Monday, June 30, 2008

Catching Up

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the hiatus-- we've been incredibly busy/out of town for the past 5 days and are only now beginning to wind down.

On Thursday (which was also Michael's 16th birthday) we packed up and took a 6 hour bus ride to Satara, a part of rural Maharashtra. We spent 3 days there, learning about the Mann Deshi microcredit bank. The bank was run "by women, for women", and was a cutting edge example of the enormous impact that microcredit programs have on rural communities. In addition to meeting and speaking with Chetna Sinha, the founder of the bank, we visited the homes of several women in the community who were clients of the bank. One woman, Veneeta, had actually won an award from the Prime Minister of India, distinguishing her as one of many women who had benefitted from micro-finance institutions like Mann Deshi.

It was really nice to get out of the city for a few days to breathe some fresh air and see a different side of India. About 70% of India's population lives in rural areas like Satara, so we were actually seeing the lifestyle of the majority of the population. The bank funded each and every need of its clients, ranging from vaccination of goats to paper cup making, with the ultimate goal being women's empowerment and rise out of poverty. The women we met were incredibly self-assured and motivated to succeed in their endeavors, and we were inspired by their determination.

We also visited a fort built in the 17th century, and several ancient temples in the area. We even saw the filming of a Bollywood movie at one of the temples!

On Sunday we relaxed a bit back in Mumbai, went to see the Gateway of India and the world famous Taj hotel, and did some pretty intense shopping in the area. All of us are getting pretty good at bargaining, thanks to the instruction and example of Taranjeet and the Udayachal students, and all of us were able to score some pretty good buys.

Mr. and Mrs. Chase are also in town, visiting our program and attending a series of Andover-related events. They arrived on Sunday, and all of us were eager to see them. It's really nice to have a taste of home right here in Mumbai, and we were all excited to show them the work we've been doing and share our experiences with them.

Today we returned to STCI with Mr. and Mrs. Chase and showed them some of the work we'd been doing with the kids during our first week here. We were all so excited to be back at the school again, and we had a great time catching up with the kids (and enjoying the superior cafeteria cuisine of the wonderful STCI cooks). Mr. and Mrs. Chase went into the community with a few PA and Udayachal students, and visited the home of a STCI student, just as we had done earlier in the program.

Finally, we capped off today with a wonderful dinner hosted by the Godrej family, who are major sponsors of the Niswarth program. The dinner was attended by Andover alumni/ae, parents, current students, and various partners of the Niswarth program. We were able to meet successful executives such as Farzana Haque, Business Head for Retail and Consumer Products Group at Tata Consultancy Services, a billion-dollar industry. Her story was especially inspiring. Although she was extremely successful in the corporate world, her passion was development work, and she has continued to pursue this passion throughout her career. The event was a great way to recap our experiences on the trip and share them with others.

Tomorrow we're having the inaugural Niswarth conference, which we're all very excited about. We'll post again when we're done!

The A-Team
(Aditya M., PA '10 and Anabel, PA '09)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NIswarth in the News: India New England

"Andover students to take field trip to Mumbai"

Check it out!


Buckets of Love

The driven, focused woman sitting across from me on the floor, in her bubblegum-and-lime-colored floral tunic, told us to put our yellow hats on. Silence. Suddenly jerked out of my polite, jaded attention, my mind flew to images of bright hard hats and my stomach dropped with the uncertainty of activities that could require said hard hats. Someone scraped up the courage to ask what she meant, bravely going against the Andover grain of looking in-the-know. A trained teacher, she tried to get us to answer our own questions.

"Does anyone know about yellow hats?"

Yeah, not so much.

"There are different kinds of hats, white hats, blue hats, yellow hats. Yellow hats are for positivity."

She beamed and offered to send us a write-up she had read using colored hats . Okay, a visualisation exercise. I feel that. A flutter of weird, yellow hats zipped through my imagination before I selected mine. A sunny leather cowboy hat. I would have to be in some good mood to wear a hat like that.

Her name was Mansi, and she was our friendly and fun Akanksha liaison for the past three days. She cheerfully explained that we would need our new imaginary hats to stay positive in the face of changed plans and expectations. It was a worrying statement, but I stayed hopeful.

Our first task was simple: clean the corridors. We fretted about sustainable service and cleaning supplies, standing up in the building's Akanksha centre. A cozy blue and yellow room with barred windows and seemingly mosaic flooring, covered in typical elementary school fare. ABC's, coloring, and sharing. What we wouldn't give...

Some of us dragged ourselves skeptically into the hallway, others were more optimistic. We followed the Hindi and Marathi speakers (the state language) among us and asked residents for buckets and brooms while a few went to a nearby store to pickup some soap.

After a generous and warm response from the families of the complex in Mankhurd which housed people displaced from slum communities, we armed ourselves with umbrellas, raincoats, and pails to collect water down the street. Running water indoors comes for just minutes, with a few days between.

We took advantage of the wet weather by collecting water from the rain gutters of adjacent buildings. Some visited the source down the road that provided drinking water. There was none.

A taste of life in a seven floor building with poor access to water and a non-functional elevator was had by all. The previous day we were told the elevator was shut down after a child lost his life in a fall down the shaft. When it did run, those living in building 21B were charged outside their means whether they used the lift or not. A rock and a hard place.

The cleaning began. Floors slicked with the foamy water, light and dark hands scoured the halls with modern scrub brushes and traditional brooms made from thin branches bound at one end with a strip of leather. Small children came from their homes to help their mothers wash away the grime. On the second floor, those who live there completely took over the effort. People living in a similar building across the way took notice and were observed starting to clean their halls as well.

Now the water was coming from the building's reserve (kept in two big, blue plastic drums) at the residents' request. A small spat broke out between two women, one unwilling to help, the other telling her she should take advantage of the extra help.

Smiles were all over once-apprehensive faces, both ours' and theirs'. We smiled and laughed and talked, together. Two hours later, the fruits of our labor manifested as mushy clumps of refuse on the lower floors, a result of a trickle down system of cleaning from the upper floors.

We returned to our starting point, the blue and yellow room. Sweaty, clothes soaked in rain and soap water. Grinning widely. Surely the high-traffic staircases and corridors would soon be dirty again, but perhaps we started something else. Perhaps we unexpectedly found the sustainable, successful impact for which we were aiming.

The people of 21B worshipped Allah and Ganesha, spoke Hindi and Marathi. Different backgrounds, different lives lead in different slums. They were civil to their neighbors, but yesterday they worked together. Community-building catalysts disguised as one-time volunteer housekeepers? I hope so.

---Dominic DeJesus

June 25

It's our last night for a few days at the Vikhroli colony, tomorrow we're packing up the 24 seater and shipping off to rural Satara! For the next three days, our trip will take a completely different path, looking at a microfinance bank and the amazing results it's produced for those living in poverty in Satara. The night's dinner brought an unexpected early birthday surprise, and a delicious cake was brought out for me at the end of the meal!

