We have some exciting news to share this week. GlobalGiving has selected The Sanjeevani Project to be a recipient of their Bricks for Good fund! In brief, the Bricks for Good promotion gifts a brick set to donors that either build a well, a school, or a tree. For more information, please click here .
Additionally, toward the end of my trip to India, I wrote an essay I thought I would share with you all:
I lay flat across the divan, on an intricately embroidered throw pillow, as I lazily watched my aunt (my mother’s sister) use her dainty fingers to loosen the last reminder of the village – a double-knotted blue bag of black-gram dal. I felt an emptiness once more sully my previously pleasant thoughts, leaving me with the same longing to return to my rural home that has been plaguing me since I watched my new friends disappear in the distance from the car window taking me to my next destination, Vizag.
“Tell us about your trip,” my uncle inquisitively inquired.
I scooped the small circular pieces of dal into my left hand, feeling a brief respite from the overwhelming heat of South India with the cool smoothness of the dal’s black shells, only to find them escaping through the cracks of my fingers. I tried to ignore the question without appearing indecorous. Instead, I averted my eyes to concentrate on a single piece of the black-gram dal, bringing it close to my nose. The mysterious, shiny husk, almost selfishly, left only a small, unrevealing sliver of the cream-colored treasures that lay under its protective case. In order to unveil its meat, I placed the bean between my teeth to spill its secrets to the room.
“You’ll break your teeth!” exclaimed my aunt.
So there it rested, encapsulated in an impenetrable shell. My head wandered back to the posed question, so I placed my mind between my teeth in a feeble attempt to crack its confined memories.
I closed my eyes. How could I illustrate the last five months out loud? My teeth hurt.
I thought back to the hesitant, morning sun in Ananthaiahgaripalli that was so unlike the audacious rays of light in Vizag, which commanded respect at early hours of the day. I recalled the hardly mellifluous voices wafting through our windows, inviting me to conversation. The unpleasant scent of cow manure slathered along the dusty roads, to keep away the insects but, somehow, not the humans. The familiar winds, greedily captured by the neem and tamarind trees on the roadside , that grazed my hair as I sat in sweaty, crammed auto-rickshaws. The oneness I felt with my backward caste neighboring family as I pushed away the chair I was so used to being offered in order to join two of my students and their parents on the cement floor of their borrowed two-room house. Of sharing laughs and plates after plates of snacks, while learning the proper ceremony of eating a bhaji (deep-fried green chili potato fritters) by accompanying each bite with a piece of raw, red onion. The farewell ceremony held fittingly at the government primary school, where my students unabashedly showcased their novel English and dance skills amongst freshly-painted walls and windows. The puerile argument over whose turn was next on the swing set in the new playground provided by the Sanjeevani Project. The dramatic last night of my transient stay with the wet eyes of over twenty of my closest students refusing to leave my Nanamma’s home, the older girls holding my arms tightly whispering “Don’t leave, Akka… we love you, Akka” in English, the last few lingerers who lamented by the side of the cement walls, all of our tears mingled and smeared by our hugs, touching my grandparents’ aged feet to show my respect as my final farewell, watching my Nanamma’s face fill with confusion as the car sped away, taking me with it. I thought of the parting gift from a student’s family, gathered earlier from their small field, now gaping wide open in the middle of my aunt’s dining room, begging an explanation.
“It was unforgettable,” I simply offered.
My aunt took the small, shiny bean I had earlier attempted to crack with my teeth from my hand and placed it back in the cover. Then, she re-knotted the blue bag of black-gram dal.
Hope you all have a wonderful week!
I am writing to you from Ananthaiahgaripalli, where I have been living for the past three months. Unfortunately, my visa will only allow me to stay another three months, so I will be leaving in March.
The trip has been fascinating and quite the learning experience thus far. One extremely important undertaking we are currently working on is the renovation of the elementary government school. Some might wonder why this is necessary if we plan to run an entirely separate school. Our organization believes in education for all, not just for some. Whether the children here are poor or relatively well-off, each one deserves a fair chance at a proper education. The students who receive the best education here are, of course, the children who attend the private schools in towns/cities. The students who receive little to no education (our main focus) are those who attend the government schools. While we may be planning a separate infrastructure altogether, it is vital not to neglect those who will continue at this government school. Another important reason to renovate the government school is to increase trust in the villagers. Thus far, I have been more of an observer, engaging in various conversations with individuals and teaching the local children English and Dance. The village meetings have been eye-opening for me, and have made me understand the importance of empowering the individuals in the village. Here is an excerpt from my blog about the first village meeting that was held:
I knew the meeting wasn’t going as well as I had hoped, especially when at one point, a man told me – “You have been here for over a month. You fix what you think should be fixed and we’ll all be happy.” To that, I responded with a bit of frustration-
“You have a national, state, mandal, AND village government who is supposedly helping your situation, yet I have spoken to so many of you individually and have learned of many of the issues you face in the village, and I know that you do not believe the government is doing much to help improve your situation. If you acknowledge this fact, you must realize that the first person who needs to be helping this village is YOU. If YOU don’t take action and open up to each other about your collective problems, then you will never come up with solutions.”
