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Nourish International

The Final Stretch

August 1, 2014 | Posted in 2014, India, Summer Projects, UT Austin | By

During our last weeks in Orissa, we were primarily focused on bringing our English classes to an end, coordinating the final workshops with the village women, and just enjoying the time we had left. Samuel, another intern, and I continued to gather interviews of the village women and translate the footage for the project documentary. On our last teaching day in Orissa, we had a party for the students. It was a great way to say bye and leave our students on a good note. On our very last day in Orissa, we took part in a day-long marathon of activities. In the morning, we led a meeting with the women thanking them for their support, in the afternoon we participated in a foot rally encouraging the villagers to send their kids to school, and at night, we concluded with a cultural program led by our students.


Overall, my internship in Orissa was an enlightening experience. Experiencing the adversity and poverty in the villages we worked in gave new meaning to the work I was doing. The people I met, the relationships I created, and the work I took part in all contributed to the transformative nature of this experience. On the surface level, I was able to teach my students six weeks of English, empower the village women through constructive workshops, and implement various interventions aimed at improving life in the village. On a deeper level, I hope my presence in Orissa positively impacted the villagers, the same way they have positively impacted me.


Second to last week

June 24, 2014 | Posted in 2014, India, Summer Projects, UT Austin | By

Greeting from India,

The team lives in a convent in Gopalpur and after lunch drives to an hour to Markandi. Tuesday through Friday the team teaches English for four hours: two hours in the morning in Gopalpur and two hours in the afternoon in Markandi. Sam and Ramya teach the lower division class where Ramya’s fluency in Telegu is incredibly helpful. Ena and I teach the upper division class where the class size is smaller, the students need more individual attention due to the complexity of the topics. Both classes incorporate intriguing games to make learning a foreign language more fun and engaging.

After class, it is not uncommon for a few of the students to hang around and play a game of Karem, similar to billiards but uses a square board and small disks that are flicked into the holes at the four corners. During these times English and Telegu are intermixed. The teachers become the students as pointers are given freely from the students to help us teachers who are new to the game.

On the weekends, Self-Help Group seminars for women are held in Markandi. The first seminar covered a variety of topics, including the importance of educating girl children, personal finances, and public health. In addition to the professional speakers, each of the team members spoke at the seminar.


A Week Left!

May 16, 2014 | Posted in 2014, India, Summer Projects, UT Austin | By

Dear readers,
With barely a week left, our humble group of four UT students are prepared to take on the coastal villages of Odisha. We have been prepping for this internship for the past five months. We learned bits of Telegu, interacted with one another, and practiced various teaching methods. I am very confident in the abilities of each and every one of our interns; they all have something unique and uplifting to bring to the group. I only hope that things run smoothly, and that we interact with the villagers well. I hope to conduct daily meetings that will take place at the convent by the end of the day. In those meetings, we can discuss what went right, what went wrong, what we can repeat tomorrow, and what we can improve on for the future. I think these meetings will not only be beneficial for the project, but will also be beneficial for the development of the group dynamic.

I know that I will be a bit disoriented from the traveling and the new climate, so I hope that I adapt quickly. I am both excited and nervous, because I want to be of assistance– both to my interns and to those in Gopalpur and Markandi.

We have done everything to train for the next six weeks, now it is just a matter of applying what we have learned.

Send us your good thoughts!

Over and out,

Toads, Mangoes and empowerment.

