A point of view by UK volunteer Kate Foster, who visited after graduating in Anthropology from Sussex University.
Where to begin? Privilege. You just don’t realise how privileged you have been in your own life until you see something experienced so differently, something that you took for granted when it was handed so easily to you. In this case it’s education and school.
When I think of Bright Sparks I don’t only think about education. I think of school, which in my view differs greatly. Education is the certificate you receive for attending and putting in the time to learn, but school is like a second home. School is that place we go to everyday, see the same faces, feel safe and part of something – a place that helps us become who we are.
Visiting the family homes of these children I saw the mounds of rubbish beside the polluted, flowing river, which several children crossed daily to get to school quicker. I felt the constant dust in my sandals and the fragility of their tin roofs. Yet, I also saw the pride in their eyes of where they slept, the clean floors inside, the odd goat outside, their family-shared beds and small siblings. And their smiles.
Then in the mornings I saw them clambering out of a tuk-tuk laughing and gossiping or walking up to the gates of what they can call their second home: Bright Sparks. A clean, welcoming, safe space with teachers who are the kindest women on the planet. The pride each student and teacher takes in being part of Bright Sparks radiates in each class, each hand raised, smile of encouragement and even those necessary stern sideways glances.
Bright Sparks has five classrooms, one for each class with many bubbly, enthusiastic students inside. There are very few desks, so mostly they sit on the floor and read from their textbooks. Every now and then there is a power-cut and they have to open the doors to allow light in so they can see. There is no complaint or sulky face, it is a regular occurrence and they simply slide the door open and continue to work through squinting eyes.
Wearing their blue uniform they take their shoes off as they start classes and sit on the rugs they lay out for themselves. You hear the occasional “side” as a student tries to pass you carrying a chair for the teacher. Every child is completely and utterly respectful to each teacher. They listen to instructions and always, always smile. They are happy at Bright Sparks; they are developing into strong, confident individuals and they are free to be children.
In this way we don’t actually experience school differently, us privileged lot in the UK and these bouncing, eager children from Jagatpura colony. School serves as the second home we all take for granted allowing us to develop through learning, listening and contributing. The difference, I believe, is that although every child equally deserves the right to education and school, we are not all equal in our ability to access it.
And this is why Bright Sparks brings so much light, joy and happiness because it acts as the bridge for these kids who are so limited by circumstance. It offers fulfilment, satisfaction and security – foundational elements of every child’s development and progression.
When I think of my time at Bright Sparks I remember the smiles and cheeky grins of every child, the “morning ma’am” and enthusiastic hand waves. I remember the amazing teachers, calm and brilliant and I remember the backbone of it all running around with pieces of her heart scattered in every room, Rita ma’am. A truly magical place in the world and one that deserves so much more.