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.
Hello my dears,
This is Nessa, giving my final report on the situation in Odisha. As usual, everything is pretty great here. Reanna has told you a bit about the literacy camps and career workshop that we’ve been working on for the past two weeks. Although there were some issues with planning and low attendance, I think that the activities had a positive impact on our students and the communities of Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli. After the career workshop, we asked our students for feedback, and they had good things to say. They believe that the topics presented will help them to make decisions about their studies and careers. After all the work we put into it, we were very glad to hear their opinions. I was very excited for our activities to be over since we haven’t had much (read as any) free time, but unfortunately, we still have a spot of work to do, including reports, interviews, and sadly, goodbyes. This Sunday, we will have our last official program: The Stakeholders Meeting with all of the people involved in the project. We’ve also heard some murmurs about a special program presented by our students, but they promptly started speaking in Telugu about it when they saw us around. We will get off lightly if they don’t make us dress in sarees and dance and sing for them like they’ve been demanding the whole project. Aside from that, classes have been going well. We assigned our computer students to type résumés for themselves, which will hopefully help them with college admissions and future job hunting. Also, we showed clips from Tangled and Aladdin in English class as part of listening comprehension. Hopefully, it was as much fun for them as it was for us. We’ve all been very contemplative lately as we begin to realize that we’ll be leaving in a week. On the bright side, we’ve been spending time outside of class with our students, eating at even more of their houses and playing Indian games. We’re excited for our College Visits Thursday since it’s always fun to go somewhere with our students. We’ll be seeing a few of the universities around Gopalpur, including NIST, Berhampur University, Roland Institute, and Khalikot College, to help them find more information about the schools and the feasibility of them attending. We would not have been able to complete any of our activities without our students supporting us, so I earnestly hope that they have gained skills, tools, and dreams from our work here. This project has been such a great lesson for me. I’ve been able to speak in public, teach classes, organize events, and work with community members in addition to having fun everywhere we go. Everyone we’ve met here has had a great impact on me. Our students work so hard to reach their goals, through fevers and cooking for themselves, and they’re all so smart. The women from the villages always have smiles ready for us, even when they’re waiting to get 40 kg of fish to run to the market. The sisters are always so calm and relaxed, prepared to provide us with a song/dance, herbal remedy, or conversation, even though they work on difficult social issues. And K. Dandasi works tirelessly for each of our activities, even when he was sick or has been running around nonstop for hours. They’re all awesome (read awshum), and I’m going to miss every single one of them.
Alas, it is the final week of our project in Odisha. The trip has felt like a lifetime and merely a day. The blogs have been lacking week to week because DJMV has kept us busy teaching and co-hosting various community gatherings and workshops.
A few weekends ago we assisted in a community clean up. Studying Geography and wanting to do something about the litter all over India the ENTIRE trip, I was very excited for this clean up. However, it turned out to be merely an inkling of a baby-step in the right direction as far as environmentalism goes. The intention was there—the community gathered and was given shovels and baskets to remove the litter. However, the trash from one part of the road was only shifted to another part of the road—not quite the “clean up” I had in mind. Regardless, it was inspiring to see everyone gather with the desire to do something about their environment and sanitation. It’s merely the infrastructure that is lacking.
The second community event were busy working on was the Community Literacy Camp, a two-day community gathering that pushed for children’s education and higher education, particularly among girls. We spent a week deciding on youth and women from the village to give a speech to share their experience with education and how they managed to send their children to school despite lacking sufficient finances. It was like pulling teeth to find women to speak in New Baxipalli, but after we insisted this was their time to make change happen and shift the views of others in the village, a couple women agreed to speak out. The women of Venkatraipur are more supportive of girl’s education (as almost all of the girls in our class are from this village) and the women from both villages did a phenomenal job during the workshop. We were particularly proud of one of our girl students who spoke, Kalpana, because she already has Bachelors Degree in Arts at the age of 19 and is an absolute doll when we talk to her. Public speaking on the other hand is more difficult for her—on the first day we met Kalpana, she couldn’t even introduce herself in front us and a circle of her peers. I was slightly doubtful when we decided she was the one to speak at the literacy camp, but she pulled through and did a great job.
One thing that particularly bothered me about the literacy camp was the lack of planning. Everything here runs on “Indian time” so it wasn’t unexpected that the entire event started late. On the other hand, those running the program intentionally told us to arrive 45 minutes late (which is not a good planning method for a community who generally starts events an hour after everyone arrives). By the time we were about to start, the power goes off. This wasn’t an accidental case —the power goes out every night around 6 PM. Therefore, we had to wait another hour or so before we could begin. By the time our 5-8 PM program had finally begun it was 8 PM. Some speakers had to leave (and I don’t blame them.. wasn’t the program supposed to be over now?) and during the program some volunteers were on the verge of being pulled up for impromptu speeches—again, not apart of the plan.
