NISWARTH = NON SIBI*
*NOT FOR ONESELF
Niswarth is a Tang Institute at Andover Learning in the World program which brings together people and ideas from across the globe. It focuses on multiple perspectives, it works to identify and understand context, and it digs into the complexity of pressing issues within communities. We put students into an unfamiliar context and then invite them to examine the connections between our external views of the wider world and our internal reactions to new experience. As we discover these connections, we emphasize the practice of humility and patience, questioning our assumptions and habits, recognizing our shared humanity, examining our obligations of empathy and our need to understand others. Connecting knowledge, goodness, action, and reflection in a continuous cycle, we gain a sense of purpose and a sense of meaningful connection with those around us.
"Once students are exposed to a level of complexity and diversity and understand that they can make a difference, there is no going back."
Raj Mundra, Director of Niswarth
Niswarth means “non-sibi” in Hindi. The program was conceptualized in 1999 and prompted by one question: What would a program look like that connects Andover students to communities in India?
We knew that students would be stretched out of their comfort zone, have a desire to learn about the needs of a community, and want to connect their learning to their Andover experience. We also envisioned creative partnerships to support local projects. Back then, we did not realize how much internal reflection and questions about social structures would emerge.
Since 2004, once a year Phillips Academy faculty and students visit India and engage in service-learning projects that range from advocating for children's rights, supporting community access to clean water, profiling child labor through a photographic exhibition, using visual art to connect communities, playing basketball to support classroom performance, and working on government school based projects to meet the needs of that community.
Our partnerships involve a number of educators, local organizations in Mumbai and Ahmedabad (NGOs, Corporations, Government, Foundations,...) and citizens including artists, journalists, musicians, doctors, social workers, bankers, and professors. In twelve visits, over 100 students and 23 teachers from Andover, as well as multiple Indian schools (Riverside, Cathedral, American School of Bombay, Udayachal) have participated in the comprehensive three-week summer service-learning Niswarth program. The resulting curriculum builds a kind of understanding that connects scholarship with field experiences and internal reflection.
The keys to our work:
- Prioritize relationships and not projects
- Approach our learning with an open-mind and open-heart
- We cannot reduce inherent complexities
- Fractal thinking frames a type of complexity
- Learn from multiple perspectives
- Learn from India, poverty, communities and development
- Learn how to learn, how to observe, reflect on the unfamiliar with humility
- Meet inspiring leaders who have developed innovative responses to social issues in sustainable ways
- Practice praxis - a cycle of observation - reflection and action
- A writing curriculum that is a layered and iterative process including journals, free writes, blog posts and summer projects
Students return to Andover with new sets of perspectives, a deeper understanding of how to convert the ideals of goodness and knowledge into collaborative action with a community, and a set of skills and level of empathy to lead local and global initiatives.
This level of integrative learning in an unfamiliar community encourages students to understand that improvement of the world must be highly contextualized.
“When I returned to Andover, I began to understand the complexities inherent in the simplest of statements. History was no longer a series of facts, because I realized that to get people out of poverty or behind a single idea required knowledge not only of dates and historical figures but also of the political, economic, and, most importantly, social patterns of the day. Niswarth gave me the anthropological tools to explore subjects as interconnected, the periods of the day no longer separated by arbitrary periods but interrelated by their common themes. If environmental science explained the scientific reasons why one place had more natural resources or was at a greater risk for higher pollution sequestration, then English presented me with the more abstract ways that these disadvantages and advantages could affect an individual. In short, Niswarth taught me that beyond figures and facts and endless streams of information there are people to be explored and appreciated and understood.”- Michaeljit Sandhu ’09 (Niswarth 2008)
Once students are exposed to a level of complexity and diversity and begin to understand how to recognize and address the needs of others, students become engaged. The books, papers, articles, talks, documentaries and movies we read and watch have real meaning. Our empathy grows as we listen to stories of people in any community and we are inspired by the mission and vision of community leaders. We begin to view problems as opportunities, and small acts of love as ways to respond. In a variety of ways, Niswarth students have become catalysts and leaders for positive change at Andover, in colleges and within communities around the world.
Raj Mundra, Director of the Niswarth program, also teaches biology, coaches football, and is the Assistant Dean of Students. He came to Andover in 1991 as a teaching fellow, has taught in Switzerland, Kenya and India, and currently lives on campus with his family. During the 2009-10 school year, he was on a year-long sabbatical in Mumbai, India working with the American School of Bombay and launching the annual InspirED conference. Raj has written about and presented the Niswarth framework at many venues ranging from schools to global conferences. He is also the Founder of Educators for Teaching India which provides outreach and education on the teaching of India in public and private schools.
