Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thank you

As the Director of the Niswarth program, I am grateful for the tremendous support of people in various organizations who helped to make our three weeks in Mumbai a transforming experience.  

Alana Rush, faculty in the Community Service Office at Phillips Academy, has helped to conceptualize this program and understands how service-learning can empower young people to become involved in their communities and learn more about themselves.  

Many sincere thanks to the parents of all of the students involved.  Thank you for sharing your wonderful sons and daughters with our program.  Each of them has learned to combine goodness, knowledge and action in meaningful ways.  As you have read in their blog entries, each student leaves Mumbai with a deeper resolve to become positive changemakers in society. With your guidance, they will create their own paths with passion and courage.    

At Phillips Academy, this program was launched from the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) and Community Service offices, and this year we partnered with the Global Perspectives Group inviting four PA faculty (Dr. Christopher Shaw - econ and history/social science, Andy Housiaux - philosophy and religious studies, Peg Harrigan - art, and Stephanie Curci - English) to participate in portions of the student program.  

The Head of School's Office helped us to coordinate Barbara and David Chase's schedule so that we could host them in Mumbai for a few days towards the end of our program.  The Dean of Studies and the Global Initiatives offices have been instrumental in helping the Niswarth program consider links to the academic program.  The Communications office have written fantastic press releases and have done a great job to share the central elements of the program with the greater PA community.  The Office of Academic Resources reached out to PA parents and alums to help raise necessary funds for Niswarth and coordinate different presentations in the US and India.  Our Financial Aid office also provided necessary funding for any student on campus to access this incredible opportunity.  The Abbot Academy Association awarded a grant so that Tessa Pompa ('08) could purchase the necessary equipment to make a video documentary and she also received help from the Audio Visual Center.  Finally, the Business Office and Isham Health Center made sure that we covered all bases in terms of safety and health precautions. 

This is the fourth year that PA faculty and students have been involved in a service-learning program in Mumbai.  The first two years were funded by the International Academic Partnership and our gracious hosts have always been the Godrej family (Navroze '01 and parents Pheroza and Jamshyd).

This summer we partnered with different organizations and heard from individuals representing the following groups:
Udayachal School
Save the Children India
Mann Deshi Mahila Bank
American School of Bombay
US Consulate - Mumbai
Government of Maharashtra
Mumbai Police
Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd.
Haath Mein Sahat, Mumbai
Ashoka Youth Venture Program - Mumbai
Tata Consultancy Services

It has been a privilege and an honor work with such smart, creative and determined people from all of these organizations.  Their varied perspectives encouraged us to think about development issues from the government, citizen sector, and corporate points of view.  

Through our service, readings, reflections and discussions our group engaged in difficult topics and had genuine encounters with different communities.  The program was unsettling and challenged many of our preconceived notions about India, ways in which communities function, access to resources, and the role of young people in becoming changemakers.  Out of these experiences emerged a sophisticated empathy, a sincere desire to become involved, and a deep commitment to leave a lasting change for good.

It was an incredible three weeks!  We now look ahead to sharing our work with others, thinking critically about social issues, and becoming changemakers.

We have been invited by the Phillips Academy Summer Session to speak as a part of the annual W.E.B. DuBois Colloquia series.  Our program, "Niswarth:  Empowering Global Citizenship through Youth Empowerment" will take place on July 31st at 6:15pm in Kemper Auditorium on Chapel Avenue on the Phillips Academy campus.  The program is free and open to the public, and we hope to see many of you there.

Best wishes,
Raj Mundra

Friday, July 4, 2008


It’s actually here. There is no turning back from reality now. We are leaving Mumbai in approximately six hours. I cannot quite grasp my emotions yet, however. It is a culmination of sorrow, regret, and apprehensive eagerness. I know that this experience like this will only come once in a lifetime, but I also know that what I take away from NISWARTH in terms of mentality and future action is even more important. I have come away from these three weeks with a burning inspiration to go out into the world, pursue my passion, and make change. I can no longer be content with simply standing on the sideline. Youth are the next generation- that is not going to change- so we have the responsibility to change the world and its vicious cycle.

