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Stage Coach, Indian Express-2011

The 'free personality development workshop' at the India Islamic Cultural Centre gets many participants from underprivileged backgrounds

Stage Coach, Indian Express-2011

The 'free personality development workshop' at the India Islamic Cultural Centre gets many participants from underprivileged backgrounds

At the India Islamic Cultural Centre's auditorium, Munawwar Zama, a voice and accent trainer, is teaching a group of eager students, from teenagers to those in their 30s, how to pronounce words like Oracle, vegetable, tortoise, and restaurant in American and British accents. He recites a string of words, the audience repeats them after him. Then he chooses a girl and a boy to come on stage for an interactive session, which involves each to select an answer among a group of options. More than just the right answer, the students have to get their diction right. As the session draws to a close, every one is eager to get a chance to get on stage and speak for three minutes on the dais.

On the stage, an excited Ishwar Chand Singh, a 26-year-old MBA from Siwan, Bihar, who has been rejected at many job interviews because of his stammering, tries hard to speak about his quest to improve his communication skills. Ghulam Ghaus, a 22-year-old madarsa graduate, who's now pursuing BA in Arabic from Jamia Millia Islamia, talks in succinct English about five men he wants to emulate. Zeenat, a 23-year-old homemaker, isn't able to muster enough courage to speak on a topic but does say that she has fought with her conservative family to attend this workshop.

While voice-and-accent training institutes have become fairly common, what sets the "free personality development workshop" at the India Islamic Cultural Centre, which is held for a month-and-a-half every summer (since 2008), apart from others is the wide range of people it caters to. So, if there is a 10-year-old enrolled, so is someone in his 40s. Most, though, are from underprivileged backgrounds. Mohammed Ahmed Kazmi, programme coordinator with Noble Education Foundation, the NGO which runs the workshop, in collaboration with English House, a voice-and-accent training institute run by Zama in Hyderabad, says they were inspired by a similar workshop conducted by the Urdu daily, Siasat, in Hyderabad. In its office in Hyderabad, Siasat gets Zama to train Muslim slum children in speaking English. "We visited one class and decided to replicate the idea here," says Kazmi.

Though "everyone's invited", the target is underprivileged Muslims, which is why advertisements of the workshops are published in Urdu dailies, and posters are pasted in Muslim-dominated areas such as Ballimaran, Jama Masjid, Daryaganj, Okhla, Seelampur and Khureji. An average of 300 students attend the workshop every year, out of 800-odd applicants, preference being given to those in the 15-20 age group, as they are more employable.

Though English speaking is the core of the workshop, a lot of emphasis is on confidence-building too. "Most of these students, specially those from Delhi-6, have not stepped beyond the 'various gates' in that area. They can't even get to India Gate. They are low on confidence and interactive sessions help boost their confidence," says Zama.

Mohammad Osama, a 17-year-old from Ballimaran in Delhi-6, says after his father lost a lot of money in his shoe business, he had to sell his house, shift to Okhla and start from scratch. This besides, his slight stammering problem, dented his confidence, and though he can speak English, he needed to speak on stage and boost his spirits. So, when Osama talks about his his favourite figures from Islamic history in coherent English, the claps that follow "make his day". Abeer Zafar, a 22-year-old from Ajmeri Gate, says after her father's business shut down, she started teaching children at home to make ends meet. The B.Ed student dreams of teaching "in modern schools like DPS, not others" and has thus enrolled in the workshop, for the second time—she was here last year too.

There are many students from madarsa background as well, and "they tend to perform better, as they are more motivated to prove a point, that they, too, can speak English and blend in with everyone else," says Zama. No wonder Ghaus is "one of the best students currently" and is following the footsteps of his brother, Ghulam Rasool, a previous student, also with madarsa background, who is now an Arabic interpreter at Artemis Hospital in Gurgaon. "There are a lot of translation, teaching and customer care jobs, which pay between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,0000, that students can take up," says Zama.

In fact, Modern Education Social Cultural Organisation, a trust in Mumbai, is in town to conduct interviews to select 10 students who can teach English in its schools in Muzaffarnagar, Mewat and Amroha districts.


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