When You Empower a Community

Pardada Pardadi Educational Society

John Dias

After an incredibly bumpy 7-hour bus ride, we arrived in Anupshahr. We were coming off a long night of dancing and partying in honor of our last day at the ashram. Almost all of us were feeling tired and disoriented, traveling from place to place really took it out of us. I had no idea what to expect from our next experience at the Pardada Pardadi school for girls. The only thing I knew was that it was a huge establishment, providing education to about 1400 girls who came from the surrounding rural villages. Upon arrival, we were very kindly greeted by a group of students who had just finished their grade 10 exams; I immediately became energized by this bright group of students who were eager to show us around.

Right off the bat, I became friends with two girls named Bhati and Swati. They guided me through their huge school and along the way we interacted with dozens of younger kids who were playing outside for recess. We shared with each other a bit about our interests and our passions; I learned that both girls were studying maths and science so that they can become software engineers. They also shared with me that they loved to play music and dance. Most of the girls who go to Pardada Pardadi are first generation learners, and through this institution they’ve had the incredible opportunity to receive a quality education so they can pursue their dreams. The girls spoke amazingly good English. They were kind and respectful, eager to learn, and they were great listeners. After spending an hour with them it was becoming very clear to me that there was something special about this place.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve been learning over the course of our trip has to do with service. We have met incredible leaders, who have dedicated their lives to serving a cause much greater than themselves. This has inspired a life changing and new outlook on life, and a greater understanding of what I seek to value.

During our time in India, we have met with Rinchen Khando, who has devoted her life to helping establishing, and running, The Tibetan Nuns Project. We have met with Dr. Metre who runs an organization called CORD, that helps empower women in rural communities. And of course, we have had the great privilege of meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has been a huge proponent of secular ethics and non-violence. Here in Anupshahr, we have met yet another great leader, Sam Singh. He is the founder of Pardada Pardadi and former vice-president of U.S. South Asia DuPont. He worked hard his whole life so that he could give back to the community where his family has owned land for over 140 years. Sam is a visionary who decided he would dedicate himself toward improving the lives of thousands of young women in need. He is an incredible problem solver, and his ability to implement the organizational strategies learned in the corporate world has allowed him to overcome some of the greatest boundaries.

Last night, we got to have dinner at Sam’s house. We drove until we arrived on his beautiful property, out in the country, and for the first time on this trip we were able to enjoy a view of the stars. We ate a gigantic feast, outside on the rooftop level of his home. Dining with us, was a group of people from the United States who were visiting as part of a medical project. They had just finished vaccinating the whole school for typhoid. Our teacher, Sadanand, shared with us the significance of this project. He explained that when you dedicate your efforts toward improving the lives of others, often times you’ll attract people with special expertise who will be willing to contribute. I find it inspiring and uplifting to know that when we truly commit our hearts to selfless service, we can establish meaningful relationships, and therefor have access to great resources we can use to accomplish our goals.

Imogen Cockrum

After our bus ride from Sri Ram Ashram to Pardada Pardadi, we were all pretty exhausted, and hungry. I almost didn’t feel like I was ready to meet the school girls. However, as we pulled up we noticed that there was about twenty girls waiting at the entrance of the school to greet us with scarves; so really, there was no avoiding it. My class and I stood in a straight line across from them as they came forward and placed scarves around our necks. I thought it was a very kind greeting. The first girl who I made eye contact with was a very short girl with long hair, and a pretty smile. Her name was Nahid. She ended up being one of my guides along with another sweet girl named Sobha.

After eating lunch, the girls took us over to the campus to show us each section. This included the nursery / kindergarten classes, primary classes, and even the nurses’ office. As I toured the campus, with Nahid and Sobha, I noticed that all the girls that we passed, no matter what grade or age, were bright-eyed and excited to see us. I smiled back and tried to make eye contact with each girl. By doing this, I became more and more overwhelmed, and yet I still felt comfortable with their eagerness and excitement. They would wave and giggle to each other because they had gotten my attention, and I would laugh because of their cuteness. I think this made me more approachable. Once each group had my attention, they would rush up to me, in packs of about twenty, and exclaim, all at different times, things like, “Good afternoon ma’am!” Or, “Ma’am, how are you? What is your name?”

A few times I was told how happy I looked, and many times I was asked what I was thinking, and why I was smiling so much. The tour didn’t last long, as the girls were soon out of school. Nahid and Sobha wrote their names on my palm in pen, so I wouldn’t forget. They told me how much they would miss me, and that they would be thinking of me until we saw each other again tomorrow. We hugged goodbye and off they went with a few other of their friends that they had previously introduced me to.

Later that night, we had the opportunity to visit the founder of the school, Sam Singh, who explained to us that his home and the property where the school is had been in his family for many generations. Sadanand pointed out the very amazing fact that Sam and Renuka, who helped him create the school, managed to always find a solution to the issues faced by the families in the village, and their daughters. For example, it is promised that if the girls have a 70% attendance rate at the end of each year, 10 rupees will be placed into an account for each day, and at the end of their time studying there, the money is theirs for their future. There is a solar lamp checkout system for girls who don’t have electricity at home, so that they can study at night. There were many other clever solutions to the problems faced by the girls.

We had a wonderful dinner afterwards. Sam was just as hospitable and welcoming as the girls at the school, which I thought was very fitting. The next day, I got to meet up with my girls again. We did many activities, such as “teaching” and hanging out with some primary school classes, and of course at the end of it all was a long goodbye with lots of laughs and love. I received countless hugs and many exclamations of, “I’ll miss you so much.”

Nahid and Sobha are by far two of the most amazing girls I’ve ever met. Even though we live on opposite sides of the planet and were only able to be with each other for a very short period of time, I know that I’ll remember them. They had a strong impact on my views about the need to empower and support girls. They are, after all, two of the most passionate ones I’ve ever met.