Leyden teacher volunteers around the world
Teaching students at St. James High School about surface using an orange peel. | Photo courtesy of Sysha Shedbalkar
Updated: November 27, 2012 10:40AM
LEYDEN TOWNSHIP — After 10 years teaching math in Leyden School District 212, Aysha Shedbalkar decided it was time for something different. In May 2011, she began a 15-month leave of absence to volunteer around the world. She gained a $2,000 grant from the US-India Education Foundation for the first two months, which she used to teach math and instruct teachers at a boy’s school in Calcutta.
Q: What was Calcutta like?
A: It was very loud. It’s mostly cars. Outside the hotel, there were always vendors lined up. The way they would get your attention, they would scream in Hindi or Bengali.
Q: Besides teaching, what else did you do?
A: Two women I met who were amazing. Urmi Basu, she’s an activist who works in Calcutta to try to get the children of sex workers an education and try to get them out of the life their moms have pretty much been forced into. Six to seven of us got to go into the red light district of Calcutta to see it and learn about its history.
Q: And the other woman?
A: Sister Cyril, an Irish nun. She takes all the kids she finds on the streets and lets them live in her schools. In the day, they go to the school. Seven hundred of the students pay tuition, the others (who can’t afford it) go for free.
Q: Where did you go next?
A: Tanzania. Three or four years ago I had volunteered at orphanage. This time we just visited. Then Ethiopia.
Q: What did you do in Ethiopia?
A: We worked with a network of schools. Me, and two of my friends. One is an English teacher, the other is in information technology. During the daytime we would observe the teacher and in the evening we would teach them about American teaching methods.
Q: What kinds of teaching methods are used in Ethiopia?
A: Pretty much everything is lecture based. Everyone teaches up at the board. We taught them other methods, like cooperative learning and differentiated instruction and how to target every type of learner in your class. Some types of activities that get them out of their seats.
Q: Where did you go next?
A: A different part of India, Hyderabad. We worked with some schools and some widows. We also had collected $4,000. We’d buy knapsacks and fill them with school supplies, clothes and candy and distributed them to as many children as we could.
Q: What did you do with the widows?
A: Heard their stories. There are still a lot of women who get married when they are 15. Either the husband dies or he leaves and they have nothing to fall back on. One of the saddest stories we heard were women who were making beedies (thin, unfiltered cigarettes). They had to make 250 a day and got paid very little for that.
Q: And after Hyderabad?
A: Indonesia. In a little village called Takengon. An orphanage. We were there for a month. We lived with the orphans and ate with them. During the daytime we would teach young kids. They wanted us to teach some English.