I have learned so much here, seen so much here- I feel guilty going back to Andover. I wish I could help everyone in the world. I have realized over the past few weeks that the world is truly immense. The man whose eye I catch from the bus window for a split second has a life story, that woman selling mangoes on the street, hidden behind her veil- she has a life story. The ragged children who trotted after me yesterday in the market all have life stories. I am a minuscule part of an infinite phenomenon. But it is my duty as one of the most fortunate- someone with the ability to think for herself, blessed with a thorough education and a caring family- that should be most compelled to make the world a better place for every human to live in.

I have laughed more on this trip than I believe I have during the entire last school year. Of that I am certain. I wish I could condense this trip into an essay or a five-minute speech, but I can’t. It just is not possible. No matter how much we try to explain what we did or saw or felt, no one but us will be able to understand. I wish everyone back home could be a part of NISWARTH. I am beyond grateful to have had this opportunity.

We are coming home soon. And we are coming home changed.

Zahra Bhaiwala.

Last Reflections

As our time in India comes to an end, it's hard for me to believe that it's really been just 3 weeks since we first set foot in Mumbai. In many ways, the time has flown, and in others, I've settled into a pattern here and feel like I've been in the city forever.

The changes I've noticed, both in myself and in our group, are too numerous to list them all. I watch as my fellow PA students step boldly into the chaos of the traffic while crossing the street, when only a few short weeks ago we had to hold hands just to get the courage to begin. I see how we've observed the poverty and hardships around us with everything from shock to sadness, and I am so impressed with and inspired by my peers as they ceaselessly give their all to the overcoming the challenges we have faced. And most of all, I see how we've grown comfortable with experiencing and sharing tough emotions with each other-- everything from anger to confusion to frustration and beyond.

In the end, I don't think this trip was an opportunity for us 14 extremely privileged kids from PA and Udayachal High School to act as "angels of goodwill" in less fortunate communities for three weeks, and then go home to our double shot Starbucks cappuccinos and on-demand cable, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done and writing this experience off as an impressive filler on a college application. To do so would be an insult to the work we've done here and the things we learned. And while I won't deny that the tired, homesick part of me is ready to go home to hot water and my own bed and take-out Chinese food, I know that my enjoyment of these luxuries will be forever tempered with the images I have in my mind of kids sleeping on highway medians and old men sitting for hours on doorsteps in the slums, waiting patiently for something that I, at least, can't identify. These sights have grown no easier for me to see, but during these 3 weeks I have grown a little bit used to them. In some ways, I wish that wasn't the case. No one should become accustomed to seeing the poverty like the kind we have seen here.

The key to affecting change is to never lose that shock and fury that hits you when you are first exposed to unimaginable injustices. With those emotions as the motor that continues to power your desire to act, and tempered with a "sophisticated empathy" (a phrase Mr. Mundra has used), any change you can imagine is yours for the making. I hope I never lose that vulnerability that has allowed me to get so much out of this trip, and I hope that this is only the first of many experiences I will have that leave me changed for the better in more ways than I could have possibly imagined.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Last Thoughts

