...The community is really taking notice of the multiple initiatives we have underway. Today, as I passed the Carmel Convent School, two recent graduates whom I have met before asked to join me on my way to the slum school. "Of course!" was my response. They began to walk with me immediately. Amazingly, both of the young men have been students at the Carmel Convent School since kindergarten yet have never been into the slum right next to it. --Joyson (left) and Ruben (right)--

In India, schools operate on what they call a 10 + 2 ("ten plus two") schedule. Essentially, all students study the same subjects from standards one through ten (what we would call 1st through 10th grade). After 10th standard, students take the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) Exam. Their performance on this 3.5 hour exam determines what types of educational opportunities and career paths they will be allowed to pursue. Needless to say, it is an incredibly important test and hurdle! By about age 16, students have to know what career they want to pursue and have the work ethic to get them there.

Once students graduate from 10th standard, they enter 11th and 12th standards (the +2 part) in their respective tracks. However, in our vicinity, only a few schools offer the +2 curriculum. Competition to enter these programs after 10th standard is very tight, especially for the medical or technical tracks.

Both of these 16 year-old men have been raised in Catholic families and are very religious. Joyson aspires to become a doctor and Ruben wants to become an officer in the Indian Army. Both will be taking the CBSE Exam in a few weeks and have vowed to help our slum school and multiple programs once the exam is over.

Inspired by growing labor support from many of the locals, I was curious to see what else we could accomplish without spending any money. I decided to tackle the dilapidated bookshelf and desk in the back corner of the school to see if I could find anything that would be useful.

With gloved hands and mask, I rummaged through the rat droppings and dust in the poorly ventilated room for a few hours. Mamta helped for a while, then Shri, and then Madhu. I found an unused shelf accumulating dust and insects in an adjoining building. We cleaned and organized every resource by subject, grade level, condition, and usefulness. I couldn't believe how many things were being wasted.

Other volunteers have been complaining that the kids didn't have any crayons or chalk, that they didn't have any notebooks or workbooks, and that they had no materials for creativity. VOILA!

What a lesson I learned! Before you go spending tons of money and throwing supplies at people, dig a little deeper first. And, once you think you have dug far enough, keep digging. This has all been right under my nose for two and a half months!

This afternoon, students were writing with brand new pencils in their brand new notebooks reading brand new stories that have all been donated by previous volunteers but were thrown into a pile and never seen again.

--A perfect room used by a government official once-a-month--

Now on a mission, I had adjoining rooms unlocked so I could see what were inside them. One was full of junk--well, what appeared to be junk. I will get to it soon. The other was a perfectly maintained office for a government social worker who, from what I understand, comes to sit here once every month or two. Instead of sitting vacant 98% of the time, it is now a classroom for women who come to learn sewing, English, and arts and crafts.

--Sarswati riding with Gudiya outside of our school--