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Teaching children from the Mumbai slums

“We just pushed back the tables in the classroom, sat on the floor and got stuck in”

    Beverley Crowne, her husband Nicholas and best friend Anne Marie Cooklin “don’t have a science O-level between us”.

    But they have just returned to North London after spending six weeks in India teaching science to children in slum areas with little or no education.

    The trio volunteered as part of the Gabriel Project Mumbai, a Jewish volunteer-based initiative providing hunger relief, literacy, numeracy and health services to vulnerable children.

    After teacher training from educational resource Empiribox, they delivered practical science lessons to children in the poorest parts of Mumbai.

    Mrs Crowne, 55, explained that “when Anne Marie said she had a sabbatical from work,we took the opportunity to have ours, too.

    “We all knew we wanted to do something worthwhile and when we heard our rabbi talk about going to India we said ‘that is what we have to do’.”

    Ms Cooklin, a Mill Hill Synagogue member, described the experience as “like a gap year in reverse. I could have sat on a beach somewhere but I didn’t want that.”

    They initially found things daunting. “These are places with no hot water, no computers and no internet to check answers,” Mrs Crowne said.

    “We knew we would be teaching children who had no science knowledge and would be working in classrooms with no electricity.

    “But the training we got made science fun and entertaining for us and easy to deliver.”

    The group spent the first half of the trip working in Mumbai’s Kalwa slum, before moving on to the rural Palghar area, where they taught in 20 villages. “We taught the children about the body, health, things like how their lungs work,” Mrs Crowne said.

    “They loved getting involved in the practical experiments and the stuff they were learning helped them day to day. Things about hygiene, for example.

    “We just pushed back the tables in the classroom, sat on the floor and got stuck in.”

    Ms Cooklin added that many of the children they worked with “don’t have the opportunity to go to school.

    “They either can’t afford to or there are no school places for them.

    “Knowing you are passing on wisdom that is going to stay with them felt amazing — and they loved learning.”

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