Sunday, January 26, 2014

Making Children's Dreams a Reality

"We are here. We are the citizens of this country; the responsibility lies on us."

If in all we experienced last week while in India, if we hadn't spent the last two days with the Dream School Foundation, we would have still had a very rounded understanding of the country, but I'm not sure if we would have had so much hope.

If you read my last post, which was written immediately before arriving in Bangalore, in the Southern State of Karnataka, you will better understand the conflict I was feeling. We were there to work, whereas most of our group's meetings were complete so they were ready to kick back and relax. In some ways, it was mentally soothing to me we would not have such luxury. I just did not believe we deserved it, though it was awfully hard for me to decline the safari trip some went on.

We arrived at DSF late. Our driver had the wrong address, so we ended up seeing the better part of Bangalore. Of the five regions we visited, it was by far the nicest we had seen yet. This tells you a lot about India though, because even here in this city of 4.3 million people, with one of the highest literacy rates in the country, there is a need for organizations like Dream School Foundation.

Describing DSF to friends over the past few months was often a challenge for me. Meeting them and witnessing their work firsthand completely changed this. This is an organization that fills the cracks in the lives of India's children like glue. In some cases, literally; their work includes infrastructure support for government schools like installing toilets and repairing roofs. They also provide libraries, science labs, transportation assistance & computer labs. This is all in addition to academic programming and mentoring that focuses on learning level enhancement, comprehension and engagement to help children discover their interests, obtain high school and post-secondary education. The goal is they will move into a career and break the cycle of poverty and desperation most grew up with. Integrated Education Model suits their work well and you couldn't imagine a more holistic program than this. 

One need not look at many stats to understand just why such an approach is needed.

  • Over 50% of students drop out between primary and high school
  • 37% of schools have a toilet for girls
  •  53.4% of children in 5th standard read at 3rd standard level
  • While the national literacy rate for males is 82%, it is only 65% for Indian females 
DSF volunteers and employees told us countless stories of young people succeeding in spite of their circumstance, and yet others who weren't so lucky. It broke our hearts, so we couldn't imagine the pain they must go through, personally knowing these kids. 

Sometimes I think the word 'inspiration' is overused. What does it mean to be inspired? Is it just a good feeling? A different outlook or personal commitment to change? Does it mean anything without action? I can't imagine my actions to come close to those of the DSF team, but they really are an inspiration to me. Their passion to make a difference was raw and visible in their expressions, voice and gestures. Most left successful corporate careers in order to be the change they believed India desperately needed. 

"If we don't do it, who will clean the mess here? It has to be grassroots level work."

There is no more real passion than this.

Our Ivey team with a group of students at JC Nagar Government School in Bangalore, a school supported by DSF.

A group of Ten Plus youth studying to enter engineering school outside the Dream School Foundation Learning & Development Center,

Cherise speaks to 7th standard girls at the government school.

Heather with some of the girls.

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