This trip was the most amazing way to end 2016! Being able to help those who are less privileged than us, shows how much we can actually do for the world. Seeing how one man, Swami Dayanda Saraswathi, could do so much for a whole country was a huge inspiration for me. Of course teaching the students was the highlight of the trip. I wish we could’ve had a few more days with them. The kids were really receptive, and respectful. They stayed focused on the tasks we set for them, and completed them so fast, that we didn’t know what to do next! I think we had had the perfect age group. From what I heard from other student teachers, eighth grade seemed to be the most active, and receptive grade. When the students went outside to play at the end of the day, they would forget all their worries, and just have a good time with each other. One could never have guessed what hardships they faced at home. When we went to some student’s homes, I saw how little they had, but they make the most out of it, and were willing to give all of it to someone else in need of it more. One home we went to was really small, with a kitchen, and pantry the size of a small fridge. The girl who lived in that home went to the small pantry, and pulled out a box of crackers. She offered each of us some crackers, but refused to eat one herself, because her family needed it more than her. We could say that the students living in those were poor, but that’s only measuring money. These students are rich with generosity, and contentedness for what they have, and I am proud to help make them richer with knowledge. Some of the things we take for granted in the US, like bathrooms, electricity, gas, and clean water, are luxuries for those students. Most of the children’s stoves were powered by wood, their electricity was unreliable, and some student had to walk miles and miles just to get to a well with somewhat clean water to cook with, and drink. What was really heart wrenching, was to see that some of the children didn’t have a supportive or understanding family to talk to. Seeing what they had to go through, and how they handled it was really humbling, and made me more thankful for what I already have. In terms of culture though, going to all the temples was really interesting. Seeing the ancient architecture, and how the people overcame obstacles at the time was really cool. I just wish we had a temple expert for every temple we went to. However, the best part of the temple visits was when we went inside the gopuram of the Tanjoor periya kovil. I thought the gopuram was a solid rock, but when I saw that it was hollow, I was amazed at how they managed to hold the 80 ton cap stone on top! Apart from the cool architecture, it was really nice to see the spiritual aspect of all the temples as well. It was fun to go chanting “Rama Rama Ram” down the streets of Kudavasal with the Veda Patashala students, then seeing the rituals done for Varadaraja Swamy following that. As a practicing Hindu, that was a really nice experience. I think the trip ran really smoothly. I would love to come on this trip again!
My experience as a member of the Global Youth Leadership Program in Manjakkudi helped me to grow as a leader as well as an individual. When we first arrived on the Swami Dayananda Matric School campus in Manjakkudi, we were welcomed with countless waves and shining smiles. It was so heart-warming to see that the schoolchildren, who had only seen pictures of foreign countries and had most likely never even stepped outside of the village area, were so excited to meet and spend time with all of us. As we visited classrooms on our school tour and were introduced to new students, it was easy to see how hardworking these children were. Although many children in America struggle to get up every morning to go to school, students at the Swami Dayananda Matric School seemed to understand that receiving an education is a large privilege which some don’t receive.
One of the main math concepts I taught to my class was how to solve an algebraic equation. Although the class has nodded their heads and shouted ‘Yes, ma’am!’ when I had asked them if they had understood my lesson, many students seemed to struggle when I gave them a practice problem. As I walked around the classroom, I noticed that many were turning to their desk mates and asking for help. Soon, groups of students started rushing up to me and Shashwath, my teaching partner, asking if they had the right answer. When I responded to a student’s work by saying ‘Good job!’ I could see the light in their eyes as they knew they had done the problem right. As a student teacher, it warmed my heart when students smiled after getting the correct answer. It showed me that they were able to understand what I had taught them in English and that they were proud of themselves to receive their teacher’s approval.
I am also extremely grateful for the opportunity to have visited some of the student’s homes. Most people know that underprivileged families live in poor conditions; yet I think that the view of one's home from the outside is completely different from the inside. It was incredible to see how humble and respectful the students’ families were when they invited us into their homes. They tried to make us feel comfortable and welcomed us in a very friendly manner. The fact that we take everything for granted in the USA, yet these families are proud of what little they have is astonishing. It made me realize that I am grateful enough for all of the luxuries and comforts that I have the privilege of receiving every single day.