This past Sunday we co-hosted a Career Development Workshop. The attendance was mainly our students even though the invitation went out to ALL youth within the surrounding villages. Again, it was lack of planning. Many things were left until last minute—we weren’t totally sure who all was speaking until the day before. Regardless, it was a fantastic opportunity for our students. Many didn’t know what to do after they completed their Bachelors degree and needed direction in order to enter the workforce.
The workshop talked about graduate programs, starting micro-enterprises, how to get loans, etc.—all information the students were left in the dark about until now. Likewise, in computer class this past week the volunteers and I allowed the students to make a resume—something not a single person knew how to do because none of them even knew what a resume was. Because of this, I felt like this portion of our project was an extremely needed component for these brilliant students. I only wish I had more resources and knowledge to share exactly how to get into the colleges around their area and what job opportunities are locally available to them. We heard about a few great opportunities for teaching, banking, and starting a micro-enterprise, but dreams of becoming a doctor or politician were more discouraged by some of the speakers—something we as volunteers were horrified to hear.
The workshop as a whole left me with questions: are there any scholarships? Will these colleges provide quality education? Will there be a place for these students in the workforce once they complete their studies? After spending 6 weeks with this incredible group of youth, all we want to do is see them succeed, and it’s been tough motivating them to reach for their dreams when realistically, they can hardly pay for miniscule school fees, much less a tuition. And when you put that into perspective, their tuition is equivalent to about $1,500 a year, merely a fraction of what American students are expected to pay. Therefore, we’ve found there are many measures we need to consider concerning project sustainability before we return to the United States.
This Thursday we are have a college exposure visit planned. Hopefully this will answer some questions, clear a few doubts, and show those on the verge of dropping out due to finances that a higher education can only help them to break their cycle of poverty.
Many of the most inspirational people in my life are strong women. Coming to Orissa, I expected to experience a situation in which women were marginalized and looked down upon. To say I was wrong is an understatement. Although they still experience many problems, the women in Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli through DJMV (which translates to a phrase promoting women’s empowerment), as well as the self-help groups, have found a platform upon which to speak their mind.
When we first began to assess the community using PRA (I suppose it’s worth mentioning that PRA or participatory rural appraisal is a method of engaging a sample of the village in order to let they themselves assess the resources and problems that exist within their community) we held a community meeting in which anyone could voice their opinions.
I met a woman recently named Buliama. She is an illiterate woman who has lived in the poor fishing village of Venkatraipur her whole life. Despite this, she has managed to become the leader of all of India’s women SHGs (self-help groups). She has organized and partook in a number of rallies including one against the marriage of young children and another against a series of unfair taxes being implemented without government permission. She single-handedly sent 30 impoverished children from her village to school in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. These were not grandchildren, but rather others’ children who were in need. Whenever there is a SHG conference in another part of India two men and Buliama are present. I was standing in the doorway of one of the village women’s home. On the doorway there was a picture of the Taj Mahal. She pointed at it nonchalantly and told me (in Telugu) that she’d been there. It was incredible to think that a woman, who received presumably a low education, was nearly illiterate, and who was making an extremely modest income was able to travel about all of India in order to do such powerful social service work. I was humbled. Much smiling ensued. The language barrier usually She pointed to me and said “pilalu” which means children. Then she pointed at herself and said “ama” which means mother. To her, all of us were her children. All of the sudden she started to take off her necklace. She then put it on me. Never have I been more honored in my life than in that moment. I hope that I can somehow live up to the hope she had in me. She has inspired me to persevere, as she did, in order to promote social change.
The women here have poked, prodded, pinched and pulled me quite literally. They try to speak to us in Telugu but it usually ends up just being us smiling at each other. Sometimes though, a smile is better than words. After listening to the struggles of the women of the village throughout the years and the way they have fought to improve life for their own girls I feel incredibly humbled. In the future I hope to be able to change something as Buliama changed the lives of so many women.
This past weekend we had a good break from work. Saturday after English class we went to Burhampur with 8 students to shop. The ride was hilarious because all 12 of us piled into an auto-rickshaw and as we were driving off, some of the boys in the back began yelling various destinations we were going, ending with “We’re going to America!”
