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Friday, 20 July 2012

Time Marches On

Just yesterday it seemed like I was making the all so difficult decisions of how many pairs of pants to bring to India, and which shirts would be the coolest to help combat the heat. Now I’m six months in realizing that a lot has happened, things have changed, and many of those articles of clothing are fighting for their life as my rigorous hand washing has caused a little too much pain for the cotton. This past week Iain and I started teaching with Christa at the St. Andre School, which is a smaller village school outside of the city, while Lucy and Charlotte have taken on our old classes at the Holy Cross School. After becoming quite comfortable with the one minute walk to school, the new 45 minute bus ride has already shown to be overcrowded and tiring, but also beautiful due to the bumpy road that cuts through the rural countryside.
It was difficult saying good bye to students at Holy Cross as I had grown close to them during my time at the school. At the same time I’ve been thrilled to have the chance experience a completely different school. Unlike the Holy Cross School, St. Andre only has tribal students that speak Kokborok and tend to come from lower income families while Holy Cross had a mix of Bengali and tribal students typically coming from middle class families. My classes are also very different now as I’m teaching classes 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, and 12 ranging from moral science to English to environmental science. This will definitely keep me from becoming bored from teaching the same subject over and over. I’m most excited about teaching Micro Economic Theory and Economic Development in India. Since I studied economics at Stonehill and have been passionate about the subject for a long time it’s great to have the chance to teach something I am familiar with. The econ material is at a college level though so making sure the students understand the lessons will be a challenge to say the least. These two classes only have about 15 and 25 students making it a lot more manageable (I’m very lucky in country where 50 plus students per class is the norm).
Thus far I’ve really enjoyed my new classes as the students have been very pleasant to teach (sometimes too quiet when I ask for answers) and I feel more confident now having half a year of experience under my belt. Things are been fun this week and I’m excited to spend the remainder of the year at St. Andre, but I also know that I have to realize these are different students and classes than at my previous school so I’ll have to be ready to adjust to their specific needs. As always, there’s still much learning to be down so hopefully both the students and the teacher become wiser over the next 5 months.
On a different note, a couple of weeks ago Fr. Mark Cregan CSC, president of Stonehill College, visited us for one week. We were able to show him our schools, take him to our beloved Boys’ Town, and then spend a long weekend in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Everyone here was thrilled to have a new visitor in our presence and we were extra happy when we realized that Fr. Mark brought American chocolates. I think I’m slowly developing a sweet tooth. It was great to have numerous discussions with Fr. Mark helping us reflect on our time in India and also on ways to improve our volunteer program for the years to come. Few college presidents would dare to give up their time to make a long, uncomfortable trip to basically the middle of nowhere so we really appreciated his visit and it shows how much he cares about Stonehill students and alumni. The excursion with him to Bangladesh was an amazing time besides the walk across the border that took a couple of long hours making six stops at various checkpoints, luckily we made it with no problems.
The city of Dhaka makes Kolkata look like Providence. It’s reality small in size, but jammed packed with 18 million people and traffic that’ll make you wait an hour to go a single kilometer. Fortunately we were saved from this overwhelming city by our nice poolside hotel and by numerous visits to Holy Cross schools and colleges that were very impressive. It was fascinating to see all the work that the Holy Cross Mission has down in Bangladesh for now over 150 years in the country. I was particularly intrigued by our visit to a far-off village in the northeastern part of the country.


Here we entered into a tribal area that was once composed of over 50 villages, but now only 27 remain as the government has been cruelly forcing the indigenous people off their land forcing them to flee to India. An unfortunate reoccurring theme I’ve heard time after time is mistreatment of the indigenous throughout India and Bangladesh that has resulted in the deaths and homelessness of millions of innocent people. The governments here and the media does a spectacular job at ignoring the injustices that have and continue to take place. Luckily is this village micro lending and help of Holy Cross has created a posturing community that has generated jobs and increased the quality of life for a lot of people. Above is a picture a local woman making a dress using a loom that purchased through micro finance. Being interested in economic development, I’ve often wondered about the true impact of this lending system and I’ve been thrilled to see firsthand that it works! It’s also great that it’s providing women with jobs as Southeast Asia is notorious for its inability to employ women in the work force. This village was unique as the women appeared to have greater rolls in the society such as they are the ones to choose their husbands, which is unheard of here and also in a place called America. It was a peaceful place and I’m this has a lot to do with the fact that the women have a say in their society.

One extraordinary person we met in the Bangladeshi village was Fr. Humry CSC (in the middle of the picture above). He has been in Bangladesh for over 60 years, is originally from Oregon, and was a freedom fighter when Bangladesh gained its independence from East Pakistan. Fr. Humry is responsible for helping develop a lot of the village’s schools, healthcare centers, and jobs. He’s a true inspiration that has given his life to better the lives of others, and he plans to spend the remainder of his life serving those in Bangladesh. Most people choose not to give their lives like Fr. Humry, but I think we would all benefit a lot if we dedicated ourselves to everything we do with zeal and love for life that he possesses.