My name is Derek Etkin. I am from Boston. After my college graduation, I worked as an engineer for a couple years before I found myself looking for a chance to take whatever skills I had acquired at school and in the workplace and using them to help children who were not given the same opportunities I had been given. After a friendly and direct correspondence with Principal Law, it was clear to me that Shanti Bhavan would be a fantastic opportunity for such work. I worked there as a volunteer from January to April 2006, and the task could not have been made more rewarding or enjoyable by everyone at the school, especially the children.

For the first few weeks I alternated classes with the math and science teachers for the middle grades. Although both women were highly qualified to teach the curriculum, they eagerly sought an outsider’s approach to give their students a fuller education. I was impressed by the lab facilities for the Physics, Chemistry and Biology programs. Although they still lack some equipment, I found the teachers resourcefully using available materials from around the campus, including the extraordinary biodiversity of the area.

For an hour every morning before breakfast I led students in physical education. This was mostly basketball or baseball, neither of which I was particularly qualified for other than having played both back in America. The children were quite cooperative and usually quite good sportsmen about everything. After class, the children were allowed to have free games for about an hour for which I usually showed up. We played cricket, field hockey, four square, and lots of village games which the children were eager to teach me. Near the end of my stay some lacrosse sticks arrived in a donation container which I helped put to use. There is a lot of donated sports equipment, some of which are just waiting for a semi-qualified volunteer to use with the children.

After a month of my stay the administration asked me to teach the computer class. The computer lab is impressive, with a few more than a dozen Pentium PCs with Windows 2000. Although they do not have a network or the internet, there are many opportunities for teaching computer science, applications of common software (Adobe Suite, MS Office, Games), and research (Encarta). Most exciting for me was the electronic newsletter I helped the middle grades produce using Adobe PageMaker. I felt that my rudimentary skills with computers went a long way at Shanti Bhavan. Anyone who uses Excel or imaging software in the workplace would be tremendously useful as a volunteer to this school. Someone with an education in computer science would also be a very big help for the burgeoning computer science classes.

I found the school administration very receptive to any initiatives that I was willing to take at the school. The school is eager to provide their students with a global perspective and exposure to foreign culture and academics.

Living at the school is great. Although the food could be a little boring sometimes, I felt healthy and strong the whole time I was living there. Plus, I never did my dishes, made my tea, or prepared or bought my food. On the weekend, there was always a vehicle to take me to either Hosur or Bangalore for a good restaurant meal, some shopping, a film, and the internet. My room was spacious and cleaned by the staff whenever I asked. The toilet and shower is as Western as you want it to be. Also they picked me up straight from the airport, just like they promised.

The administration was very accommodating when I requested some time off to visit friends and travel around India. As long as I told everyone a couple weeks in advance it was quite easy for me to take leave of the school or a couple of my classes.

Shanti Bhavan is a fantastic and safe environment to learn about India, make use of skills you did not even know you had, and spend time with eager and inspiring children who need your help. The school could use all types of volunteers, but in my experience the following qualities are most in demand: sports skills, computer science education, mathematics, science, literature education, history education, current affairs interest, library skills, and finally male. Although young women have done a lot for the school as volunteers, and no doubt will continue to, I would encourage more young men to do the same. There are very few male role models for either the boys or the girls.

Derek Etkin,
Postdam, NY, USA

Please contact me in Boston if you have any questions. I love talking about Shanti Bhavan. dereketkin@hotmail.com 315-212-9615

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