LTOMD (Living the Life of My Dreams)

“Just remember what Christen said— How would you feel if someone came to your house and cried?”*

75% of my volunteer work has something to do with children and education. About 50% of that work is specifically focused on educating girls around the world.

In 2012, after about a year of work, I helped to bring an organization called She’s the First back to Syracuse University’s campus. My closest friend, Makaela Newsome and I worked to do two things with this organization: 1) educate our peers about the importance of girl’s education and, 2) raise money to send our sponsor Mbithe Pius to school in Kenya. Although I am not as involved with She’s the First as I have been in the past, I do work to promote the organization’s events and sometimes volunteer at She’s the First HQ in New York City.

Mumbai, India— In one of my previous blogposts I spoke a little bit about my desire to work with an NGO that focuses on girls’ education specifically. Mark, sadly broke all of my hopes and dreams by informing me that there was an organization like that, but we wouldn’t be working with them. However, Mark then introduced me to Abhyudaya, the NGO that I am now working to produce a documentary about.

In high school, one of my dreams was to become a documentary filmmaker that works work NGOs. This was dually the product of my work in Model UN and my desire to change the world through media. Working on this project is literally me living one of my many dreams.

Every documentary film that I’ve completed, to-date, has been an explorative film— with the exception of one. In this, I mean that I never want to leave my audience thinking one way. I simply open the doors to a topic for them, explore as many sides of the topic as possible, and leave the audience with their own conclusions. Since I have been doing documentary work since 10th grade, I do believe that I’ve grown in trying to achieve this effect. This film on Abhyudaya will be different.

The angle that we are taking in our film, focuses on the girl child. In many developing nations, girls come second because their parents prefer to educate the boy child first. Having a 50%+ participation of girl children as Sitaras, is a goal of Abhyudaya, as was described to us in the first meeting that we had with the NGO. Towards the end of the film we will tie in how the program empowers these girls to become greater than the traditional notion that girl children should not go to school.

Our project first started with a meeting with the students, their mentors, and faculty on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday we divided up into two groups. On Thursday we filmed most of our interviews and some b-roll. Sadly, on Friday I was feeling very unwell and was not able to make it to the school with my team.

I’ll be very honest when I say that this project has been difficult. There are too many modes of communication going on at once. In this, there have been communications problems and there has been a disconnect between us filmmakers and the NGO about the vision and purpose of our film. However, we are working through it and are confident that our film will be great.

On Saturday, Karoline and Erika will go to Abhyudaya’s graduation and get some more b-roll. In the afternoon we will wrap shooting with a visit to the slum areas where our two girl subjects live.

 

*Advice from my best friend on our visit to the slums on Saturday.
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Entry 06: India Keeps Teaching Me Things

Tuesday May 27th, 10:57pm

I like to know things. I like to know what I’m doing, what’s going to happen, and how those things are going to happen.

But India keeps turning things over on its head for me.

This week marks the beginning of the second part of our Bollywood Practicum: filming a mini-documentary on a Non-Government Organization (NGO). This project will take over the rest of our time here. While I’m excited to help out the organization (my group chose Abhyudaya, which matches MBA candidates to mentor gifted underprivileged children for a 1 year period), to be honest, my interest lies more with feature films. So a project like this requires me to muster up more concentration to feel passionate and give it 100%.
Running on 5 hours of sleep, I was kind of out of it and cranky today. That is, until we arrived at the school we’d be working at and saw the smiling faces of all the kids.

My straight face and silent demeanor couldn’t last for long–we met a teacher named Manavji Sahaj (who is totally Google-searchable, by the way) who basically walks throughout India. Yes, he walks. With his bare feet and sometimes sandals. But basically, he’s staying for a month or so to play with the children every morning and help them realize their own leadership potential. He was a pretty inspiring dude. Major props to anyone who is able to bring out talent in children. Manavji wanders throughout India, loves life, and loves people.

The next smile-inducing moment was when we visited a couple of the classes the kids were having. Iara and I stopped in on the Origami class (they do Origami for 2 HOURS!) and all the kids rushed up to us, smiled, giggled, and showed us their pieces. They asked us our names, too. After we left the classroom, two little boys came running up to me and said “Losa!” and gave me a little pink paper Origami heart. It was the cutest moment ever. My westernized mind is going crazy trying to remember everyone’s name so I made sure to ask him to spell it out: the boy who handed me the heart was Abihshek.

Then, we met a group of older students and sat down and spoke to them one on one. Iara and I stuck together and met 3 girls (whose names are written down on a piece of paper that Iara took a picture of). We conversed with them for awhile…and jeez, all of them love biology, chemistry, and physics. Iara and I just looked at each other and were like “…wow! Cool!” being the Newhouse kids that we are. We drew some pictures together, talked about favorite things…2 of them were shy but one of them was pretty bold.
“What do you like about India?” she asked.
“Oh! The food, the clothes!”
“Do you like the people?”
I said of course, I love the people! But I was personally taken aback; I wasn’t expecting such a “deep” question. Which I should have expected, because honestly, kids are deep.
At the end of our little session we found out that the 3 girls were all 15 years old–then I felt like crap, because we were asking them sort of super generalized easy questions when they’re actually pretty freaking mature for their age. Especially because of all the life hardships they’ve had to go through. I’m also trying to channel my 15 year old self, which is scary because that was 4 years ago and I hardly remember what that was like. I was a sophomore in high school…what did I worry about back then?

We head to the college next to the school and meet some mentors and a couple of mentees.
A mentor MBA candidate named Rohit really caught my attention with his story about his time with his mentee, also known as a Sitara (star). He spoke about the humility it gave him and how he was able to build a strong bond with sitara. I was impressed with his incredible maturity and vision and am glad that he was able to help his sitara and also learn for himself, too. The Abhyudaya program is actually quite fascinating.

Our group then headed to lunch. The food was absolutely delicious. More reasons to smile: Whitney said a couple of words in Hindi and the server got really impressed. However, he quickly learned that she (and most of us) actually don’t know much and it was all smiles from there. I love it when the locals find us amusing and fascinating. The feelings of them smiling and laughing at us warms my heart. All the staring used to be kind of uncomfortable at first, but like I’ve mentioned before, it’s really just honest curiosity. During our meal, the servers were watching us intently–which was slightly awkward, but I’m starting to get used to it. I hope they’re amused by our foolish American antics and little phrases in Hindi. Iara and I have learned the phrase “ap ka den, acha ho,” which means “Have a good day” in Hindi. Every time we use it, people smile and laugh at us. I plan on using it throughout the rest of the trip.

We stopped at the market to get some mangos and lychee (yummmmmmm) and then Wayne, Iara and I took a rickshaw back. We got worried because we were going through some backstreets but our driver got us to our hotel safe and sound. “You don’t trust a brotha?” Wayne asked Iara jokingly. Haha.

Finally arrived at the hotel and got to take my much-needed nap. I survived.

 

Again, India continues to break through all my expectations and literally turned my frown upside down.