Leaving the colony makes me think about the experience here thusfar. I remember the hazy first night, two in the morning carrying all of our luggage. We met all the Udayachal students, and their names all blurred together in my sleepy stupor. My native roommate, Karthik, and I got to a slow start, and with small talk dwindling, I assumed it would be an awkward three weeks. The next morning, I knew I had jumped to conclusions, as we had all begun to warm up to each other. Now, a little more than a week later, I feel like I've known my pals forever. The conversations have moved far beyond the, "Do they eat Reeses Pieces in India?" or "Do you have a Crosswords in America?" to sincere topics. Discussions of american school dances, the emerging popularity of love marriages in India, the difference between Hollywood and Bollywood, and more have taken up hours at night. Topics as serious as politics and terrorism also come up, and it is fascinating to hear the perspectives of those with very different problems. For my birthday present, they all signed a huge card, and presented me with a neatly wrapped box. Inside was a joking mug, but my favorite was the inscription on the bottom in pen: "Don't Forget Us"! No quesiton about it, I definitely will not.

On a different note, today was one of the most inspirational days of my life. We returned to Mankhurd, a relocation community that houses families from the slum areas. Our plan was to simply pass around a petition to increase the amount of water flowing through the pipes (as of now, it's once every three days, for 20 minutes). We all felt quite passionately about this, so it came as a shock when Mansi, our Akansha host, informed us that we would be cleaning all 7 floors. The majority of us seemed bummed, not because we felt we were too good to clean, but because it seemed impossible. While the accommodations are comparatively nicer than the slum areas, the halls are caked in dirt, flies swarm furiously around, and trash was piled haphazardly in corners. We had two hours, it seemed like an impossible job. "We can get help from the community!" she encouraged. "What an idealistic thought!" I assumed, I felt that we were already invading these peoples spaces, now we're going to ask them to do hard labor and tell them what to do! When we set out to ask for supplies, I cringed thinking of their hurt and indignant reactions.

I was wrong, completely wrong! It pains me to recall my attitudes and unfair preconceived notions. Not only did many supply us with brooms for sweeping, detergent for scrubbing, brushes, and buckets, but almost all of them helped! 7 floors of people, all EAGER to help! Out of nowhere, the halls are flooded with people, scrubbing and washing! Even the monsoon rains, which had contributed to my pessimistic attitude that morning, were more useful than we could imagine, supplying us with a steady flow of fresh water from the drain pipes outside the building! Halls were flooded with water, women and children swishing suds into dirty corners, men hustling up stairs with extra supplies and water. As water was used up quickly, I spent most of the time filling up buckets and bringing them up the stairs, a task that I could manage and that I knew would be of great help. All of the residents were joking and laughing, young boys trying to impress me by carrying as many buckets as they could.

After an hour of filling the bukets from the streets and hauling them up the flights, I passed a man standing by the rail on the fourth floor. His boy grabbed my pants leg and starting speaking at me in Hindi. I looked up apoligitically, and prepared to keep walking with my buckets, when he said, "Come!". Startled, I approached the rail and saw him working a pully system. He had tied a bucket to a rope from the ledge and was lowering it to a nearby drainpipe! "Smart!" I pointed to his brain and we both smiled, what an amazing idea! Even the men of the community, who we presumed would stay away from our work were doing all they could! Young children used the newly slippery floors, caked in suds, to their advantage as a makeshift slip-n-slide. As toddlers flew past me on their tummies at speeds previously unknown to man, it hit me how wrong my initial impression was. In addition to passing around the petition, we got the entire community to have fun with this job, and while it may not have been as sustainable as we were pushing for, it surpassed social barriers and led to change in, I think, everyone! This one boy, I called my "detergent sidekick" because he always insisted on spreading the detergent when I doused the floors (sometimes he sprinkled too liberally, I had to teach him the correct pouring amount). He palled around with me for the majority of the 2 hours, and even though I don't think we exchanged more than five words, he was giggling the whole time, begging to help with everything! That was an experience I will never forget.

Mr. Shaw gave a fascinating talk on economics, jampacked with huge words and crucial world topics. I am looking forward to Satara tomorrow, but for now, time to spend the first 9 hours of my birthday partying it up with the crew!

-Michael Scognamiglio

Off to Satara

After ten days in Mumbai, students and faculty will leave tomorrow for a three day excursion to Satara, a town approximately six hours by bus outside of Mumbai. During our stay, we will spend time exploring the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank (MDMSB), a cooperative bank run by and for women in rural Mahastra.  We will also have the chance to meet the founder-president of the bank, Chetna Gala Sinha. An Ashoka fellow, Sinha and her work with the Mann Deshi Bank, is recognized as one of the world's leading micro-finance initiatives.

A BBC News article about the bank can be found here.

As of right now we are uncertain about the status of our internet connection during our brief adventure. We will do our best to keep you all informed.

Peace to all,

Letter from Save the Children India

Dear Mr. Mundra,

I am glad you had a great time visiting the homes of the students of our Special Care Center. We hope the students of Phillips Academy as well as the students of Udayachal High School had a great experience.

Our students of Special Care Center, Save The Children India had a very enriching experience interacting with the students of Phillips Academy and the Udayachal High School. At the end of the workshop it was very interesting to see the four groups perform, whether it was dance, art, computers, or theatre. For the first time I saw them [STCI students] so confident. The way the students connected, it was hard to believe they had only spent 8 hours teaching them. It was a very emotional moment when each student as a part of the group came up to say a few words to thank the students of Phillips Academy and the Udyachal High School. What really touched them was the way the students made them feel a part of them like any other normal child and they knew they had found a new friend. Words are not enough to express the joy and happiness the students felt.

Our Director, Dr. Anand, was amazed at the concern shown by the students of Phillips Academy and the Udayachal High School towards knowing the background of our Special Care Center. We are extremely happy that the greater Phillips Academy Community has dedicated time and effort for community services. I am sure all the students graduating from your
Academy will always be concerned about the less fortunate people around them and would make a difference to make this world a better place to live.

Thank You.

With Warm Regards, Natasha

Natasha Sehgal
Resource Mobilization Officer
Save The Children India

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Settling into a Pattern

June 23, 2008

Today was our second venture into the community here in Mumbai. I felt much more prepared for the experience, having already been exposed to similar environments on Friday during our STCI home visits.

It has not gotten easier for me to see the living conditions in the slums here in India, but I do feel that I have become accustomed to it. On our first day here, Mr. Mundra drew a distinction between observation and judgment. Over the past week here, I think that one of my personal achievements has been developing the ability to look at something without drawing premature conclusions about it. That has definitely served me well as we have ventured into the community, where we are usually greeted with friendliness, but where we also have to be prepared for animosity and wariness on the part of community members who see us as outsiders. It helps to go in without assumptions, as Mr. Mundra said: observing, but not judging.

