Alas, it is the final week of our project in Odisha. The trip has felt like a lifetime and merely a day. The blogs have been lacking week to week because DJMV has kept us busy teaching and co-hosting various community gatherings and workshops.
A few weekends ago we assisted in a community clean up. Studying Geography and wanting to do something about the litter all over India the ENTIRE trip, I was very excited for this clean up. However, it turned out to be merely an inkling of a baby-step in the right direction as far as environmentalism goes. The intention was there—the community gathered and was given shovels and baskets to remove the litter. However, the trash from one part of the road was only shifted to another part of the road—not quite the “clean up” I had in mind. Regardless, it was inspiring to see everyone gather with the desire to do something about their environment and sanitation. It’s merely the infrastructure that is lacking.
The second community event were busy working on was the Community Literacy Camp, a two-day community gathering that pushed for children’s education and higher education, particularly among girls. We spent a week deciding on youth and women from the village to give a speech to share their experience with education and how they managed to send their children to school despite lacking sufficient finances. It was like pulling teeth to find women to speak in New Baxipalli, but after we insisted this was their time to make change happen and shift the views of others in the village, a couple women agreed to speak out. The women of Venkatraipur are more supportive of girl’s education (as almost all of the girls in our class are from this village) and the women from both villages did a phenomenal job during the workshop. We were particularly proud of one of our girl students who spoke, Kalpana, because she already has Bachelors Degree in Arts at the age of 19 and is an absolute doll when we talk to her. Public speaking on the other hand is more difficult for her—on the first day we met Kalpana, she couldn’t even introduce herself in front us and a circle of her peers. I was slightly doubtful when we decided she was the one to speak at the literacy camp, but she pulled through and did a great job.
One thing that particularly bothered me about the literacy camp was the lack of planning. Everything here runs on “Indian time” so it wasn’t unexpected that the entire event started late. On the other hand, those running the program intentionally told us to arrive 45 minutes late (which is not a good planning method for a community who generally starts events an hour after everyone arrives). By the time we were about to start, the power goes off. This wasn’t an accidental case —the power goes out every night around 6 PM. Therefore, we had to wait another hour or so before we could begin. By the time our 5-8 PM program had finally begun it was 8 PM. Some speakers had to leave (and I don’t blame them.. wasn’t the program supposed to be over now?) and during the program some volunteers were on the verge of being pulled up for impromptu speeches—again, not apart of the plan.
This past Sunday we co-hosted a Career Development Workshop. The attendance was mainly our students even though the invitation went out to ALL youth within the surrounding villages. Again, it was lack of planning. Many things were left until last minute—we weren’t totally sure who all was speaking until the day before. Regardless, it was a fantastic opportunity for our students. Many didn’t know what to do after they completed their Bachelors degree and needed direction in order to enter the workforce.
The workshop talked about graduate programs, starting micro-enterprises, how to get loans, etc.—all information the students were left in the dark about until now. Likewise, in computer class this past week the volunteers and I allowed the students to make a resume—something not a single person knew how to do because none of them even knew what a resume was. Because of this, I felt like this portion of our project was an extremely needed component for these brilliant students. I only wish I had more resources and knowledge to share exactly how to get into the colleges around their area and what job opportunities are locally available to them. We heard about a few great opportunities for teaching, banking, and starting a micro-enterprise, but dreams of becoming a doctor or politician were more discouraged by some of the speakers—something we as volunteers were horrified to hear.
The workshop as a whole left me with questions: are there any scholarships? Will these colleges provide quality education? Will there be a place for these students in the workforce once they complete their studies? After spending 6 weeks with this incredible group of youth, all we want to do is see them succeed, and it’s been tough motivating them to reach for their dreams when realistically, they can hardly pay for miniscule school fees, much less a tuition. And when you put that into perspective, their tuition is equivalent to about $1,500 a year, merely a fraction of what American students are expected to pay. Therefore, we’ve found there are many measures we need to consider concerning project sustainability before we return to the United States.
This Thursday we are have a college exposure visit planned. Hopefully this will answer some questions, clear a few doubts, and show those on the verge of dropping out due to finances that a higher education can only help them to break their cycle of poverty.