Austin, TX | Human & Organizational Development, Public Policy | 2020
McKenzie is a first year student from Austin, Texas. She is double majoring in Human & Organizational Development and Public Policy. McKenzie will be working with Project Rishi in Pamulaparthi, India. Her team will be working with primary and secondary schools in this village to promote health and education by extending plumbing and electricity. They also plan to provide informative workshops and collect further data on the area to organize future sustainable projects.
Blog Post One:
For the past week, I have been working in Telangana, India to provide improvements to a primary school in a rural village. One of our goals is to add running water to their restroom, which is currently unusable. If you are looking for a hands-on education in flexibility, international service may be the way to go. Since arriving, we learned that the government had given the school a grant for a new building that included a bathroom, supposedly with running water. However, we know of other schools in the area given similar funding that still do not have any running water. Our school has also previously been given various equipment to provide running water, none of which works. Our experiences with government in this area have led us to low expectations. We are hoping to fill the gaps between what the government provides and our own standards for a sanitary restroom. Our challenge is to do so without wasting resources by doubling what the government will provide. At this point, we are contacting various government officials to nail down what exactly the school will be given and the timeline for that construction. Ideally, we hope to influence the process so that construction of the bathroom will be completed during our time here and we can evaluate what supplementary resources we want to provide. Several officials in our district are pushing for our cause and we are hopeful about the potential results. Meanwhile, we are pursuing several other projects. These include providing the school with playground and athletic equipment, purchasing biomass stoves to reduce harmful smoke emissions during cooking at the school, and researching what work can be done with other schools in the area for our returning trip over the next several years.
This trip has also refreshed my perspective in the way that only experiencing another culture can. To see the effort it takes here to achieve standards for education that would be considered abysmal in the United Sates reinforces how fortunate we are to have the resources we do. Not only are we financially wealthy, but we are also rich in the vast number of citizens who work tirelessly to preserve quality of learning. I am excited to be working towards achieving a similar direction here in India.
Blog Post Two:
As my time working with the education system in rural India ends, I am realizing how much this trip has led me to reevaluate measuring the value of service. Volunteers such as myself often view effective prioritization of funding and labor much differently than the populations we are working to serve. The national organization I am working with, Project RISHI, focuses on sustainable development that does not require cyclical funding or continuous external work. This mission can be difficult to justify when communities have clear, urgent needs that simply don’t fall into our area of service. For example, teachers at a primary school we worked with requested that we purchase uniforms and shoes for the students. When we explained that we could not, because new uniforms need to be purchased every year and our work focuses on long term solutions, they questioned why we were able to pay for sports equipment, which appears to be a less vital need. In our eyes, providing recreation materials is a one-time cost that will last many years and has been shown to increase school attendance and improve student learning and creativity. To area teachers, however, it seems like a strange donation to make when many students are still walking to school barefoot. Both of these viewpoints are valid and worth considering. As volunteers, it is our duty to pay close attention to how our work is viewed by the community. We must make our best attempt to reconcile a positive reputation with our personal goals. While there is usually no clear solution to such issues, to serve most effectively we need to constantly evaluate them.
I wrote in my previous post about how the primary school bathroom we planned to install running water in had received a sanction from the government, which supposedly would supply running water via a new bathroom within a few weeks. We were unsure how to proceed, given prior similar government promises that not come to fruition. After two weeks of contacting officials to try and learn what would actually be constructed and when, we learned that while on paper the plans included a running water system, the allotted budget would not allow this to be accomplished. We then began to gather materials and call laborers to bring our plan for a functional bathroom into reality. The bathroom has now been completed, and when school begins in about two weeks, students will be able to use sanitary, functional toilets. We have also donated an enclosed stove system, which will reduce harmful smoke emissions that are damaging to the eyes and lungs of students and cooking workers. We provided desks to a smaller primary school in the same village as our original school that serves about 60 students. Finally, we completed a preliminary needs assessment on other primary schools in the surrounding area so that throughout the school year we can develop a plan for our service next year. We are working with students and teachers in our original school to develop a plan of accountability to ensure that our donations remain functional and helpful to them for many years to come.