Our assignment this afternoon, given to us by Akanksha, was to take two hours in the community to complete a kind of scavenger hunt in small groups. Our goals were experiences, not tangible objects-- things like finding the cheapest oranges in the community, faking an ailment and visiting a doctor, using a public toilet, and finding the oldest person in the community. My group was able to complete most of the tasks fairly quickly, so we spent the remainder of our time interacting with community members, even visiting some of their houses.

I never cease to be surprised by the generosity of these people. When we visited the homes of STCI students last Friday, their parents were very welcoming to us, but part of me wondered if they only were so open and inviting because they had already known we were coming. I now know that this is not the case; on many occasions today, I was invited with open arms into a stranger’s house (a stranger who did not expect me), where I was offered food, told stories, and allowed to play with the family’s kids. This kindness always surprises and touches me. That I should be shown such patience and consideration, when it would be easier (and completely justifiable) to greet me with anger or disdain, is a rare and meaningful thing.

On a side note, I think it is getting hard for a lot of us PA kids—many of us are battling sicknesses, allergies, sleep deprivation, and the difficulties of dietary adjustment. On top of it all, we are 8,000 miles away from home and are no longer running off adrenaline. We’ve settled into a pattern here and are slowly but surely beginning to realize how very over our heads much of this experience is. I think it will take a lot of perseverance for us to continue to get as much out of this trip as we possibly can, but I have no doubts that we all have it in us. We’ve proven it again and again already, and I can only believe it will get better. Our willingness to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into yet another challenging and nervewracking experience today was again an example of the drive and strong character of each and every person on this trip that makes me honored to share this experience with them.


Niswarth Conference: Empowering Changemakers in Mumbai

This inaugural Niswarth conference engages students and teachers from Mumbai and America to discuss community service, leadership, and how young people can take initiatives to impact the development of a city. The featured speakers represent leadership from the Indian government, American government, a prominent education NGO, and a graduate student from the United States.  

Their remarks and ensuing discussions will focus on three central questions: 
  1. What are the main challenges Mumbai will confront in the next 20 years? 
  2. What roles do young people in Mumbai and from outside India play in the development of Mumbai? 
  3. How are young people empowered to be Changemakers?

Chief Guest and Keynote Speaker:
Sanjay Ubale, Minister for Urban Development, State of Maharashtra

Michael Newbill, Chief of Economic and Political Affairs, US Consulate in Mumbai
Shaheen Mistri, Founder and CEO of the Akanksha Foundation
Navroze Godrej, Special Projects, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. (PA ’01)
Emily Kumpel, graduate student at Berkley and volunteer for Haath Mein Sehat Project in Mumbai (PA ’02)

Participating schools and organizations include:
• Phillips Academy, Andover, MA USA
• Udayachal School, Vikhroli, Mumbai
• American School of Bombay
• Bombay International School
• Akanksha – Social Leadership Programme
• Save the Children India
• PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action & Research)
• Haath Mein Sehat, Mumbai
• Ashoka Youth Venture

American School of Bombay
July 1, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Reflections on Week One.

I cannot believe we've been here for a whole week! On one hand, it feels like it's been so much longer than a week; on the other, it's been one of the fastest weeks of my life. This incredible group has experienced so much together. From visiting slum communities to teaching deaf children dances, crossing the hectic Mumbai streets to surviving open-air markets, participating in NGO youth leadership programs to finding ourselves on the outskirts of a riot, we have bonded, changed and grown in great strides during these short seven days.
Undeniably, our journey continuously presents struggles none of the students can be fully prepared for. With three new faculty members joining us today, I experienced a rush of emotions I felt (and am still feeling) during my first Mumbai bus ride. The poverty is incredible. Visiting the crammed homes of so many people rips at our hearts and placing a starburst or milky way into the hand of a begging child doesn't make me feel any less guilty for stepping into a beautiful restaurant to fill my "empty" stomach. The heat hasn't been too bad, but 2 1/2 hour drives in the strenuous Mumbai traffic with shrill horns (and trust me, the drivers are not afraid to use them) in a bus with no air can cause tempers to run high. Nonetheless, I think we've all experienced many things that are making this trip so much more than worth while.
While there are certainly huge impacts India is making on us, for me, the most memorable moments thus far have been the tiny things. While working at Save the Children India, an NGO that works with mentally challenged and hearing impaired slum children, four groups of PA and Udayachal were challenged in different areas-computers, art, dance, and theatre-to help the kids put on a presentation for the group. Not only was there a language barrier, but many of the STCI students hardly spoke at all. Despite this and the fact that we only spent about six hours with the children, I feel at ease saying that the bonds we made were like none other we've ever experienced. At one point, Kartik (Udayachal) was trying to teach Swati, a deaf 13 year old girl from STCI how to say "I am a bird," an intro to our theatre performance. Swati was having a great deal of trouble pronouncing, and, by chance, I caught a glimpse of Kartik taking Swati's hand and putting it on his lips so she could feel the way the mouth moves when pronouncing. I can't put my finger on exactly what I was experiencing, but in that second, something inside of me turned over.
Today, Akanksha, another NGO that works with educating students in slum communities, challenged us to go into a community with a sort of scavenger hunt. The list revolved around things that many of these people would do frequently. We needed to fill a water bottle from the local water supply, get a handkerchief made for each person in our group, find the oldest woman in the community and hear about a childhood story, use the public toilet, and fake an ailment so the doctor would give us a prescription. One thing that really struck me was how communal the slums we've visited are. Everyone knows each other and works together. They get their water from the same place and share the same bathrooms. It is very much a small world with food vendors, a doctor, a chemist, tailors, children, a football field, neighbors, and clotheslines hanging from building to building; everyone appears to rely on each other.
It is not only our on-sight work that has caused this group to bond and grow so much, but also the time we spend together. Last night, many of us pushed beds together and lay there "dropping beats" and raps about our India experiences. We can joke about home life and we are finding out so much about each other, despite the fact that few of us were friends before coming across the world. Still, we also get super philosophical. After staying up too late as a group playing Mafia and Spoons, hiding from cockroaches and sharing American and Indian candy, Neha, Anabel, and I (we're roommates) went back to our room and discussed slum life for a good hour and a half. All the students have been brutally honest and open about our feelings. Alana and Mr. Mundra are doing an amazing job getting us to write and share, and one-on-one check-ins allowed each student to get more in touch with their emotions, as well as opening up to ones we didn't want to feel as much. The bonding in Vikhroli is amazing, and this seamless bond is what allows us to make our on-sight work even more effective.
Our service is absolutely incredible. Already, friends and family have questioned why I would want to take three weeks out of my summer to travel half way around the world and do projects that I could seemingly achieve in the greater Boston area. Mr. Mundra has often asked us to question if we're really making a difference in the lives of these people, especially if we only get to spend a few hours out of a few days with them. Well, hands down the answer is yes. The smiles on the faces of children when we work with them is fulfilling beyond measures. Explaining to slum-dwellers that we are not here to take their homes or collect taxes, but merely to learn about their lives and to help, and then having them ask us to describe our lives in the US is equally fulfilling.
I think the most amazing feeling was during the closing ceremony at STCI. The head of the school, Dr. Anand, asked if any of the children would get up and say anything to the volunteers. One brave soul got up and thanked us, and after him, at least 10 more kids got up. They told us how we were their brothers and sisters and teachers, how much fun they had, how they learned, how welcoming we were and how they loved having us; we all had tears in our eyes. Just kidding, there was another really fulfilling moment. While waiting to get up the stairs to the home of one of the STIC children, a completely random family appeared from the shadows of her home and brought over a cup of water to me due to the heat. Water is precious in the slums, and anywhere, and this woman didn't even know me or have any relationship to our group. Still, she was possibly the most hospitable woman I've ever met. We don't always get this incredible hospitality from people in India, but overall, the country has been welcoming and we have been learning nonstop.
Well, we have an early day tomorrow and I need to get rest. Until next time, shanti (peace)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Niswarth in The Eagle Tribune

