MGM Magazine: Freedom Is…

As mentioned in a previous post, the students at MGM Government Girls High School in Nampally focused on freedom for their final documentary.

Though it was already an ambitious undertaking, the students had the energy and interest to go further and create something more. We talked a lot about how family and community often dictate what freedom means for girls, even for things as simple as whether they are able to walk outside at night or wear jeans. We discovered that freedom is a nuanced topic, especially for girls. Sometimes they wanted more freedom, other times, they felt that what their family, religion, or community dictated was okay. Regardless, they all mentioned that they don’t have this conversation often with their community.

One big part of the final stage of The Modern Story curriculum is a community service project. Previously, classes have done community outreach about dirty water, a clothing drive, and an activist art project that featured a portrait of the city’s sanitation manager made out of trash. For my MGM students, I thought that something that spoke to their work and their needs would be the most appropriate project.

Bhargavi works on issue 1.

Bhargavi works on issue 1 of “MGM Magazine”.

So we decided to make a magazine so the girls could continue the conversation about freedom at home. Using the one working computer in our classroom, I set up a team to do the layout of the magazine on Word processing and tasked them with interviewing their classmates about freedom, taking portraits, and typing up the answers. Most people wouldn’t be thrilled about typing for 60 minutes straight, but these girls jumped at the task. They learned how to change the font, make columns, and import a photo. Simple skills, but fundamental ones that can further their future media production.

They also showed off their interview and editing prowess, deciding on which questions to ask about freedom and which photos to use. Some answers are simple, others are profound. But it did provide an array of answers the help continue the conversation.

Once we finished the basic layout with interview questions and photos, I added quotes the students got from interviewing a local NGO, and extra photos from a portrait/photography project the students also spearheaded.

After a long (and pricey) night at my second home aka the photocopy shop with my now good friend Hamesh, we had 30 shiny bright copies of the first issue of MGM Magazine for each student to take home, as well as copies for the headmistress and a few teachers.

I hope the conversation continues at home, but if nothing else I am very happy these students have a physical copy of their hard work to show off to their families and communities.

And thanks to Issu, you can check out the digital copy of their magazine below! Enjoy and share their work!

Seetaphalmandi says it is time to end dirty water

Students at Seetaphalmandi were armed with questions and a camera, and the mission to find out how dirty water is affecting their community. After two full days of interviewing community members both in their school and in their surrounding area, the answer was clear: dirty water is an issue and it is time to let the world know.

Dirty water can stem from old, overused, and broken drainage pipes resulting in stagnant water on the streets (especially after a rainfall) and can mix with drinking water. This can lead to an increase in mosquitos, which can cause an increase in diseases such as malaria and Dengue fever, and can lead to sickness if drainage water mixes with drinking water. Not to mention, it smells bad, looks ugly, and can inconvenience people trying to access their home and the main roads.

This video shows the issues in the Seetaphalmandi area, as well as interviews with community members and suggestions for how to prevent dirty water-borne diseases.

Though the documentary started a much needed conversation about dirty water in their community, students also created a brochure that explained the issues with dirty water. They distributed the pamphlets to over 40 community members and local business owners in hopes that more people would speak up about the issue. Very proud of these students for seeing a problem in their community and creating a powerful movie to speak up about this issue!

What is school like in Thailand?

Though the bulk of our work is in India, The Modern Story is truly a global organization– and that has led to classroom exchanges around the world. Previously I posted about an exchange between Seetaphalmandi and Anuban Ranong in Thailand, and we have continued to share ideas and videos since. Curious to know a little more about school in Thailand? Here is a brief introduction to their school from Kristin Walker, a teacher at Anuban Ranong, and my partner for the Seetaphalmandi/Ranong classroom exchange. Stay tuned for more!

Anuban Ranong is a government district located in Ranong town in the Ranong Province of Thailand. At the school we have grades Kindergarten through sixth. There are over 1,500 students at our school and we have over 80 teachers. Our school is a world-class school with very high national test scores. There are two special programs at our school: the Math and Science Program and the English Program. The Math and Science Program has a curriculum that focuses on excelling the students in math and science, while the English Program is taught by native English speakers and has math, science, English, and health all taught in the English language. We are all very thankful to be at our school and we love our school very much!

Students at Anuban Ranong

Students at Anuban Ranong

Students at Anuban Ranong

Students at Anuban Ranong

MGM Voices

In addition to making these wonderful movies, the students of MGM also elected one of their crew to write a short essay about the topic of their movie. Below you will find out about two of the topics in their own words.

