By Jonathan Slakey, MPP Candidate ’15, who is working in Vijayawada, India
We’re all human beings, and everyone deserves a chance to live a comfortable life free from the insecurity of finding your next meal or home. That’s what brought me to India, and the Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV).
I’ve been in Vijayawada, India for about two weeks now, working with ARV, a grassroots non-governmental organization committed to supporting underserved and neglected sections of Indian society. Unfortunately for ARV, funding is very limited, but there seems to be a never-ending supply of people in need.
ARV used to receive the bulk of it’s funding from English teachers in Japan (a story that’s too long for this short blog), but with the Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, most expats living in Japan have understandably turned their attention towards reconstruction there. Now ARV’s in an interesting position. For eight years it was funded consistently, and ran a number of successful operations including the construction of houses for the homeless, as well as the running of education and food distribution centers.
Now, programs that were run without pause for half a decade are being shut down due to lack of funding. At this point, only a few education centers remain of ARV’s operations, which used to span over 100 villages and a population of 30,000. I’m with ARV to look for ways of restoring its operations. One way to save ARV is at a village center in Kandrika, a town neighboring Vijayawada.
That’s where 70 students are gathered, in part to meet the funny American guy whose shown up out of the blue, but also to spend a few hours studying with the help of a college-educated tutor named Jagadeswari (pronounced Jaw-gawd-shwari), who has a BA in Education. For $100 a month, this center stays open from 5:30 – 8:30pm Monday through Saturday. No child is turned away at the center, and any village family may send their child there, free of charge.
We visited the center because once a year, ARV distributes school supplies to all the children who’ve had high attendance. My visit happened to coincide with one of these once-in-a-year events. We spent a couple of hours with the kids, playing games, stressing the importance of studying, and handing out school supplies and souvenirs from America (candy, stickers, and removable tattoos).
A tutoring center seems like a great idea, but ARV has struggled to get the word out about its program and the center may soon close due to lack of funding. Committed organizations like ARV are doing good work throughout India, but they have little international exposure, and domestic sources of funding are difficult (or perhaps impossible) to come by.
Over the next month, I’m hoping to gather a comprehensive accounting of all the organization’s operations and any data on the results of their operations. We want to overhaul the NGO’s website, but also ensure that information is available in English for the purposes of fellowship or grant funding applications. I’ll also explore the possibility of analyzing any data ARV has on its students. ARV needs ways of proving to the public that its operations are successful.
Thanks so much to the Bergmans for their generous support of this trip, and to the Luskin School for helping to organize the International Practice Pathways!