Saturday 26 May 2018

Ramzan Homework with a message

Ramzan homework with a message: Do chores, earn money, give to poor

TNN | May 26, 2018, 09.04 AM IST

CHENNAI: At this city school, the month of Ramzan isn’t only about fasting and feasting but also that time of the year when students are instructed to be busy on their feet.
At Al Qamar Academy in Chennai, lessons on the meaning and significance of Ramzan are accompanied with a chore sheet for students, a list of things they can do at home, to ease parents’ workload as well as earn a little money for charity. “We explain to the children about how they need to help their parents who may feel tired as they are fasting during this month. The younger children are asked to do chores around the house like watering the plants or folding clothes while the older ones are asked to help with the cooking or sweeping the house,” says Aneesa Jamal, principal of the school in Kottivakkam. “Parents are asked to pay them small amounts like Rs 5 for each chore,” adds Aneesa. 

This year, the school has identified 14 mosques to help. At the end of the week or month, the money collected is either used to buy dates distributed at mosques for the daily iftar or to help the lesser privileged in the community, says Aneesa, who adds that this practice has been followed in the school for more than five years now.

“The school gives each student a clay pot into which parents deposit the money we earn from our chores,” says Samreen Saleemudeen, who has just completed her Class X at Al Qamar. 

“It’s fun to break the pot at the end of the month and see how much money we have earned,” adds Samreen.

But for Samreen, over the years, doing the chores has become more than a mere fun activity, it has become a way of life. “During this month I collect money for the work I do, but the chores have now become a force of habit with me. I’ve begun helping my parents and doing work around the house the rest of the year as well, because I want to,” adds Samreen, who helps out by sweeping and washing utensils. “For the past few years I have begun fasting as well, so this ‘homework’ has also made me understand how hard my parents work,” she says.

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Ramadhan's values - Charity, Generosity & Compassion - and kids teach us how...

Ramadhan is the month of compassion, sharing and charity. As it approaches, we at Al Qamar, took a walk down memory lane to see the various ways these values have been imbibed and acted upon by the children.

Right from the beginning, it has been an Al Qamar tradition in Ramadhan for children to take up "jobs" at home - sweeping, tidying, washing dishes, serving the iftaar. For this, the parents pay Rs 1, Rs. 2 upto a maximum of Rs. 5/- per day.  Montessori kids use cute money jars, gifted to them by their teachers to store their earnings.  Towards the end of the month, all the children pool their money and give it in charity.  
They've funded packages of dates in practically all the mosques around the ECR - starting from Kanathur all the way to Adyar.  And funded kanji for iftaar in one of the lesser funded mosques. For those not in the know - kanji is like a declicious stew/ khichadi widely used to open the Ramadhan fast, made in large quantities in mosque and distributed far and wide. People irrespective of religious affiliation line up to enjoy this wonderful dish.

Two years ago, the children had a windfall - may be their Eidi money got added in, maybe parents gave generous bonuses.  They actually collected Rs 16,500/-. After a mutual consultation, they decided to gift part of the money to help build a bathroom in a remote mosque near a forest.  And donate some of the money to one of their ustaads whose family was in dire straits. 

Another year, though not in Ramadhan, children had a collection drive to gather resources for the flood hit. Most touching was Salman's contribution of his entire life savings - yes, that's right - life savings - all the money he had collected over his 8 odd years on earth.  He gave the entire amount!

A couple of years ago, a 2nd grader decided she needed to do her bit raise funds for scholarships.  She gathered her friends, make a load of lemon juice and opened up a stall on the Kottivakkam beach. No one could resist their passionate sales pitch, and these youngsters raked it in. The next day - they marched into my office with a bag bulging with notes and coins - all Rs. 900/- odd to donate for scholarships. 

That year, our students participated in Daan Utsav too. As they love to read, the kids decided to gift two books from among their collection for children of the akkas who work at Al Qamar.  Children, being children, didn't just give the books - they wrapped them carefully in nice paper and wrote little notes.  

A nice ongoing project in the Elementary classroom is the Tree of Good Deeds.  The Tree sheds its leaves over the summer and starts growing new ones over the year.  The leaves are sticky notes with anonymous messages recording the good deeds they do each day.  "I lent a pen to my friend", "I picked up her books" etc.  

Another time, a young girl who loves pretty stationery, won lovely stuff from Mr. Reading Pot - and gifted it all to friends who didn't win anything.  Both teachers and parents were astounded to see such an extreme act of generosity - put yourself in her shoes and think - could you give away a gift you just got and treasured?