"In writing, I could explore an observation from a hectic day and unpack it, pushing myself to dig deeper and discover connections outside of the moment. In the honesty and vulnerability inspired by deep reflection, I believe that praxis became an essential habit in maintaining empathy as one of the core values of Niswarth."
Ryan Miller, PA '14, Niswarth '13
Writing is a core aspect of the Niswarth curriculum, and throughout each program, students take time to reflect on their experiences in our blog. Feel free to explore our most recent entries below, or visit our full blog.
In the News
December 11: Lessons in Trust and Teamwork for PA Athletes in India (andover.edu)
December 10: Context Matters (Rajesh Mundra, Phillipian)
July 31: The Power of Reflection: Niswarth Program Puts Praxis into Practice (Janine Ko, Tang Institute Blog)
December 12: PEA, PA to Host Joint Trip to India (Tommy Song, Exonian)
November 14: Exeter to join Niswarth Summer Program (Stephan Min, Phillipian)
Fall: "How Much Can You Trust A Smile?: Pedagogical Reflections from Phillips Academy's Niswarth Program" (Andrew Housiaux, Independent Teacher Magazine)
October 12: "Burst Bubbles, Broken Windows" (Jordan Boudreau, Phillipian)
October 5: Students share their experience in India during Niswarth Night (andover.edu)
December 26: “Hindi for ‘Non-Sibi’” (Supriya Jain, Phillipian)
Fall: “The Changemakers: Taking Service to the Next Level” (Raj Mundra, Independent Teacher Magazine)
April 2: Alum’s Documentary Details Academy’s Service-Learning Program in Mumbai, India (andover.edu)
December 29: “Does Community Service Really Change Anything?” (Raj Mundra, Christian Science Monitor)
September 18: In Conversation with Raj Mundra (Ranjani Saigal, Lokvani)
August 24: Students Join Hands for Sustainable Change (Priya Ramakrishnan, DNA India)
June 19: Niswarth Service-Learning Program Begins India Adventure; Follow Their Blog (andover.edu)
May 20: Niswarth 2008 Sets Ambitious Goals for Mumbai Summer Program (andover.edu)
"Develop relationships, not results-oriented projects. Work to understand people, and we will deepen our understanding of who we are and what our relationships mean. We will start to see that we are all interconnected, our journeys are intertwined. My well-being is intimately connected with yours."
Jayesh Patel of Manav Sadhna
The Niswarth program has been supported by several organizations and individuals: The Abbot Academy Association, Navroze Godrej ’01 and his family who have hosted the teachers and students, and grants from many Phillips Academy families and individuals. Over the past 12 years, Niswarth has partnered with many organizations in Mumbai and Ahmedabad who understand the goals of the Niswarth program. They have created opportunities in which Niswarth students can contribute in different ways to their on-going work in local communities.
These organizations have inspirational leadership, are involved in connecting schools and communities at various levels, and have been wonderful hosts.
"This is the first time that I’ve started to think that maybe it’s about doing something because you believe in the good of your actions – not in the promise and satisfaction of the results."
Arzu Singh, PA '16, Niswarth '14
Beyond Niswarth, Andover students have shared their experiences in classrooms, communities, in conversations with family and friends, in colleges and in their workplace. Learning in a context that is so unfamiliar has encouraged Niswarth graduates to ask some basic questions about social structures in and out of the classroom, and students have gone on to pursue many projects in communities around the world.
Brandon Wong '12
“Niswarth was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. There is no other three weeks of my life that were as intensive nor as instrumental in shaping how I view a range of issues, from global poverty to education disparities in Mumbai, and the different ways of achieving social change. Social entrepreneurship became one of my greatest passions as a result of the trip, and I owe many of my experiences post-PA graduation to Niswarth. I would never have ended up interning at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public in Washington D.C., nor joining some of the social innovation initiatives at UNC, if it weren’t for Niswarth. When I look back on my time at PA, Niswarth changed the way that I see the world quite unlike any other experience.”
Hilary Fischer-Groban '05
Going on the pilot of the Niswarth program in 2004 opened my eyes to the big, messy, complicated and wonderful world of modern India. Since then, I dedicated myself to finding out more. I moved to Mumbai in September 2010 on an American India Foundation Clinton Fellowship and am currently managing communications for ICICI Foundation, a corporate non-profit funded by India's largest private bank.
Hilary spent some time in December, 2004 working at a government school in Mumbai. There she developed presentations on children's rights and taught in a third grade classroom.
After Phillips Academy, I graduated from Brown University where I majored in South Asian studies. I spent a semester conducting field research in rural Gujarat, (quite a change from the slums of Mumbai!) and wrote a thesis on second-generation South Asian Americans. Prior to my fellowship and moving to India, I worked at Harvard Business Review Group and conducted research in organizational behavior and theory at Harvard Business School. While working at Harvard Business School, I co-authored a case study about international perspectives on quotas for female board members.