We have been ‘on’, but now we are back!

On the 4th of January 2021, Parikrma Humanity Foundation re-opened its four schools and college after nearly nine months of being confined in homes because of Covid-19. While most other schools would have closed for summer anyway in April and May, for Parikrma, those two months would have been very critical to have kept open. This is the period when we conduct sessions with children who need counselling help, run catching up classes for children that are academically behind, and most importantly feed our hungry children who don’t get three square meals a day at home. So the lockdown during summer holidays was very debilitating for all of us. And it became worse when it got extended from month to month. We organised rations to reach our children’s homes and began online classes forthwith but at all times we wished that we could see our children physically. This phase of Parikrma schools was called ReachV where we did our best to reach out to our children virtually and keep them connected to their teachers and keep on learning.

When the government announced some relaxation in the opening of schools this January, we did not wait for any further circulars to arrive and made preparations to start our schools. Of course, there were fears, some pronounced and some not. We knew that we were taking some risks with both our children and teachers. We knew that any amount of hand wash, masks in school and social distancing would reduce the risks but not eliminate it. I had to talk to the teachers and their families to allay their fears and assure them that we would be taking all the precautions required. I had to help them revisit the purpose of Parikrma and the profession of teaching, to get them ignited and energised. There were some teachers that we had to make exceptions for because of their frail health but also ensure that there was a consensus from the rest to avoid ever being considered unfair. Whatever the issues, we unanimously agreed that we had to get started sometime. We all knew that the online classes were a great stopgap arrangement and the best way to ensure that our children are not left behind. So while the classes were going on well and the attendance was more than 86%, we knew that it was important to introduce the physical school quickly to make sure that our children did not get too used to not attending school. We know how difficult it has been all these years to get our children to be regular and attentive in class and we did not want all that progress to be lost. We did not want our children to be roaming about the streets and be exposed to the hazards of the slum neighbourhood. We also wanted our parents who had re-joined work to get some relief.

So setting all our fears aside, we wholeheartedly welcomed our children to school last week. I remember in the staff meeting at the end of the day, the teachers talked about how tall our children have grown these last few months. They are now poised for stepping into young adulthood and what a lesson Covid19 has taught them. No textbook could have given them the life lessons that this tiny virus has done.

For Parikrma, any new initiative we take on is riddled with many hurdles although once executed it all seems so seamlessly smooth. For Reach-V schools, we had to raise funds to purchase phones for our students so that they could join the virtual classes. Then we had to train their parents on how to use the device and monitor their children. We had to train our teachers how to conduct these lessons virtually, monitor the attention span of the children and measure the learning that has happened. Now that we have moved to the first phase of the Reach-U schools (where we reach the children with the blended version where some classes will continue online and some in the physical school), we had to take care of the roster of teachers, awareness of the parents, and realigning of the curriculum. I have been present in the academic meetings where all the team leaders discuss, debate and then decide on the systems to be used and know how onerous a task it is. It is amazing how most of us who are on the wrong side of 45 and definitely in the high-risk category, have thought of the children’s interest first and yet found time to laugh at some small funny things in life. I think this is the true Parikrma spirit in a nutshell. I am so grateful that we have been able to build a culture in Parikrma where the purpose is well defined and we are bonded for the same reason.

The journey of return has just started and will take some time getting used to. We have tried to reduce the trauma of our children by doing very interesting things right through the lockdown. Apart from regular subjects in Reach-V, we have also been doing art, music, and physical education online. We have been doing enrichment classes in the evening from 4 pm to 6 pm every day with the help of individual and corporate volunteers to ensure that our students are abreast with current affairs and what is happening around the world beyond just Covid-19. We teach them interview skills, setting life goals and even help them make resolutions for the year. We have celebrated Diwali, Christmas and Eid online and have had guests from all over the world join in. The real purpose of this enrichment program is to keep the teenagers off the streets in the evenings. And this seems to have caught the imagination of the students judging from the attendance during the enrichment period. We are now getting ready to start what we call the Book Trekkers Club where we will have eminent authors reading out stories from their own books and having a discussion with the children, all online. We hope this will ignite in many children the love of reading and writing. We will have authors in English, Kannada and Hindi conducting these sessions.

We are living in strange times and many things happening around us have changed our paradigms dramatically. But we teach our children resilience and we need to stand together as an institution and be the evidence of grit and resilience ourselves. It is strange to go to schools and see the children rushing towards you and fall short just two meters away from you. It is painful to not be able to hug our children and staff like we have got used to. The teachers are struggling to conduct classes with the masks and head shields on. The students wear green fabric masks that are now a part of their uniform. Their creativity emerged when they used their old uniform t-shirts to make masks and transferred the Parikrma logo from the sleeve of their T-shirts to the mask. Many of our children have lost their dear ones to Covid-19. Many of them had to relocate to the villages when their parents lost their jobs. Many of our alumni were laid off from their newly acquired jobs. But they are now all back and we are making the most to get back to normal. Not the normal we knew and had got used to, but create a rejuvenated normal to keep up with the changes and times.

We are now back to take on the world once again…