VOLUNTEER REPORT - Andrew Lauck
Coming back to India, and more specifically, Shanti Bhavan, had been a consistent desire of mine from pretty much the day I left almost two and a half years ago. Returning, I knew, would be a difficult situation as I was sure to come with expectations resulting from my first and most impressionable visit. With that in mind, I found it necessary to broaden my activities while working for The George Foundation, on this second visit, from just working at Shanti Bhavan to more of the projects including Baldev Medical Center, EDPS 2000, and Baldev Farms. What was great about this second visit was that through these various projects I gained a better understanding of not only how dedicated The George Foundation is to social change, but in addition I was exposed to the many factors required to run a successful Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Participation in field work at Baldev Medical Center, as well as financial planning and projections with Baldev Farms helped me "get my feet wet" in several areas of voluntary work. In the public health aspect of the Baldev Medical Center work, I was given much more knowledge of an area in which I may want to further explore as a profession.
Well the children have grown physically, that was anticipated, but one thing that I was unable to predict before arriving the second time was how much they would have grown mentally, both intellectually and emotionally. I was so pleased to see how all of the children in grades two through five have become so much more grown-up since I last saw them, whether it is with their level of sports skill, or their ability academically. They all seem to be progressing just as they should and it is such a joy to be able to watch them become individuals. One thing I noticed this time was that although progressed in their reading skills, the children were not completely to the level of reading proficiency I thought appropriate to their age. I worked with many of the grades, reading with them and exposing them to more books in the library in the hopes of spawning an interest in reading and in books in general. It would be great if the children could get more help from the staff, both residential and academic, on finding books, and for the promotion of reading. What is such a constant at Shanti Bhavan is the courtesy and respect given to every child and by every child. The atmosphere has not faltered from the warm, friendly, stimulating school I first experienced over two years ago. If anything, the atmosphere at Shanti Bhavan has improved with the addition of staff and new grades, creating an even more lively institution. The children seem to be so at home and comfortable, their schedules full from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep, maintaining a stimulating and stable learning and living environment.
The first time I came I had observed that the residential staff seemed overly strict with the children while the academic staff seemed overly lenient, which I am pleased to see has changed for the better. The housemothers are much more attentive to the children's emotional needs and seem much more affectionate and close to the children. The schoolteachers also seem to have a better hold on the children's attention in class and appear to be more creative and innovative in their approach to lessons. This improvement will hopefully continue as the children get older and more serious in their studies. Though the housemothers and school teachers have assumed more appropriate roles, there still remains a difficulty for the children to adequately identify "at home" time and "at school" time. At a boarding school that may be one of the hardest tasks as the home and the school are both one in the same. Nutritionally the children are very fit, as they have always been at Shanti Bhavan, and the diet is better balanced than the last time I was here. More daily intake of protein seems still advisable, but is by no means a necessity. Overall it is so pleasing to see the continuous commitment of the staff of The George Foundation and Shanti Bhavan to the maintenance of Shanti Bhavan as a cutting edge educational institution and a loving home.
Baldev Medical Center
What used to be forested sprawling land is now a fully functioning community medical center, farm, and museum complex. While at Baldev, I became familiar with the EDPS 2000 computer system, daily activities of a health outreach center, and field-work in the surrounding villages. The staff seems very qualified and of a sufficient number considering the number of patients it takes on a daily basis. The institutional goal of not just providing health care, but also preventative health education and awareness seem to be very active and appropriate to the surrounding rural community's needs. I went into the villages with the social workers and helped in conducting a study on malnutrition of children under twelve years of age. The social workers seemed to have very good rapport with the villagers, both men and women, adults and children, and were able to effectively convey the aims of The George Foundation as it pertained to each community. The staff at Baldev was also very accommodating and attentive to my needs and inputs as far as scheduling and procedure went and I felt at ease working there in every way. I really have no criticisms to note, and feel that Baldev Medical Center will only get better and better with each passing day. The physical facility seems more than adequate and will allow itself to house many more staff and patients in the future.
What little I helped with at Baldev Farms was very informative for me and I felt very pleased to be able to participate in the mapping out of the future banana farming. The farm seems to be able to balance planting and harvesting of its current crops while acknowledging the needs of its laborers and staff. From the attention to detail in the planning of the banana farming I hope that the farm will prove to be a lucrative enterprise for The George Foundation and its workers. It will be very successful.
I really cannot sufficiently express the enjoyment I receive at being a contributing part of this organization. Returning to volunteer has cemented a certain aspect of ownership for me here and I feel so at home in such a warm and very familiar environment. My commitment to The George Foundation is most definitely long-term and I depart with the hopes that my contributions at least somewhat match the magnitude of that which I have taken from my experiences here. Like before, I give my most sincere promise that I will return someday, to India and to Shanti Bhavan, if not to work, then certainly to visit. It may be as soon as two years, but certainly no longer than eight years, as I would like nothing more than to see the current fifth graders walk across the stage at their high school graduation eight years from now. Thank you to all who made it possible for me to return to a place so dear to my heart.
June 2002-August 2002