Immediately afterward, I thought – I’ve lost them - since I spoke out a bit harshly, and with lack of patience. It truly was a sort of a tipping point for me- after a month and a half of watching certain people being mistreated, and after my visit to the Mandal office where I gathered information alluding to corruption and a general lack of personal responsibility – I couldn’t understand why people were acting so helpless. Of course, outside of that moment, I knew better than to wonder why they thought there was no point in this discussion – rewind back to my first post, where I wrote about personal agency, and it is simple to understand why there was no desire to discuss these matters in front of those who weren’t family.
…and then someone spoke. The father of one of my students rattled off a list of issues he faced with the government school here – about its lack of proper teaching and facilities – and immediately, I forgot my frustration. His announcement motivated others to speak up, and soon we had a long laundry list of collective issues in the village, some of which I had already witnessed.
Since then, we have experienced small successes in empowering the community. For example, while discussing the issue of teacher absenteeism, one villager's suggestion in a recent meeting was to round up all the parents so we could collectively speak to the teachers about the issue.
It is our opinion that the quickest method to build trust and personal agency in the community is by showing, not just telling, them their words matter. The parents of the government school have been complaining since the first village meeting about the school's poor infrastructure, so we decided to work with the community to immediately begin solving the issue. After identifying exactly what the infrastructural issues were (broken toilet, no safe grounds on which to play, no lights or fan, no desks, etc) , we discussed who could contribute their services to improve the government school. The manpower currently consists only of the local community, and the equipment needed (tractors, etc) are generously being provided free of charge by the wealthier members of the community.
The repairs are scheduled to be completed in one month, after which I will update you all with pictures!
Thank you all again for your continued support to the Sanjeevani Project. On behalf of our organization, I wish you all a prosperous New Year!
This post was written just a week into my trip. To keep up with the blog, please visit http://abhita.tumblr.com !
Of the five full days I’ve come to school thus far, I have yet to witness both teachers remain at school for the entirety of the day. Rather than allow the students without a teacher to run around and fight all day, I have been filling in for the absent teacher. Today, I was in charge of 4th and 5th classes for the full day. When I arrived at school, I was told the students were to do their English lesson for the first portion of the day. Their English lesson normally consists of the students sitting by the teacher’s desk, as the teacher stumbles through a simple English story. The teacher then gives the students the answers to the lesson’s questions, without any explanation, and marks a check in each of their books. The students are then given the rest of the period to do as they please.
I wasn’t sure where to start, since I knew the older students were familiar with the alphabet. By the time I quickly formulated a lesson plan in my mind, the other teacher decided to send her 3rd class students for the English lesson. I didn’t mind, as my lesson plan did include a bit of basics. While the 5th class students are able to read simple words in English, they have nearly no knowledge of how to speak (which is the important component of English proficiency for job prospects). So, I began the lesson by writing out the alphabet and asking the students to yell out the sound of the letter. Once that was over, I taught the students how to exchange a few sentences:
“How are you?”
“I am doing well, and you?” or “I am ok, and you?” or “I am not doing well , and you?” (depending on their mood – of course the wisecracks yelled that they were not doing well!), etc.
Once I felt the students had a clear grasp of the sentences and their meanings, I had them break off into pairs and practice. Eventually, I had a few of the pairs come up to the front of the class and perform.
I was pleased with their progress, and had a bit of time, so I thought I would teach them a few emotions – happy, sad, angry, sleepy, confused, and tired.
Rather than a dry lesson, where I had them pronounce the word, then write the Telugu translation out in their books, I decided we would play a game. I explained the various emotions to the students almost entirely through facial expression, which I had them act out on their faces. Once they understood the words, I began to yell out different words until they were so rapidly changing their faces that we all eventually burst into laughter. My personal favorite was angry, as I could just imagine these extremely cute children making such faces at their parents when asked to drink their milk every morning!
After the lesson, the 3rd class students returned back to their classroom, and I had 30 minutes to spare. Curious to learn more about these children, I asked about their parents’ professions. Most students’ parents were in Kuwait. I will save the Kuwait conversation for another post, but briefly, many adults travel to the Middle East to work as servants/nannies for years at a time. The salary they receive in Kuwait is far more than they would receive if they remained in the village and tended to their (apparently unsuccessful) crops. Unfortunately, many of them never see their own children grow up. The conversation eventually turned to me, and my lifestyle, in which the students, who were now crowded around my seat, were quite interested. Questions began pouring out of their mouths such as, how did I arrive in the village? How close is America to Madras (Chennai)? How many people live in America? Is America really next to Kuwait?
