Students and faculty stood by the Paresky Commons circle on a bright Monday morning, awaiting the arrival of two Flightline shuttles bringing the 23 members of the Niswarth Hoops Program, a service-learning program that took place in Chennai, India over Thanksgiving Break, back to campus. This arrival was much anticipated after a monsoon devastated the city of Chennai, leaving participants stranded in the airport until they could safely make their way back to Boston.
The Niswarth Hoops Program is a trip centered around the themes of “gratitude, humility and teamwork,” said Rajesh Mundra, Director of the Niswarth Program and Associate Dean of Students. In total, there were 20 students from both the Girls and Boys Varsity Basketball teams who traveled to Chennai for the program.
The students on the trip visited sites in Chennai, helped facilitate one-day basketball camps at five different schools and shadowed students at the American School of Chennai. Accompanying the students were Mundra, Terrell Ivory ’00, Head Coach of Andover Boys Basketball and Lani Silversides, Head Coach of Andover Girls Basketball.
“We visited a hospital dedicated to study AIDS and help specifically people who’ve contracted the HIV virus. Later, we visited ECO kitchen, [an environmentally friendly kitchen] that mass produces food for the poor,” said Matt Shea ’18.
“Both teams also visited a cultural site, Mahabalipuram, an ancient civilization. In the middle of the trip we stayed with families who live in Chennai for two nights, and on the last day we visited the U.S. Consulate and met the Consulate General,” Shea added.
On a visit to the St. Louis College for the Deaf in Chennai, Shea recalled learning how to communicate in sign language as “moving and educational.” After the fun was over and it was time to leave the school, a group of St. Louis students asked Shea to stay behind for a small surprise. Waiting for him was a young boy who signed, “Thank you for visiting our school.”
“We interacted with children in many different environments to promote ideas of teamwork, community, leadership, focus and fun through sport,” said Mundra. “In doing so, we supported students who had attended basketball campus and were implementing lessons learned to their classroom education.”
“My favorite experience would definitely be going to the government schools each morning. I just loved meeting all of the younger kids. The government schools didn’t have many resources but just to see all of the kids happy and eager to learn was a joyful experience,” said Teagan Cayla ’18.
As the students and faculty were done with the Niswarth Hoops program and ready to leave for the United States, a monsoon hit Chennai, effectively shutting down the airport. The monsoon had caused flooding throughout the city with the record-breaking rainfall. The flood submerged houses, shops and offices, devastating property and injuring civilians. The monsoon flooded the airport, delaying the flight of the students attending the program and other travellers.
“The downpour… was insane. When we were driving to the airport, we saw people getting off their motorcycle and pushing it along the road because the water was up so much and they couldn’t drive anymore,” said Bailey Colon ’18.
In the aftermath of the Chennai floods, 1.8 million people have been displaced. According to the Red Cross, 300 people have been killed in the floods. The rain that fell during the monsoon has been the worst rainfall in India in the past 100 years. The monsoon was caused by “a super-charged northeast monsoon” and “prevailing winds [blowing] from northeast to southwest across the country,” according to NASA.
“We ended up staying at the Chennai Airport for about 50 hours,” said Ivory. “Our flight was supposed to have left on Wednesday, and we left the hotel around 4 a.m. and normally it takes 30 minutes to get to the airport, but it ended up taking us four hours. We got to the airport at 8 a.m. for a flight at 9:50 a.m. After, we went through security and shortly before we left, we found out that our flight was delayed. There was no way to know how long we were going to have to wait.”
Faculty back at Andover attempted to help participants by requesting that the State Department and the Indian government find a way to quickly evacuate the students and faculty in the Niswarth Hoops Program. Ultimately, students and faculty took a nine-hour bus ride to the city of Bangalore, a city unaffected by the monsoon, and stayed in a hotel there for two days before boarding a long flight back to the United States. They stopped in New Delhi and Newark, NJ., before arriving in Boston.
“[The situation] was a little scary, not being able to leave a foreign country, and I didn’t know what the plan was, so I wasn’t sure when we were leaving,” said Colon. “I was worried, but I knew that Mundra, Silversides and [Ivory] were going to get us out of there, and I knew we’d be home before Christmas break.”