Thanks to some of our attentive readers back at home, we have learned that Niswarth is in the news! Be sure to take a look at the article.

Best wishes to all,

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Yesterday (Friday the 20th), we visited the Dharavi slums and experienced firsthand the living conditions in the slums of Mumbai. Afterwards, both mentally and physically exhausted, we ventured to a mall in a northern suburb of Mumbai, Muland (5km from Vikroli), only to find the mall shut and a mob forming over the killing of a protester by the private security forces of the leader of the outcast Sikh group, Dera Sacha Sauda. Today, the morning news showed video of violent protests at the Muland railway station and on the streets of the suburb, less than 100 meters from the mall. These two events proved to be very hectic and exhausting for the entire group. However, for many, both events were very new, overwhelming, and interesting.
Visiting the Dharavi slums was an eye-opening experience. The first of two homes that the group visited was in a packed, cramped alley. The houses were so closely linked that the roofs blocked out most of the light. The resident of the home said that she and her family have to move around every fifteen days, since they do not own a home. Two of her four children were hearing impaired, and another had polio. She and her family had left their village to provide a better life for her children. One of her hearing impaired children attends the STCI Special Care Center. The second home that we visited was located off of a main thoroughfare inside the slum. The house had three floors, fans, lights, a television, and a Nintendo game system. Three brothers and their families lived there. The structure was entirely legal, and the family had to pay Rs. 100 (Approximately $2.50) per month as rent. A highlight of this visit was the hospitality shown by the residents. Soon after we arrived, one of the members of the community went to purchase a large bottle of the popular soft drink, Thumbs Up. We were complete outsiders in an extremely poor community, and yet we were still made to feel extremely welcome.
The protests at the Muland Mall gave a true depiction of the role religion plays in India. It showed how religion can change relatively small events into a state or even a nation-wide affair. The news stated that the police in the entire state of Maharashtra were put on high alert, and extra officers were sent to the Sikh communities across the state to prevent more protests and violence.
Today (June 21st), we saw another side of India. We shopped at the brand new, state-of-the-art, Oberoi Shopping Mall. The mall gave us an excellent example of India's recent rapid economic development. Inside the mall were countless stores selling all brands one might find in any mall across the globe, an arcade, a multiplex cinema, and an extensive food court. We were in the mall for over three hours, and the entire group had a lot of fun. One of my peers even said that "this is the nicest mall I've ever visited."
We also visited the popular destination for Mumbaikars and Tourists alike, Juhu Beach. The beach was filled with people enjoying the view and the breeze. However, the entire beach, and the water was littered with trash. We explored the beach for over thirty minutes. For dinner, we enjoyed an excellent meal at the Hotel Sea Princess, within walking distance of the beach.
These past two days have been overwhelming, thought-provoking, and have given me much more perspective on my own life. I have experienced mobs, slums, malls, and beaches, and each event has given me new information on the development of both Mumbai and India as a whole. India is a country of stark contrasts; office buildings housing international corporations and brand new international schools neighbor Asia's second largest slum. However I believe that for in order for India to continue to sustain the relative economic prosperity and development of the past decade, something must be done to diminish the discrepancies that currently exist within India. Although India has come a long way since its independence sixty-one years ago, there is still much more work to be done. As the trip progresses, I hope to find out what tactics are being implemented currently and what else can be done to decrease these discrepancies.

-Aditya (Phillips Academy '10)


