Monday, February 16, 2015

February 16, 2015: Access To Knowledge Is Power


Access to knowledge is power. An easy thing to say but a difficult concept to grasp when we in North America live with a device attached to us at all times. We have the power to learn and to explore the world at our fingertips and we often forget how powerful that is – until you understand and experience life without technology.

Our group had the opportunity to take part in a panchayat (meeting) of all the regional leading women in the Railmagra Block.  These women meet to discuss social issues and present the grievances and challenges faced by the women of their respective communities. During the meeting, we had the opportunity to exchange questions and discuss the differences in our daily lives and cultures. We touched on household economics, education, gender, and even marriage. The contrasts in our lives are stark, and our knowledge of each others’ lives is minimal, but we all want the same thing – a better future for our families and our communities.
It was in this meeting that I truly began to understand the value technology will bring to this community. These women had little knowledge of life outside their village and thus found it hard to imagine life outside the roles and responsibilities defined by their communities. Technology provides a vehicle to access knowledge, to explore places and people far from home, and a space to craft a better future.

We often hear the phrase, “knowledge is power”, but I would like to revise that to, “Access to knowledge is power”. After we left the meeting, I was able to use my phone, connect to the internet, Google all the issues we discussed and learn why they exist – a luxury not available to these local women and their families. Technology provides me the power to access knowledge from anywhere about any topic.

As a result of this project, women and children will have access to exponentially more information and technical skill development than they can even imagine. The speeds and feeds, the network design, the software, is not what matters. What’s important is providing a vehicle for knowledge and power that puts the ability to learn literally at their fingertips.  Technology will provide a vehicle from them to explore the world.

Brittany Pepper
DWC/Softchoice Volunteer Participant
India. February 16, 2015.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February 15, 2015: India - A Feast For The Eyes

Glances out the window reveal life in action. A bare-foot and bare-bottomed boy running down an alleyway using a stick to control a rolling bicycle tire. An old man wrapped in many layers of clothing to ward off the morning cold, lighting his morning cigarette. A young girl, maybe 10, carrying a toddler along the sidewalk on her hip. Begging. Filthy. Her hair matted with dirt. But somehow pretty all the same.

An elephant, painted for some occasion-or maybe just for an everyday show. A platform strapped to his/her back with a single large rope. Moving through traffic, horns blaring on all sides, the sound of bells clanging as the huge beast rocks back and forth on a stiff march through the centre of the city. What is the look in his or her eye?

A groom riding a white horse as part of a noisy procession. Making his way to his wedding. Not a young man. Women, girls, young men colorfully dressed. All dancing along throwing some sort of powder in the air as they followed a small vehicle playing music over a loudspeaker.

A man working in a building 6 ft square – a barber shop. A look of pride and recognition as we make our way past his shop for the second time today. We see him and he sees us as he flicks a sheet around the shoulders of his next customer.

A woman on the back of a motorcycle. Dressed elegantly and colorfully. Barely hanging on, just balancing – years of experience. She has her head buried behind the drivers back, looking down at her cell phone - texting someone. Oblivious to us or the cows her driver is snaking through on the tiny village road.

India is a study of beauty. And that beauty is found right next to or between the filth. Focus on the stench, the garbage everywhere, the cacophony of noisy car horns blaring and you will have great distaste. But make eye contact with people, see their beauty, see the smiles, see through the dirty exterior and you will find the beauty of the human condition. And then it is gone.

India is a feast for the eyes and paying attention is the only requirement.

Nick Foster
DWC/Softchoice Volunteer Participant
India.  February 15, 2015.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February 11, 2015: Unleashing the Hope within Rajasthan’s Local Youth

Children scare me. Why and when this fear developed, I’m not 100% sure. I do find them cute, and I do care about kids, but the thought of the responsibility to raise a child tends to bring out the fear in me. Therefore, I typically avoid situations that involve being around kids when I can.