June 9, 2013 | Posted in 2013, India, Summer Projects, UT Austin | By

Hi ya’ll! Dhanya here.
Let me paint a picture for you. Now, you really have to close your eyes and imagine this. Ready, set, GO.
Imagine sitting under a heavily fruited mango tree. The only thing illuminating the darkness is the glow of your laptop. But somehow, your eyes have adjusted and you can see the little cottage where you live, the stage where you teach, and the dinner hall where you eat every meal. The faint thud of mangos falling on the soft sand is the only sound you hear. And as you stand up with your bare feet, all you can feel is the sand between your toes.
Got the picture? Good. This is where we live. And if you’re thinking of how beautiful it sounds, you are absolutely right.
We’ve been at the lovely Shanti Rani Bavan (the convent where we live) for two weeks now, two of the most challenging, eye-opening and joyful weeks of my life. As I’m sure most of you know by now, we are teaching English, computers, organizing literacy workshops and starting micro-enterprises in 3 villages in and around Gopalpur, Orissa. The students we have here have been some of the most resilient people I have ever met. The 22 of them ( all ages 16-23 ish) show up to class every day and are eager to learn all about the English language and computers. It sometimes gets difficult to manage them at times and behaviors that are completely unheard of in America are common here. But I remember that respect is seen completely differently here and I’m sure that some of the things that I do seem absolutely ridiculous to them.
Everything is completely different here. For example, I have a mouse, a toad and a gecko all living in my bathroom. That’s pretty different. I’ve named them all … but that’s another story all together. Back to our kids, even if it does get difficult it is worth every moment because I see them learning, growing and taking every single thing in. If I ever question if what we’re doing is making a difference (which I do often) all I have to do is think about them, how much they are actually learning in our classes and how much they are benefiting from the programs we organize.
We started our village assessments last week and it was painful to hear that some of the families don’t have the luxury of having water in their homes. As Chris (one of our volunteers) pointed out, how can anyone think of an education or a livelihood when they cannot have something so simple as water in their homes? It feels like we are getting to the root causes and challenges in these communities and I’m beginning to realize how tough these problems are. I can’t help but feel a little helpless.
But, at the end of every day, I’m reminded of how strong the people of this community are and how they themselves can start movements, change mindsets and develop their villages. All we can do is give them a little push and watch the rest unfold. I’m thrilled to see what is going to happen in this community and how the kids we are teaching are going to help mold and shape it into something even more beautiful than it is now. That’s empowerment. That is what makes it worth every single moment here. =)


Two Weeks Down in Orissa!

June 9, 2013 | Posted in 2013, India, Summer Projects, UT Austin | By

Hi all!
Sharon here. So we’ve survived the first two weeks in India, though the same could not be said for our electronics. As of right now, I think the count stands at one computer, one camera, and one and a half cell phones down. Technological difficulties aside, the project is going pretty well so far.
The main components of our project are English and computer classes. We are living and teaching in Shantirani Bhavan, a convent in Orissa, India. The convent is beautiful, and comes with fantastic food and a kind atmosphere. Every morning, our students come to Shantirani at 8 AM (ooooor a little later, in some cases) and we begin English class. The students are sweet and eager to learn, and teach us as much as we teach them. I have to admit, teaching has been more challenging than I anticipated. First, English is truly a stupid language that doesn’t play by any of its own rules. Second, there is a wide range of English capability among our students; even when we split them up into two classes, it is difficult to design lesson plans that are engaging enough for the advanced students and basic enough for the beginners. Computer classes present the same problem, as well as the additional issue of high demand and low availability; it’s difficult to teach 40 students with 4 computers. Overall, however, I think all the project team members are happy with classes, and really believe that the students are benefitting from them. At the very least, students keep coming back- we must be doing something right!
In addition to classes, we are helping organize career planning and literacy events. It has been in trying to organize these that cultural differences have really come into play, and we’ve been surprised and challenged by a number of the interactions we’ve had. I’m sure, however, that our Indian colleagues feel the same way about many of our behaviors.
I’ve learned a little bit about each in a broad range of subjects the past two weeks. I’ve gotten to know my fellow volunteers a lot better, myself a lot better, the English language a little bit better, and Indian culture a tiny bit better, though still almost not at all. I’ve also gained a newfound appreciation for teachers and high-speed internet. I’m happy to be here, and happy with our progress so far, and I believe that the next few weeks will bring continued improvement and success. More to come!

Fired Up, Ready to Go

May 23, 2013 | Posted in 2013, India, Summer Projects, UT Austin | By

Hey Everybody!

I’m a bundle of excitement and nerves right now. I am thrilled to be going back to Odisha to empower a group of incredible people and see some very dear friends again. This year has been crazy though. As International Projects director I have been in charge of the logistics of this journey. I am also serving as project leader, and will thus have an extra responsibility when we are on the ground. Despite the extra pressure, I think it’s going to be a great trip. Many meetings later and I think we are prepared for whatever India throws at us. Plus, we have the added bonus of a native Telugu speaker on our project team (shout out to Dhanya!). My main goal for this trip is to be as humble and flexible as possible. I have also learned the importance of carrying with me a healthy dose of cynicism for the project. I mean this in terms of being able to constantly question whether or not our project or our presence will indeed have a positive impact or possibly an unintended negative one. With this attitude, this amazing team of passionate students, and the partnership with some of the most dedicated people I know working in the Indian NGO VIEWS, I am confident that our project will have a major impact on the livelihood of the people of the Gopalpur area. Here’s hoping we get there in one piece!

