Kumkum and Sarita visit The Hamlin School

05 November 2008

Kumkum and Sarita were again featured on the news. This time NBC Bay Area News filmed a story about their visit to The Hamlin School in San Francisco.

To see the video, please click here.

The Hamlin School has also posted some pictures from Kumkum and Sarita's visit (the picture above is one of them). To see more photos, please click here.

The two young women have recently returned to India after a whirlwind tour of California. Check back soon for Kumkum and Sarita's reactions to their trip!
The good news doesn't stop there!

Eileen Mills, a PPES volunteer from Australia, has published an op-ed about the organization in her local newspaper. In the article she reminisces about her "large family" at the school and her "memories of warm hospitality, chai drinking and home-cooked 'alu paratha'."

Her article, "Flushed with pride by Indian experience", which originally appeared in the Tweed Daily News, is transcribed below.

"Flushed with pride by Indian experience" by Eileen Mills

Tweed Daily News

Sanitation, or the lack of it, is not a sexy issue. It's not something you want to think about unless you have to, say, when your neighbour's septic tank is malfunctioning. However, in this United Nations International Year of Sanitation, the UN is acknowledging that it is vital for human health (1.8 million children die of diarrheal disease each year) and dignity; it contributes to social development, protects the environment and generates economic benefits.

It has been calculated that every dollar invested in sanitation yields nine dollars in economic benefits. Its importance to the health and dignity of rural women in countries such as India is paramount, something I witnessed at first-hand last year when I worked as a volunteer at a girl's vocational school in Uttar Pradesh.

The village women there avoid prying eyes by going out to the fields soon after dawn to defecate. Ignorance of hygiene and bacteriology, as well as poverty and lack of choice all help to sustain this practice.

The school where I worked is based on what Sam (Virendra) Singh, the school's founder, calls a "roti (bread) driven model". Low-caste village girls are provided with a free education that includes academic skills, health and hygiene, money management, legal awareness and textile skills. The schools textiles are marketed in India and the US.

Incentives to stay at school include a small amount of money deposited into each girl's bank account weekly, which add up to US$750 upon graduation – a vast amount for families whose monthly income is around US$10. Sam Singh, a former CEO of Dupont in the US, returned to his native village and decided to help his community by transforming the lives of village girls. Educating women has been shown to empower whole families and bring about social change. Sam's model also creates employment locally, raises the skill level of India's rural poor and helps stop the drift to India's huge, already overburdened cities.

Rural families are reluctant to let girl children attend school as they are expected to support the family by working until they marry. After they take up residence in their husband's family home, continue to work hard and produce children – preferably boys. Sam's initial efforts were viewed with suspicion but eight years on, the school has 700 students from 43 villages and applicants have to be turned away.

As a teacher it was great to see the girls transformed from underfed, disheveled children into healthy, well-groomed, educated and confident young women. Warm, enthusiastic and curious girls would frequently bombard me with questions. Unforgettable was the look on their faces when they discovered I was childless – a look of concern verging on pity. My response to them, "Bhagwan ki marzi hai" (It is god's will) stopped the questioning, but it was always followed by a warm smile and the assertion "We are your children now".

One way I keep in touch with my large family is to read their blog at www.pardada-pardadi.blogspot.com. Last week I was inspired to make a donation after reading about a fundraising drive to build toilets. The first village targeted, Karanpur, held memories of warm hospitality chai drinking and home-cooked "alu-parantha". Providing composting toilets to the girls' families not only helps them in terms of health, hygiene and dignity, it also promotes the school's values. On a personal level it is great to see an immediate concrete use made of my donation.

My name may never appear up in lights but somewhere in a small village in rural India, Sam Singh is inscribing it on a composting toilet, and I feel pretty good about that. Wouldn't you?