Dutch students teach Kalwa slum children a few lessons

Mumbai: A small army of Dutch students keenly prepares for the next day’s lesson in a Thane slum. Their homework involves going through textbooks for little children, for only then will they be able to teach what they have just learnt.
    As part of an exchange programme called EUMIND (Europe Meets India), 10 high school students and two teachers from Wolfert van Borselen School in Rotterdam, Holland, are visiting a shanty school in Kalwa run by local NGO REAP (Reach Education Action Programme). From Monday to Friday, they are assisting the class teachers in English, math and social sciences.
    Located five minutes from Kalwa station is the Bhaskar Nagar slum, a colony of migrants which draws power, water and English education for their children.
    Fr Trevor Miranda, founder of REAP, has lodged the Dutch team in a hotel which packs low-spice Indian meals for them. But each morning, they choose to trek through the unmotorable road to Bhaskar Nagar that is paved with a bed of rocks, a route that even hardy rickshaw drivers describe as “danger’’.
    Inside the classroom, Old MacDonald and his farm bring Kalwa and Rotterdam on common ground. Loud ‘eeeye-ohs’ burst forth from one tin shed, prompting a chorus of louder quacks from the younger classes nearby. English conversation is peppered with Dutch on one side and Hindi on the other.
    “It’s fun,’’ laughs the lanky Daen (pronounced Dahn) Smits, whose wild gestures about a fearsome crocodile in a river drive the children into splits. Aminata Kone, his coteacher, wants them to ‘koom’
their hair and the kids oblige once their classteacher Aruna Mhatre peels off the accent.
    Given a fair idea of the third world, the parents back in Holland raised a small mutiny when their young ones insisted they would serve a slum community in India for two weeks. Stefan Roest recalls how they braved opposition and hepatitis vaccinations to get here.
    With two exceptions, though. Aminata’s mother had participated in a similar project in Africa, so she “understood’’. Caroline Ooms’s father, on the other hand, allowed her “the experience of a lifetime’’. “My father came to Mumbai when he was 20 and he had a really bad experience in the streets,’’ says Caroline. “But here’s the thing. While my
mother did not like the idea of me visiting the same city, he in fact wanted me to go see for myself.’’ The visitors say this is a learning experience. “Holland has no slums at all,’’ says Harry van den Bouwhuysen, the teacher who is a cultural anthropologist. “It is wonderful to see families, who subsist on so little, survive without complaint.’’

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