As I began to answer each question, I quickly learned how little these kids were told about the world. First, I explained America was not next to Kuwait, and in fact was quite far.
“Have you never seen a world map?”, I asked.
They answered that there was once a world map at the school, but someone took it home, so no, they had never seen what the world looks like. I was astonished, and scrambled to draw a world map on my paper. Obviously, my mind was buzzing with facts they might not yet know. I wondered if they knew the world was round, but as I had drawn it on a piece of paper, they said, “Of course it’s flat”.
Thus, we began a long conversation about the world and its various countries. Once they grasped just how far India was from the US, they wondered if it were possible to travel there by car (by the way, most of the students at the school have never sat in a car before). I then realized I needed to explain between the continents were gargantuan bodies of water, which they all regarded with awe. Many, many, many questions later, we arrived at the most surprising of them all –
“So the world has more than 1000 people???”, one student inquired.
I wasn’t sure who was more flabbergasted, the students, once I gave them an answer, or me! I told them about China and India as the two most populated nations, and how India would soon surpass China in its population.
I don’t think we realize just how fortunate we all are to be afforded this knowledge throughout our lives. Imagine the belief that only one thousand people existed in the entire world. Somehow, it reminds me of a beautiful publication and the 2005 Kenyon College Commencement Speech: “This is Water” by the late David Foster Wallace. I will leave you with the link, which I highly recommend you take a minute to read:
I am excited to report that we are still maintaining a great donor base, both in the US and in the UK. To those of you who have pledged your financial support: if we have met, I am more grateful than you know. If we have not met, I truly wish I could express my gratitude in person. Hopefully, I will be able to meet some of you in the future!
This October, I will be leaving the US and traveling to India for the next few months to work on the Sanjeevani Project in Ananthaiahgaripalli. The decision was solidified at a conference I had the pleasure of attending, well before I booked my one-way ticket. The Global Engagement Summit (GES) is a wonderful event hosted during the spring in Evanston, IL - it gathers individuals from so many different areas of the world, all connected by a motivation toward social change. GES not only helped me achieve greater open-mindedness with our project, but also introduced me to a network of incredibly accomplished individuals, with whom I still keep in touch. I don't know whether it was the infectious, and nearly tangible, desire for change that pulsated through the conference, or whether it was the inspiring mentors and mock TED talks that weekend, but I knew I would be spending my upcoming year in India once the conference was over. I highly recommend applying to be a part of the GES 2012 family, if you are interested in empowering yourself and others. You can visit the site at http://theges.org/ .
During my stay in the village, I will be searching for a sustainable path for our project. I also have the wonderful opportunity to teach English in the village, so I will be hosting classes for the children. In preparation for this course, I reached out to my grade school in New Orleans, LA - Isidore Newman. It took less than a few days for the Lower School administration to graciously agree to collect various supplies for me to transport to the village. The supply drive has been incredibly successful! I have attached a photo of just a few supplies we have received from kind individuals, and the Newman School Lower School Art Department.
The next time I report to you will be in India! If you would like to follow my personal journey during the trip, please visit http://abhita.tumblr.com .
Thanks for reading!
We are excited to report that one of our members, Abhita Reddy, will be spending the year (after this summer) in Ananthaiahgaripalli! She will be working solely on the project, and will use the Sanjeevani Project blog to give anyone interested updates on the project. More information will be sent out at a later date.
In preparation for the upcoming trip, the entire Sanjeevani Project board has been fundraising solely for Abhita's travels. If you are interested in helping us fund raise for her travel expenses, please contact us at email@example.com, or make your donation on behalf of Abhita.
Our board has also been diligently working to ensure that when Abhita reaches the village, she will the most comprehensive understanding of her surroundings as possible. Each part of the board has been split into a different category to extensively research and provide statistics, case studies to analyze current and/or previous aid efforts around the rural Andhra Pradesh area. Furthermore, these research projects are attempting to obtain a holistic understanding of the sociocultural intricacies of the society. These categories include youth in rural Andhra, economy, disease, political atmosphere, healthcare, aid environments, and women's health.
If you are interested in helping us prepare Abhita make the most of her trip through your own research efforts, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org . If you have any further questions about our current endeavors, please email email@example.com .
We are also proud to announce our improved website! Please check out http://sanjeevaniproject.org at your convenience.
Have a wonderful weekend!
The Sanjeevani Project
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