Stop Power Cuts

In our school, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Girls Government High School (MGMGGHS) we did a movie on power cuts. In the power cut film, there are many characters. We did this film shoot because now a days so many times the power goes out and during that time we can’t do any work. In this film, the children also go to school, and in their class the teacher is teaching a lesson. When she is teaching the lesson, the power goes out and the teacher cannot tell the lesson to students. So many times the power is going out like this, that’s why we can’t do our work successfully. Power is very important to human beings. When we can’t have power, that means in our home, school, etc, we will not have fan, light, computer, etc. We can’t use any of these things. That is why power is very important to us, and that is what this film means. Power cuts means we can’t do any work successfully. Power is very important to us. The power cut film tells this message.

Written by Akhila

(The power cut group includes: Maheshwari, Kavitha, Anusha, Varaikshmi, Sirisha, Sandhya, and Akhila)


Get Rid of Rubbish

Good morning everybody.

We are from MGM Government Girls High School Nampally, Hyderabad, of 8th class.

Our title is Rubbish/Garbage. We did a movie on this because we want to protect our world. It is especially important because of the Swachh Bharat campaign that was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. We want to explain to our world: don’t throw garbage anywhere, throw it in dustbins. Because from garbage we get illness, and from garbage mosquito and small insects will grow and bite people. From garbage we get diseases like poliovirus, infections, and malaria (etc). We want to tell the Municipal Corporation they should clean the road every day but they are not cleaning everyday. With garbage, children are getting illness and that is why they are not going to school– they are irregular to school and they are not getting education. Garbage is very dangerous to our life. In our surrounding areas we are not safe, so I want to tell our world: don’t throw garbage anywhere, throw it in dustbins.

We want to protect ourselves, so we tell our mothers to protect children and family, and our friends help us do the movie on Rubbish/Garbage. We are following Mahatma Gandhi’s rules and Narendra Modi, who is the prime minister of our country. He was sweeping 1 kilometer, that is why we should clean our house, surrounding area, schools, temple, mosque, churches, etc.

Thank you faithfully.

Written by Amreen Fatima

(The rubbish group includes: B. Savitha, Asra Begum, Qareena Begum, K. Bhargavi, Zabunnisa, Afreen Begum, K. Priya Singh, and Amreen Fatima.)

MGM: Freedom For Girls

Constant talk of marriage, lack of parent support, street harassment, and cyber bullying: just a day in the life of a teenage girl? That’s what students at MGM Girls Government High School say in this short film about a girl named Zoha. Though Zoha wants to go to school (and has her brother’s support), her family wants her to get married and stay inside. But what would happen if she had her parent’s support? This movie explores both options.

The film also touches on issues that modern girls face, like harassment, bullying, and blackmail through cell phones. In India, where mobile phones are more widely available than ever before, this has become another tool for making girls’ lives harder.

Proud of these students for thinking of this idea, writing the script, filming, and editing on their own! Stay tuned for what MGM has coming next.

MGM: Stop Power Cuts!

Ever since Telangana split off from Andhra Pradesh in June, power cuts have increased dramatically in Telangana because Andhrah is where most of the region’s power originates. The Hindu newspaper reported that people in Telangana are facing power cuts between four to 18 hours per day. Students at MGM Government Girls High School in Nampally have taken notice– in the middle of the day there will be no light for a classroom and we can’t use computers. At night, they sometimes have to do homework by candlelight or flashlight– or not do it at all. This PSA shows how power cuts affect three students’ lives in order to shed light on this problem. The idea, filming, and editing was done almost entirely independently by this group, which is quite a feat given this is their first movie ever. Proud of their work!

This video is one of a series of three short movies that the students produced focused on spreading a message about an issue in their community. The students came up with the concepts, scripts, and shots on their own, in addition to doing all the filming and most of the editing.  Given these are their first movies, I am really impressed at the outcome!

MGM takes on Swachh Bharat (before Modi)

One of India’s currently most talked about civic works movements is Swachh Bharat– Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to sweep the country’s streets clean of rubbish. MGM students were a step ahead of the Prime Minister, pointing out the issues with garbage on the streets and the poor infrastructure around trash pick up before the campaign even began. With this in mind, they have created a visual letter to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) discussing their issues and complaints around garbage in the city. They also include short fiction stories about how garbage affects citizens’ lives.