When we reached our destination, the students helped us find what we were looking for (food, jewelry, clothes, etc.). We tried our first “street food” called pani puri during this expedition. It was really good. It was bite sized and served on a leaf. The boy at the stand created them so fast that we hardly had time to finish the first before he was handing us the second. All of the volunteers bought something for themselves and friends back home except for Lauren. She didn’t find the perfect gift until we wondered upon a small beach stand Sunday afternoon.
Sunday we went to Konark Temple and Chilika to see dolphins. These places are 4 hours away from Gopalpur on Sea so we started our journey around 4:30 AM and managed to get home by midnight. Although a long day, it was very interesting and a refreshing excursion away from our everyday work.
Yesterday we started our week by hitting the ground running. Although it was originally unclear when our community literacy and career development workshops would be, it was officially decided the community literacy camp is this weekend (Sunday and Monday) so we had to schedule student and community speakers as well as find someone to teach the children a song and dance about education. The teacher’s training on innovative teaching methods didn’t go as smoothly as DJVM would have hoped, so we’ve been trying to make the rest of the workshops as professional and well planned as possible. In addition, we’re scheduled to do PRA in another village, New Baxipalli, so last night we visited with the village elders to get to know them and begin discussing the problems they face in their village. Many problems turned out to be similar to Venkatraipur, but there seemed to be less motivation for higher education. This can be demonstrated by the fact that we only have two students in our class from New Baxipalli attending our classes. Most of our students are from Venkatraipur.
One of our students from New Baxipalli invited us for dinner last week. We dined with them yesterday after meeting the elders. The cultural norm for the people is to serve guests first then the host eats later. It’s very humble but we would have preferred if everyone ate together. Nonetheless, it was absolutely delicious and contained rice, potato, egg, prawns in curry, and dal. The group and I agree, although the tourist attractions are great, this is what going to another country is all about: the superb company of those native to the area, and being fully immersed in their culture.
On a different note, the UT Nourish Chapter’s President, Dhanya, will be visiting us this weekend so we’re all hyped. Students included. Our students get excited for many things we get excited for—especially after Lauren taught them the word “pumped”. (Lauren: “Kalpana, you’re going to speak at the Literacy Camp this weekend. How do you feel?” Kalpana: “I’m pumped!”) Although some are still shy, especially if they have to speak in front of a crowd, most of them have come out of their shells and have really shown us their personality. They love to sing, dance, play games, and take pictures. One computer class ended with them dressing us up with Indian earrings and bindus and taking tons of pictures. A few students could not stop laughing but they assured us we looked very good. Everyone we work with is such beautiful people, both in personality and appearance. We honestly couldn’t have asked for a better project.
Hello all! Nessa here again, finally. It’s been a tad difficult to get computer and Internet access due to some technical misfortunes, so I apologize for the tardiness of this second post. Other than technical issues, our project so far has been wonderful in every way. We love everyone we’ve met, and, for some reason, they like us too. The FMM sisters take care of our every need, so much so that we sometimes feel guilty for not having to rough it.
Our students are amazing. There are amusing stories from class every day, whether intentionally funny or not. They are all brilliant and so passionate about education. One time, we needed a topic for a PowerPoint presentation demonstration, and they unanimously chose education from subjects like sports and films. English classes have been going well. Sister Margaret told us that the students have started to speak like us and we have started to speak more like them. Lately, our class has been covering verb tenses and conversation skills, such as “small talk.” Computer class has been advancing much more quickly than we originally expected. They’ve already completed PowerPoint presentations and an Internet scavenger hunt, and we’ll work on Excel today. Our students have been the deciding factor in the success of our project so far. Since we’re around the same age, it’s very easy to engage them and get to know them. We’ve visited a few of our students’ homes already, and we hope to see them all. Everyone has been very enthusiastic and inviting.
We had our first workshop on June 3rd and 4th for teachers’ training and innovative teaching methods. Although there was a lower turn-out than we hoped for, due to a conflicting government school training, the teachers that came, some of whom are our students, understood the topics presented and were motivated by the speakers. We are busy now preparing for our two community literacy camps. We have chosen women and students to speak in Venkatraipur and New Boxipalli and are supervising some children who are learning a song and dance against child labor. We hope that the programs will create awareness of the value of an education and encourage parents to send their sons and daughters to school.
Let me begin by offering my apologies for the long delay in posting an update about the project. To say that we have been busy since we have arrived in the community would be an understatement of great proportion! – As the saying goes, we hit the ground running!