I cannot believe we have less then twelve hours left here in Vikhroli. These past three weeks have gone incredibly fast. Every day I am more and ready to go home, but less and less ready to leave. Still, now that the end is in sight, I’m leaning towards the less and less ready to leave.
Today we presented at the Udyachal school and I started to realize just how lucky we were to have had this experience. Sure, there were days that we were sick and tired, emotionally overloaded, scared of what we were experiencing. But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Many students approached us at the school and asked if we enjoyed Niswarth, if it was worth the trip. Instantly, I answered yes.
Last night, no one wanted to sleep, due to the fact that we knew the end was closing in. Not to be too cliché, but I just keep remembering that, yes, this is the end, but it’s the beginning of a new mindset for each one of us. Between Michael, Dr. Shaw, Mr. Housiaux, and Ms. Curci leaving last night, Aditya going to Delhi tomorrow, Alana embarking on an Ethiopian excursion, Tessa splitting off at Heathrow, and the final few returning to Andover, there will be tears. This experience has been incredible and I wouldn’t trade what I’ve done for the world.
I am changed. How I will apply this new self, I am still not sure. I can’t even completely put my finger on exactly what inside of me is different. I anticipate being temperamental on my return home. I am sure my eyes will see things differently and my heart will undoubtedly be confused at the way this world works, but I know good will come from it.
Today one girl at Udayachal asked if I would come back someday. I told her that I would love to—be it a gap year, a summer internship, or Taranjeet’s wedding. She asked if I would come back and visit the school, if I would see Neha and Ashwaryia, Kartik, Aditya, Soloni, and Piyush (I’m sorry guys, I know I spelled your names wrong!!). I told them that I would definitely see them.
“Do you promise?” she asked.
“I promise,” I replied. “I don’t know when, but I promise I’ll come back.”
And I plan on keeping that promise.

I'll Be Back

Here we are, 12 hours from departing on a long journey--for me a 26-hour journey, to be exact-- back to the beds and families and homes and friends we have missed dearly over the past three weeks. To be perfectly honest, I never ever thought I would be experiencing the emotions that are rushing through me right now. A week ago, not having seen my family for over three months, I was itching to go home. I thought that, despite the incredible experiences I've had here, I'd be more than ready to go home; I sit here, however, on the verge of tears, already planning my next trip back. I had always wanted to do service-work in a Spanish speaking country after or during college, but I have abandoned that desire since coming here. I truly find it hard to believe that there are people more hospitable, inspiring, hopeful and compassionate than those I have met here. Today is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

This morning, to be rather frank, I was dreading the day before me. After staying up until 4 am to ensure our ability to pass the long flights by sleeping through their entirety, Lily and I woke up groggy and grumpy, unprepared to give the scheduled presentation at the high school of our Indian roommates. On the bus ride over, Mr. Mundra prepared us for the worst. He said that in past years the 8th graders and potential future Niswarth participants to whom they presented were reserved and that we should expect to hear crickets. Great, I thought, Just great. To make matters worse, we were unable to utilize the greatest piece of our presentation, a photo slideshow showcasing the past three weeks, due to technical difficulties. So, a little unsure but certain on selling the school on the impact that Niswarth has had on us, the fourteen of us ambled to the front of a packed hall and began to share our experiences. They were indeed quiet at first, but the more we spoke, the larger that flame of curiosity in their eyes grew and by the time we asked if there were any questions, hands darted up into the air. One of the questions asked was, "What is your favorite part of our culture?" I had magnitudes to speak about in regards to his question, so I made my way to the rickety microphone and said, "Well.. the music is incredible. I'm a singer so I really appreciate Hindi music..." I continued with a few other favorite aspects of Indian culture--food, hospitality, fashion. Later, when all questions had ceased, the principal asked, "Any last questions?" The students looked around at each other and finally, at the back of the room, a tall girl with long, braided pig tails stood up and made her way to the microphone. As she passed me, she asked, "Your name is Tessa, right?" I nodded and she proceeded fearlessly to the front of the room.

"I want to know if Tessa would mind singing a song for us."

My heart started pounding and I immediately thought, who in the Niswarth group told her to ask me this? So flustered it felt as if all the heat in India was rushing to my face, I moved to the mic and asked through an awkard chuckle, "How did you know? Who told you I--" Before I could finish my question, the whole room of students shouted back at me, "YOU TOLD US!!" I was so tired, I didn't even realize that I had mentioned just thirty minutes before that I was a singer and at that moment I was beginning to regret my habit of babbling when I'm exhausted.