This year, a bunch of little Montessorians decided to pool their end of year party money and gift it to an Akka whose daughter is getting married.  What sweethearts!

Generosity, giving, consideration, compassion - values that we strive to instill in children but in the end, we learn to actually put into practice from them.  May the children's clean and humble hearts always teach us to be better human beings.

Friday 4 May 2018

Little Authors from Al Qamar

Little authors

Last year, Al Qamar students of Grades 4-8 worked with K. Ramnath Chandrasekar, a wildlife educator and nature conservationist, to write books with an ecological / social theme. The rich crop of books that came out of this three-month adventure surpassed our fondest dreams. I’m sharing this story on the Small Science forum, because Al Qamar’s little authors and teacher-mentors drew much inspiration from this school’s Small Science experience over the past seven years. Two months of hard work and skilful mentoring resulted in drawing out unexpected talents in our children.

The process

Ramnath began this process around the middle of March 2017, with a group session that introduced the children to the process and components of book writing. Children then selected themes that they wanted to write on. They had three one-on-one sessions with Ramnath over which they discussed and wrote their drafts, followed by several sessions with teachers: to work and rework and rework and rework their drafts. They made their own illustrations or, as in the case of one child, took photographs. The work was entirely theirs — no adult wrote for them. This was important. Often adults don’t realise or trust the children’s skills and take over from them, a tendency that we scruplously avoided.
Teachers played the supportive role of editors and typists. Initially children were confused as to what they could write about. So I had a brainstorming session where we jotted down all sorts of ideas. The few conditions stipulated were — the story had to be rooted locally, had to address some environmental or social issues, and had to have local names for characters. Finally, most children hit upon their theme and the characters. Ramnath gave them blank dummy books in which to outline their story page by page and create rough illustrations. In the second discussion with Ramnath, the children decided whether they would type up their stories or handwrite them. Handwritten stories involved a huge commitment and perseverance. Only the older girls opted for this. Some children were quite sure they couldn’t draw anything, but Ramnath’s gentle but firm insistence had them agreeing to give it a try.
Two weeks were spent with children fleshing out their stories and trying the hands at rudimentary illustrations to create their dummy books. Teachers worked hard with the ESL (English as Second Language) children — in correcting grammar, highlighting spelling errors and generally helping children tighten the plot. By the third meeting the stories were very close to the final version. As teachers, we were frankly overwhelmed by how beautifully this was turning out.
Now it was time to pen the final books for those children who were handwriting them. The first step was to choose paper. Children visited a well-stocked stationery shop and selected high quality thick paper. One chose handmade art paper for his illustrations.
Then came the days of hard, hard painstaking work as children created each page by hand. Ramnath insisted on a high-quality output with no mistakes. This meant that the students had to rework and rewrite several times. They spent marathon sessions in adding in the illustrations as well. Some children pretty much worked 16 hours — driven by their own inner need for a perfect final product. Sleep, food, everything was put on hold. For the younger ones, teachers did spend time in cajoling, consoling, begging and pleading, because we could see the glimmer of gold that was coming up, even if the tired children sometimes lost sight of their goal.
Finally, the handwritten books were sent for scanning and pre-printing preparation.
Of the 15 students who began this process 13 had completed their books.
The typed books now took a load of work — as teachers and Ramnath struggled with software to align, place and mix text with illustrations just as the children had designed in their dummy books. This process itself took a good week.
In mid-May, two months from the day we started, the books were ready for printing. As the first copies reached us, hot off the press, our excitement, delight and complete happiness knew no bounds.

The launch

Finally, the books were “launched” in July. The event had notable visitors — including parents, well-wishers, reporters as well as distinguished invitees — Dr. T. D. Babu and Ms. Shobha Menon from Nizhal, Mr. Sekhar Raghavan of the Rain Centre, Mr. Sridhar Lakshmanan of ecoLogin — all who have provided inspiration to the children over the years. Prof. Jayashree was represented by Prof. Ramadas of the Chennai Mathematical Institute.
Children took to the stage and gave speeches on their books and the process of writing. Later, there was an exhibition of their books where visitors got a chance to meet the authors and interact with them directly. To their delight they got a number of orders for their printed books. However, within a few weeks, GST got imposed on book sales — hiking the cost of each book by 18-28% and making it prohibitively expensive to print. Finally, the children agreed to publish the books online and make them available as free downloads so the social message in these books gets spread.

Press Publicity

The children were interviewed by reporters from The Hindu Metro Plus and The Young World and write ups appeared in these papers.  Children were delighted with their new found fame.

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