by Seema Limaye
In January of 1997, I became a student extern for Vidnyanvahini, and those six weeks turned out to be most amazing and unforgettable ones in my life. I traveled to rural villages of Maharashtra with science teachers who provided lab experience to high school students who had no access to lab facilities. As an Indian-American born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, the challenging work was unlike any other I had ever set out to accomplish. My aim was to teach chemistry labs in Marathi to 9th and 10th standard students.
Before arriving in India, my spoken Marathi was quite poor. Though I understood others, I found it difficult to converse in the language myself. But, after initially meeting with the Deshpandes (the founders of Vidnyanvahini), I became excited about the kind of work they did, and was determined to learn the language well enough to interact with the students.
I began with my first crash-course lesson in scientific terminology in the Marathi language during a seven-hour drive to our weeklong destination at Omerga in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra. My first week with Vidnyanvahini provided me with a great opportunity to learn how the program was run, and how I was to spend my six-week externship. I want to emphasize that this is something anyone with a background in Marathi could do if willing to have an open mind and really set your mind on it.
Right off the bat, I learned how helpful and understanding all the Vidnyanvahini teachers are. They spent a great deal of time working to teach me how I could best instruct the chemistry lab table. What I liked best about teaching was the emphasis on helping the children to question, think, and analyze the common everyday science they encounter in their own lives.
One aspect of the program that I really enjoyed was the Indian culture I experienced. We traveled to small, remote villages, and I witnessed beautiful landscapes that even my relatives from India rarely visited. Of course, I must also mention the hospitality and sense of warmth I felt as I met the villagers and students. Instead of feeling like an outsider, I felt like a visitor they were welcoming into their villages, schools, and homes.
I think I could go on forever about extolling the virtues of my student externship experience, but I'll be brief. If you are a college student interested in working with children, and flexible as far as meeting people and living in a variety of conditions, I highly recommend working with Vidnyanvahini. It truly is an experience you will never forget. If you have any questions about the externship that I did not cover, please feel free to e-mail me, and we can get in touch to discuss them.