Although this trip was very inspiring and a lot of fun, there are some minor improvements that could be made. I think that three days was not enough time to teach our students everything we wanted to incorporate into our lesson plan and see major growth in our students. By having more time with our students, we could have had more room to truly improve their English and stimulate their growth as public speakers. One way that more time could be given to teaching is by cutting down on the amount of temples visited each day. Although each temple was beautiful and fun to visit, the main focus of the Global Youth Leadership Program was to help shape our students, which there could have been more time for. That being said, this trip was a really great experience that had a huge impact on my perspective of the world as a whole!
The 5th Global Youth Leadership Program through AIM for Seva in 2016 was a life-changing experience for all. The experience for me started even before I met everybody in JFK. When I met Srini Uncle in the summer of 2016, he introduced me to the trip. I was hesitant in making a decision. I knew I would be a 12th grader applying to colleges and couldn’t afford to miss school. Yet, my father and sister pressured me into signing up. The week before GYLP, I struggled to ensure that I finished all the work I would be missing. As a result I had minimal amounts of sleep, but I was slowly becoming excited about the trip. December 17th, I carpooled with the Mehtas and Aira on our way to JFK, and that is when the adventure began.
When we reached JFK, I met the rest of the excited group and instantly formed connections with some of the students. Little did we know, we would form long-lasting friendships over the next 40 hours on our trip to Manjakkudi. When we finally reached Manjakkudi, we immediately felt welcome. After the first tasty, authentic Indian meal of the trip and a peaceful night filled with rest, we began on our jam-packed schedules.
During the trip, we visited at least 10 temples. Although this did further expose us to our cultural roots, I think the list of temples can and should be shortened in future trips. This extra time should be used in spending more days with the children and young adults of Manjakkudi. That being said, we visited some stunning, unforgettable architectural masterpieces. With amazing tour guides, we were taught information on how these awe-inspiring structures were built, exponentially increasing our amazement.
After first couple of days of cultural exposure including a temple procession around the block, we were finally introduced to the students of the school. We were greeted by intense cheering, as if we were famous celebrities walking on stage. Everybody had a massive grin on their face. We were all so eager to interact with the students that we began giving everyone in sight a high-five. After a quick tour of the schools and interacting with specific classrooms, the entire trip was immediately worth it. Participating in that event alone was an incredible honor. Even though I was sick, I felt reenergized by the students in their contagious excitement. The prominent school surrounded by dirt roads and long patches of farmland was a sight to see. Swamiji had clearly made a huge, positive impact on his hometown making a good education easily accessible for the children. We were able to see this positive impact in visiting homes of our students and peeking into their personal lives. This experience made such an impact on me personally that I cannot put it into words. All I would like to say about the home visits is: Definitely arrange more visits, and if possible, make it a goal to have each teacher visit one of the homes of their students. Everybody knew that we would be teaching underprivileged students, but everybody was astonished by the commitment and dedication of the students to their educations.
The morning before teaching our students on the first day, a group of students visited watched the sunrise and visited the temple. We sat in awe appreciating the beauty in the surroundings of Manjakkudi. On our walk to the school, I felt at home. We noticed the people on the streets, the puppies playing, and students rushing to school last minute by auto. Although we seemed to stick out as foreigners, we felt comfortable in the village. We were introduced to the school gardens and many of us were amazed at the extensive uses for each plant. Then, we jumped into our classrooms.
Interacting with the students in the classroom was exhilarating. I felt as if I got to know each and every single ninth standard student in my class very well. Somehow, I managed to remember all of their names and hobbies before the end of the first hour while still teaching them our lesson. Their reactions to every little piece of knowledge was out of genuine delight. Every student wanted to understand everything and show that to us. When I asked a students to summarize what we had taught them, they struggled. Fortunately, we discovered this quickly and made sure to evaluate the students throughout the lesson and have them repeat the information they learned. By doing so, we made sure every student understood the methods and processes we were trying to teach them. The students were so eager to learn, that if I wasn’t in the classroom, they would come get me from a different classroom. They wanted to learn so much that they would quickly find me and rush me to the classroom to start the lesson. They didn’t want one second to be wasted. Many of the students even wanted shorter breaks!
