Romford Pictures: Bob Marks’ musical adventure to help India’s slum kids

Bob and Lucy Marks

Bob and Lucy Marks - Credit: Archant

Taking a gap year is not something most pensioners do, but one musician has ended up with a life-changing experience teaching poor Indian children English through his music.

Bob Marks

Bob Marks - Credit: Archant

Bob Marks, 66, from Park Drive, Romford, an established singer and band leader, took the plunge after seeing an advert for SLUMAID, a charity based in the poorest slums of Mumbai, India.

The Gate of India, Mumbai

The Gate of India, Mumbai - Credit: Archant

“I just thought I wanted to do something different with my life and music,” he said.

The former music teacher at Marshalls Park School, in Pettits Lane, Romford, has just returned from almost two months in two slum schools in Mumbai, as well a school in Kerela, south of Goa, on the southern tip of India.

He said: “You never know what you can do until it confronts you and this was something I shall remember forever.”

So taken was he by the success of the trip, he is planning another next year to both areas to continue his work. Bob’s daughter, Lucy, 27, who is about to enter teacher training, accompanied dad on the trip.

He said: “I took a laptop computer and English books like Treasure Island with me at first but soon realised the children could not speak a word of English.

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“I thought the only way to deal with it was through music, so I bought a ukulele out there and sang rhymes and children’s songs,” he said.

“They were amazing, and in a couple of weeks they were word perfect with an understanding of what the English words meant.”

The first stop was two weeks in a large slum called Baiganwadi on the outskirts of Mumbai.

A huge rubbish tip marks the slum area where Bob and Lucy saw unimaginable poverty but were elated by the children’s interest.

Click on the picture gallery, above right, to see all the images from the trip.

With classes of up to 40 three- to five-year-olds, Bob brought out the ykulele and started singing. “It was marvellous to have such an appreciative audience. They wanted to learn and sing. I don’t think I have ever experienced anything like it,” he said.

The children’s favourite was the Hokey Cokey and turned order into chaos as they sang at the top of their voices and jumped around the classroom. “In terms of getting through to children who could not speak my language, it was formidable,” said Bob.

“We did teach them English all be it basic, and we saw the enthusiasm for more in every little face.”

Their next two weeks were in the richer area of Kerela and Bob achieved similar results. The school had 955 pupils and even teachers asked for some instruction from the daughter and dad team after seeing their results.

“I would describe the whole trip as gratifying,” said Bob. “It has shown me just how much music can do for people, young, old and disabled.”

Returning to Romford, Bob was back leading his Jam Band at the Golden Lion pub in the Market Place on Thursday nights, he has taken up some gigs for his Rat Pack show in many of the sheltered accommodation homes and pubs and clubs in the area.

Now he is also looking at expanding his work into special needs homes and schools.

The young Bob, who first stood on stage to sing at the tender age of five in Stratford Town Hall, has carried on singing, and found the fulfilment most pensioners can only dream of.

He can justifiably claim to be a musician of international repute with a devoted young audience in India where he is now widely known and loved as the Music Man.

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