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Mumbai Mobile Creches: Connecting our youngest students to service

Alice Whitehead, Former Grade 1 Teacher and Primary School GC Coordinator, Dover Campus
15 June 2016

Service is at the heart of the UWC mission. An understanding of why and how we help others is an integral part of the learning experience at UWCSEA, and part of what drives our graduates to become ‘aware, able and active contributors’ in the global community.

But what does this look like within the learning context of our Infant School children, aged 4–7 years?

The Dover Campus Infant School has supported Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) since 2003, linking the Global Concern with the curriculum, holding fundraising events and hosting colleagues from MMC on visits to the College to share practice. This relationship was nurtured by the previous Infant School Principal, Chris Fensom and continues to develop today. It is through our links with MMC that the children learn to initiate actions and to make a commitment to shaping a better world.

MMC develops and maintains care programs for children of construction workers in Mumbai, India. These mostly migrant men and women work long hours, and with the help of MMC, are able to ensure their children are cared for during the day. MMC’s programme ensures that the children’s educational, nutritional and health needs are addressed. Donations from Dover Infant School and the UWCSEA community play a part in helping MMC to fund their programme, meeting needs such as covering teacher salaries and buying educational resources.

As students in our Infant School begin to become aware that some people outside their immediate community need support, a challenge presents itself. How do we support young UWC learners to make a meaningful connection to the lives of people living 4,000 kilometres away?

As a past student of UWCSEA Dover, a teacher in Grade 1 and the Coordinator of Global Concerns in the Primary School, this is a question that holds deep importance to me. I believe the answer lies in giving students the opportunity to form a relationship with an organisation like MMC; integrating learning more about them through day-to-day classroom activities and talking often about the people whom they support. Once children learn about projects like MMC and why they exist, often the next, very natural question is “How can we help?”

Meaningful opportunities to take action, followed by an understanding of the results of the action are also an important part of this process. This academic year the Infant School students collected over 200 stationery sets for the children at MMC. These were delivered to the project and distributed throughout their centres. In February, I took some of them with me on a visit, sharing the experience with the Infant School children on my return through video and photographs. The significance of conducting a collection of something tangible, like pens and pencils, is important for younger learners as this enables them to make a more direct connection to their own lives.

One of the students in my class, Fergus Benefield, took this even further and went to visit some of the MMC centres during the March holiday. Fergus and his mum Keri spent several days in Mumbai, visiting two of the centres where they spent time getting to know the teachers and children. Fergus enjoyed teaching the children how to make chatterboxes and paper planes and he shared some new games like Duck Duck Goose.

Keri recognises, as do all our families, the importance of the Service programme at UWCSEA. And whilst it wouldn’t be possible (or suitable) for all Infant students to visit MMC, Keri believes that their visit was an extension of their family values, in which doing things for others should be a part of everyday life. She believes, as we do, that it is important to nurture this from a young age. Our service programme has been deliberately structured to enable even our youngest students opportunities to develop and deepen their understanding of both their shared humanity and how they can effect change for good by their own actions.

When Fergus spoke about his experience he was quick to point out the similarities between the children he met and the children at UWCSEA; “They play too!” he said. He also felt that the organisation did important work by keeping the children safe during the day and helping them learn. It was fantastic to watch Fergus enthusiastically recount his trip with his peers, and in return, the children’s interest in the project grew. Reflection is a crucial step in service learning, and Fergus made a heartwarming digital recount of his journey. It was great to be able to share this with all the Infant classes as it helped to deepen the understanding our children have of the children in Mumbai attending MMC centres.

Lucas Ghai, another child in my class is planning a trip to visit MMC with his mum in October. When I asked his mother Yvonne why she was taking him she said, “Our kids grow up in such a privileged way … We think it is really important that from an early age our kids learn to appreciate this and also understand that they have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to make a difference.” This year Lucas brought his birthday money in to me and told me it was for MMC. When I asked him why he said, “My bedroom is full of stuff, I don’t need any more! There are people in the world that need things.”

One of the things that sets a UWCSEA education apart from others is the authentic and real integration of service into the curriculum. As children move up from the Infant School to the Junior School, there are further opportunities to connect with the Service programme, in Singapore and beyond. The grade-level Global Concerns projects continue to help students foster an understanding and, more importantly, a desire to support others in our global community and to take action to help shape a better world.

Photos from Alice Whitehead and Keri Benefield. Used with permission from Mumbai Mobile Creches.