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!
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