VOLUNTEER REPORT - Brian Schofield

My name is Brian Schofield and I graduated in June of 2003 from Dartmouth College located in Hanover, New Hampshire. As a volunteer at Shanti Bhavan from March 22, 2005 to April 20, 2005, I taught Literature and Geography. In addition to teaching in a lecture format, I tutored students that needed extra help in Math. I was also able to help the school by sorting school supplies and books. My recommendation is to come to Shanti Bhavan with an open mind about ways that you can help the school because helping out with simple tasks such as sorting supplies is deeply appreciated.

I was also able to combine my interest in education and healthcare by volunteering at the Baldev Medical Center. Baldev is located about 5 minutes from Shanti Bhavan by a jeep ride, which is provided. The George Foundation and the Baldev Medical Project have a strong interest in improving the health of rural villagers through health education and medicines. The projects that I worked on at Baldev included providing de-worming tablets to villagers and educating villagers about AIDS. The education and medicine are focused most intensely on poorer villages. My overall impression is that Shanti Bhavan and Baldev Medical Center provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about Indian culture, teach children, and be involved with rural healthcare. Now I will speak in more depth about the issues that I have introduced.

My interaction with the school children was the highlight of the trip. The students were bright-eyed and enthusiastic. They were extremely well mannered and polite. They truly enjoyed answering questions presented during lecture. Occasionally, students need their participation restrained so that other children can have an opportunity to answer questions. The high ambition of a few students needs to be monitored, so that the rest of the class is not left behind. Outside the classroom the children love to involve you in their outdoor play activities. If you enjoy sports there are many different activities that you can play with them such as soccer, cricket, or baseball. Students also enjoy joking around or telling you about their lives. Most of the time you will see the children smiling. The children are truly the focus of The George Foundation. They are also a great source of energy and source of inspiration.

The school provides an excellent environment for learning. There is a large open hall where students put on presentations and conduct daily assemblies. The school considers international, national, and local events during assembly. The children are taught to think globally, which I feel will strongly enhance their success in the global market place. Students or teachers will present the daily news. During my stay I was able to stay updated with world events as well as learn about Indian news and culture. For example, one presentation was focused on the Tamil New Year, which I was eager to learn about. I found the emphasis on local news to be extremely important because it allows the students to remain active in their culture. The classrooms are clean and pleasant to work in. They take advantage of sunlight to light the rooms during the day, since the daylight is adequate and turning on lights is not necessary. However, in the evenings lights are necessary in the classrooms and it becomes challenging for students to study or to teach in the evening when there are power cuts. During the month that I volunteered there was only one major power cut during the evening, which effected the amount of time that I was able to tutor. I have heard that this is a challenging problem that they have faced before and from my understanding power cuts are an issue that is due to the supplier.

My impression of the staff is positive. They deeply care about the children and strongly desire to help them succeed. The staff is focused on developing complete students. They are dedicated to instructing children in extracurricular areas such as physical fitness and the arts. With a piano always playing and multiple student presentations, Shanti Bhavan is a place where there is always artistic stimulation. This environment supports the students’ desire to express their creativity. Due to the intimate class size, teachers are able to individually talk to students to guide them if they are experiencing challenges academically. The one on one interaction that is provided at this school is essential for academic success. I attribute most of my personal success during grade school to the opportunity to receive outside guidance by teachers that were truly concerned with my academic success.

My experience in the surrounding rural villages was eye opening. The poorer laborers live in homes that look like shacks and have poor hygiene. The roads have a lot of animal feces. Landowners live in dwellings that are much better maintained. Since most villagers do not wear sandals, there are significant foot problems due to worms. I find that The George Foundation has been of great service to improving the health of villagers. The George Foundation provides medicine and also educates the villagers about disease prevention. The emphasis of the Baldev project is not to provide a one time shot, but rather through preventive medicine and education the villagers will be empowered to make decisions to improve their health. I was glad to be involved with health education because I believe strongly that the best healthcare involves teaching people about how to prevent disease.

In addition to my response to my volunteer experience, I want to lay some fears to rest and give some insight into the living conditions. The living conditions exceeded my expectations. I honestly expected a dirty room with a lot of bugs and mosquitoes. I shared a double with a friend and fellow Dartmouth Alumni. We both had our own beds with two box springs. There was a shower and a toilet in our room. We were provided with clean sheets, a pillow, and a towel. The windows have small wire that prevents bugs from entering. If you request, there is a cleaner on premises that will clean your room once a week. I deeply appreciated the janitor’s effort in keeping our room clean. Also the school offers a laundry service. The rural method for cleaning is quite rough so you might want to hand-wash delicate items.

Although there are preventive measures taken and the room is kept clean, do not be surprised if a gecko or a couple of mosquitoes enter into your room. If you are concerned about being disturbed by geckos, I recommend you put away all the food in your room because they maybe attracted to left out food. If you are concerned about mosquito bites you should buy a fly net that can be placed over your bed when you sleep. I also took a malarial drug called Malarone, but the risk for malaria in this area of India is very low and the period of March through April is not the main season for Malaria even in high-risk areas in India.

Some potential volunteers maybe concerned about food. The food eaten at the Shanti Bhavan kitchen is free for staff. The kitchen at Shanti Bhavan is kept very clean and the chefs will alter your breakfast to include an egg if you are used to a high protein diet. I was sick for about a week, but I determined the cause was a dirty water bottle that I was given upon my arrival. You do not need water-purifying tablets because the water at Shanti Bhavan is taken from very deep wells. I suggest that you bring a water bottle or canteen with some detergent to keep it clean after use. Another comment about the food is that nearly 90% of all the meals that you receive are vegetarian. I enjoy eating vegetarian so this was positive for me. You can supplement your diet with protein bars or on the weekends you can pay to eat at the faculty cafeteria, which offers non-vegetarian meals. The faculty cafeteria, which is located away from the school, provides an excellent opportunity to socialize with the faculty and enjoy life outside of the school.

My overall opinion of the opportunity to teach at Shanti Bhavan and volunteer at Baldev Medical Center is very positive. I plan to comeback in the future. Once I return to the United States of America, my goal is to inform other Dartmouth students about this volunteer opportunity. Shanti Bhavan and Baldev Medical Center have too many volunteers during the summer months because that is when most students are free. Dartmouth students are free for two-month intervals during the academic year from September to June, since many students spend the summer between their second and third year taking classes at Dartmouth College. Knowing Dartmouth students and their interest in international service and healthcare, I believe that this project will have a very enthusiastic response on campus. I hope that Dartmouth students are able to share their talents and their passion for service with Baldev Medical Center and Shanti Bhavan School in the future.

Brian Schofield
Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.

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