Volunteering at Bhagavatula Charitable Trust: A College Student Teaches Rural Children

Introduction

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My name is Kishore Vedala. I am a Biochemistry and Economics major at the University of Georgia. I am just starting my third year at the University. In high school, I was very involved with the Vibha Organization. With the help of my mother and some friends, I helped initiate the Vibha Youth branch of the organization in Atlanta. I continued this by starting up a branch of Vibha Youth at my high school, Alpharetta High School. This past spring, I along with a few others helped start a college branch at UGA called VIbha@UGA. Through all this experience, however, I had never had a chance to actually partake in one of the grassroots projects Vibha works to fund until recently. This past summer in 2012, I had the privilege to take two weeks and volunteer in an organization partly funded by the Vibha organization. The organization was named Bhagavatula Charitable Trust and was located in a rural village in the Vizag district of Andhra Pradesh called Haripuram. Bhagavatula Charitable Trust (BCT) is a non-profit organization founded in 1976 that works to empower self-sustainable growth within the villages of the Vizag district. BCT primarily works in the areas of Education, Rehabilitation of the Challenged, Health Care, Agriculture Research, Wasted land development, Livelihoods, Revival of Folk Arts. During my two weeks from July 23rd to August 3rd, I volunteered in the education sector of BCT. I mostly taught English but also helped teach Mathematics to the children at Residential Model High School at the BCT complex. In addition, I had the opportunity to take a day and go to the tribal lands where Vibha provided money to BCT to assist primary schools. In this report, I will outline the process involved in getting this volunteer opportunity as well as my experiences in teaching the children.

How I got this Internship

Over this past year, I began to consider going to India during the summer of 2012. In addition to getting an opportunity to see family, I also wanted some medicinal experience abroad in a hospital. But another impetus to go to India was to directly participate in a Vibha funded grassroots project. I had been very involved in Vibha especially since 2008. I had seen videos of the children Vibha strives to help, and had participated in and even organized fundraising events supporting this cause. However, I had never gone to do first-hand volunteering for the children Vibha supports. I saw the opportunity, and I subsequently emailed Vijay Vemulapalli about the chance to volunteer in a Vibha funded project in India. Because I can speak and understand Telugu, he suggested BCT in Andhra Pradesh as an organization I might be interested in volunteering with. My mother, Lakshmi Vedala, and I then contacted Mr. Sri Ram Bhagavatula, the secretary of the organization who was more than happy to have me as a volunteer at BCT. He said that they regularly have volunteers and that there would be a lodge for me to stay in and breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be provided as well. Mr. Bhagavatula also noted the meals would be purely vegetarian and derived from crops grown on the farm complexes BCT ran. Given BCT’s goals and values and the living arrangement, I found the prospect of volunteering there suitable and intriguing. I said I would be glad to volunteer for BCT.

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Teaching at Residential Model High School

When I arrived at BCT on July 23rd, I conveyed my interest to teach at the high school at one of the BCT complexes. Ramesh Garu and Somayajulu Garu were more than accommodating in setting me up with a position at the school. The first day I was there, I visited the school near the end of the school day. The children had just finished classes for the day, and I toured the school with the vice principal. It was a small school, but well-built with two stories. The classes taught there included mathematics, English, natural sciences, physical sciences, computer learning, Telugu, and Hindi. Afterward, I got to go to the playground they had on the farm where the kids went after classes. I introduced myself to a few of the children there, including an 8-year-old boy named Prasad in the 6th class who would become my best friend the next two weeks. I was then introduced to the rest of the children at the daily prayer after the recess. The next day, after speaking with the principal and vice principal at Residential Model High School, I learned that I could teach mainly English but also Mathematics to children of each of the 6th-10th classes at the school. I subsequently met with the English professor, and he let me jump right in to lead the class and teach the children. Because RMHS is a Telugu-medium school, I was presented with the challenge of teaching English in an unfamiliar environment. But doing so also gave me a new perspective and allowed me to become closer to the children as well.

With a little bit of assistance from the math teacher, I started to teach the children about the parts of speech, which many were unfamiliar with. Because spoken English hadn’t been an area of emphasis for the school, none of the children had much experience with it, regardless of their class. Thus, each class was on roughly the same level of aptitude in spoken English. Therefore, I taught generally the same material to each of the classes. The first day I taught three different classes. In addition to teaching in the allotted English class times, I also taught English in the computer classes. This allowed the kids to learn English while learning computer skills conjunctively. In addition to parts of speech, grammar in general was a major focus for the rest of my time there. I designed lesson plans to follow a general plan of teaching each class basic English grammar. Through the two weeks, the major focuses were parts of speech, tenses, and sentence structure. In addition to teaching English, I also helped in teaching the kids mathematics. This proved much more difficult than teaching English because the textbooks the children used were written in Telugu, which I wasn’t too proficient at reading. However, I would act as a tutor in the class to help out the kids whenever they had questions. The numbers I could understand so if I needed any help in reading instructions to the problem the kids would tell me. Among the topics I helped the kids in were logarithmic equations, quadratic functions, and trigonometry.

The students really impressed me with their knowledge but more importantly with their desire to learn. The very first day I was introduced to the students at the prayer, the children astounded me with their congeniality and cheers of welcome. Here I was, an American stranger they know nothing about, and they could not have been more excited to have me there and have the prospect of learning more spoken English. Even more impressive was that they carried this enthusiasm throughout my stay there. My stay was thoroughly enjoyable in no small part to the enthusiasm and congeniality of the children and also the administration. I felt that I was truly making a difference.

Visit to Tribal Area for Primary Schools

On July 31st, I had the opportunity to go to the tribal areas in the morning to visit the primary schools funded by Vibha through BCT. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and left at 5:00 a.m. to travel an hour and a half, but the experience was well worth the trip. We travelled to six villages each with a funded primary school to teach children of 1st to 3rd class. The schools only functioned in the morning, but the children stayed behind to see us. All of the schools were standardized by BCT, who provided them with notebooks, flashcards, personal chalkboards, and other learning materials. The joy of seeing these children thrive in a learning environment was unparalleled to any other feeling I’ve had, and is why I, and we, volunteer for Vibha.

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The Rural Lifestyle

The other side of my experience in rural India was the basic lifestyle during the two weeks I was there. I lived in a lodge provided by BCT at the complex. I had a small room that was cabin-style with a single bed. Understandably, the life there wasn’t as grandiose as my normal life. I slept in a mosquito net. The bathroom had ants all over. There was only cold water to shower with. The trail from the BCT office to my lodge was pretty dangerous at night, so I had to use a flashlight. However, the relatively primitive lifestyle was an experience that was enlightening in itself. It gave me a new perspective on life that I believe every person needs. And I believe it allowed me to form closer bonds to the kids while I was there.

FAQs

How much did the program cost?

The lodging and meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) provided by BCT amounted to $15 per day, a total of $165 for me. Obviously flight costs have to be considered as well.

What if I don’t speak Telugu?

It’s perfectly fine. At BCT it definitely helps to speak Telugu, but there are other Vibha funded projects in India that cater to different languages. Just contact Vibha to find one that fits!

Will services will Vibha provide for my trip?

Vibha acts as a link between you and the organization Vibha helps fund- in my case BCT. However after that the communication is between you and said organization. At this moment Vibha does not provide funding. I went through a scholarship program at the University of Georgia to fund my trip.

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