These students also brought up an important detail that specifically pertains to Hyderabad: population growth and infrastructure issues that arise because of it. From 2001 to 2011, Hyderabad’s population grew 87 percent, now resting at about 8 million. This massive influx of people, mostly from rural areas searching for better opportunities, has drastically changed the city and infrastructure has not necessarily kept up. I was really impressed with these students for noticing the nuances and context of this issue. Perhaps PM Modi should take notice!

This video is one of a series of three short movies that the students produced focused on spreading a message about an issue in their community. The students came up with the concepts, scripts, and shots on their own, in addition to doing all the filming and most of the editing.  Given these are their first movies, I am really impressed at the outcome!

The Day That Hyderabad Stood Still

Ask any of us fellows to describe Hyderabad, and inevitably one of the adjectives will be “chaotic.” Hyderabad is notorious even among Indians for its complete lack of traffic etiquette, in which everyone from the pedestrians to busses to cows thinks they have complete jurisdiction over the road. Walking, biking, and driving as though everyone should get out of your way is not a choice, but the only means to survive in the gnarly traffic congestion. Aside from the traffic, the city’s diverse population offers different languages, religions, and cuisine on every corner. In our schools, cramped classrooms, and constant festival interruptions can also foster a sense of chaos while teaching. Combined, it is a lot for the brain to handle, but rest assured it is never boring. Which is why we have all come to love it.

But that all changed for one day this week. On Tuesday, Rachel and I decided to run an errand. We had class off due to a government-mandated holiday, but different holidays and festivals pop up quite often so we didn’t think much of it. Then we actually walked outside.

Our normally bustling street was entirely deserted. Not a single auto, car, motorbike, or even a stray dog in sight. There were one or two people walking silently, alone, down the block and a man at a nearby samosa stand quietly frying his snacks, but that was it—Hyderabad had shut down. As we walked to the main road, the silence and lack of traffic persisted, and became almost creepy. We made it to the main four-lane road that usually teems with traffic, but on Tuesday we could have walked down the middle of the avenue safely for miles. We quickly realized the errand wasn’t going to happen.

The reason for this shut down was a massive survey of Telangana. It was sort of like a census, but with more economic implications—government workers asked for things like bank account numbers and property owned. It was both to take measure of how many people qualified for welfare programs, but also to fully understand who makes up the state of Telangana and what they need. For the newest state in India, taking note of these statistics will be key to making the state successful in the future.

But in the meantime, students and teachers are especially feeling the growing pains. One of my principals said he feels the current group of students may become a “lost generation” as their schooling may end up riddled with assessments and surveys to better understand how to improve Telangana’s literacy rates and school systems. As Andhra Pradesh and Telangana grapple with dividing electricity between two separate states, frequent power cuts darken classrooms and cut into any digital learning efforts. Teachers are also being tasked with many of these extra efforts. While Rachel and I were able to at least go home and continue lesson planning, teachers at both my schools were appointed to conduct the survey because they are government workers. This meant taking precious days off to knock on citizens’ doors and ensure they had given their information to the government.

Though these steps are necessary for the greater good of the state and students and India, it made me think about how we ensure students learn, even while we search for solutions to education’s issues.

Here in India, being as consistent as possible has been key. Even though the last month has been riddled with holidays, interruptions, and festivals, whenever we show up to class students seem increasingly confident that we aren’t going to let their sometimes helter-skelter schedules get in the way of making films. Talking about it is good too—both with teachers and students. Teachers appreciate a well-deserved sympathetic ear and students are eager to talk about their festival celebrations. Other than that, the basics of being a good teacher apply: be as enthusiastic as possible, encourage thoughts outside of class, convince the students to be as hungry for TMS class as possible—a task not too difficult given they get to take photos and videos most days. Even after a two-week break from Railway Girl’s School due to holidays and an Independence Day celebration, I was so impressed that students jumped right back into their project without missing a beat.

I also think this has implications in the United States, where education reform is a divisive topic. Right now public education is being tested, prodded, and examined from every possible angle by activists, politicians, and business owners. Think about the methods we are trying out as solutions: Common Core, charter schools, Teach for America. Will they work? Many are gambling students’ only education in hopes that these programs make a difference.  Who’s to say we may look back one day at kids who are currently in class and call them the “lost generation” of students in the US?

It used to be that thinking about the attempted solutions in the US gave me more worry than hope. I still remain skeptical about most solutions, especially when they come from business-backed initiatives or claim to solve the problems of underserved districts by closing public schools. But being an educator has actually given me faith in one area of education: teachers. If teachers can create a sense of excitement passion and about learning that extends beyond the classroom, students will thrive even if a charter school ends up shutting down or assessments don’t provide conclusive results.

