I have just returned from my 6th trip to Pardada Pardadi Educational Society since 2010. This trip was a great success and felt like it was the best one ever. Yet, each time feels like that when I come back to the US. The 14 days spent in rural India, along with a team of 3 US medical volunteers, was busy from start to finish, resulting in a very productive time for all.
Every day is full of adventure, as the needs, projects and activities at PPE are abundant. With limited internet access, I did manage to post some photos on Facebook. We all stayed healthy and didn’t encounter any problems that couldn’t be solved. There were so many “incredible India” moments, which means that everything worked out perfectly. My favorite line from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end” is one I have found to hold so true since our first trip over there. We returned with lots of memories and photos of this amazing place that has stolen my heart, through the love and hospitality of the people whose lives we have been able to help and impact. Despite being one of the very poorest places in the world, the warmth and hospitality the people share with us surpasses what I tend to experience in the US. The people may have nothing from a material perspective, yet they have so much to give with their warmth, welcome and appreciation.
The primary purpose of this trip was to break ground on a Medical Clinic that we are building on the school grounds. Funding for this new clinic was made possible through the support of friends and donors in the US. I am so humbled to be have been able to make this possible, as we provide the only quality medical care in this rural region, home to over 180,000 people. When we built the Health Center in 2012, and began to bring medical care to this region, we could not have conceived of the rapid progress that would be made in just 3 years. I will never forget being there in 2013, with International Medical Relief, for the first medical camp. As I looked around on the first day, seeing hundreds of people gathered, with 18 US medical volunteers and an army of Indian volunteers, I was overwhelmed at the realization that this happened simply because we filled out an online application. Today, PPES is recognized for the work that it is doing to care for the health needs of the villagers. We are the only school in the region with more than a first aid kit. We have a fulltime nurse, doctors who visit weekly and are fully stocked with medical supplies and medicines, all made possible through our US donors!
This past summer, Sam Singh(school founder) met with BBC to discuss the making of a documentary about PPES, which was aired in India last Sunday. Their crew spent time filming at the school in August. Upon our arrival in India, we learned that Sam had gone to Mumbai to meet a famous Bollywood actor, Amitah, and was surprised by a group of our students and teachers, who had been invited to Mumbai to dance there. This was an exhilarating time for all. Our girls returned by train, so excited by the experience of having met Amitah, staying in a hotel(with AC and fancy bathrooms!), and moving Sam to tears with the pride he felt being surprised by the girls. This experience would be equivalent to a group of students in the US being invited to Hollywood to meet Brad Pitt, and dance for him.
During our stay, our badminton and basketball teams travelled to other regions to compete in tournaments. Girls playing sports is a new concept in the village, as girls are supposed to work and be servants in their households, not play. Two of our girls travelled to take part in an English competition in another region, as well. Each of these experiences will be cherished by our girls, who count among the poorest children in our world, though so fortunate to leave the village, having experiences that will help shape their futures.
US volunteers, Katie Smith and Julie Gates, surveyed students and taught classes for girls in Class 9 through 12 about puberty, anatomy and sex. This is groundbreaking work in this conservative, rural region, where these topics have been taboo. Girls enthusiastically received the information, asked lots of questions, and now know what to expect as they grow into adulthood.
A medical camp was held at the school so that villagers(as well as students) could be seen by our medical team. 500 pounds of donations brought from the US were distributed, including 1400 pair of undies(these girls may have none), pencils and toothbrushes. To date, over 6000 panties have been given out in the past 3 years. We also brought school, hygiene and medical supplies, as well as socks and gloves. We met with children sponsored by US donors, updating their information, take photos and have girls write thank you notes for them.
2 US volunteers, who travel the world teaching women to make soap, were at the school for the second time this year, continuing their work teaching our women to learn a craft and have an income so they can care for their families. To see the excitement these women have for Benjamin and Amanda, to watch them not only work, but dance, sing and eat together was so cool. They are planning to return to the school to teach English as well in the near future. They just love our women and girls!! 105 pounds of this soap are coming back with us to sell in the US. Our textile department made bags for the soap, providing the women with work. We are in need of a distributor for the soap, so that this business can grow and provide support for our women. Any suggestions, please let me know.
I received news during our time here that PPES received a grant through a US foundation that I applied for this summer. This grant will allow the school to hire 2 English teachers and train our teachers to teach math. It was exciting this week to be able to talk with the older girls and staff in English and be able to understand each other. Until this trip, communication has been difficult, as little English is spoken in this region. We have made a great beginning, but have a long way to go. Thank you, Carter Wentz Foundation for making this possible. This funding will make a difference in providing the girls with a vital skill for success as they leave the village for higher education in the cities.
And Dawali…..This was the 4th time I have been in India for the festival of lights, the equivalent of our Christmas(minus the commercialism and gift giving). The day before, the school was abuzz with excitement and activity, as well as special meals and sweets. Class 6-12 competed creating beautiful rangolis, made with colored powders. We were asked to be judges and choose the best, which was challenging, as we saw all of them as beautiful creations of art, by the girls. The school day ended with lots of fireworks for the girls, something we would never do in the US.
In addition to our time at the school, we went to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, a must when you visit India. This is the 6th time I have been there, using the same tour guide the past 4 times. He was happy to tell us about the many US celebrities who have recently visited, including the Obamas, Oprah, Arnold the Terminator, Leonardo Di Caprio, and just a few days before we were there, Mark Zuckerberg. He asked that we tell Mark when we see him that he is friends with the tour guide that the Facebook founder had while there. I think he thinks we are all friends in America.
Agra was great, the hotel overnight a big treat, though the drive hellacious. The 4 ½ hour trip on terrible roads riddled with potholes and traffic jams, often created by buffalo, pigs, goats or monkeys was the downside. Without that experience, it’s hard to say you’ve been to India.