“The village – the students still talk about it, and it’s hard not to carry that in your heart,” said Tonita Lopez, Assistant Director in the Center for Service and Learning at Colorado College. “It certainly was life changing for our students and for myself.”
Lopez was speaking of the village of Chilati in the Melghat region of central India, where a group of the college’s students and staff visited during winter break last year to work on a project with Maitri, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Pune, India.
Colorado College students and staff on their last day in Chilati gather with Maitri volunteers and staff.
Photo courtesy of Steve Crosby
Lauren Jenkins, a senior who participated in Colorado College’s International Service Trip to Chilati in January 2009, agreed. “We were only there for three weeks, but it was an amazing experience,” she said. “I am more interested (now) in international issues and in pursuing an international services career.”
This year, students from throughout the ACM will have the opportunity to work on service learning projects, both in rural Melghat villages and in the city of Pune, through a partnership between the ACM India Summer Program and Maitri.
The India Summer Program: Service Learning & Cultural Immersion is run by staff from ACM’s fall semester program in Pune, led by Director Sucheta Paranjpe. The program includes an orientation with instruction in Marathi language, classes on Indian culture and society, and field trips to explore Pune and the surrounding area.
A four-week service learning project – a structured, volunteer work experience with a non-governmental organization – is the centerpiece of the program. That’s where Maitri comes in.
Vinita Tatke (left) and Tonita Lopez.
Photo courtesy of Holly MacBride
The organization was founded more than a decade ago, particularly to address high rates of child mortality due to malnutrition in tribal villages in Melghat. Maitri raises money and organizes volunteers to support its activities in the areas of health and education throughout the state of Maharashtra, as well as for relief efforts elsewhere in India in response to natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Vinita Tatke, one of Maitri’s founders, serves as ACM’s primary contact with the organization and coordinates logistics of the service learning component of the ACM program.
For its annual International Service Trips in 2007-2009, Colorado College worked with Maitri’s longstanding initiative called Melghat Mitra (Friends of Melghat), which has a field office and three staff members in Chilati. The students worked on projects to build bathing platforms, dig compost pits, and plant banana trees for the 70 households in the village.
Taken together, the projects were aimed at improving sanitation in the village – especially by reducing the amount of stagnant water in which mosquitoes that transmit malaria can breed – and increasing the amount of nutritious food grown by the residents.
Sustainability is a hallmark of Maitri’s projects, according to Lopez, and the organization’s philosophy is to create a partnership with local residents. “All the work is done alongside the people in the village and the work is initiated by the people,” said Lopez. “One of the reasons that we continue to work with Maitri is because they do village assessments, and the programs are programs that the village wants.”
“They’ve been gracious to us,” she continued, “and they are excited for the opportunity to work with ACM.”
Photo courtesy of Holly MacBride
Colorado College students working in Chilati
At left, Eleanor Mulshine helps plant a banana tree. Every household in the village received two seedlings.
Below, students take part in a presentation and discussion with Chilati residents, one of a series of meetings to exchange information about the bathing platforms and the compost pits that residents and volunteers were building.
Jacquie Tilden and others dig a compost pit (below left).
Photo courtesy of Tabitha Hrynick
Photo courtesy of Krystle Richman
Maitri was “just such a great resource for us, very helpful and really willing to share with us what they knew,” said Jenkins. “I had a feel about how non-profits work in the U.S., but wasn’t really aware of the things that they did in other countries, so it was really fascinating to see that.”
“I’ve always known that I’ve been interested in non-profits, NGOs, social service, civic engagement, that kind of thing,” said Jenkins, a sociology major who has been involved in community service activities throughout her college years. “I was really looking for something I could commit to, that would have a meaningful result, and (would) really affect me as a person,” Jenkins said of the trip. “It was definitely rewarding.”
Janne Barklis and others carry rocks and dirt used in building bathing platforms.
Photo courtesy of Tonita Lopez
Lopez pointed out that the duration of the ACM summer program – six weeks in June and July, which participants can choose to extend to eight weeks – will be beneficial, both in the amount of time students will engage in the service learning project and because there will be time for intensive Marathi language training.
To Jenkins, Lopez, and the other Colorado College participants, getting to know the residents of Chilati – especially the children – provided some of the most vivid memories of last year’s trip.
“Several of (the families) had us into their homes and prepared meals for us,” said Lopez. “They were very gracious and very welcoming. There were several times that they took some of the students out with them into the fields, even though there was no translator, and showed them what to do and just worked like that.”
“The kids acted as the bridge between us and the adults in the village,” said Jenkins. “(They) were pretty shy at first, but they got a little more courageous and started coming up to us, talking to us, or just trying to play with us or get our attention. Once we started interacting with them, their parents and the adults would see what’s going on and start laughing. So they were the first ones to make that connection, which was great.”
Lauren Jenkins with boys from the village.
Photo courtesy of Lauren Jenkins
In the evenings, after the day’s work was done, children would appear outside the Melghat Mitra building at the edge of the village where the students were staying.
“We would play games and sing songs,” Jenkins said. “We’d sing ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ to them and they had a bunch of songs to sing to us. We brought some paper and some markers to color with, which was a great thing we could do together. One of the girls in our group brought little colored pieces of paper and would make origami, cranes and things like that, and taught the kids how to do it. They loved that and they caught on really well.”
“Definitely the highlight of my trip was getting to meet (the children) and hang out with them,” said Jenkins. “It was a good time.”