Our typical day begins with us waking up at 6:30am to get dressed and ready to have breakfast by 7:15am. Over breakfast, I will often ask, “So, what are we doing for English class today”, which is often complimented by laughing about random quirky experiences that we’ve had interacting with our students. We then rush off to have English class, which is a Mon-Sat 1.5-hour class that starts at 8am every day. After class, we usually mingle with the students for 15-30 minutes and then scamper off to have some fresh homemade juice prepared by one of the Sisters here. Over juice, we chat about our two English classes (Lauren teaches the more advanced English-speaking students and the rest of us work with the low-level students), discussing what went well and what we can do to improve. We then either have meetings or do lesson planning until 1pm when we break for lunch. After lunch, we typically working on more lesson plans, which usually means that we are preparing for our computer literacy class that begins at 4pm. After class ends at 5:30pm and we mingle for a while, we then have our late-afternoon tea break. Then once again, this is followed by either more meetings or lesson planning until 8:00pm, which is dinner time. After dinner, we continue with even more meetings and lesson planning until about 10pm, which is Nessa, Reanna and I usually scamper off to get our evening “shower” and get ready for bed (Lauren often stays up til about midnight working on her own lesson plan – she’s such a super-trooper!). Whew, makes me tired just thinking about all that haha.
Anyhow, our days truly are this full each and every day. Fortunately we are working with an incredible partner, DJMV, and we have amazing volunteers that are dedicated to the success of our project and who work tirelessly every day without complaining of the heavy workload. Though the lesson planning and such can be tedious & time consuming, it always has a high pay-off. I think I can speak for us all that the highlight of each of our days is teaching class and simply getting to interact with our students.
Apart from the daily classes, we have also been working with our partner to perform village assessments. This really comes in the form of us helping to facilitate activities in which the community is identifying their own resources & problems in education and then helping them to further identify feasible solutions to some of these problems (it’s actually a lil more complicated than that but you get the idea I hope haha). We’re also about to conduct our first community workshop, which is for teacher training on innovative teaching methods. We’ve got various professionals who have been in the education field for several decades coming to speak at the workshop. We the volunteers have also collected a wealth of information from various other professionals who have considerable experience in teaching and we will be sharing insights that we have gained from them with the attendees of the workshop. This will be a 2-day workshop, and it begins in less than 12 hours from now, so I will try to provide an update shortly after the workshop concludes.
The day after the teacher training workshop finishes, we will be meeting with a youth group that is about 100 persons in size and is traveling through the state to meet and consult with various NGOs in development. They have requested to meet up with us, so we will be meeting them on Tuesday to have something like a Q&A session, and then we will utilize their services in performing two village cleaning activities.
Well, I guess that’s it for now. I just wanted to let you all know that we are doing well and that the project is coming along quite successfully! Stay tuned, we’ll have more updates soon!
Ladies and Gentlemen, we made it to June 1st! Classes are in full swing at Shanthi Rani Bhavan and our students are the stories of our lives. They are dedicated to school, very hardworking, and such characters. As they break out of their shells, we’re seeing them more as the amazing people they are and we can’t help but chuckle at the little things they do. For instance, we are learning PowerPoint and everyday we find a slide on our computers that one of our students made. To say the least, they are hilarious, but we couldn’t be more proud of them.
Last week one of our students really wanted us to sing a song for them. All four of us non-singer volunteers were hesitant (needless to say, we still haven’t sang them anything) but they performed a little song for us called “Why This Kolaveri Di”. For those of you who haven’t heard this song, there is a part in the song where there is a laugh in the background. The students tried to sing every part of the song so randomly the student leading the song goes “HAHAHA!” The best part is that we got it on video. Seriously, it was so perfect.
Currently this week we are working to make emails for all of our students to assist them in communication and their professional lives. Before we know it, our email accounts will be flooded with emails from our students. It wasn’t in our plan to create email accounts so early but a few of our students have to leave for school next week and we wanted to give them as many tools and opportunities as possible before they go. One of the women living with us at Shanthi Rani Bhavan, Daphne, only has one more week as well. All of them will be missed dearly because they are such lovely souls and we all have become good friends. This weekend is a teachers training so we’ve been spending our time preparing for that but we plan to squeeze in some time for cricket or volleyball this weekend too. The Nourish Volunteers and I had a try at batting the other day with a couple students. I can’t say we were doing it right, but we still weren’t too shabby!
More fun on the way,
It’s been a week since I set foot on the first plane to take me away from Texas our Texas in the direction of Orissa, (Odisha) India but it feels like at least 10 years. As I have been rather lazy when it comes to blogging I’ll try to squeeze everything that has happened to me into a little bite sized morsel of fun.
