My 7th, and most recent trip to India was another great success. I wanted to bring so many friends and supporters my summary of my time at PPES with 4 fantastic US volunteers. I had another successful venture, with so many unexpected twists and turns, and memories of making a difference in the lives of our girls and villagers in rural India.
Laurisa Schutt, and her daughters, Ryann and Tatum, and Debbie Wilson, all from Wilmington had life changing experiences during their time in rural India. Once again, the team stayed healthy and safe, changed forever by the experience of being at Pardada Pardadi.
Besides having no internet(imagine that!) for the first week, due to it being knocked out by a storm that hit the area before we arrived, and brown shower water in our hotel in Agra during our visit to the Taj, we survived quite well. As the saying goes, “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger”……I am pretty strong by now, and know the volunteers that came along with me are stronger as well.
It is overwhelming to think about how far we have come, and how much has changed, since our initial trip in 2010. I dreamed of a Health Center at the school, which became a reality. The next dream was to build a Medical Center that would provide quality health care to the families of our girls, as well as the villagers.
Thanks to my friends and supporters, groundbreaking for the Medical Center took place during my November trip. Just 4 short months later, it is open and operating under the direction of Elsa, our nurse and 2 doctors who work there 4 days a week. 2 students, who want to be nurses, are being trained by Elsa.
It is amazing how receptive Sam Singh, our school founder, is to making changes to improve the lives of the people, and how fast change happens, in comparison to how long it can take here. The new medical center is beautiful.
The separate building with toilets is the best bathroom in town! We now have a computerized medical program, instead of records written in notebooks. This innovation was the result of a suggestion from volunteers that came with me in 2014.
While at the school I came across a little girl lying on the floor of a class, being cared for by her friends. Another was out in the field, getting sick, with 2 friends rubbing her back. Our girls are so familiar with taking care of one another, and do it so well. We want them to bring their friends to Elsa. I accompanied two students to the local government hospital, one to be tested for malaria, the other for rabies shots, as she was bitten by a dog.
The conditions of the hospital are filthy and deplorable, people dying unattended. There was little concern from anyone other than me when I learned that the hospital was out of rabies shots. I was told there is a shortage in India, despite rabies being rampant, due to animals not being vaccinated. Fortunately, our doctor was able to locate shots and brought them to the school 2 days later. I continue to encounter so many issues in the village that we never have to think about in the US.
Our Class 12 girls have now graduated, having completed their Board exams. Many of the girls who want to go on for higher education may not be able to do so, because the concept of taking out loans(provided through the school) is new and not understood by parents. Until two years ago, when the school was young and graduates few, PPES was able to provide scholarships for higher education through donor support.
Now that the number of girls graduating has grown, and funding is not available, girls need to take loans that they, not their parents, sign for. Because they are girls, parents don’t want the risk of the loan. For boys, it would be no problem. Though parents are not responsible for the loans, many parents want their daughters married, don’t want them to leave the village, etc. Centuries of not educating girls is in the process of being changed at Pardada Pardadi. The school is now educating parents about the value of higher education for their daughters, in hopes that before long, graduates will all go on for higher education.
I have watched one of my favorite students, Anjali, grow up and now graduate. Upon learning that her absent, abusive, alcoholic father told her she couldn’t go on for higher education, I went to their home, with two translators, to speak to the mother. She explained that though the father hasn’t been seen for 4 months, he won’t allow her to go. The next day we brought the mother to the school to talk with Sam. As mom began to understand more about the benefits of Anjali continuing her education, she began to soften. The next day, we met with Anjali and her older sister, Aarti, who graduated last year. Both have agreed to go to Bangalore to a Yoga training institute in July. This was a great victory, yet I know there are many other girls, just like Anjali, who don’t have an advocate. I wish I could do it for each and every one of them. Today, still 85% of the village girls have never been to school.
There is always lots of activity at the school-
~ State Board Exams were being given while we were there. Our students always score much higher in exams than other regional schools, so exams are important at PPES, spread out over two weeks.
~We accompanied a group of girls who sang at a political meeting, and were made us the honored guests at the rally!
~Our girls made beautiful bird nests from grasses and flowers. They didn’t go out to buy the materials at A.C. Moore, which our students might well do. They picked everything-grasses, twigs and flowers, from the school grounds.
~A group of girls made beautiful rangoli to welcome visitors. Rangolis are made from dry powdered colors, shaped by hand. Our students excel at rangoli, an Indian art.
~Before leaving on this trip, I spoke with a Rotary group in Tuckhannock, PA. They have given money to purchase 50 new bikes for our girls who ride bikes to school. Our girls have to pay a percentage of the bikes, allowing them to have ownership and care for them.
~This trip also included distributing donations from the US. Pencils were given to all, after a volunteer saw what I call “the pencil of an India school child”. Students with attendance of over 85% got new pencil boxes. Undies, toothbrushes, soap, hair accessories, puzzles, art supplies, candy, brushes and combs were handed out. All of the girls received sweets for Holi.
~ The school canteen received a fresh coat of paint, thanks to the suggestion of Laurisa. Tatum sketched out a design that was painted by Class 11. What fun the girls had and what difference paint makes!
~Our team donated new flags to fly in front of the school. The sun, heat and rain are harsh on the flags, so new ones will make a difference.
~Volunteers taught classes and played with the girls. Building relationships with the girls is invaluable. Our girls love having visitors and teaching them, as well as learning from them. Preschool girls had a great time learning to fly kites.
The women’s soap making business is up and running, with details now perfected. The team brought back 800 bars of soap, which are for sale. These women are so happy making soap and earning income so they can feed their families. This project was made possible through 2 US soap makers, who travel the world to teach women this trade. They have sourced out top quality, all natural ingredients, having created a great bar of soap. The soap is beautifully packaged in bags made by our textile women. If you would like to purchase soap at $6/bar, email me and I will send it to you. Please consider supporting these women who are so happy to be a part of this project. If you know of retail opportunities where soap can be sold, I’d be happy to make the connection as well.
PPES welcomes volunteers. We need medical volunteers, volunteers who can teach English, as well as contribute their time and talents. If you know anyone who would like to volunteer, please send them my way. Please consider donating to the medical center, sponsoring a girl, supporting the nutritional enhancement program. You can go to education4change.org to provide support.
The PPES Annual Event will be held in Fairfax, VA on June 25th. Please come if you can. I can provide you with details. The 2nd PPES Gala for the Girls will be held in Fairfax, VA on October 22nd. Details also available. Both are great events and an opportunity to meet with others who love PPES and the difference it is making in the lives of our girls and women.
Wishing you a Happy Spring!!