I simply cannot believe that we are already nearing the end of our first week in Mumbai. During reflection a couple of days ago, Alana Rush, one of the faculty advisors for the trip, challenged all of the Niswarth participants to sum up their experience thus far into one word. Amongst myriad other words, "changed" best defined my experience so far. Everything I see, taste, experience infinitely exceeds my expectations, both positively and negatively, and my emotions are exploding from a place so deep in my heart--they're extreme and strong and can't be harnessed.
I would have to say that the most pivotal moment for me thus far was our visit to one of the Pratham shelters in Mumbai. After slithering our way through a crammed market, the group made it to the steps of an old mosque. After climbing five stories, gaining entrance into a hidden, more beautiful and rich India at every level, we reached the doors to Pratham. Pratham is an non-government orginazation that plucks young boys out of factories where they worked as child laborers, normally in tedious fields such as embroidering, and works to ensure them an education and future. After a brief presentation on the history and mission of the organization, we were lead into a giant, grey room where 48 boys with curious eyes and brightly colored t-shirts sat quietly in perfect rows. The director asked one of the boys with an especially wonderful voice to sing for us and he made his way to the front of the room. As he wrapped his velvet voice around a beautiful hindi melody and the music blossomed throughout the room, I couldn't help but think where this boy of maybe ten or twelve years had been. As I had been informed earlier, it was likely that his parents basically sold him to a factory owner, under whom he would work so tirelessly and under such atrocious conditions that he would use his thirty-minute lunch break to rest. Or maybe things were so terrible at home, maybe he was so neglected, that he voluntarily left his home, surrendering everything to an owner who would trade him like a baseball card. I wasn't sure which saddened me more, the thought of the horrors this child had endured or our utter inability to fathom, despite our sincerest attempts, the flames through which he had walked.
Three other boys joined him for the next song which they crooned so passionately I saw the veins bulging out of their necks. As it was another Hindi song, I didn't understand the meaning of it until one of our Indian roommates from the Udayachal school in Vikhroli informed me later. "You would have really been crying," Aditya remarked,"if you had known what they were singing about." He then told me that the song was about a child begging his mother not to sell him, reminding her that he is worth more than 2000 rupees (approximately five US dollars), pleading to remain in the arms of his mother and no where else. It was haunting realizing that this song was the war cry of these children, that most of them had been nothing but a price.
Just when I begin to believe that hope was just a four-letter word in this country, one of the boys popped up like a jack-in-the-box from his spot in line and introduced himself. In broken English, he announced his name, his grade, and, with a huge smile, proclaimed, "And.. and I want to be doctor." 47 boys eagerly followed, jumping up and declaring their dreams for the future, from becoming a computer engineer to a pilot to a social worker. I had never been so moved. I couldn't believe any of it--that boys with their background could have enough hope to build a future upon, that an organization could make their dreams tangible, that we were there watching all of it unfold.
It has been experiences like my visit to Pratham, all of which have been equally impacting and amazing, that I can say that I have been changed. I have travelled almost 24 hours to get here. I have eaten more Indian food than I ever anticipated (trust me, I'm not complaining). I have seen cockroaches bigger than I thought existed. I have taken freezing showers every morning and brushed my teeth using bottled water. I have worked with disabled children from the slums of India so incredible they brought tears to my eyes. I have had a conversation with a girl who, with the help of Save the Children India, is no longer a child prostitute but an artist or jewelry maker. I have learned, amongst many other phrases which drift from my memory just seconds after learning them, how to say "goodnight" and "my name is" in Hindi. I have made 6 friends from a high school half-way around the world and become even better friends with those who originally embarked on this journey with me. I have felt the warm salty water of the Arabian sea between my toes. I have been indefinitely changed and there's just no other way to say it.
To my friends and family, I can't wait to tell you all of my adventures in Mumbai. I am sorry I cannot be at the birthday party tonight, don't let my dad spend all my birthday money! If you don't get my wishes in time, Happy Birthday, Jenni, and Staci, I'm so sorry I couldn't get a card to you in time. I hope you had the most wonderful 20th birthday and we will surely celebrate once I get home. I love you and all I promise to keep you updated!


Friday, June 20, 2008

36 Hours in Mumbai: the Niswarth version

Since I am an avid reader of the New York Times (and I know there are a good number of readers out there who may feel the same way), I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the Times' recent article in the Travel section, 36 Hours in Mumbai. The lead, "it's the Jazz Age again in Mumbai," paints a picture of this city that can only be understood by New York Times readers in their comfortable Manhattan apartments. For those who decide to venture out of the luxurious bubble this article creates, a trip to Mumbai can be an eye opener, to say the least.

Juxtaposition abounds in a city that is challenged in many ways. Exquisite high rises and malls dot the skyline as slums cluster around their perimeters. Americans live like kings, eating extravagant meals at the price of a meal from Subway. But outside of these oasises lies a completely different world- of hunger, strife, and hope. For those foreign to a developing land, both the comforts of home and adventures of an unfamiliar culture will be a memorable experience.

As Americans traveling to a foreign nation- essentially tourists, as much as I hate that word, we are constantly trying to find a happy medium between both our tourist tendencies and our service learning. While the New York Times article highlights some of the wonderful tourist options in Mumbai, we all know that you can not always read a book by its cover.

In the past few days, I feel that we have made an admirable attempt to read our book, yet also admire its cover. At some point, however, I have come to question whether or not we can really do both. Can we, as American tourists, completely remove the book jacket? Should we doing this? My perspective is as follows- sometimes I will pick a book by its cover, sometimes I will read a book and frequently refer to the cover, and other times I will simply throw away the cover. Right now, however, the cover still exists on my book.


Visiting Dharavi

Being residents of Mumbai, the visit to the Dharavi slums (Asia’s largest slum) was an eye-opener for us . We had just heard about the low standard of living of the slum dwellers but this was the first time we really saw it with our own eyes. This is the very moment when we realized the intensity of the problem. The sanitary conditions were really bad and the surroundings were really unclean. Some of the residents were living in those houses for as long as 50 years. They had to encounter a number of hardships and had a tough fight for survival. They all had really meager incomes.

Though they were very poor, their nature was quite warm and hospitable and they felt free to share their problems. The basic challenges that they faced daily were that the electricity supply was not regular, it was really hot, & the water supply was not regular. There was a garbage dump close to the house we visited and so the place kept stinking. The area was very crowded with houses leaving a really narrow path to walk. The circulation of air in the houses was not good and may be that was the reason I observed an exhaust fan in every house. The houses were basically a small room on op of which another room was illegally made. The stairs to the room on top were steep and narrow.

We all were really eager to know the comments that the onlookers were passing. It was really depressing to see the poverty in which our STCI friends were living in. This was when we started realizing how much we have & we began to appreciate the pleasures of life. This visit had a huge role in changing our outlook towards life.

- Kartik and Neha (Udayachal)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thank You Letter From Pratham

Dear Raj

On behalf of all the children and the staff members at the shelter I want to thank you for the donation, that your organisation has made to support the activities being run at the shelter.

With your support we will be able to arrange many more educational and recreational outings for the children, and give them a fun-filled childhood they deserve. The children are really excited and are looking forward to this.

It was also touching to see all the young students, eager to give their time to reach out and interact with the children. I do hope that the experience was as meaningful for them as it was for our children

We are sure that with the support of committed people and organisations such as yours we will be able to achieve our mission of "No Child Working, Every Child in School and Learning Well"