"I...uhh.. you put me on the spot." I looked at my roommates and their faces screamed, C'mon, Tessa, just do it, and the kids rattled in their seats, swinging their feet beneath them, waiting anxiously for me to begin. "Do you guys want to hear the American National Anthem?" A roar of approval filled the room and some brought themselves to their feet. I never get stage fright, but something about this audience--their eagerness and purity and my desperate longing to please them--made my stomach so uneasy it felt as if I hadn't eaten in months. "Okay, well I haven't sung in weeks so please forgive me if I butcher it," I said apologetically and took a deep breath.

"O say can you see.." It started off rocky, my voice struggling to grab hold of the slippery notes, but after a couple seconds, I got my bearings and realized how lucky I was to share just a little bit of my culture with these incredible students. After I finished my song, they stood, clapped and proceeded to share with us their school song. It was a delightful song and a wonderful exchange of tiny pieces of our worlds.

Finally, the presentation had ended and the kids were given five minutes to confront the Niswarth participants with any questions or comments. Every single one of them made their way in a swarm, each choosing one of us to introduce themselves to, and I suddenly found myself surrounded by several smiling students. We complemented each other on our songs and they continued to ask questions. From, "What didn't you like about India?" to "Do you shop as much in America as you did here?" the students were incredibly eager to learn about me and one of them even asked me if she could have my autograph. In a damp notebook she pulled from a pink bag, I wrote:

To Supriya,
Thanks for having us. I will be back soon.
Love, Tessa

I have every intention of keeping my promise. I am counting the days until I return to India and if I'm grateful for anything from this trip--and it's impossible to choose just one thing--I am grateful for the ability to experience a culture I would have never fathomed visiting otherwise and falling head over heels in love with it. Other than the cockroaches and the rare spells of dreadful heat, I will miss everything about this place and will constantly find myself reliving my experiences through my daydreams until I can get myself back here. My first visit back will probably be for the marriage festivities of Ms. Taranjeet, a teacher from the Udayachal school who has been Alana and Mr. Mundra's Indian counterpart on the trip, which are projected to be in a few years. After that, I hope to come back after college to work with one of the NGO's we visited.

I find it impossible to summarize my experience or feelings in words, so I won't try to. I will say that this has truly been the most amazing experience of my entire life and now, more than ever, I believe in my ability to be a change-maker. I have an overwhelming sense of faith and hope now that I could not have acquired anywhere else but here, with these people, with this program, with these experiences. The past three weeks have been the greatest, most challenging, most rewarding, most insightful, sweatiest, happiest, most wonderful weeks of my life, and to everyone who has been involved--thank you. I am a different person because of you, a person I like a lot better than the person who stepped on a plane almost a month ago, and for that I am forever thankful.

See you soon, India,


To be up this morning and realize how soon we would all go our own ways was depressing and not such a good note to begin a day which had in store things much more interesting. We started with a discussion on PRIVILEGES we all have. I found it so difficult to give up each one of them and when I was asked which one privilege I was left with, I realized the importance of my family. I chose to have a supportive family which attended to my basic needs and kept me happy and secure.

Todays dinner at my fellow udayachalite aditya was a really good experience.The bollywood movie we watched there was soooooo muchhh fun. But departing with scogs and the faculty members was a tearful farewell. That's when we realized how attatched we had got in just a matter of three weeks.

Going home is going to be so difficult. To say good bye to the PA kids is really tough. I'll miss them all. Anyways internet will be our saviour. All of us have got facebook accounts made and hope to keep in touch. We all have planned our follow up projects and are looking forward to being changemakers. WE ARE THE FUTURE CHANGE MAKERS!


Final Thoughts

It's hard to believe that these three weeks are already finished. With one day left, the Udayachal students are getting ready to catch up on three weeks of school work, and most of the PA students are getting ready to go back to the USA. However, these three weeks have been some of the most exciting, fun, interesting, and powerful weeks of my entire life. We have all changed in many ways, gained perspective on the privileges that we have in life, and are eager to continue service work in the future. Our discussion on privilege this morning was insightful and brought out many new ideas, and we spent a long time discussing the line between rights and privilege, and the freedom to exercise those rights relating to having privilege.

