Get a little, Give a lot

Surrounded by mirrors and automatic glass doors, I’m escaping the heat, squalor, and constant noise of Mumbai in an air-conditioned dance studio. However comical this may sound, it’s true- Niswarth’s home base is now the fully functional dance studio at the American School of Bombay. The room’s equipped with crunchy Indian snacks and a modest library, our suitcases are littered across the floor and a whiteboard currently displays the Subway orders from dinner last night. The first four days of the program have been absolutely jam packed: we’ve learned about various NGO’s and their efforts, had discussions with leaders from the corporate world, been exposed to the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian education system, and learned about numerous different plans for action. All of a sudden, the pace has slowed down. Just before the full force of India threatened to deplete all of our energy and terrorize our immune systems, we’ve been given the opportunity to truly absorb Mumbai and effectively consolidate the multitude of informative experiences we’ve had thus far. Thank god I’ve kept a journal. Often, during presentations or after watching a particularly moving documentary, I find myself furiously scribbling down nuggets of information that for some reason or another, seemed important to me. To tackle a complex problem like education in India, one must have a multi-faceted approach, and I’m so grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to examine education from many different perspectives, even before setting foot inside an actual classroom. Of course, all of these experiences and emotions don’t always neatly arrange themselves in an easily manageable way, merely scrolling down the home page of this blog reveals the conflicting inner turmoil that many of us are feeling.

So, we’ve started talking a lot about why we’re feeling the way we are. Our emotions range from anger and shame to despair and hopelessness, and making sense of all these responses is a daunting task. However, I think we are realize the importance of recognizing that Niswarth has changed the way we feel about Indian education, and perhaps even altered the way we think about India as a world player in the 21st century. For many of us, this psychological transformation is not enough- we want to do; we want to be able to produce and quantify concrete change. And yet, we know that for the most part we are too powerless to bring about anything of a significant scope.

I feel differently. I am confident that in this case, changing the way we feel is as important, if not more, as changing the situation we see around us. I was talking to my Uncle the other day about this very dilemma, and he said, “Beta (darling), I know you’re on a service learning trip, but your time in Mumbai right now is not necessarily about giving as much as it is about getting.” Those words placated a lot of the helplessness and confusion that I was feeling. Maybe we can’t do something now, but because of this trip, we will be equipped to do something when we have the maturity, financial stability, and logistical means necessary. Perhaps some of us will go on to intern at the various NGO’s we’ve worked with or apply to be a Teach for India Fellow. Or more importantly, we will re-structure our own lives to reflect values and ideals inspired by our time in India right now. As for my uncle, he shared with me that he does his part by making sure that the children of his domestic help are always equipped with school supplies, uniforms, and textbooks; he’s goes out of his way to make sure that they have the education necessary to break the cycle of poverty that ensnares their family.

In conclusion, I’ve decided to tweak the well-known motto “give a little, get a little” to “get a little, give a lot” because I feel like that’s exactly what Niswarth is helping us do. I’ve always said that I’d like to move to India after college and work here, and because of this trip, I can begin to identify exactly what it is I would aspire to do in India. For me, that’s more than a first step: it’s a massive leap into my dreams and a monumental bound into my future as a global citizen of the 21st century.