WEIF Intern Visits the Nareshwadi Learning Centre in India

In June of 2012, WEIF's student-intern Erin Balcom travelled to India for a 2 month stay at the Nareshwadi Learning Centre in Dahanu Taluka, India. With support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), WEIF will undertake a three-year initiative at the Centre, which will include the construction of a new Girls' Hostel, Vocational Training Centre, and two-storey classroom building. While witnessing first-hand the impact WEIF is having at the Centre and in the local communities, Erin was able to experience the energy and love that prevails at the Nareshwadi Learning Centre, and is honoured to share her experiences with you:

"A 34-hour journey from Edmonton to Dahanu had left me exhausted, yet I was bubbling with anticipation as we drove up the uneven road to the gates of Nareshwadi. Our car was greeted by nine smiling faces which waved and giggled and quickly disappeared into a small, worn building surrounded by eamrind trees. My first night in India is forever imprinted in my memory: I sat outside in the dark, jet-lagged and dizzy from new-found heat, already nursing mosquito bites, feeling isolated and for the first time sensing my distance from home. The scent of mangoes and jasmine and the songs of crickets surrounded me as I stared across the vast, unlit campus. The flicker of a flashlight and laughter of children interrupted the darkness and instantly lifted my anxiety. I was led by the hand to a dusty dining hall where I was handed a bowl of mango juice and entertained by animal impersonations, hand-games, and dancing. The children even endeavored to teach me to dance—an effort which would prove fruitless on any continent.

It was not difficult to understand the sense of community - and family - that envelops Nareshwadi. I arrived one week before classes would commence: the children living on campus did not have any other home but the one offered to them in the Hostel, and no family but the one they've made there. Without prior knowledge, it is impossible to identify which siblings are biological and which are spiritual; these children walked the campus with their hands linked, played together, protected each other. Aftr knowing me for less than an hour, I had been renamed "Didi", or "Big Sister", and answered to nothing else for the rest of my stay.

Though I had been writing about Nareshwadi for a year before my visit, the conditions at the Centre were still very striking: most of the buildings were ragged and water-damaged, with sunlight pouring into the Hostels through broken windows and cracked walls. In the General Hostel, which is home to 400 underprivileged children, the smell of urine from the latrines penetrates the sleeping area. Without beds, children sleep on a cement floor which they pad with mats and old clothes. During July's monsoons, leaks caused one room in the Girls' area to flood, and the girls struggled to keep their few belongings clean and dry. Though I had seen photos of the living conditions before my arrival, my first walk through the Hostel was overwhelming. There were several moments during my stay which brought me to tears in the privacy of my own room. I felt extremely proud to be here on behalf of WEIF, who will construct a new hostel for the girls, repair the current hostel for the boys, and provide beds and bedding to over 500 children in 2012-13."

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