In seeing the students yearn for knowledge, I was inspired. I saw these motivated students working incredibly hard, only to be held back because of their environment. Swamiji was working to change this before he passed away and AIM for Seva is continuing his mission. I became aware of the privileges I often take for granted. I vowed to take my privileges as a blessing and ever since landing in America, I have tried to make the most of my education. This GYLP trip opened my eyes to the problems of the world and helped reveal some of my own personal goals. One goal I formed on this trip is to help underprivileged children during my lifetime with whatever I have.
Although I embarked on this journey with low expectations, I can honestly say that this journey influenced my personal perspective tremendously. The Global Youth Leadership Program of 2016 was most definitely a success and I hope to meet every individual again through GYLP 2017.
Going into the GYLP 2016 trip to Manjakkudi, I had no idea that it without a doubt be the greatest experience I’ve ever had. My expectations were already extremely high, as I had heard so many great things about it from student teachers who had gone on previous trips, but experiencing it all firsthand blew my expectations out of the water. Within the very first day itself, I sensed a strong bond forming between our entire group, and I knew that this trip would be one for the books. This notion of mine was strengthened further and further as the days went on. Seeing how content all the children were with whatever they had and their passion and eagerness to learn was so eye opening, and although we went there to teach them, they taught me so much more about life and happiness than I ever could have taught them about math, science, or English. Looking back at it now, I can wholeheartedly say that there is no way I will ever forget any of the incredible friends I made, the bright, intelligent students in my class, the wonderful chaperones who so generously devoted their time to taking care of each and every one of us, or the amazing memories that will last me a lifetime. GYLP 2016 changed my life, and I will forever be grateful for it.
This trip has changed me entirely. When I first came to the airplane, I was so scared that no-one would talk to me but everyone was so nice and accepting and I felt right at home instantly. The first couple of days took me some adjusting but after we met the kids, everything fell right into place. The kids at the school were so kind and whenever they would see us they would put up their hands for a high-five and had the biggest smile on their faces. I taught the sixth standard and they changed so much in the three days that I was with them. On the first day, they were hesitant to talk to me and raise their hands but by the end, girls were talking to boys and they brought so much life into the classroom each day. All the GYLP kids started taking them outside for the last class and they seemed so happy to do that, but a lot of them actually didn’t want to leave class. They always had all these questions that some of them I actually didn’t know how to answer and if they knew an answer they would stand up and scream it with all the pride that they had. On the last day, I showed them improve games for if they ever had to make an impromptu speech and if the person up didn’t know what to say, the class would give them help and everyone was just so supportive of each other. On this trip, I was surrounded with some of the nicest, smartest, and most incredible people I have ever met and I am so excited to come back next year.
The experience of a lifetime, that’s how I describe it when people ask me how my trip to India was. It was an experience in which I learned to love to go to temples, to eat with my hands, the village of manjakkudi where I made friends for life, and where I felt I have had a larger impact than any other place in my life. I went on the trip two years ago, and I thought it was a fun, eye-opening experience, but I couldn’t see a tangible impact I made, I felt anyone could have done what I had done. I thought it was interesting when I was told the next year we would be staying in one place the whole time, but I didn’t expect to come back. When I told my parents I wanted to come again this year I was expecting the same experience except with a larger group. I arrived with the group we had and found that the entire group clicked right away, we saw that we were there for a common goal, but our individual personalities all brought something to the table. Although we would have loved to have started teaching the children right away I think having a day or two with just the group was good for getting us acclimated to both India and each other. I definitely would have liked to spend a couple extra days with the children though, and although I loved traveling to all the temples, i thought going to so many took away from the value of each one and caused us to appreciate that opportunity less than we should have. The children were the best part, a better understanding of where they stood in math and science would have been appreciated for next time though, the experiments in which we had class competitions were very interactive and doing more experiments where you can get the whole class involved seems to be a good strategy for next year. Also just repeated practice of quick mental math is area of focus in which you can teach the kids a lot. Basic algebra seems to be the place where the students were at in 9th grade.