I’m still getting to that point in my own teaching, but I do feel that TMS has curriculum and projects that bring out intrinsic motivation that can carry with students for the rest of their lives. Critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to visually convey ideas far outlast any power cut or missed class. The key anywhere in the world, to me it seems, is supporting teachers that bring that out in their students, regardless of the policy solution of the day.

The Moving Bus

Getting around in Hyderabad is always an adventure. From crossing 8 lanes of full-speed traffic to colliding with a motorbike during a late-night auto rickshaw ride, getting from point A to point B often includes moments of mingled terror and excitement. The bus, our most frequently-used form of transportation, is by far the most unpredictable. Sometimes it’s so crowded that you miss your stop because you can’t squeeze your way out. Sometimes a fight breaks out because a man refuses to give up his seat in the section of the bus reserved for women. And very often, people jump into the open doors of moving buses. Recently, I decided to mimic this last behavior. I was headed to class, almost but not quite at the bus stop when I saw the 8A, my ride to school, begin to pull away. In the few seconds of sprinting to close the distance between us, I psyched myself up to do something I had seen so many others before me accomplish. I leapt onto the bus, just barely making it onto the step. My body slammed against the side of the bus and I gripped the railing for dear life. When I finally managed to pull myself inside, I was met with a mix of shocked, confused and concerned faces. But along with a wave of embarrassment and a badly bruised leg came another important lesson about life in India: things won’t always stop for you. Sometimes you just have to jump in.

This is definitely a lesson I’ve had to put into practice in the classroom. Holidays and a collection of unexpected hurdles have made working on schedule for our first project a challenge. But time doesn’t stop to give me another 20 minutes to talk about point of view or another week to get to know my students before I ask them to photograph their hopes, worries and desires. As a class, we’ve had to jump onto this bus already in motion. But unlike the gasps, chuckles, and stares that greeted me on the 8A, our big jump has produced two projects I can’t wait to share, and a level of trust between myself and the students I could not have imagined to find so early.

This new ease with jumping carried beautifully into our plans for this past weekend. The majority of my travel experiences have taken months of planning and preparation. But in this life of objects already in motion, deciding on Sunday to go to Mumbai on Wednesday  seemed perfectly reasonable. And though the overnight bus did stop to allow me, Karis and Dara to climb on safely, the experience still required a leap. The decision to jump is always rewarded, whether by a weekend full of memories, a productive and supportive classroom, or a fun story and battle scar. In all cases, I’m glad I managed to coax my feet off the ground.

Meet Karis

When you’re young, you’re likely to have big dreams. Mine were pretty much as big as you can imagine. From year to year I decided I was destined to be a professional soccer player, a fashion designer, a CEO, and even a dolphin trainer. However, throughout all of these ambitious career choices, I kept doing one thing, just because I loved it: storytelling. I made newspapers for my friends, classes, and family starting at age seven, and started taking photos daily when I was 12. Finally one day I wised up and realized that I should probably think about doing what I did everyday anyway for a living. So I decided to become a professional storyteller, or as I usually call it, a journalist.

That dream has become a reality in some of the most incredible ways. I’ve reported for major newspapers and radio stations, and traveled to every corner of cities and around the world in the search for a story. To me, storytelling is the best way to make sense of your life, explore a new place, and interact with others. If you can put a human face on an issue or explain a complicated idea in a simple way, oftentimes you have made sense of it yourself and you can convince people to make a difference in the world. I’m motivated by action, and I’ve found a notebook and camera is the best way for me to spur action in the world. Storytelling was also the only way that I dealt with some tough issues in my life. Growing up, especially when you’re young, can be quite challenging. Asking questions, writing down thoughts, and expressing yourself in words and pictures is one of the best ways to explain your feelings and show the world the importance of your story. With that in mind, while I did journalism on my own, I also volunteered and worked with students to help them tell the stories of their communities and their lives in order to empower the next generation of storytellers.
So when a friend sent me information about The Modern Story, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me. I’m so excited to travel to a new place, meet new people, learn about Hyderabad (and India), and instill a love of storytelling in more young people. Though it will be quite a bit hotter than my current home, Minnesota, I’m ready and absolutely thrilled to brave the temperatures and travel to Hyderabad to work with The Modern Story and its partners.