September 11, 2016. Week 2 in Bal Ashram, Rajasthan – India
My first week in Bal Asham has flown by. Colleagues from the team of Delhi (headquarters BBA) with whom I have built up a friendship have left. I traveled together with them from Delhi to Jaipur and we worked closely together for one week. It feels a bit weird that they are leaving without me. The children ask if I’m sad because my friends are gone. “Yes, I am a bit sad. I’m going to miss them, but fortunately I have you here” I tell them. The kids ask if I really mean that. I say that I certainly mean it and start to tickle them. They roar with laughter, and that immediately makes me happy again.
This week was primarily devoted to building a relationship with the children. Some children make spontaneous contact by leaning on my shoulder or by asking all kinds of questions. They regularly ask how long I’ll stay. I always assure them that I will stay for three months. “Really, three months?” they ask. “Yes, truly three months.”
Raja, a boy of 16 years, comes to me; “Didi you’re sad because your friends are gone.” He tells me a week ago, a group of volunteers from Taiwan left after two weeks in the Ashram. Raja tells me everyone was sad when they left. He asks what will happen if I go away after 3 months. “It will be very difficult didi.” I try to reassure him; “It will not be easy, but I’ll be back!” Raja looks at me; “Really? Will not you forget us didi?” “How can I forget you guys”, while I put my arm around him. Fortunately, there appears a smile on his face.
Building a bond happens with many children, just like with Raja, in a natural way. Because we live together, I soon feel part of this community and I am accepted as one of them.
With the younger kids I mostly make contact in a playful way. This is easy for me, because I am by nature quite playful. For example, we played the game of ‘knock knock, who am I’: “Knock knock main kaun hu?” We used all kinds of crazy noises and laughed a lot.
Sunil (12 years) sits on the floor. He does not want to participate in the game. Sunil likes to play alone and makes limited contact with others. He greets me every morning, like the other children, with “Namaste didi”. I try a subtle approach. He responds, but does not stay in contact for long and pulls back again. One morning I took part in the informal school in Bal Ashram. Most children haven’t had any schooling before coming to Bal Ashram. Therefore, they start with the informal lessons in Bal Ashram. They learn to read, write and count. When there is a basis, they go to the formal school outside the Ashram. Young children (8-10 years) were counting and the older children (11-13 years) were working on their grammar. Sunil was looking around. He had written a few numbers, but had no idea what to do further. I decided to make an attempt to make contact.
At first I sat down near him and talked to the other children about what they are doing. This way, Sunil can get used to my presence. Slowly I make eye contact and ask, how are you doing? “I’m fine,” he says. What are you doing, I ask. He shows me his notebook. It shows a number of digits; 1, 2, 3. The children are suppose to write the numbers 1 to 100, but Sunil fails. I felt so sad to see how he struggled with this but is afraid to ask for help.
“Shall I help you?” I ask. He looks at me and gives me his notebook. I continue to count with him. Counting succeeds up to 10 but the writing doens’t. On the blackboard some numbers are written. I point them out to him and suggest he could try to copy them. He does try, but still struggles. Sunil sighs and put his stuff away. I ask if it’s okay if we write the numbers together. He looks at me a bit uncomfortable. I feel that he does not want this, but I can’t think of an other way. I put my hand on his and we write some letters together. He allows this, but tries to create some space between our hands. I let go of his hand and try to give him instructions by drawing figures in the air.
These days, I can make more contact with Sunil. I’m glad, but I’m not there yet. I wonder what the reason is that he wants to be alone and makes little contact with others. The children say that Sunil is different. It also strikes me but what makes him so different, what is the cause? I hope to get some more clarity in the coming weeks.
Intake interviews and expertise
Since this week there are a number of children who actively ask me when they can tell their story. For example, Ravi (13 years); “Didi, I’d like to talk to you. I often feel sad. I have no parents.” In a reflex I give him a pat on the head, “I’m going to help you, don’t worry okay?” He nods carefully and I notice a little smile on his face.
I started taking the M.I.N.I. International neuropsychiatric interview. With this interview I can identify psychological problems and suggest a possible diagnosis. In the next blog I will tell you more about this.
Also, the script of the workshop ‘Mental Health’ has been translated into Hindi, because most of the team members speak limited English. I expect to be able to give the workshop within the next three weeks. After the workshop I will coach the team on a weekly basis about psychological issues.
Namaste, Rishma Khubsing
Note: Due to the privacy of children, the names have been changed in this blog.