English-wise there needs to be confidence based learning. Just trying to get students to be confident in their English speaking abilities, verb tense, and just reading comprehension are all areas that we focused on and need to be continued by next year’s group. In other areas, a focus needs to be created on creating a culture of saying I don’t know when someone doesn’t understand. As far as Manjukkudi was concerned, the trips to the local temple were something I looked forward to. The food and facilities were a thousand times better than expected, but an abundance of odomos and off-spray was needed.
The trips to the students homes also were very important to the trip and should be undertaken next year. Being able to work with the administration for future programs was also a very important part of the impact I felt we had. Overall, it is something I will never forget and something I hope to do next year, I saw a change in myself that I hope to spread to others, and every person I met had a large impact on me.
When I first made the decision to take the GYLP trip, I knew that it would be an incredible experience. That much, I was sure of. What I didn't realise was how much it would change my life. These children have much less than I do, and yet, they are still happy. Maybe they are not happy in spite of their living situation, but rather because of it. They have been taught to cherish everything they have, and to never waste. And the thing they cherish the most is education, because education provides them an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty, and to spread their proverbial wings and reach newer heights. The children, with their ever present smiles and kindness, was the clear highlight of this trip. They made it all worth it, the traveling, the exhaustion, the constant shuffling. I truly believe they changed my life infinitely more times than I changed theirs, but I am truly humbled and honoured to have been given the chance. The other amazing thing I experienced on this trip was the Indian culture. Being from India, I have traveled many times to the country, yet this trip was perhaps when I was most exposed to the Indian style of living. I learned how village people lived, the types of food they ate, the religious practices they conducted, and the way they treated fellow family new era and friends. It's was all so amazing, especially seeing the large, intricate temples. They were ancient and immense, as well as breathtaking. But perhaps the final most amazing thing happened was meeting some of the most amazing people I have ever met. The people who accompanied me on this trip were all so different in every way possible, but they were also all intelligent, funny, kind, and wonderful humans. I laughed with them, bickered, and made many new friends. Each person had special skills that helped them contribute to the group, from their people skills, intelligence, time management, and kindness. Individually, the friends I made on this trip have changed my life, impacted it, and I have learned so much. I am humbled and honoured to have had the chance to be a part of GYLP 2016, and it was the one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Changing the life of someone else is always amazing, but having your own life changed by others is what will truly impact your world.
Thus far in my schooling life, there has been no event that can compare to the experience I encountered in Manjakuddi, a village that, with the grace of Pujya Sri Dayananda Saraswati, has been blessed enough to give their youth the chance at an education. The overall trip was well structured, thanks to Srini Uncle, Banu Madam, Shanti Madam, all of the chaperones, and countless other people who went out of there way to make sure that our days in Manjakuddi were spent pleasantly. In particular, I will always remember the main reason for our visit: helping to teach the children. The rapid pace at which they were able to comprehend the material we taught and their receptiveness amazed me. Even though we had a considerable language barrier and it was at times hard for us to convey exactly what we wanted to the students, they were always alert and thirsty for the information that we gave them. I am also extremely grateful that we were able to visit the villages and see the living conditions of the children. The respectful manner in which these families treated us, and how they were so eager to give us anything so that we could be comfortable even though they had so little themselves, was an occurrence that really made me realize that I have not been appreciative enough about how much has been given to me. However, although this trip was wonderful, I have some suggestions that, if taken into consideration, can make the students on next year’s trip enjoy it even more. I believe that the 3 days that we spent with the children assigned to us was not nearly enough to make sure that everything that was taught would be remembered. The progress that we made was irrelevant, because I know that, had we been able to stay with the children longer, we could make them remember what we taught forever. Their english was improved temporarily, but who is to say how long that will last? By staying in Manjakuddi longer and teaching the children, we will make sure that their very lifestyle will change in a way that will help them practice their english regularly. Furthermore, we were only just starting to how exactly they process information and adapting our lessons in a way that they will understand better. Finally, I think that we should also have more time to spend with the children outside of a classroom environment. The few days that we were able to spend playing with the children really helped me connect to them better and made them think of me more of a friend and less of a teacher. Children are more likely to approach you if they identify you as a friend, and they will be less reserved if they do not understand a concept. I am looking forward to visiting Manjakuddi again next year! Because of this trip, my outlook has changed for the better.