On Wednesday, some of us visited the US consulate in Mumbai, and spoke with an official at the consulate, Michael Newbill. He provided us with the State Department's perspective on India and Mumbai's development. He also spoke with us about his background in the foreign service, and what life is like transferring every two years to a completely new coutnry. That evening, we were able to spend some time buying last-minute gifts for friends and family at home, and we went out to an excellent restaurant in South Mumbai.

It is hard to quantify the how this trip has affected me, and for the next few months, that will be a major goal for all of us. The most tangible effect that the trip has had on me is that it has sparked a desire to continue community service and begin participating in service work at Phillips Academy. However, this trip has also given me the opportunity to meet extremely successful, interesting people, who offer many different perspectives on urban development, as well as experiences that will last a lifetime. The most enjoyable and influential aspects of the trip for me were the visits to the various communities around Mumbai, such as the Dharavi community, the Cuffe Parade community, and the Mankhurd building complex. The fact that we are able to experience some of the aspects of life in two very distinct types of communities, the open air slum communities and the building communities, was amazing, but the fact that we were able to actually make a difference on the final day by cleaning a building and successfully petitioning for access to running clean water for the building really impacted us the most.

I am going to miss living and spending time with this amazing group of faculty and students. I would like to thank everyone who has made this trip possible, especially our two head faculty members, Mr. Mundra and Alana. Thanks for reading the blog, and we are looking forward to sharing our experiences with you first hand once we reach home.

-Aditya Mithal (Phillips Academy '10)

Final blog

It was tough waking up this morning because we knew this was probably the second last day with this program and the wonderful P.A students.We were all really exhausted and the thought of parting with them made it even more worse!!!
It was decided that we all would discuss about the most important topic-PRIVILEGE!
It was then that we understood the true meaning of PRIVELEGE.The activity that we had involved each one of us & made us feel really enthusiastic.Thoughts were just flowing in & out of our minds.Each one of us were told to note down the 8 top privileges we as students had in our lives.Then we were asked to eliminate one by one the things we could afford to lose in our lives which was quite tough by the end.We then had to chose one prime privilege.Aishwarya chose 'A supportive family'& saloni chose 'Living a healthy life'.We were really surprised as this activity was an eye-opener & made us more aware of our comforts.
We then also had a group discussion about the activities in all the three weeks which actually created an impact on each one of us.
In the evening we went to Aditya Bajaj's(an Udayachal student)place & had a wonderful time there.We watched a bollywood movie 'JAB WE MET'& enjoyed every bit of it.We then had a lovely home-made dinner(after 3 weeeks)& relished it to the fullest.
It was then that the toughest part came because Micahel,Mr.Housiaux,Miss Cursy,Dr.Shaw were leaving for Boston.It was an emotional moment for each one of us & some of us broke into tears.But we finally realized the truth that we had to depart.Today was a fun-filled day as well as an emotional evening!!!
-We'll miss u NISWARTH & ALL THE P.A KIDS!!!
............SALONI SHARMA & AISHWARYA NAIR(Udayachal students)!!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Almost done

Wow!!!! We never actually realized how quickly these three weeks flew by. The 2nd of July has already come to an end. Anyways, talking about today, all of us had two options: either meeta diplomat the U.S. Consulate or have a creative writing workshop. I chose to go the U.S. Consolate because I have never had such an oppurtunity to meet a personality of this kind. So, we went up to him this afternoon. We arrived early and we had some gelato at a store near the Consulate. Soon we were at his high security office. Mr. Michael Newbill, the Consul for Political and Economic Affairs, shared the responsibilities of the U.S. embassies and consolates in different countries and what he was doing in Mumbai. He was a very open and impressive personality because he was very hospitable towards us and felt free to answer all sorts of questions that we had. We had an awesome experience with him today.

