Below is the video of our conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2019 as part of the Maitri Project! A wonderful meeting and we are very appreciative this could happen. More details in the youtube description.
interview with Kamla Bhasin was on the same day that we were to leave
India. None of us knew exactly what to expect, in part because this
was the first time that a group from our school had met with her.
That being said, I think that even with this little knowledge, any
sort of expectation that I had was blown away by the content and
personal approach that she took when answering our questions and
conversing with us.
All of her answers were well crafted and thoughtful, additionally, on top of her concise use of language she often brought up information that was completely new to me. This made the interview unique. Although each of our previous interviews introduced new information and plenty of learning opportunities, I found that many of the things that resonated with me would be things that I already knew, but were restated in a better way, or connected to another principle. In this interview, the things that seemed to strike me the most were completely new principles. For example, this interview was the first time that I was introduced to the principle of Capitalist Patriarchy. This is the idea that capitalism today helps patriarchal principles expand further into the world through capitalism. I had never heard of this idea directly spoken about. She included an explanation that connected in a relevant way to my life. Referencing things like cosmetics, entertainment, and fashion industries as perpetrators of this patriarchal expansion, I could really see how the patriarchy is continually allowed to thrive and grow in today’s world. I also saw how we are aiding it by purchasing and buying into certain industries.
In our last day in Delhi, we had the amazing opportunity to interview Kamla Bhasin. As was the case with a lot of the situations we have been put in on this trip, it was nothing like I expected. It was a unique experience from beginning to end, starting with the fact that we were in her house, and ending with incredibly emotional experience that had some of us in tears.
Through a combination of new information and Kamla Bhasin’s open and hospitable attitude, I feel like she will always be a person I will remember, and admire. I didn’t know much about her before the interview, but afterwards she has become an inspiration for me. Hearing what she had gone through in her family life and the challenges she had to overcome emphasized the resilience, strength, and intelligence she possesses. She could have given up, but instead, she continues to make meaningful change in the world, regardless of the obstacles she faces in her work, or in her personal life.
What struck me the most about Kamla was her beautiful and energetic personality. When she told stories, she would use her hands to gesture playfully, and she would change voice pitches to represent the other people in the story. Most importantly, she was able to be completely open up to us; she modeled vulnerability. Kamla shared with us how her son, now in his thirties, had been given a vaccination before he was a year old, and how it caused him to be entirely unable to take care of himself. No one believed that it was the vaccine that caused the problem, and yet Kamla has remained strong. She then explained the heartbreaking story of how her daughter committed suicide while in the process of getting her PhD in history from Oxford. I truly admired her openness with us, and it amazes me how she has found light at the end of these terrible hardships in her life. I am blown away.
At the end of the interview, we sang “One Day” without the guitar, which made it feel even more raw and in the moment. The moment she took off her glasses to wipe away tears, I looked around our group to see many of us, including myself, tearing up. Sharing such a vulnerable and loving experience with Kamla is something I’ll never forget. I think it shows the importance of expressing our emotions and allowing ourselves to become vulnerable in order to connect with others in a valuable way.
my peers and I visited a local school called Step by Step. It is one
of the most prestigious schools in India and most of the students are
from wealthier families. It was interesting to see a school like
this, after seeing so much poverty. I had not realized that there are
such massive economic differences here, and just how close they are
to one another.
our visit, I thought that the kids at Step by Step would be stuck up,
so I was hesitant to go. I was also not looking forward to an
eight-hour day, talking with strangers. But we went, and I have to
say that I had an amazing time. The kids were authentic and
vulnerable with us, during the discussions we had. We talked mainly
about the education system and the flaws in it. Talking with these
students really opened my eyes to the pressure most kids in India
face regarding school. They grow up with immense expectations from
society, their parents, and themselves. They explained they have
little time for themselves, and zero time for a social life. One
student explained that they must choose between social and academic,
and how the two in congruence cannot exist. I found this very
It killed me hearing them talk about how their world revolves around school, and more importantly grades. They learn to pass tests, not to find meaning. This is something that I have realized Mount Madonna has done a great job cultivating; finding the importance in what we learn. We can think more freely, and arrive at different answers without one being right or wrong. This trip has made me grateful for the education system we have, and I genuinely feel guilty for complaining about it so much. I am really going to take away the value of education that these kids hold because it is truly inspiring. Whether it is at this prestigious institution or at a rural girl’s school, they all are united in their gratitude, and THAT is truly amazing.
Today we went to a Indian school to “lead” a Samvaad, or dialogue, on important questions of the time. There are a lot of people in India, and this makes college admissions very competitive. They are determined solely by a board exam (SAT on steroids). The primary purpose of school is to prep students for this exam. Thus, the students were completely unprepared for our version of a standard values class.
We began in small groups: by writing and sharing the deepest questions plaguing our minds. The interconnection between these was especially interesting. Even in a group of three, one of the people in my group had, effectively, the same question as me.
our reflections, the other students shared that they were amazed by
the effects listening with curiosity can have on dialogue. Their
enthusiasm made our conversations fun and meaningful. It was
especially encouraging to see their excitement at trying something so
new, and productive, that they are rarely exposed to in India.
The conversations also had an unexpected effect on the students: it made them more open and friendly. The trust and familiarity that they felt with us, after just hours, is something that is rarely found in US. The entire experience reinforced what we have already learned about the power of dialogue.
