Teaching as a part of the Young Instructor Leaders program has been an amazing experience. This program at Agastya focuses on the idea that young children are the foundation of the future. Children from villages come to the Agastya’s campus and learn skills that they can then take back with them and teach to their communities. My job as a part of the program was to instruct the young children on sanitation, hygiene, and cleanliness. I feel that my time at Agastya was an amazing journey in which I learned and hopefully gave the other children an opportunity to learn as well. Although there were some issues, my team of volunteers and I overcame them and had what I felt like was a very successful project.
I first heard about Agastya International Foundation while looking to do some NGO work in the Bangalore area. Upon hearing about Agastya's premise of teaching young children in order for them to impart their knowledge on people close to them, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this program. My dream is to become a doctor therefore I selected the topic of health, hygiene, and disease prevention as the basis of my project. I prepared many power point presentations as well as activities for the children to carry out. Since my project was meant to be easy and low-cost, I decided to use plastic bottles which are abundantly available everywhere to do my experiments.
The children arrived at approximately 11 A.M. each day after which we would begin the session immediately. The biggest problem evident to me was the language barrier. I could not speak the local languages (Kannada and Telegu) therefore I had to use a translator which limited my ability to teach them through the Power point presentations that I had prepared. However, it became apparent to me that the children did not enjoy a traditional “sit-down” classroom setting but rather a setting with plenty of experiments, projects, and hands-on activities. Therefore, I did complete the presentations but I incorporated a variety of activities. The children learned better through the activities as was obvious during the review games and sessions that we played. The children were able to explain everything that I had taught easily when I used activities rather than just the presentations.
In one of the activities we covered the definition of hygiene and the meaning. I explained that daily hygiene practices keep us free from illnesses and ensure that the people around us do not get sick either. I also covered that germs where and how they spread (touch, air, water, and animals). I was surprised that some of the children did not follow some practices that we take for granted in more developed countries such as washing hands after defecating or even not drinking out of unclean water sources. I had the opportunity to show the children a lot of videos. One was of hand-washing techniques approved by the World Health Organization. We then went outside and practiced washing our hands properly. I explained that washing one's hands after defecating, before eating or preparing food, and after coming from outside. Even though some of them did wash their hands, they did so haphazardly. The video and the hands-on practice taught them to wash their hands thoroughly using soap. I think that the knowledge of such practices is there but there is a failure to implement the knowledge because of a lack of access to hygiene products. Therefore, I plan to continue my Agastya experience and do some work regarding getting hygiene products to remote areas.
Next we discussed the transfer of diseases through different methods. First we touched upon proliferation of disease by flies. The children were taught to keep food covered when not being eaten and other safety practices regarding insects. The children and I then built a simple fly-trap using a water bottle. First, it was cut at the top and then inverted crating a funnel like structure in the bottle. I explained that the flies would be attracted to the bait at the bottom of the trap and would enter the bottle but most would be incapable of exiting. The children did not know that germs could be spread by insects such as flies and mosquitoes so it felt good that my activities were creating some impact.
Later, I talked about diarrhoea and dehydration. The children knew that water would prevent the weakness and aches associated with dehydration but they were unfamiliar with the concept of water-borne diseases. I taught them that if they did not wash their hands properly after defecating or handling faeces that they would contract diarrhoea or gut infections. I then taught them how to prepare homemade ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts). We made a lot in the class and the children got to taste it. They had a lot of fun preparing the ORS and in the process learned about dehydration. I also talked about water safety and preventative measures such as filtering water. Some children did not have water filters and collected their drinking water from stagnant water sources such as ponds and wells. I told them how to create a rudimentary filter by folding a cotton cloth eight times and pouring the water through the cloth before drinking. Although it was not a 100% effective filter they understood that doing so would remove much of the suspended particles such as sand, silt, and algae.
My favourite part of my Agastya experience was my visits to various villages. I got to meet with a lot of new people and students as well as gather some new members as a part of my team. I especially loved the fact that I could easily assemble a projector and laptop setup just like on the Agastya campus. The children enjoyed preparing the experiments as well as watching the hygiene videos. I saw a lot of poverty and problems in the village but my Agastya experience has motivated me to continue doing NGO work in the areas that I care about namely health and hygiene.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Agastya. It was very difficult for an American like me to understand the lack of basic hygiene principles in the rural villages however I was happy that the language barrier was overcome through the use of instructional videos such as those on how to brush one's teeth and how to wash one's hands. I feel that Agastya has really opened my eyes to some of the troubles that children my age and younger are facing in their daily lives in rural areas. Agastya International Foundation taught me to not take what I know for granted and to continue doing NGO work in the field of health and hygiene!
- Raghav Kalra, Volunteer