In Spirit of Non Sibi, Eight Andover Students Travel to Mumbai, India, to Study Children’s and Human Rights with IAP Schools

Instead of rejuvenating for winter term, eight Andover students spent their winter break in Indian slums and orphanages examining the plight of impoverished young children. For two weeks, these students, led by Instructor in Biology and Advisor to International Students Raj Mundra, stayed in Mumbai, India to study the current status of children’s rights. Mr. Mundra began the trip to “expose PA students to the issue of children’s rights in a place where children obviously don’t have them.” He continued, “Andover kids are very smart. They fundamentally are able to grasp and understand things in theory, but to be the change on an issue and then try to understand all the different factors to understand why it is an issue in the first place–that is something really special. Add in experiencing an unknown culture, and you have an experience that is impossible to get on campus.” Ana Garcia ’06 said, “It was a great experience, because it let me learn a lot about children’s rights while I had the chance to interact with real people, real kids that are suffering from the violation of their rights.” The Andover contingent worked alongside other members of the International Academic Partnership (IAP) from two Indian schools and one German school. The 32 students from the four participating schools worked in groups at four different sites around Mumbai: an orphanage for abandoned boys, an after-school program in the slums, with an action group that researched children’s rights policies, and at an urban school where they examined the role of education in improving children’s rights. Lola Dalrymple ’07 was assigned to teach English and math to a second grade class of 100 students at a poverty-stricken primary school called BMC. She said, “It was incredible to compare it to Andover, where we only have about 15 students in a class….However, what I found most startling is that many of these children were deprived the right to an identity [meaning that at birth, they were not registered, and therefore are not recognized by the government].” During their trip, the students spoke with the Chief Justice of the Mumbai Supreme Court about the role of the Indian Judiciary in children’s rights activism. Following their meeting with the Chief Justice, the students met one of the sponsors of their trip, the Godrej family, at an art gallery opening packed with Indian celebrities. Near the end of their journey, the students went to different slums to interview children and their parents about their hopes and dreams for the future. Ana Garcia ’06 said of her visit to the slums, “[It was] one of the most interesting things we did. [The children] lived under conditions that we would all consider inhuman, but they managed to be happy and to be as generous as few people still are in developed countries. They bought us drinks, they offered us their food. They showed a great hospitality that I didn’t expect.” However, Garcia was shocked by the “huge discrimination towards women that still exists in India. For many families it is still considered a tragedy to have a baby girl. They get less food, less education, and their parents arrange their marriages by the time they are 14.” Mr. Mundra was inspired to create a student trip to explore children’s rights during a conversation in 1999 with Director of Community Service Chad Green and a PA family residing in Mumbai, the Godrejs. Though it took a few years to organize the logistics and funding for the trip, Mr. Mundra took the first four Andover students to Mumbai last year. He named the program “Swarthrahit,” the Indian word for selflessness. Mr. Mundra believes the Swarthrahit trip is valuable for the concrete experiences of poverty and injustice it provides to students. He said, “I think that the whole idea of [the trip] goes along with Andover’s non sibi motto. It is a service learning trip, where we get to really examine the situation of children’s rights and work with kids, visit the slums, and interact with their families, and study the work of the 1989 United Nations Convention on Children’s Right.” Mr. Mundra continued, “It is a unique trip in that we get to do frontline work on the street with non-profit aid organizations and then get a chance to step back and look at the root causes of the problem from the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of the government from an academic standpoint.” Mr. Mundra expects the trip to continue in the future and is also planning a student trip to Africa that will begin in the following academic year.