Diamonds in the rough

Being a facilitator with In-fluent over the years has given me the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people, from school students to college going young adults, and men and women ready to take their first step into the corporate world. My experiences have been as many and varied as the people I have met, but there are a few that remain close to my heart. They are what I call, ‘My Diamonds in the Rough’.

My first diamond from five years ago, the little girl aged 8 from a leading school in South Delhi comes to my mind. Shy and timid, N always preferred to take part in activities that involved being part of a group. That way, she would not have to say much and could hide behind the more confident speakers and actors. It took me a few sessions to realise that I hadn’t heard her speak a complete sentence yet. Calling her out to enquire about the problem would not work, so I would have to think of something else. Small wins are what I would enable her with. While discussing hobbies, I recalled she had mentioned that she enjoyed drawing. So I scheduled a show and tell activity in the next class, where each student would get something they were proud of. My little caterpillar crawled out of her cocoon and blossomed into a beautiful butterfly that day. In front of the class, she was as full of colour as the crayon scenery she held. This diamond was ready to shine!

Children develop inhibitions over small things, which could have begun even by a passing comment by an adult. A chubby child of no more than 6, told repeatedly that he is fat (yes, those exact words) tries to make himself small, hiding at the back of the class with his head bowed. It was easy to ignore him and focus on the rest of the enthusiastic bunch, eager to learn. But then, that’s not what we aim for at In-fluent. Humour is a great tool in engaging children, and even though he did not intend to, he could not stop himself from laughing out loud at a silly poem or an enactment of a favourite cartoon character! In a circle activity, he saw others enjoying so much that he forgot that he was faking a headache! He quietly told me that he wanted to become the bear with the honey while the others were bees in the warm-up activity. That broke the ice! Over the next few classes, young R gradually moved from the back of the class to the middle rows to the front, all by himself. He raised his hand more frequently to answer, and I could identify his clear voice more often as the class recited a poem together. A bright smile had replaced the lowered gaze, and my treasure box of experiences had another diamond!

But perhaps, the one closest to my heart, was also my biggest win. I cannot forget that first day of class 7 at one of the schools. I could barely hear her as I called out a girl’s name during roll call, so I looked up and asked whoever it was to be a little louder. Imagine my shock when I looked up and saw that the girl in question burst into tears and fled out of the classroom, not returning for the rest of the class! In the next class, she spoke a little louder but had a handkerchief over her mouth all through the class, and barely participated. I tried to involve her in activities without calling out too much attention to her. Our curriculum with them was to get the students comfortable with speaking in English, and we used a lot of role plays enacting everyday situations. Borrowing books from the library, giving directions to the canteen, and even talking on the phone with a friend. It wasn’t easy at all, but the interesting activities appealed to the still shy and reticent young girl. Gradually, armed with growing confidence and comfort with the language, the handkerchief disappeared altogether. But the best was yet to come. For the final assessment, each student had to come forward and share an incident where they used English confidently. Many of the stories were encouraging. S talked about how the class had gone on a school trip to Akshardham Temple. While walking around, they chanced upon a group of foreign tourists, who were keen to talk to this young bunch of schoolgirls. That was when S stepped forward, and confidently introduced her group to the tourists. She told them about their school, and even led a conversation on what they liked to do, and suggestions on more interesting places they could visit while in Delhi. In the end, she said that was one of the best moments for her, as she was no longer shy and was eagerly looking forward to meeting more people and talking to them. Eyes shining with newfound enthusiasm and a beaming smile, this was a new person standing tall in front of me. This, for sure, was my most brilliant diamond.

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