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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This Feels Right

Children surrounded us, wide-eyed as if we were from another planet. “Namaste” I bowed and greeted them with a smile. “Namaste!” they cheered, happy to see our foreign faces. Their day began, but they were wildly distracted, stealing glances at the group of American students observing their summer camp activities.

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My second week in India is off to a truly inspirational and exciting start! A group of us visited the S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (in Andheri West, Mumbai) to get aquatinted with their Abhyudaya mentoring program, about which we will soon be producing a documentary short.

I didn’t expect to be able to combine my two interests and fields of study (film and education policy) while in India for these three weeks this summer, but I’m so happy that I am able to work with this non-profit org, that is actively helping underprivileged students go to school and achieve fulfilling lives. Some of these students have lost their parents and others often carry the weight of supporting them. This isn’t shocking to me, but it’s so much different when you hear about the conditions and problems that go on versus when you have no choice but to see them in front of you.

I had the chance to meet a few of the student mentees (know as sitaras, the Hindi word for “star”), who were incredibly tiny for being 15 and 16. We talked about their favorite Bollywood actors, where they’re from, what they like to do… it’s so funny how nervous each of us were! The two girls I spoke to, Dipali and Bhagyashree, were a little shy but completely sweet and adorable. Being in an Indian school has planted the seed of possibly returning to India to teach English when I graduate. This is a little premature, but I can completely see myself in this environment. The students in the mentoring program take classes in addition to their regular school on weekends and holidays, including origami for two hours, yoga for an hour, English, computer classes, something they call a “scholarship” class, and an option of dance, football (soccer), or drawing.

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Craziness, but I also met one of the coolest people I’ve ever encountered! Manavji Sahaj led the children that morning in a fun exercise and a song. He’s also a nomad, planning to go where the wind takes him once the camp ends this Saturday by simply walking there. He’s previously walked hundreds of miles from major city to major city. I totally dig his peace of mind. Just look at him!

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Overall, Tuesday was great! Tomorrow, we’re going back to meet more sitaras and film part of our documentary. I am looking forward to sharing our film (out of the 12 of us, we’ve split up to make three separate films for two different non profit organizations)!

On a side note…

All of us here are thoroughly obsessed with the Indian head shake. You really just won’t get it unless you’re Indian, have Indian friends or have been to India. Please watch the video below for a delightful explanation. I’m personally trying to master it before my time here is up. 😛