Warm Regards

Christine Charles

June 19, 2008

It is hard to believe that we have only been here for for four days. The amount we have learned, seen, and absorbed is more than surreal. Today was a day of reflection and pondering of our first impressions and experiences here in Mumbai.
Rising "early" for a change, and leaving for STCI from the colony at 9 AM, we arrived with an hour or so before our scheduled time with the children. We used this time for individual check-ins, written response, and reading "What Sort of Mother Are You?"- a moving and inspiring article on one mother's dedicated and driven work towards improving the lives of disabled individuals. Mr. Mundra asked us to consider several difficult questions: What are we really doing? Are we making a difference? Is our experience worth the time and money spent to come here? Can you see tangible results of our presence here? We had to look inside ourselves and ask- What can we do? What are our strengths and weaknesses? He went on to describe how the NISWARTH program has a unique approach, which should be focused on more than a harried search for a sweeping outcome. We were reminded that we are working with types of organizations and types of children whom we would not interact with any other way. We have met disabled children, child laborers, and girls as young as ten years old who were ruthlessly trafficked. Our reactions to these meetings and the manner in which we conduct ourselves and combat these issues is what is most important. To be able to overcome this obstacle is a different task than what we face academically in school.
All of the teachers expressed how proud they were that we were throwing ourselves in, simultaneously meshing and collaborating with each other in our mutual quest here in Mumbai. The more one puts into his endeavor, the more one gets out of it. "Bombay is a city where the issues are always in your face," as Mr. Mundra succinctly stated. While attempting to piece together my thoughts and emotions of the last few days, I kept coming to a realization that life truly is short. Each time I see a beggar tapping on the car window, or a child sleeping in the dirt path, I remember that there are so many things we want to do, and there are so many people we want to help- but it is impossible to do everything. While this was depressing in some factors, I was reminded that we must do our best with the time that is given to us, but not compromise our own happiness. I found that what I have love most about this trip so far is not so much experiencing the political, cultural, or logistical aspects of India- but simply the moments we have been able to spend with the children. Seeing them smile, seeing them laugh, being in constant awe of their continued success at any challenge we present to them- is truly priceless. I hope to be a doctor, a profession I believe provides the most direct connection with humans. I believe I benefit most from this connection, this bond that is formed on both ends of the spectrum. In my own eyes, we have all accomplished what I set out here to do. We have all brightened at least one child's day. We are in the process of gaining a thorough understanding of the reality. We are getting the exposure, we are opening the door to an otherwise unimaginable world. I am only looking forward to our time to come.
At about 11:30, we assembled into our four project groups (Art, Theater, Dance, and Computers) to make our final preparations for our exhibitions. Although my Art group had finished the main component of our product (which was a large paper consisting of the child's two handprints, their name in Hindi and English, and any decoration they so chose), Neha, Mr. Mundra, and I decided to add to their portfolios. Mr. Mundra donated a plethora of supplies to the Art Program at STCI, and we gave them a special black-scratch paper to create rainbow designs. Two of the girls, Sana and Rukhsana, produced flower designs that could rival any of my classroom sketches. We also used this time to assist the children in their actual presentation of their work, slowly working them through "My name is _____" and "Mera nam _____ hain." I have noticed a dramatic change in the confidence of all the children over the past few days.
After a lunch reminiscent of my own traditional home-cooked meals (palak paneer, toor daal, aloo, and roti), many of us arrived early at the Conference Room before the exhibition to spend extra time with the children. Photos were snapped left and right, and I was engaged in an unyielding game of chase with a boy who had just turned five. I honestly do not even think about the childrens' situations when I am with them. I play and talk and feel as if they are my own family. I have laughed more during this trip than I believe I have during the entirety of the last school year.
The final exhibition truly baffled the board members of STCI. The dance group performed two classical Hindi songs with grace and enthusiasm, and was asked for a repeat performance. The theater troupe put on a short but clever skit that utilized a scenario of a bear and animal, ending with one child's concluding lesson that one should always keep good company. The computer group displayed a completely child-produced power point presentation consisting of pictures they took themselves, as well as created manually using WordTools. Many children also came up in front of everyone to give their thanks at the end of the event, a first step for almost all of them- according to the board. We were informed, to our utmost joy, that we truly have made a positive difference. The feeling that overcame me is inexplicable. It was simply proof that we must be doing something right here. We are on the right path.
After the presentation, we had a few hours to pass until the dinner scheduled with Police Chief Kamble. I truly observed the bonding of our own NISWARTH group during these short moments. I have noticed that we are no longer segregated in Udayachal and Andover clusters, but are interspersed, sharing our cultures, language, and memories. The notebooks of my American classmates are dotted with newly-learned Hindi vocabulary, and more than one Udayachal ear harbors the white earpiece of an IPod at all times. Just last night, nearly all of us stayed up past midnight- despite the long day, we were not exhausted enough to play infinite rounds of "Spoons," presumably creating enough of a racket as to prevent any poor resident from sleeping at all. I am honestly baffled by the closeness I feel to everyone in our group, which at first seemed random and divided. I know it can only get better.
All of us, including the boys, got Mehndhi (Henna) done on our hands by a few of the STCI students. Hopefully, visual proof will be up on the internet soon so that all can see how professional these girls are capable of being. I have not seen such elaborate and skilled work done at some of the largest Indian weddings. This just goes to show how we have been surprised by our underestimation over the course of the trip. Instead of passing all the time at the STCI center, we voted on spending an hour shopping at a string of local clothing and item shops. With the help of Udayachal teacher Taranjeet, many a bargain was made.
On the bus rides, I have found myself staring out the window to see the streets of Mumbai, while may always seem the same- soiled and crowded- there are many small instances that I have noticed. In the dusk, I was drawn to the light of a small wood fire which a child and his father were huddled over, roasting a dead chicken. Another father was propped up against the side of his slum with his child in his lap, reading to him from a tattered book. In the heat of the day, while humming the Bollywood tunes of the radio under my breath, I tend to see harsher realities. Yet another one-limbed man migrates from vehicle to vehicle, another insect-ridden infant is bathing in the puddles of poverty. Why has God created suffering? Why has he created poverty? Why has he allowed hunger?
I could write endlessly about the rest of the day, and the rest of my own thoughts. Yet time is always a constraint. Until next time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day Three: A Personal Reflection

With extremities in the van, the distance between Tessa and the woman was unnerving. With her gaunt eyes, ratty hair, and dirty clothes, her persistent begging made the surrounding students squirm in their seats. After a wrong turn or two, we arrived at Save the Children India for our second day working with students. Having met with a few girls from Save Our Sisters, I was incredibly moved and intrigued by their pasts and current lives. By chance, Aditya (from Andover), Piyush, Mr. Mundra, and I were able to go visit the girls for a second time.

A stern woman in uniform greeted us at the top of the staircase leading up to the floor, which had been devoted specifically to SOS. After she opened an incredibly ominous gate, we passed by a few barred windows, removed our shoes, and were greeted by an enthusiastic group of girls who were interested in continuing our conversations from the previous day.

Amidst the colorful walls and bright saris, I connected with the girls through Piyush, who was an excellent translator. When we began, only one girl answered his questions. While some of the girls whispered questions to her, spoke amongst themselves, or simply sat to enjoy the experience, the group became more and more relaxed as the girls became more comfortable with our presence.

In our hour-long meeting, we shared photos, songs and candy. As a side note, Aditya, Mr. Mundra and I were asked to sing an American song. To be quite blunt, I do not sing. Despite having a long relationship with music, my vocal chords have never benefited from those years of lessons. Thus, upon their request to sing an American song, I simply did not know what to do.

“This is a once in a life time opportunity,” Mr. Mundra said (of course there was no pressure here). So, after a good few minutes of mumbling, reddening cheeks, and changes in keys, with the help of Mr. Mundra and Aditya’s humming, we finised the American national anthem.

This post has come to be more of a summary rather than my opinions on the event simply because I find it incredibly difficult to put into words what I have been seeing. To talk with these girls, see their reactions to our questions, and hear their lives, one would not see that they are survivors of years of trafficking, egregious sex crimes, and for me, incomprehensible lives.

