For the past two weeks I have been living in Rajgurunagar, Maharashtra, a town about an hour north of Pune. I came here in 2011 to complete my graduate internship at Chaitanya, a microfinance organization that provides loans and social services to rural women in the farming community. Not only did I learn a lot from my internship experience, but I also gained an incredible amount of insight into Indian culture from the friends and families that I met. There was no way that I couldn’t come back here and pay a visit to the people who made me feel welcomed and included in their community. While staying here I decided it would be worthwhile to make as many contacts in the rural area as possible. I know that EEI is projecting to initially work in Rajasthan, but this area of Maharashtra is also one that I want to build my networking opportunities for any future prospects.
Well, it just so happens that this decision is working out for me.
Later that evening, I was with my friend Rohan at his mother’s sari shop chatting away and catching up. An older couple came into the shop, but I took no notice of them as the man’s wife started looking at sari’s and shopping away. After some time had passed I realized that I met this person earlier in the day, it was Mr. Bhagat. What a random surprise! We all started talking and he came to mention that he is also an English teacher at a secondary school in a neighboring village. Another random surprise! My light bulb switched on. I explained to him further my purpose here in India and he immediately invited me to visit the school. I accepted the invitation and made the date: August 27th---My birthday.
As Tuesday approached I was getting more and more intrigued. Everyone I knew in town was telling me how successful the school is and that I would greatly enjoy my time there. Morning came and I first went to the Pacharne’s home for coffee and breakfast. It was the first good moment on my birthday, as I am quite affectionate towards my Indian family.
Mr. Bhagat arrived and I hopped into his car. We drove not more than fifteen minutes away to a little rural village called Donde. Most of the area is farming land, with crops of methi, sugar cane, potatoes, mango trees, and peanuts. We arrived at Bhairmath Vidalaya Donde and I was brought into the office of the Principal, Mr. Bhor Vittal Maruti. He was pleased to have a foreigner visiting his school and informed me of the many successes and achievements the school has had.
I was given the rounds of the school which is actually quite small, but quaint. There are two floors with a handful of classrooms and a computer lab. As I walked around I could sense all the students’ eyes were on me. It’s quite adorable actually to hear the whispers and giggles accompanied by shy, glancing eyes. I can’t help but smile while they all wonder who I am and where I am from.
On this day students in 9th and 10th standard were preparing for their examinations and so many of them were studying outside in the courtyard between tests. The staff brought me to meet them and I was able to show off my Hindi skills. Mr. Bhagat continued to tell the students that it is my second visit to India, and that I have an organization which gives scholarships to girls in secondary school. I mentioned that it was my birthday and everyone was very excited as I initially had not brought it up. Suddenly, the children broke out in song and started to sing “Happy Brithday”. I don’t think I’ve ever had a large group of kids sing to me like that. I must have had a huge smile on my face!
When I left the school I definitely felt a strong connection between the staff, the students and myself. I have about two weeks left in Rajgurunagar and I will be spending this time creating a plan to meet with the girl students from the ST and SC, talking further with Mr. Bhagat, and working on organizing a scholarship fund for the students of Donde.
The day isn’t quite over, I still have a lot of people to celebrate my birthday with, and there’s cake to be had! I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent it than by meeting this school and quite possibly our first scholarship opportunity.
Many happy returns of the day,