Sincerely and with many more posts to come,

Reanna’s Final Post

July 10, 2012 | Posted in 2012, India, UT Austin | By

Our last couple days in India had so much impact. We worked hard throughout our 6-week project so I was ready to fly back to the comfort of the United States. However, our students realized the end of our project had come upon us and they became glued to our sides.

After the Stakeholder’s meeting, some of the guy students did a dance for us and turned the stage into a dance party. Our camera-happy girls filmed us dancing which will be fantastic footage to laugh at ourselves and always remember that moment. Later that night, they showered us with gifts and threw a “little party” which, as Nessa described, is what they call a plate full of snacks, often placed into our mouths by our eager students who obsess over feeding us. Our students also gave speeches. It was heartwarming to hear how much of an impact we had to these students lives, and absolutely heartbreaking to see how upset they were by us leaving. We took so many pictures on that last day. One student told me he wanted us to have many pictures of him so we will always remember him. Many students in fact told us to not forget them. I don’t know how we could.

The day we were to leave, students had already arrived at Shanti Rani at 8 AM to say their final goodbyes. Even students who we felt like we didn’t connect with as well due to the language barrier were tear filled and longingly wanted us to stay or promise to come back again next year. In such a short time, it was amazing to see how many friends we made and how much our project meant to these students. Our classes had become apart of their daily lives, and they loved to plan excursions, dinners, and small parties for us. Now that we were leaving they seemed lost. Never have I been in a situation like this—where everyone realizes the parting has to come and genuinely doesn’t want it to happen. Thinking back to my high school graduation for instance, everyone was excited to end school and start college; regardless of the fact most of us would never see one another again. In this village, I doubt many students have had to say goodbye to a friend who they wouldn’t see again. During the last couple days, I didn’t feel a moment of sadness because every moment I was with them, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed. Our students were the most smart and determined people I have ever met and the sisters at Shanti Rani as well as the people of Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli were so welcoming and made us feel like we were apart of their family. It wasn’t until we were driving down the road waving to our students that I realized this was the last time we would wave at them and see them in person for quite a long time. Reality set in much sooner for our students then it did for me. For me, once I don’t have something anymore is when I most appreciate it and wish that I still had it. And believe me, I appreciate our students and wish we could still be there with them.

This trip has taught me more than any classroom could. It demonstrated the inequality brilliant students face due to the lack of money, the gender inequality due to cultural norms, the impact one can have by speaking out for what’s right, and how immensely happy people can be without the materialistic possessions like a fully furnished, enormous air conditioned house, or a constant flow of electricity and water, or even a shower head. The things we need most are each other. And when it came to higher education and education for girls, it was critical that our students received support from their community so they could fulfill their dreams. We tried our best to be a support system for their education, and that’s probably one of the reasons why they didn’t want to see us go.

On a personal level, this trip has done wonders to increase my motivation, get me far out of my comfort zone, boost my self-confidence, and realize that I can do anything I put my mind to. The three of us girls who came on this trip worked as role models for the girls in our classes to be strong, educated women and speak out for themselves. Being able to raise money and come all the way to India to be a teacher and speak at community events, as well as work collaboratively as a team with my fellow volunteers really helped me to fulfill this role model position as well as realize my full capabilities and strengths. Of course the goals of our project was to teach youth and motivate parents but it also worked the other way around by teaching the volunteers about themselves, what education they’d like to pursue next, and gave us motivation to be better students and better people. Overall, I’d say our project was quite the success, and all of the volunteers have already contacted our students since we’ve been home. This project has definitely turned into a long-term relationship for us all.