For the readers, here is what I am trying to comprehend-
• How a girl who is more or less my age can have a four-year old child.
• How she can only see that child once every two weeks.
• How these girls have no freedom- they are in the possession of the government are refined to the government sites. Any desires to leave this compound (to see a movie, buys clothes etc.) must be down under strict supervision.
• How distressed one girl became when we talked about our age, birthdays, birthday parties and astrological signs- she did not know any of that information.
• Although all the girls looked quite different, due to the fact that they are not only from various rural villages from all over India, but also the surrounding countries, one girl looked part Caucasian. She completely understood English.
• How one girl, who was incredibly confident, said she would have liked to become a phone caller. She will not be able to because of her current situation.
• How the girls described that they really wanted to be able to travel. The listed London, Germany, Italy and America as their top destinations. All of those locations are prominently featured in Bollywood films, they described.
• What they do when they are in their government compound- talk about their pasts, as one girl said.
• How much I connect with these girls, how similar I feel to them, yet how incredibly different our lives have been.
• How privileged I am.

After finishing off our day at one of the nicest restaurants in Mumbai, (which, per person, came to cost less than our sandwiches in Logan airport) we walked a few blocks to a ritzy, chic gelato place, much like ones we would see in any major city in the U.S. Yet, being Mumbai, surrounding the small entry way were children begging for food, money, anything. As the first overweight Indian teenager I have seen left the gelato place, a malnourished child approached our group, tugging on our sleeves, pointing to his mouth. Whether or not it was the fact that I am lactose intolerant, was bloated, or had just seen a child dying from hunger, for some reasons, which I still cannot identify, I never ordered a dessert.

I encourage all readers to learn more about the SOS program via the STCI website (which you can find on the side bar under links). Questions and comments are, of course, welcome.

Best wishes to all,
Celia Lewis
After spending a night chit chatting with anabel,lily,neha ...we were all still awake with exxxtra energy !!!we were all really excited as it was our first day out working.At breakfast we(udayachal students) gave a short talk about hinduism and were really surprised to see curious eyes(P.A students) watching us & listening with all interest to the mythological stories.
We then visited the organisation SAVE THE CHILDREN INDIA(STCI)...we were all welcomed by the students & the principal in the traditional Indian way & were really pleased by the beautiful flowers they offered us...!!!We then had a presentation about the various activities undertaken by the STCI.I was really shocked & surprised to hear about the different problems coming up in India.Projects like the SOS(SAVE OUR SISTERS),SAHAS-KENDRA,NALINI,YASMIN,ADOLESCENT GIRLS PROGRAM gave us all an actual idea about what the organisation actually does to help the trafficked people.Another thing that really amazed me was that the children there were so well-mannered,intelligent,bright..& curious to learn more.We were also divided into 4 different groups viz.ART,DANCE,THEATRE,COMPUTERS.I chose the dance group & was really happy bcoz the amazing talents of the children really made it easier for us to teach them mmmm....ya we did have tough times coz they were like really restless after lunch.It was a truly different experience for me there..i just didn't feel like leaving the place.The joy i could see in the children there really brought tears of joy into my eyes.
We then visited the SIDDHIVINYAK TEMPLE & HAJJI ALI MOSQUE.We had to travel through the bustling traffic of Mumbai.All i could see was people biting hot & spicy VADA PAVS(a type of junk food in Mumbai)& sipping hot tea.I could also hear the constant honking of the vehicles & the amazed & perplexed eyes of some of the PA students.
The temple was really crowded (i was used to it ).But the mosque was like really beautiful..i mean the pathway through the ocean was a feast to the eyes...the blue waves crashing against the rocks was so beautiful..!!!
We then had a lavish,delicious dinner..& were like all tired after a long tiring day of travelling,roaming..!!I was really happy coz i had observed so many wonderful things which went unnoticed staying all these 14 years in Mumbai!!!
.......................Aishwarya Nair.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Today was busy and the first day we've really had an opportunity to be involved in our projects and see the city of Mumbai. Just to give you a quick overview of what we did, we visited the first NGO site we're working with (Save the Children India), went to pray at both the Siddhi Vinayaka temple and the Haji Ali mosque, went out to dinner, and then came back to the guest house at the Godrej complex, where I'm writing this now.

I think it's testament to the kind of learning we're doing here that our first activity of the morning was a group discussion of religion at breakfast. We have Muslim, Hindi, Jewish and Christian kids on the trip, so that variety made for a lively discussion and I know that I at least learned a great deal about all of the religions. I continue to be surprised and excited about how much the American and Indian students have to offer each other, and moreover, how willing both parties are to share their cultures truthfully.

Our visit to Save the Children India, which was our next activity of the day, will always stand out in my memory as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Despite arriving almost a half hour earlier than expected, when we entered the school we were greeted by a long line of boys and girls dressed in green pants or dresses and green checked shirts. We all made our way down the line, and were given a red tika on our foreheads, as well as a rose. We then proceeded to an orientation with the director of the school, Dr. Anand (who, interestingly enough, has an extensive knowledge of Pink Floyd's greatest hits), and several of her leading administrators. STCI was begun over 25 years ago, and serves children from nearby slums with mental disabilities and hearing problems. The other piece of the organization to which we were introduced was Save Our Sisters, a branch of STCI which caters to female survivors of sex trafficking. We got to meet the girls who are currently in their rehabilitation program, and with the translating help of our awesome colleagues from the Udayachal school, we were able to talk with them, and afterwards many of us purchased candles, hand-decorated folders, and fabric flowers that the girls had made. We also ate lunch there in the school cafeteria and spent about a half hour getting acquainted with the younger students with whom we will be working over the next two days. We have split ourselves into four groups, and each group will work with the kids on four different activities during our time at STIC: art, theatre, dance, and computers. I'm working with Tessa, Saloni, and Aishwarya with the dance program, and we had a blast just getting the kids moving and having fun. I was surprised how outgoing our students became even in the short half hour we were with them. At the beginning, they were very shy and just looked at us, expecting something from us that we definitely weren't yet prepared to give. I also faced an additional difficulty in that I do not speak Hindi, and the STCI students do not speak English. They weren't the only ones having to overcome shyness, and initially I struggled to find ways to communicate with them without words. At our earlier orientation, Dr. Anand had told us that we would purposefully not have translators in the room, since she wanted us to "speak from the heart". As I helped lead the kids in stretches and movement games, I realized that a lot was being communicated between us, and no words had yet been spoken.

