My Summer Volunteering in India

Geffie Kornhauser, a senior at Stern College for Women studying English Literature spent her summer teaching English in India! Perspective wanted to get the full story!

Perspective: How did you find out about this awesome program?

Geffie Kornhauser: My friend at Stern, Rena Kleiner, told me about the program. She found out about it from someone who did the same program a couple years ago. I looked at website, applied, got in, and thought “Ok! I’ll go.” Before arriving, I wasn’t exactly sure what my role would be while participating. Would I benefit from the work I was doing, or was I solely going to teach the kids? I didn’t know. Only after arriving in Mumbai, adjusting to the culture, and beginning to teach, did I really develop a purpose for being there.  


P: What’s this program called?

GK: The program is called the Gabriel Project in Mumbai and it’s in conjunction with The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), one of the world’s largest Jewish humanitarian networks. The organization does a lot of work here in the US, but this program was in conjunction with Entwine, a sector of JDC that handles the aid they do abroad. The program I participated works with a school in the Kalwa slum, which is located in a town nearby Mumbai.


P: How did you like it?

GK: Though there were definitely challenges throughout, in general, I had a positive experience on the program. Not only were the kids energetic and always excited to learn,  the teachers we worked with at the local school were extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and kind. They assisted us with the language barrier through translating, helped us access the resources we needed, and were always there to lend a helping hand whenever we needed it. What I most appreciated about the program is that it is sustainable. The volunteering my cohort did there (hopefully) did not end with our departure–as the program operates on a cycle and new volunteers come every few months to continue teaching the kids.


P: So what was the structure and age of the school like?

GK: The school consists of 1st-4th graders split up into groups of 3/4 teachers per grade. Two other volunteers and I taught first and second grade, four volunteers taught third grade, and three volunteers taught fourth grade. In total, we were a group of 10 volunteers hailing from various places in the US, Canada, and England.

This past summer, my cohort began a new initiative to teach older students in the afternoons who wanted some extra help learning English. Two other volunteers and I taught a group of young women at the intermediate level, which for us meant that we focused on situational English speaking, such as what you say when you go to the doctor, bank, etc. Though finding our footing was initially challenging, as time went on, my group grew very close and began to really look forward to the time we got to spend together. At the end of each class, we would all just hang out, teach each other silly dances, and learn new songs in our respective languages (we taught them “My Favorite Things”). This might sound cliche, but sitting in a circle and singing together is one of my favorite memories from the summer.


P: How was the teaching?

GK: We were there to supplement what the teachers were teaching the children. What that meant was a lot of what we taught was informal, so although we did make the kids worksheets, we also played a lot of games with them and sang songs. In the middle of the summer, one of my fellow volunteers found this cute song on youtube called “I Love My Family,” which we used to teach our the students the words for the members of the family. They loved it so much, we began to sing it at the start of every class!

At times, (which is to be expected), the teaching was challenging. For example, my cohort had to create a curriculum essentially from scratch, and although this allows for creative freedom, it can be a daunting task, especially since many of us had never done so before. Throughout the program and as we got to know our students, each class got into a groove,and the curriculum we created will hopefully be passed down to future volunteers.

We also had these really interesting sessions…

After teaching,  we would have sessions with different coordinators on topics like International Development, Jewish Perspectives on Social Justice, Basic Hindi lessons, and cultural classes.


P: I’ve only been to Israel and Mexico myself but I’ve always wanted to go to India. What’s the culture there like?

GK:  I can’t speak to a country of over one billion people, but those who I worked with and interacted with throughout my summer were extremely genuine and friendly, maybe more than anyone else I know. When they say they want your phone number to keep in touch with you–they mean it! Though I definitely experienced culture shock, the adjustment might have been a bit different for me, since I spent the previous summer in India shadowing doctors in the North of the country. Though I enjoyed that experience, it was extremely different, as I was mainly an observer and didn’t really have an active role. I was less emotionally invested in what I was doing. I can’t put my finger on exactly what drew me back–something about the culture that I find lacking here. Despite the chaotic nature of the subcontinent, the country as a whole is very religiously tolerant, and, at least in my experience, people look out for each other.


P: What did you find most interesting about the country itself?

GK: Probably how religiously tolerant the country is. Considering it is a country where many, many different religions are practiced, there isn’t as much strife as you might think there would be (though to a certain extent, the strife does exist). On a similar note, I really enjoyed learning about the history of the Indian Jews this summer, because before going on this program, I wasn’t even aware there was an active Jewish community in India at all. I was very wrong! There are about 5,000 Jews In India, the majority of which live in Mumbai, and on my program, we got a chance to meet and interact with some of the Jewish youth in Mumbai, which was a very cool experience. After the program ended, my mom came and we did some touring around the southern end of the country, and got to see some of the remnants of what was once a very active Jewish community in the city of Kochi.

P: This sounds like a summer to remember. What would you say was your favorite part of the experience?

GK: I liked getting the kids and my older students excited to learn about what we were teaching them. This is exactly the purpose of the program. Coming in and teaching about topics they otherwise might not be exposed to in a fun and energetic way was not only extremely rewarding for me as a volunteer, but will hopefully also continue to get the kids excited about learning moving forward. Informal education is something these kids don’t really have access to, and it’s something that I personally think is vital to learning. I’m really happy I got the opportunity to provide at least a taste of it for these kids.


P: What would you say to the Stern girls considering abroad programs in the summer?

GK: Definitely, definitely do it! Not only will it broaden your worldview and hopefully become more culturally sensitive, but now is the time in our lives when we have the time to do cool and interesting things like this. Hopefully we will continue to have these opportunities as we get older, but for most of us, I think college is when we have the most free time. Take advantage of it!



One Comment Add yours

  1. Very impressive and intresting work . well done. beautiful pictures. you have most welcome in india.. keep sharing post and stay in touch

    Liked by 2 people

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