So when I learned that we were going to attend a youth center in India after a long and exhausting day of lifting bricks, the last ounce of my comfort zone was drained from me.
Sitting at the front of a room no bigger than my bedroom, 30 children ranging  from two to 14, majority boys, only a handful of girls, all sitting crossed leggeged on the floor, personal space non-existent, just stared at the spectacle which was us.

Our guide translated the purpose of the youth center which focuses on better education programs, sex education, and instilling hope that these kids can create their own futures. As translations went back and forth, my eyes would wander the room. So many of these kids just waited for me to make eye contact so we could exchange a smile and a small hand wave.
After listening to the translation of the teacher for a while, my curiosity took over and I asked our guide to translate to the kids “Does anyone have any questions for us?” I just wanted to know what these little minds were thinking.

The first question translated back to us:

“Do you have child marriages in Canada?”

I was stunned! I wasn’t sure what to anticipate and right from the start, their questions just seemed so surreal. I just  couldn’t believe what was on their minds. Throughout the hour, we were faced with more of the same sort of questions you wouldn’t expect from a group of children.

“Do children have to go to school? What happens if they don’t?”

“Do you have youth centers? What do they teach?”

“Do you have abortion? Do parents abort children of a certain sex?”

“What festivals do you celebrate?”

Both taboo and innocent questions were answered and translated for these kids. It started to hit me. These kids, full of song, curiosity, smiles, energy, and hope, struggle every day for their rights to just be kids.

They want to grow up to be police officers, doctors, engineers, teachers, soldiers, but they need to first find a way to avoid the typical reality that is life for many children in India: Marriage at the age of 10.

I initially feared being stuck in a room by a bunch of kids. Yet these children are scared of losing their rights, hope, freedom, and their youth.

This project is all about enabling these kids to unleash their potential by answering questions and providing them with access to information through the Internet and technology. We are here to teach them as much as we can in our short time here; but what they don’t realize is that they’ve also taught me so much about my own reality.

I can’t wait for the next time I get to be surrounded by these amazing, young and hopeful individuals.

Angela Cope
DWC/Softchoice Volunteer Participant
India. February 11, 2015.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February 10, 2015: When a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity Happens Twice

I’ve know from a very young age the importance of helping others and making an impact in their lives.  I remember when I was 10 years old, listening to my best friend’s father share his stories of those he had volunteered his time to support in rural Africa – and of those who still needed the help more than ever. I sat in amazement, listening and realizing that one day, I too wanted to visit and help.  It became a life long dream I never knew how I would make a reality until 2013 when I was lucky enough to be on the SC Cares Board that went to Maai Mahiu, Kenya.

This once in a lifetime opportunity provided me with the chance to work with a fantastic organization along side some of the best people.  We met amazing people and I came back a changed person.

With some hard work and a little more luck, I carried over to the 2014 board and that once in a lifetime opportunity came around for the second time.  Only this time the project wasn’t in Africa, it was in India.

India, a place that wasn’t really on my bucket list,  seemed so far away to me, and for a number of reasons, getting excited was a little difficult.

The purpose of the project for India was similar to the project in Kenya – help a community to learn and grow.  We had weekly meetings with the gentlemen from Jatan who were all friendly and thrilled we were coming.  We planned out what we were about to undertake, booked an exciting adventure for our weekend off and began to learn about the culture we were going to visit.

We boarded not one, but three planes and in all that I still wasn’t getting pumped up.  Everything seemed like a haze or a dream and I was just walking through it.  It wasn’t until we were driving through Udaipur and pulled over to for a look at one of the lakes that it really hit me.

As we began to meet the people we were to work with it was clear that the colour and energy felt around it came from the people themselves.  Their excitement for the potential we bring with us shined as brightly as that pink camel.

As I looked around, the true beauty of India woke me up and I became excited for the potential of what we could accomplish here!

Tara Bradbury
DWC/Softchoice Volunteer Participant
India. February 10, 2015.