After an incredibly bumpy 7-hour bus ride, we arrived in Anupshahr. We were coming off a long night of dancing and partying in honor of our last day at the ashram. Almost all of us were feeling tired and disoriented, traveling from place to place really took it out of us. I had no idea what to expect from our next experience at the Pardada Pardadi school for girls. The only thing I knew was that it was a huge establishment, providing education to about 1400 girls who came from the surrounding rural villages. Upon arrival, we were very kindly greeted by a group of students who had just finished their grade 10 exams; I immediately became energized by this bright group of students who were eager to show us around.
off the bat, I became friends with two girls named Bhati and Swati.
They guided me through their huge school and along the way we
interacted with dozens of younger kids who were playing outside for
recess. We shared with each other a bit about our interests and our
passions; I learned that both girls were studying maths and science
so that they can become software engineers. They also shared with me
that they loved to play music and dance. Most of the girls who go to
Pardada Pardadi are first generation learners, and through this
institution they’ve had the incredible opportunity to receive a
quality education so they can pursue their dreams. The girls spoke
amazingly good English. They were kind and respectful, eager to
learn, and they were great listeners. After spending an hour with
them it was becoming very clear to me that there was something
special about this place.
of the greatest lessons I’ve been learning over the course of our
trip has to do with service. We have met incredible leaders, who have
dedicated their lives to serving a cause much greater than
themselves. This has inspired a life changing and new outlook on
life, and a greater understanding of what I seek to value.
our time in India, we have met with Rinchen Khando, who has devoted
her life to helping establishing, and running, The Tibetan Nuns
Project. We have met with Dr. Metre who runs an organization called
CORD, that helps empower women in rural communities. And of course,
we have had the great privilege of meeting with His Holiness the
Dalai Lama, who has been a huge proponent of secular ethics and
non-violence. Here in Anupshahr, we have met yet another great
leader, Sam Singh. He is the founder of Pardada Pardadi and former
vice-president of U.S. South Asia DuPont. He worked hard his whole
life so that he could give back to the community where his family has
owned land for over 140 years. Sam is a visionary who decided he
would dedicate himself toward improving the lives of thousands of
young women in need. He is an incredible problem solver, and his
ability to implement the organizational strategies learned in the
corporate world has allowed him to overcome some of the greatest
Last night, we got to have dinner at Sam’s house. We drove until we arrived on his beautiful property, out in the country, and for the first time on this trip we were able to enjoy a view of the stars. We ate a gigantic feast, outside on the rooftop level of his home. Dining with us, was a group of people from the United States who were visiting as part of a medical project. They had just finished vaccinating the whole school for typhoid. Our teacher, Sadanand, shared with us the significance of this project. He explained that when you dedicate your efforts toward improving the lives of others, often times you’ll attract people with special expertise who will be willing to contribute. I find it inspiring and uplifting to know that when we truly commit our hearts to selfless service, we can establish meaningful relationships, and therefor have access to great resources we can use to accomplish our goals.
our bus ride from Sri Ram Ashram to Pardada Pardadi, we were all
pretty exhausted, and hungry. I almost didn’t feel like I was ready
to meet the school girls. However, as we pulled up we noticed that
there was about twenty girls waiting at the entrance of the school to
greet us with scarves; so really, there was no avoiding it. My class
and I stood in a straight line across from them as they came forward
and placed scarves around our necks. I thought it was a very kind
greeting. The first girl who I made eye contact with was a very short
girl with long hair, and a pretty smile. Her name was Nahid. She
ended up being one of my guides along with another sweet girl named
eating lunch, the girls took us over to the campus to show us each
section. This included the nursery / kindergarten classes, primary
classes, and even the nurses’ office. As I toured the campus, with
Nahid and Sobha, I noticed that all the girls that we passed, no
matter what grade or age, were bright-eyed and excited to see us. I
smiled back and tried to make eye contact with each girl. By doing
this, I became more and more overwhelmed, and yet I still felt
comfortable with their eagerness and excitement. They would wave and
giggle to each other because they had gotten my attention, and I
would laugh because of their cuteness. I think this made me more
approachable. Once each group had my attention, they would rush up to
me, in packs of about twenty, and exclaim, all at different times,
things like, “Good afternoon ma’am!” Or, “Ma’am, how are
you? What is your name?”
few times I was told how happy I looked, and many times I was asked
what I was thinking, and why I was smiling so much. The tour didn’t
last long, as the girls were soon out of school. Nahid and Sobha
wrote their names on my palm in pen, so I wouldn’t forget. They
told me how much they would miss me, and that they would be thinking
of me until we saw each other again tomorrow. We hugged goodbye and
off they went with a few other of their friends that they had
previously introduced me to.
that night, we had the opportunity to visit the founder of the
school, Sam Singh, who explained to us that his home and the property
where the school is had been in his family for many generations.
Sadanand pointed out the very amazing fact that Sam and Renuka, who
helped him create the school, managed to always find a solution to
the issues faced by the families in the village, and their daughters.
For example, it is promised that if the girls have a 70% attendance
rate at the end of each year, 10 rupees will be placed into an
account for each day, and at the end of their time studying there,
the money is theirs for their future. There is a solar lamp checkout
system for girls who don’t have electricity at home, so that they
can study at night. There were many other clever solutions to the
problems faced by the girls.
had a wonderful dinner afterwards. Sam was just as hospitable and
welcoming as the girls at the school, which I thought was very
fitting. The next day, I got to meet up with my girls again. We did
many activities, such as “teaching” and hanging out with some
primary school classes, and of course at the end of it all was a long
goodbye with lots of laughs and love. I received countless hugs and
many exclamations of, “I’ll miss you so much.”
Nahid and Sobha are by far two of the most amazing girls I’ve ever met. Even though we live on opposite sides of the planet and were only able to be with each other for a very short period of time, I know that I’ll remember them. They had a strong impact on my views about the need to empower and support girls. They are, after all, two of the most passionate ones I’ve ever met.