Hey all. Keep in mind this was written back in early January two days before I left for India. Enjoy, and I’d love to read your comments!
* * * * *
Way back in the early months of last year I heard about an organisation called the 40K Foundation through my university. About 7 or 8 years ago a group of university students, after travelling to India and witnessing the conditions of poverty over there, committed to raising $40 000 to build a school to improve the prospects of poverty-stricken children. Five years, countless challenges and almost half a million dollars later the school was built, and the project was a success, and the school now has around 200 children enrolled. The people behind it (who had established the 40K Foundation), however, realised that with over a million children in India lacking access to a decent education, building half-million-dollar schools was not going to be a viable way to make any sort of significant impact in terms of addressing the problem on a large scale. There are public schools in India, but the teachers don’t turn up around 40% of the time and they are more like free day care centres than places of education. Parents usually send their kids to the schools until they are old enough to work, and then they join their parents working in granite quarries, earning less than $1.50 a day.
The 40K Foundation decided that, rather than building schools, they could start supplementary education centres that kids could go to in the afternoons to learn valuable skills that could actually give them the opportunity to find decent jobs and escape poverty in the future, and so the 40K Plus Pods were born. So far 10 of these Plus Pods have been established in remote villages. Each Pod has 30 primary school aged kids enrolled, and they attend the Pods for two hours a day, 6 days a week. The curriculum consist of Maths, English, Library and Life Skills classes, and the kids also get exposure to modern technology through the use of tablet computers in the classrooms (there kids would otherwise never have had access to any sort of computing technology). It’s pretty exciting stuff because the Pods are quite cost-effective to run, and by having the chance to learn English and maths, and how to use computers even to a small extent could really open up doors for these kids and allow them the opportunity to pursue jobs in areas other than manual labour.
Anyway, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with me jetting off to India. As I said earlier, I originally heard about the 40K Foundation and the opportunity to volunteer with them through my university, and of course the idea of experiencing another culture and embarking on another adventure appealed to me immediately (Once you get bitten by the travel bug there’s no going back!) At that point I didn’t really know much about the 40K program except what I had read on the website, and that it would involve working with the kids and completing some other on-the-ground projects. I thought through all the pros (what a great experience it would be, how it would be a great way to see another country, that it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself and grow as a person and gain some life experience, and yes, I admit I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that it would look good on my resume and probably be a lot of fun as well) and cons (the cost, having to get time off work, being thrown very much out of my comfort zone, the stress of organising a trip overseas, and even the fact that I was sure that tonnes of people would apply and I wouldn’t stand a chance, and all the effort I put into the application process would be wasted), and I quickly came to the realisation that this was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up and very much hoped to experience, and so I submitted my application back in about April, and then prepared for a long wait, since applications for the summer program didn’t close until August.
August came and went, and then September was well underway, and I still didn’t hear anything. I came to the conclusion that my application hadn’t been successful and resigned myself to accepting that India just wasn’t on the cards for me at this stage in my life. Then one day, out of the blue I got a phone call from the CEO and founder of the 40K Foundation, Clary Castrission, asking if I was still interested and if I could come along for an interview. My excitement levels immediately shot through the roof, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I didn’t tell anyone about the interview just yet. A few more weeks passed and I didn’t hear anything, so I assumed I’d been let down by my abyssmal ability to think on my feet and come up with any half-decent answers to the interview questions. Imagine my surprise, then, when one afternoon I opened my email inbox to find an email with all the details I needed I know regarding things like vaccinations and a visa for the trip!
It made it a little more difficult to focus on studying for my exams when all I really wanted to do was get online and start organising flights and researching Bangalore, but pretty much everything is organised now save for a few things which I can’t really do until the day before or morning of my departure. Back in December I had the induction weekend where I got to learn a lot more about what we’re actually doing over there as well as meet the awesome group of people I’ll be travelling there with. Every afternoon we’ll be working with the kids at the 40K Plus Pods and the rest of the time we will be working on impact projects with the other volunteers in our village. The impact projects require us to bring in our different skill sets and try to address challenges such as trying to make the Plus Pods financially self-sufficient so that eventually they will hopefully not have to rely purely on altruism to cover running costs, and more Pods can be opened in other areas in India. My group’s project involves looking at developing a type of jewellery made from granite. The idea is that women from the villages could be taught to make it and thus have a way of generating additional income for the families, and any money made from selling the jewellery could go directly towards covering the running costs of the Plus Pods. It’s pretty exciting to be working on a project that could have a huge impact, especially since 40K focuses on empowering people rather than just creating dependence on charity.
One of the requirements of volunteers for the program is to complete some fundraising for the 40K Foundation. Please take a look at my fundraising page, http://makingadifference.gofundraise.com.au/page/NGrove , and consider making a donation or sharing it with your friends and family. All the money raised goes directly to the 40K Foundation (ALL of my expenses, from flights, accommodation, my visa, vaccinations, travel insurance etc, are being paid for completely out of my own pocket) and all donations of $2 or over are completely tax deductible in Australia. As I’ve said on my fundraising page, a little money goes a long way in India, so even just donating what you would normally spend on a coffee will help make a difference. Thank you so much to the people who have so generously donated so far! Apart from donations, please keep myself and my fellow volunteers in your prayers, that we may have a safe trip and that the work we do over there makes a difference.
While in Bangalore I will be living in a remote village and I will only have access to the internet when I travel into the city (which is apparently about 90 minutes by bus). More details to come later though!
That should be about all from me for now. I hope this finds you well, and the next time most of you hear from me I will be in India! Take care and God bless!