If there is one thing I have learned over the course of our preparation process is that you have to prioritize your battles and fight them one at a time. And so I will begin at the beginning with project planning. First and foremost I want to give a shout out to everyone who’s helped us in preparation for such an ambitious and amazing project. Dhanya for teaching us Telugu and of course being patient with our questions and rather poor accents, Natasha for providing us with a plethora of information for both our brief stay in Mumbai and our prolonged one in Odisha, Sudheesh and Moy, two international students both from India (Sudheesh from Andra Pradesh, a neighboring state and Moy from Odisha) for providing insight on the culture and social structure of the area, S. Bheema Rao from our partner organization of DJMV who has done a ridiculously outstanding job of planning, outlining, creating pamphlets and posters, and thoroughly analyzing this whole process as well as answering our numerous questions. Without a doubt we have selected a great partner organization. Lastly I want to personally thank everyone who has sponsored me on this trip with either your generous donations or just your good thoughts. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. In a brief side note I’d like to give you a word of the day. In Oria (the language of most of Odisha) the word guy means cow so am I calling you friends or cows? You can decide for yourself *evil chuckle*. With all of this generous support, I had a very good feeling going into this project that we were prepared, or at least as much as we could be under the circumstances.
Roughly six long months were spent planning this trip. Nessa, John, Reanna, and I learned everything from language to culture to village evaluation tools, to current governmental policies in India. A grueling ordeal involving unclear visa deadlines, a plethora of papers, and a lot of really badly pronounced Telugu vocab finally came to an end. After a thirteen-hour plane ride we arrived in Mumbai.
I had no idea what to expect as the plane landed. I hadn’t even really registered in my mind that we were in India…until we stepped out of the airport. Mumbai is a city full of life and vibrant colors. Women in cortis and saris every color of the rainbow walk the streets of the city. Because it’s so hot and humid there are trees everywhere. Unlike most urban environments in the US, Mumbai has tons of trees even in areas with the most traffic. Poverty in Mumbai is also very visible. People sleep on the streets and sidewalks through the day and night. I am interested to experience the difference between the urban poverty we witnessed there and the rural poverty we will see when we arrive in Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli.
There is so much to say about a city as alive as Mumbai, but some highlights and standout memories for me included riding the train and putting the “packed like sardines” saying to shame, being kindly kicked out of the area surrounding a mosque, visiting Mani Bhavan which was where Gandhi lived for a time, visiting a Jain temple, and reading Bollywood signs one of which touted the slogan, “Don’t angry me!”
I am so excited to travel to Orissa! Again, I am not sure of what to expect but I look forward to meeting everyone from DJMV as well as the FMM Sisters who will be housing us for the next six weeks. More to come soon
Today we left Mumbai and flew to Bhubaneswar. Bheema greeted us at the airport and welcomed us to the state of Orissa. The natural land and developed areas are gorgeous. While driving, we admired the brightly colored buildings, unique architecture, and thriving vegetation. We stopped for brunch at Bheema’s house, where his wife Priya cooked a wonderful meal for us. She was very knowledgeable about the reasons behind Orissa’s lack of development:
Orissa is a land rich of natural resources and industries have wanted to exploit these resources for profit. However, the people are diverse and tribes who live on the land fear their territory will be taken over. Furthermore, cyclones take the land every few years; therefore, development has to restart after each storm. Particularly in the area we’ll be staying, Gopalpur, the economy is based off of fishing, and the catch hasn’t been as good as earlier years, thus declining possible income to families.
After we finished eating (SUCH a delicious meal), chatting, and visiting their 11-month-old son, we left for Gopalpur. We didn’t get very far before Bheema stopped the driver so we could get bottled water at a stand. To our surprise, he came back with bagged lassi. Only made out of sugar cane, yogurt, salt, and water, the drink was absolutely delicious. The entire drive took about 3 hours. When we arrived at the DJMV convent, we greeted all the sisters (who are complete sweethearts!) and were were given orchids by four beautiful elementary aged girls. The welcoming was quite overwhelming. The sisters then invited us for lunch. Again, the food was amazing. From there, we further chatted with the sisters and spoke with Bheema about the school and what was to come and a little bit about what is to be expected of us. The rest of the day was spent venturing to the Sea and a light dinner at night. The people seem extremely interested in us being in their village, and I hope we are able to make a difference. Tomorrow we will begin the PRA tools (Participatory Rural Appraisal tools) to evaluate various components of the community to see what they most need. Bheema has a very set schedule for us, so I’m sure we’ll be at it for a while. I am interested to see how PRA works in the real world, after researching it pre trip. The Nourish group has also planned to meet to finalize our English curriculum so I know we have a long day ahead.
Cheers to the adventures ahead,