...I was under the impression that our students would not start first standard with the other students. However, as usual, the plans have changed. Over the past week, we have been gearing up for the first day of the 2012-2013 school year on Monday, March 26. Late March and early April in India are the equivalent of Late August and early September for the American school year. Our timing for starting the Squalor to Scholar Program could not have been more fortuitous. To take children without any education who live among the chaos and filth of this...

...to the peace and serenity of this...

...to their first day of actual school at the best school in town in under six weeks has been a massive undertaking. Many thanks to my fellow volunteers Natalie Wills and Heather Barnes, our wonderful sponsors, the Carmelite sisters, and our patient teachers for their help in preparing these 18 students and their families for the big day.

Six days a week for the past three weeks, every student has shown inspirational enthusiasm to attend school. They walk single-file in perpetually pristine uniforms to and from school as if they own the streets. They do their homework at night and show up early the next morning to attend the slum school, where we provide tutoring and more homework. When we assign homework, they shake their heads, wiggle their index fingers, and say, "No" while indicating that we did not assign enough work. I have never seen students ask for homework before. When we started, I just hoped our children would enjoy school. Now, they can't seem to get enough of it!

One of my favorite parts of the day is taking attendance in our afternoon classes. I know that all of our children are present every day. No student has missed a day of school yet, or even been late. But I began taking attendance at the teachers' insistence and am glad that I did. Each student will jump out of his or her seat with a hand raised high and beaming voice call back, "Present, Sir!" The first time I took attendance, the kids just about brought tears to my eyes.

Discipline, manners, and values are subjects of much emphasis for the teachers. The regular Carmel Convent School students are accustomed to sophisticated, strict, and rule-abiding ways of life. Our students, on the other hand, have grown up in an environment with little order and few concepts of propriety. Our students are used to hitting one another, going to the bathroom wherever they want, and running around with reckless abandon. Changing these core instincts takes time.

--Getting treats and saying thank you to the sisters--

--Sister Prasanna, Sister Asha, and Deepa--

Deepa is our neighbor and one of the most adept teachers I have ever seen. She has been a blessing from the beginning. Deepa is a full-time first standard Carmel Convent School teacher. Fortunately, she fully understands our goals and needs. Deepa told me, "Your dream for them is my dream too, we will fulfill our dream."

--Versha in her brand new uniform--

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