VOLUNTEER REPORT - Felipe Arratia, Kerith Dilley and Irene Tse

We are Wharton Business School students who spent two weeks at Shanti Bhavan as part of a student nonprofit, Wharton International Volunteer Project. Although we came to teach business principles, teamwork, communication, leadership and SAT preparation, we left with so much more. We have made new friends, in addition to knowing the school leadership of Dr. George, Mr. Jude, Mrs. Law, Miss Shanti, Miss Hasina, Auntie Nancy and Pradeep.

We found the food at Shanti Bhavan delectable: all organic and completely fresh. We ate chapatis, pongal, rice and dosas on an almost daily basis. We didn’t really find the food very spicy, and the juice and fruit were amazing. We all worked at using only our right hands when eating, as everyone in India does, but we struggled when we needed both hands to pull apart the steaming alu parrota.

Since Kerith forgot to bring malaria pills, Irene and Kerith were lucky enough to have Vivek, our house lizard, protecting us from malaria by gobbling up all the mosquitoes at night. We only wish he could protect us from all the mosquitoes outside, as our feet were freckled with love bites. Too bad we didn’t bring Vitamin B-12!

The accommodations were comfortable, even with the cold showers…oh wait! Felipe didn’t have cold showers. Irene and Kerith kicked him out of his own room every morning the last week so they too could have hot water.

The education at Shanti Bhavan is truly top-notch. The students are incredibly knowledgeable about history, international historical leaders and current world affairs. Their critical thinking skills are excellent, and when we facilitated discussions about teamwork, leadership, and business in general, their contributions were often more insightful and relevant than those of many of our cohort-mates at Wharton.

Kerith taught them SAT basics and everyone shared their college admissions experience. It’s no exaggeration to characterize these kids as among the best and smartest kids Kerith had ever taught SAT in her 6 years of teaching SAT. This is all the more impressive when you remember that the SAT tests are for American 11th graders and the Shanti Bhavan students had just completed the 8th grade!

We know that all the students loved the SAT and especially their SAT friend, Joe Bloggs, the best! Actually, their favorite part was the Bottle Game, which Felipe taught them. The Bottle Game was a team-building exercise that taught the students the importance of verbal communication.

We were not the only ones doing the teaching. The kids taught us how to say Tamil and Hindi words and we all learned how to scratch out our names in both languages.

During the second week, we emphasized our major ongoing project with the kids, a mock business plan competition. We divided the students into teams of 5 and each of us Wharton volunteers served as a team advisor. Each team came up with a creative business idea: a car that becomes a boat, space shuttle rides and a community modeled after Shanti Bhavan set in Los Angeles.

Each team followed a basic outline of a business plan but each plan was marked by the distinctive personalities of the team. We reveled in seeing how quickly the teams applied the real-world business tools and ideas that we taught them during the process. We hope the students enjoyed experiencing business and that these lessons will stay with them regardless of which profession they choose.

The two-week experience culminated in a business plan presentation to a few teachers, Baldev Farm management and Foundation staff leadership. The audience acted as Venture Capital Funders, who would evaluate the business plans and make funding decisions. Each team fared well in front of the Venture Capital Funders, and every team was invested in.

However, the worst part about the business plan competition was knowing that we had to leave shortly thereafter. Saying goodbye was so difficult. Each of us said a few words to the group about how we hoped we opened their eyes to new ideas and urged them to stay in touch.

The staff insisted we stay up on stage while 3 students separately spoke about our individual contributions to the 8th grade class. They gave each of us a card and a little gift. We were all so touched. The students and staff had inscribed different famous quotations that suited our personalities.

The staff also brought a delectable cake from Bangalore. We experienced the tradition of being fed cake! It was the third cake of the day, as we had eaten cake before the business plan competitions for two students who were celebrating birthdays.

We stayed and took pictures with the 8th graders after the formal thank yous concluded. We can’t begin to describe the sadness we felt. The most important thing we said to the kids as we tried to say goodbye was that they should hold fast to their long-term goals and stay in touch with us.

We left hoping the students can take away what we tried to share about goal setting and achieving and the general optimism about their futures than our scintillating discussions about the nuances of the 5Cs and 4Ps and how it applies to cars that transform into boats, luxury housing developments or space shuttle rides for the rich.

These kids have so much potential to revolutionize rural India and bring to life Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of eradicating the caste system. We are inspired and looking forward to the future when Shanti Bhavan students will make their contributions toward that dream.

We are so appreciative of the warmth and hospitality shown to us by the entire staff, and especially Miss Shanti, Miss Hasina, Dr. George, Mrs.Law, Nancy, Pradeep, the Aunties and, each and every one of the 8th graders at Shanti Bhavan.

We hope to make it to Shanti Bhavan again soon. Felipe will be able to show off the latest card tricks, Kerith can share her bhangra moves and Irene can have yummy mangoes and play board games with the kids again.

Irene Tse, Kerith Dilley and Felipe Arratia.
wharton Business school, Philadelphia , PA, USA

June 12, 2006

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