Niswarth Program Reinstated

After a two-year hiatus, the Niswarth Summer Service Learning Program will resume, allowing Phillips Academy students to participate in a service learning trip to Mumbai, India this summer.

Raj Mundra, Instructor in Biology and Creator and Head Coordinator of the Niswarth Summer Service Learning Program, said, “This is the fifth trip in which I have taken students to India. The past two years the school has been positive toward summer programs; however, because budgets have been trimmed we haven’t been able to go the last two years.”

Mundra said the program’s emphasis has shifted towards education. As a result, students on the trip will be working with Niswarth’s sister school in India as well as with a program called Teach for India.

“We always [try to] put PA students in contact with the community. With direct contact with the community, we can determine what the community’s biggest needs are and help them out in those specific areas,” said Mundra.

“This project differs from a [traditional] community service project in the sense that we are not simply building a playground. Not that building a playground isn’t a fantastic thing, but we are communicating with the community and finding what specific needs have to be tended to,” he continued.

This summer, the program will include involvement outside of the trip to India.

“Students will be required to choose something that peaked their interest and develop an academic project for the rest of the summer. Some students have chosen to write award winning poetry, while other have written reports, photojournalism, interviews, and even short stories,” said Mundra.

“In my experience, a lot of kids have either found their way back to India or used what they learned to help different communities such as Lawrence,” he continued.

Students who have gone in past years shared their enthusiasm in a documentary about the project.

One student said, (WHO) “The program is a continuous braid of knowledge, goodness and action in which threads of service, cultural immersion, and reflection, are intertwined. Together, they create a tool for change [that is] infinitely stronger than any before.”

Mundra believes that one of the most important lessons that students can take away from this program is the belief that they can make a difference in the world.

“The most critical issue is how to engage young Americans to become change makers at home and beyond. Often it requires venturing outside of comfort zones, listening to community needs, and partnering with local organizations on a life-changing journey like the one they just took,” wrote Mundra in an article for the magazine The Changemakers.

According to Mundra, students on the trip will learn the steps needed in order to make change for a certain cause.

“I think students can start to understand a complicated issue and understand the root causes of the issue. For example, one year we decided to focus on how many Indian citizens lacked an access to clean water. Through this program students were able to discover the influence both the government and economy in India had on this problem,” said Mundra.

“These steps often lead to questions such as, ‘What are people doing about this problem and how can I get involved?’ I believe if you care enough about an issue you will try to find a way to fix the problem,” he continued.

Mundra feel a need for similar organizations in other impoverished areas.

“It doesn’t have to be India [that] we are helping, I just chose India because it needs help and I have personal ties there. This group [could] easily travel to New Orleans, Lawrence, or Haiti [to help]. I hope one day, Phillips Academy can look at our system and spread out to other areas that need our assistance. Unfortunately we are currently the only [program],” said Mundra.

According to the Niswarth application form, students who travel to Mumbai will learn about imperatives in education and the relationships between education and development.

They will also learn how organizations identify needs, develop priorities, and create and implement sustainable programs to enhance education in urban and rural India.