Talking about an impressive personality, I also met this really catchy person at a dinner at the Godrej's residence on June 30th. Ms. Farzana Haque, who simply got my attention through her jaw-dropping success stories. She is currently in a great position with TATA CONSULTANCY SERVICES at such a young age!! For me she has now become an inspiration as I also want to have the same qualities of an entrepreneur which she possesess.

Moving on with today, we had a quick bite at Swati Snacks- a restaurant which was suggested by the Consul himself. Later, we went to FabIndia where we had been previously in our program. I shopped a bit for my mum and my friends and hung out with everyone for two hours. Later, we again had dinner at this great restaurant called KHYBER. Vipin and Teressa from Ashoka Youth Venture also joined in with us for dinner. The food and dessert were great. By the end of the day all of us were quite tired and headed back to our appartments.

I can't actually believe that this thrilling programme has come to its closing moments. It was a brillliant chance for all of us to not only learn and experience new things but also groom the potential that sits somewhere deep inside our hearts and minds........ It's definitely going to be tough to say good bye to all these folks because we have become such good friends that we almost feel like family now. I wish all the best to all my friends of PA and hope they have a bright future and I hope they will never forget us. I will surely miss them.

I also want the next groups for the coming year to have more fun and try to learn as much as they can. My best wishes to all of them. Thank you Phillips Academy and Udayachal. I owe a lot to you!!!!!!!

-Aditya Bajaj from Udayachal

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


So you remember the petition that we passed around at Mankhurd, asking the government to provide water running daily for one building in that community? 

Well, we heard yesterday that because of that petition, EVERY SINGLE BUILDING in that community now has running water for 8 minutes a day, which may not seem like a long time, but is more than enough when you consider that before, each apartment only had running water for 20 minutes every three days.

This is sustainable change, and it's amazing that we can actually make such a big impact with only 30 minutes of work. Just imagine how much we all can do with just a little effort. This is an accomplishment that we'll never forget. 


Satara and beyond

On June 26, my 16th birthday, we made our way to Satara. The trip was awesome, staying in a hotel with beautiful views, visiting a plateau that overlooked the sweeping beautiful landscape, and visited local farms with livestock much tougher-looking than the cute American cows and pigs. While everything was an experience much different than what I've encountered, the drive from Satara to Mhaswad was incredible. While most of my busmates preferred the view of the back of their eyelids, I could not pull my eyes away from the window. On the two hour ride, the sun was the brightest it had been this whole trip, necessitating the use of my sweet new shades to fix my gaze outward.
The view was beautiful. Plains stretched endlessly, interspersed with fields full of exotic crops. Most of the time however, the land was bumpy and sloping, rocks scattered everywhere across the dry, tattered land. Mammoth mountains reigned impressively around us, blending into the horizons as if we were ants in a giant empty pool. The bus rocked and bounced on the difficult terrain that was not built for tourbuses. In fact, every vehicle that passed us was a motorcycle, roaring by muffler-free. Far and few between rested mosques and clusters of houses, specks on the endless terrain. The most amazing part was driving by inhabitants, leading a herd (flock?) of goats across the dusty street, two young sisters crossing a long stretch of abandoned land, an elderly man bathing naked in the stream.
I was possessed by a strong urge to run barefoot across the hills and explore all of its crevices, abandon the comfortable life I live for the fierce and beautiful landscape. Never having been to the countryside before, everything was so new and exciting. Those we passed, walking in solitude with their few possessions, seemed at such peace, almost enlightened, the whole scene had a religious tone. I wanted that experience also, an intense solitude surrounded by unexplored and uncharted terrain.
Listening to music on the bus ride increased the overwhelming experience, giving new meaning to some of the more cryptic lyrics (if traveling, I recommend Fleet Foxes). The experience will live with me forever.
Few more days!