Opportunity of a Lifetime

July 10, 2012 | Posted in 2012, India, UT Austin | By

In the blink of an eye, the pages of life turn, and whether you’re ready or not, some chapters will close and others will begin. Months of planning and six weeks of implementation later, the project has become a bountiful source of fond memories. It’s now been a week since we’ve left Gopalpur. Those final hours were filled with long good-byes, tears streaming down faces, and difficult questions…well, maybe just one – “Are you coming back next year?” We tried to explain that we could not offer a definitive “yes” or “no” because the multitude of factors that must be considered beforehand. I assured them that without a doubt, I would return to see them soon, which is a promise that I intend to keep!

Before leaving for India, I casually warned the volunteers that at the end of the project, it might actually be difficult to be able to observe the impact that we’ve made from our project, as is often the case in educational endeavors where results do not materialize sometimes until many years later. Though this may partially be the case here in this instance, I believe that I can speak freely for the other volunteers that we have left India with the confidence that our time and effort have made a tremendous impact on the lives of the two villages of Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli (and to a lesser extent, Markundi), particularly with the youth from these villages that were attending our classes.

One of our students, Ananda from New Baxipalli, expressed to me his deep sense of gratitude for the work that we did there, telling me how it really helped him learn how to dream big, how to identify his passions in life and to set goals to reach them, and perhaps most importantly, how not to let problems overwhelm him and stop him in his tracks. On a different occasion, we talked with Hemlatha, one of the women that spoke at the literacy camp in New Baxipalli. She said that for many years she has been encouraging one of neighbors to send her children to school rather than making them work. Thanks to the literacy camp that we had there, she said that she was finally able to convince her neighbors to send those children to school.

In addition to these and other anecdotal accounts, other measures of the success of the project included evaluations performed by DJMV, FMMSSS, our students and the Nourish Volunteers. Although we could observe considerable growth in our students from both the English and computer classes, the evaluations gave us something more tangible to verify our inclinations.

On more personal note, one of my ambitions in this project was to impart two important lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way about finding success in life – to build your capacity to dream big, and to be able to persevere and keep moving towards your goals despite whatever obstacles or challenges are thrown your way. I presume that we’ve all heard story after story about individuals who were born into a life of poverty but somehow overcame the odds and turned into a great success. Similarly, on countless occasions I have encountered students from the US, India and various countries in Latin America who come from households with low socioeconomic backgrounds and who rejected the cards that they were dealt in life and have demanded a better life. So what is it that enables these youth to get into institutions of higher education and create lives of success? I assert that the common thread is clearly not being economically privileged, nor being given special access to resources that others aren’t receiving (though one can always find exceptions to any such generalizations). In my personal opinion, what one will consistently find in these individuals is a great capacity to dream big and to persevere through any hardship to reach their goals. Undoubtedly, the youth that we worked with in India will have countless formidable obstacles to overcome before they will be able to reach their dreams, but the path to get there is not impossible. It becomes impossible when the dream can’t be dreamt, or when goals are forfeited at the first sign of trouble. I can happily say – thanks to DJMV, FMMSSS, and Nourish International, particularly our 2012 project volunteer team – that these youth are now in a much better position to be able to dream big and push through anything to reach such dreams.

Of the three Nourish projects that I have now served on, this has been by far been the best experience I’ve had in doing volunteer work abroad. Incredible projects like these have benefits not only for the communities that they serve, but also for the people that help make them happen. Having the privilege of planning this project under the guidance of Nourish and implementing it under the leadership of DJMV has given me a wealth of experience and knowledge that I feel will be incredibly helpful for the career that I am pursuing in sustainable development. When I led my first project back in 2010, I felt so incompetent and hardly worthy of such an opportunity. Now after having led my 3rd project (this time co-leading with Lauren), I feel much more confident of my capabilities to be able to effectively plan and implement any such kind of project. It is somewhat difficult to identify all the ways in which I’ve grown, but I recognize that I owe so much of it to my time spent with Nourish (over the past 3 years) and with DJMV (over the past 9 months). I still have much to learn, as I’m sure my fellow volunteers can attest to, but such is the nature of life – always opportunities for growth! Let me end with offering a deep, heartfelt “Thank You” to everyone who not only helped make this project happen, but more importantly, helped make it a success!

