‘We have to find someone to take class in Bodgaam, atleast till we get hold of a local teacher’.
The situation was a bit worrying. Bodgaam, a remote village on the border of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, is a place where we are just beginning work, and many, many children are eager to learn to read and write. But given the low literacy levels, finding a teacher from the village was proving difficult.
So the next morning, as our team climbed into the jeep headed for Bodgaam, I was surprised to see a little boy, with notebook, pen and and a box of chalk in hand, jump in with a big smile on his face. ‘This is Kachla’, explained the centre director. ‘He will take class in Bodgaam until we find a regular teacher’. I was not convinced. The boy was a tenth standard student, and he couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 years old. How would he ever manage a class of more than 50 unruly kids?
Kachla, though, seemed to have no such doubts. He talked and laughed non-stop all along the way, commenting on every thing and person we crossed on the dry, dusty road to Bodgaam. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘he seems cheerful enough’. But his true talents were revealed only after we got to the village. Rounding up the kids with a yell and a whistle, Kachla got them on their toes with a fast-paced game of dodge ball. His enthusiasm was so contagious that everyone joined in, even some of the parents and the shy older girls. Later, as he gathered the childen around a peeling blackboard, Kachla began his class with a bold statement—‘My father was uneducated, just like yours, and that wasn’t his fault. But I don’t have to be like him, and neither do you’.
He taught them to read the names of things they were familiar with—house, tree, dog, cow. He taught them to write in the dust, with sticks, and to count with stones. He used methods that have taken experts years to define, but he used them instinctively, with a confidence that came from knowing his people thoroughly. And that made this simple village boy a better master than the most experienced teacher.
On the way back, Kachla turned to me with his trademark lopsided grin. As if he knew what I wanted to ask, he said, ‘I know how to teach because I know how it feels to be illiterate while others around you can read. You don’t need great tools to teach these people, you only need great faith’.
In that one day, Kachla taught me more than the best teachers ever have.