After that, we headed into Mumbai and visited the temple. It was in downtown Mumbai, and having arrived there we were fortunate enough to have VIP passes so we could bypass the long lines of hundreds of people waiting to pray which stretched down the street. We got into the temple and approached the idol of Ganesha, and the fervor of worship was overwhelming. There was a strong smell of incense, and the lights were bright and seemed even more so due to the vibrant colors of the room. And the people! There were so many packed into the room, and they were herded in and out quickly by attendants trying to ensure that everyone got a chance to view the idol. In exchange for our offerings of flowers and other things, we were given sweets made of nut pastes and cornmeal by the priests, which were delicious.

The mosque was beautiful. It stands at the end of a long walkway which stretches into the Arabian Sea and ends at the structure itself. Built in 1651, it is white and marble and definitely feels its age. The walkway was lined with beggars and street vendors and (to my great surprise) wild goats. The poverty was heartbreaking to me, and I'm a little nervous knowing that this is the first of many days that we will have to confront it. I was also surprised that there were vendors so close to a place of worship. I guess I had assumed that they would be prohibited from selling their stuff so close to the mosque, but that was definitely not the case. Seeing a fully operational mosque was neat, I think especially for us PA kids who spent an entire term learning about Islam in History 100 during freshman year. I also enjoyed it because Islam is a pretty hot-button topic in America right now, and I liked being able to experience it in a place where it is not really the exception to the religious rule, and therefore not surrounded by prejudice. We also took lots of embarrassing tourist photos.

The last thing we did today was eat a tasty dinner at a restaurant in town. I'm growing to love Indian food more and more, and today was no exception (tip: order both naan and roti. We were all exhausted by the time we got to the restaurant, and as the food arrived our collective relaxation and gratitude was palpable.

Now I'm exhausted, and will head off to bed. I'm hoping this is just the first of many eye-opening, fun, and fulfilling days we will have in Mumbai.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Our first day!

Wow! I can’t believe we’re actually here—it’s so surreal! The flight in was great. Around 12:30 we landed in Mumbai. I think the entire landing, Tessa and I had our faces pressed against a window trying to take it all in. We just kept looking at each other with dropped jaws, laughing or staring and saying “Oh my gosh, we’re on the other side of the world. Literally, on the other side of the world!”
When we got out of the airport there were stray dogs and tons of people and rickshaws and busses and cars and craziness. We were all so off, but the bus ride into Vikhroli was unforgettable. We were all crammed into the bus with our luggage, staring out the window and sweating a lot (it’s so hot!). There were people sleeping on top of busses and closed down shops and slums and skyscrapers. We got to Godrej around 2:30 and our roommates were waiting inside!
Everyone met each other, and then unpacked a bit. Then we went to Tessa and Saloni’s room and taught all the Udayachal kids how to play spoons. Zahra, Tessa, Piyush, Dominic, Amu, Neha, Saloni, Aditya (from Udayachal), Celia, Karthik, Anabel, and I played (Aditya from PA and Scogs were asleep). We came across tons of cockroaches and lizards, took loads of photos and videos, gave the Udayachal kids their first Cheez Its—it was a blast! Even though we’ve been here for less than 24 hours, I feel like everyone’s bonded so much. We all get along so well, and all the Udayachal students are incredibly welcoming.
They brought us to their school and we tried Indian “junk food” at the local store, nearly got killed crossing the street, went through orientation, and celebrated Tessa’s 19th birthday. It’s so amazing to be here! So much is different—the sky is infinitely bigger, it makes you feel so small. The trees are different, the clothes are different, and the smells and sounds are different. But we are so similar to the Udayachal students. Some of us were up talking until 6:30 and we have so much in common. It’s already been a blast, and I know these next three weeks will continue to get better!
Shubhretri (goodnight!)

After a long summer vacations of April and May (they were not boring at all) all the six of us were simply thrilled about our Niswarth programme. We came together at 9 p.m. on the evening of 15th of June to welcome our new American friends. Atlast after a Portugal and Switzerland match, finally the group from Andover arrived. All through out we were full of anxiety and anticipation thinking about the days which we were going to pass. One by one all of them stepped out and we got to know each others names, although we couldn’t remember them at the first instance! We were prepared for Tessa’s Birthday too and wished her as soon as she came.!
Later we went to our rooms to keep our bags. Personally, I thought that the P.A. students will e dead tired after a long flight but then they were as much excited as we were. So we were awake for another 2 or 2 and a half hrs playing spoons and clicking photographs. The American students found the roaches and lizards something very new and different because hey had never experienced to live with them before! S for us Udayachalites, it was nothing new, rather we found if quite funny and hilarious and were surprised to see their reactions!!
The very next morning after breakfast, we had a walk to the sunrise hall where we got to know each other’s name through an interesting game called Zap! That was really good fun !! we had a little discussion on our topic of context-Urban Development and then were off for lunch1
Later that afternoon we celebrated Tessa’s Birthday. She cut the cake we presented her gift that she loved and then all of us relished the cake. Soon we took the P.A. students to our school and showed them our campus.. a little snack bite on the way back and then we were in our rooms again.
Niswaarth for me is going to be a very new experience because I am going to be with people with whom I have never been before and also work with new children. Learning through experience is the best way I think a person can learn new things. I am really looking forward for a great time here and will be glad to share my experiences with my family and friends when I go back!!!!
-Aditya Bajaj

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

waiting to take off

Welcome to the Niswarth Blog!

We are only a few days away from leaving Boston and embarking on a quest to learn about India and about ourselves.  

Today it feels like Mumbai here with the temperature reaching 97 (36 celsius).  In the last couple of days, I have received emails from participants and parents about Pepto-Bismol, our reading packet which includes "In Spite of the Gods:  The Rise of Modern India" by Edward Luce, our pre-program survey, how to get a veggie meal on the airplane, and the names of our roommates from the Udayachal School.  We are ready!

Yesterday there was a front page article about India in the New York Times, "Inside Gate, India's Good Life; Outside, the Servant's Slums" by Somini Sengupta.  Working with Akanksha and Save the Children India will give us access to great organizations and inspiring people serving some of the most marginalized children in Mumbai.  We look forward to learning more about Mumbai's development by interviewing professionals in the government, NGO sector and corporate world.

I am looking forward to experiencing India with Aditya, Anabel, Celia, Dominic, Lily, Michael, Tessa and Zahra from PA, and Aditya, Aishwarya, Kartikeyan, Neha, Piyush and Saloni from the Udayachal School.  Accompanying me as facilitators are Alana Rush from PA and Taranjeet Kaur from Udayachal.  In addition, there are an additional four PA faculty who will also be with us for portions of our program - Stephanie Curci (English), Peg Harrigan (Art), Andy Housiaux (Philosophy and Religious Studies), and Christopher Shaw (History and Social Science).  Towards the end of the program, Barbara and David Chase will also visit the program and attend our conference, "Shaping Mumbai's Future:  Leadership through Service" on July 1.  

We welcome your comments and hope you will visit this blog to read and to see regular updates via stories, photographs and videos.