– John


July 9, 2012 | Posted in 2012, India, UT Austin | By

Now that I’m back in the states I can’t stop thinking about India. I guess my family has picked up on the fact that I’ve been a bit spacey too. My thoughts seem to always be with my students. I feel so privileged to have met such a fantastic group of young geniuses. I have never seen so many passionate and driven young people. It was a joy teaching them English every day. I learned throughout my teaching experience that it takes a lot to be an effective educator. I had to keep up my enthusiasm and wrack my brains for exciting games and engaging activities that would keep them “hungry for knowledge”. This process was seemingly endless, and kept me up pretty late for many nights. Despite all the hard work, English classes were the best part of my day. Getting to teach people who actually want to learn is a thrilling experience. Another activity that kept us up late was preparing for all of our workshops. We presented and prepared for a multitude of workshops including a teacher training camp, two community literacy camps (one in Venkatraipur and one in Baxipalli), a career development workshop, and a stakeholders meeting. These were all designed in one way or another to enhance the education situation of the coastal region in which we were working. The teacher training camp focused on providing insight and new methods of teaching to the local learning center and government school teachers. The literacy camps were focused on bringing awareness about the value of education to parents and village members. The career development workshop aimed to educate the youth about job opportunities and the education necessary to receive them. Finally, the stakeholders meeting was a summary of the whole project for the benefit of village members and other NGO’s who are interested in the impact our project has made. In addition to all of these workshops, we took all of the students on exposure visits to three different universities. About 25 of us piled into a tiny auto and van and sped off to Roland Institute, National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) and Berhampur University. Although some of the people we contacted who were supposed to answer questions were either confused or didn’t fulfill their obligations, an impromptu tour and speech from the people at Roland and two helpful economics professors at Berhampur made the trip worthwhile. Students were able to experience the University atmosphere and ask questions ranging from qualifications to goals to tuition. Throughout all of this crazy planning and doing, I learned a few valuable lessons. I learned that to be a leader and a woman it is imperative that you do not give up and that you continually assert your opinions in conversation even if they seemingly fall on deaf ears. I was so astonished to see that so many of my students who lacked economic resources as well as some knowledge about the higher education system and its opportunities were able to persevere. Their hard work and dedication inspired me and showed me that it’s all about how much you want something. I also learned that even when there is a language barrier it is so important to sit down and listen to people’s stories, as it is the true way to gain wisdom. This is an experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Returning Home

July 6, 2012 | Posted in 2012, India, UT Austin | By

I wrote this blog as I sat on our last flight back to Houston, then I got to drive back to Dallas with my family. The last few days have been rough. Sunday we had our last activity – the Central Stakeholders Meeting with special guests from the local government, NGOs, and familiar faces from the whole project. Afterward, our students had a dance party and invited us to join. They are quite the dancers -their routine included a lot of pelvic thrusting and laughs from the audience. We had a meeting with Bheema over our finances and end-of-project wrapping up, such as where the computers will be located after we leave and purchasing anti-virus software. Our students then had a short farewell program with thank you speeches from a few and tears all around. They gave us a small party, which in India means a plate heaped full of snacks. They also gave us presents- a cloth around our shoulders for respect and a cute crystal music box. The next morning, most of them came to Shanti Rani Bhavan to see us off. We were very sad to leave. Bheema invited us to share our experience on the project with his School of Management, so we spoke to around 30 new students about choosing and implementing the project, including lessons learned. After shopping at a market in Bhubaneswar and a last dinner with Bheema, his wife Priya, and Dandasi, we got some sleep before our flight in the morning. Our trip back was a bit tiring. We had an extra 8 hours waiting in Mumbai, and we discovered that our flight to Newark had been canceled after we got to Delhi. Fortunately, we got a new flight and we’re only a few hours behind our original plan. Even though, I loved our project, I’m still excited to get home, see family and friends, and use a showerhead. We all plan to call our students ASAP and tell them how much we miss them already. Most of our trip back has been recounting funny stories about them. I’m pumped to tell everyone about our experiences and share our 200,000 pictures and stories. As I mentioned before, I’ve gained so much from this trip: about 30 new friends, getting to work directly with villagers and at least somewhat live with them, planning, teaching, and public skills, courage, self-confidence, and amazing memories. I’m really glad I was able to go and very thankful to family and friends for helping me get there. As much as we learned from them, I think we also had a great impact on Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli, including encouragement and motivation for education, better knowledge of and connections to resources, and the help to bring our students out of their shells and increase/work on their skills. The project was a huge success, and I’m very grateful to everyone involved.