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Empowering Rural India: Building Homes & Awareness

By Henrietta Letschert
Empowering Rural India: Building Homes & Awareness

It was at the ECIS Community & Service Learning Conference in Jordan that I met Yassir Choonawala of the Dhirubhai Ambani International School and learned of his Empowering Rural India initiative. This project was created to help impoverished villages by building on three pillars: Infrastructure, Education, and Empowerment. I was inspired and determined to get slightly younger students from Bavarian International School (BIS) involved in the project.
That was six years ago. Today, our annual trip to India is a highlight of our service year.
On 18 February 2017, 10 intrepid Grade 8 and 9 students, together with myself and Ms. Freitas, boarded a flight to Mumbai for our 10-day adventure. The pace was fast and furious, the experience fascinating and fun.
Arriving late Saturday night, we spent Sunday and Monday sightseeing in Mumbai. We visited the Elephanta Island caves, temples, the Dhobi ghats (a huge outdoor “laundry service,” and consumed many delicious Indian delights en route!
On Tuesday, we went to the village where our service project would take place. The village is in a stunning location, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, about 100 km from Mumbai. That is where we stayed, making bricks, building house walls, and digging and fixing foundations. We worked in “chain-gangs” in the heat of the Indian sun, moving stones to fill in foundations or passing concrete to build the walls. “To sweat” quickly became our most common verb! The students were committed and hardworking, often pushing themselves above and beyond what was required.
We also visited the world heritage site of Matheran, close to another of the villages supported by Empowering Rural India. Although this village project has now been designated as finished, we wanted our students to see a “finished product,” especially one in which BIS students had participated over the last four years. Here, our task had been to lay a concrete path with steps between the village, situated at 1000 feet, to the link path up to Matheran, at 2000 feet. It was quite a feat, and a great cardio-vascular work-out!
Rest and relaxation took the form of a visit to the theme park “Imagica,” where the teachers drank coffee and the students roller-coasted incessantly and whizzed through the air on various other engineering wonders.
Tired but fulfilled, we returned to Mumbai, where students spent a couple of hours recharging their batteries (and their phones!) before flying back to the somewhat chillier climes of Bavaria.
It was a privilege to work on this project and our students were great. Exposure to this sort of service activity in a challenging environment well outside their comfort zone has lent them new perspectives on culture, internationalism, and need. I hope they will take this with them.
Henrietta Letschert is CAS & Community Service Coordinator at Bavarian International School.

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