trivedi and that changed my professional outlook. I learnt that the secret to learning new things willingness to unlearn–even if your behaviors previously brought success. The key takeaway from Ashish’s session was learning, unlearning and relearning is a journey and destination in itself.

Now I practice the following to stay focused:

 Begin at the beginning

I try to start every work every day with a fresh approach. For instance, when I had to address the issue of inactive students in the centers under my supervision, I failed. Next day, I tried different strategy and was successful. The third day I applied same strategy at a different center but results were frustrating. I realized just because one solution worked for one problem in one center, it might not work at the same center the next day or at another center. Instead of treating my solutions as magic bullets, I need to have a rich repertoire of solutions keeping in mind the nature of problem and people involved.

 Stay open-minded

Many times we work with a fixed mindset and are hostage of our own perceptions/prejudices, blinding us to reality.  That does not help.

In one case, I made up my mind about one facilitator, giving up on her abilities but she surprised me with her hard work. While I do not overlook my facilitators’ ranking and their past performance, I am becoming increasingly open to accept and learn again based upon daily observation and data. I am stay objective – a facilitator is as good or as bad as they perform on a given day based on empirical evidence.

 Be the change

Many times we carry two mirrors – one for others and other for ourselves.  We tell others to do something we do not display in our own behavior and conduct. If we expect students to imbibe the appropriate body language and intonation, we must also expect the facilitators to demonstrate that. If we want the facilitators to imbibe that, we must as Compliance Supervisors demonstrate that.

How I interact with the facilitators, can modify the behaviour of the facilitators and can set my expectations for how facilitators interact with students.

Examine beliefs

While human values are common to all, our socio-cultural beliefs vary. Beliefs can transform into prejudices if they are not revisited and reaffirmed regularly.

The facilitators under my supervision belong to varied backgrounds and experiences. I fail if I use the same socio-cultural lenses to look at all of them. I am learning to look at them as individuals from a specific context and not a homogeneous group. This helps me focus better on individual strengths and weaknesses.

Everyday, I continue to enjoy this challenging yet satisfying journey of learning, unlearning and relearning.

 

Praveen Kumar Sharma

Compliance Supervisor