Reaching for higher education in outback, India
Originally posted December 16, 2011
I have relocated to a home of a Westerner in the village in Arangaon, just next to the village I was in previously. Among the benefits of the move are relatively dependable electricity, water and Internet access.
I am getting enculturated (one of my primary goals for this month) and I am being well-trained in what Westerners must not eat or drink, how to make sure food and drink are safe or how to make them safe and a myriad of other precautions that Westerners must adhere to in order to remain well in India. Meanwhile, just around the bend, an entire family in this village of dalits/ untouchables (where I am living) was attacked by some virus as yet unidentified; one of the children died and all of the rest are critical. Scary.
Most of Arangaon’s villagers are dalits (“untouchables”.) I am becoming friends with a few families. Suffice it to say that they are no different than anyone else except that they were born into a dirt-poor and illiterate class and most of them are working hard to just put food on the table. My new housemate, Robin, and I are working with two of the young people, both of whom are bright, hard-working and dedicated to bettering their lot in life. With much tutoring from Robin, Mehera, in her mid-twenties, just graduated from a certificate program in Office Technology. Now employable as something other than a maid for Robin, Mehera plans to move to the city – Pune (formerly Poona) – about four hours away. Jai, a man of about 30, very much wants to go to the chiropractic school at Life University in Marietta, GA, near Atlanta. Jai currently works in a call center for Tata, the largest auto maker in India. Jai attended a week-long “chiropractic camp” near Mumbai (Bombay) presented by Life U. alumni. He was so impressed by all of the good that this group of chiropractors was able to do for hundreds of locals that he decided this was to be his profession.
Robin is a clinical social worker. With the help of Robin her husband, Jim, the latter young one, Jai, has been offered a 50% scholarship by Life U. Robin’s husband is an alumnus of Life Chiropractic. Robin says – somewhat seriously – that if they were to adopt Jai he would be entitled to a 100% free ride at Life U. But Robin and husband are not ready to go that far. So Jai still needs the other half plus international airfare. Jai will stay with us this weekend and we will be working with him for most of this weekend. Robin’s focus will be on a number of financial aid possibilities she has identified; I will be focusing on Fulbright and Rotary International academic exchanges.
In a couple of weeks, Robin and I, Jai, and a local chiropractor who has taken an interest in Jai, will all make a four-hour trek to Tata’s International Corporate Headquarters in Pune, to make a presentation to the HR director about the benefits of an employee wellness program (unheard of in India.) Our goal is to convince them to invest in Jai’s education, with an agreement that he will come back to Tata to create and develop an employee wellness program. (Many chiropractors are involved in employee wellness programs.) Robin has done the research on the benefits of employee wellness programs. We have gotten this close to the top of the corporation because Jai has received so many awards for the quality of his work in the call center that the guys at the top know him and think highly of him. This clearly could be much bigger than Jai becoming a chiropractor (in itself a good thing) perhaps even benefitting employees of other corporations all over India – all of big business in India pays attention to what Tata does. A wellness program that pays off at the bottom line for Tata is very likely to be emulated elsewhere in India.
As you may gather, working with and for Jai has become an exciting project for even more reasons than: I like Jai, I want him to succeed and I see the greater potential in helping him. What I also see is that I need not and should not limit my vision of how I can make a difference in India to only restorative justice or only related to law and alternative dispute resolution. Working with Jai has nothing to do with those – it is about economic justice and increasing access to education and heath care. Well worth my time and energy. In the meanwhile, I’ve been invited to deliver a restorative justice workshop at the law school at nearby University of Ahmednagar. Of course I said I’d be delighted. And I will be.
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