I've been to India several times before, but I went to India to visit relatives, admire the wondrous architecture, relish the incredible delicacies, and relax. Before my trips to Manjukkudi I had never seen India for what it really was, behind all the busy streets and elaborate sarees; I had never seen the heart of India. Manjakkudi is a village in Tamilnadu that may not be the largest in size but certainly is enormous in character. The people I met and things I saw have forever changed me and will forever be in my memory. Being that the 2016 GYLP trip to Manjakkudi was my second, I was extremely excited to see how Manjakkudi has changed and how the children have grown in the year I was away. Just like last year, the whole team was greeted with elated faces and delicious tea; and even though we were strangers to the villagers, they welcomed us like family. Of course I missed the incredible tradition dishes served generously by the wonderful cooks, but what I missed most was the children. I still remembered my students, and three students specifically had stuck with me even a year later: Karthik, Nadan, and Sanjay. The three of them were best friends and inspired me in how they were all so different and had such different aspirations, from a scientist to a professional long-jumper, yet they all connected through one common interest-- learning. Every single kid in Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School had so much talent in sports, academics, and art, and all of the children excelled in something different. That is what made this school different from others in the U.S., the children yearned for more knowledge, they didn't argue with their parents and try to bargain with them to skip school. The students at the school in Manjukkudi wanted to be there, and it was visible in their respect, excitement, and studiousness. The school itself was beautiful, being open all around, it embraced the nature that surrounded it. From the endless rice fields to the rich gardens, Manjakkudi had a beauty of its own that is hard to describe. The simplicity of the culture was refreshing and addicting. I think I can speak for all the students when I say we tried to embrace this simplicity as much as we could. In all of our visits to the chatralayas, however exhausted we may have been, each and every one of us interacted with the students and made connections as though we had been friends for years. All the students we visited and met were so welcoming and didn't even hesitate to bring us into their homes and their lives. They offered us whatever little they had and tried to hide that that was in fact all they had at times. I remember several of my students wanted to see what U.S. Currency looked like, so my partner and I pulled out a quarter, dime, penny, and dollar bill and explained it to them. When doing so, I saw a few children rush to their desks and empty out their bags and pockets in search of some Indian currency to show us. After finding all they could they rushed back to show us, and then proceeded to tell us to keep it. I had seen how they struggled to find the coins they so readily offered us and it amazed me how giving they were. We declined explaining that would not be able to spend any Indian money in U.S., so it would simply go to waste. Even then they seemed disappointed in our refusal. This small incident, and several others like it, will always stick with me and through it I have learned to appreciate what I have so much more. This trip to Manjukkudi did include visits to several temples, all of which were incredible and unique, but I won't elaborate too much on those visits for the simple reason that I can always go back with my family and visit them again. Working with the children in both the school and the chatralayas was an experience that I cannot recreate. Even from last year to this year, my experience changed greatly. The little munchkins I taught in my fifth grade class last year had shot up and were excelling in sixth standard. They all had grown up so much and learned so much and that was what showed me how much Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School had affected these children and the incredible impact it had on them. There is no doubt that every single child in that school has an extremely bright future ahead of them and we will definitely be hearing about some of them when they're all grown up.
Service, Self Growth and Sambar Sadam: Reflection on Manjakkudi GYLP 2016
This program really changed me and has stimulated a lot of personal growth. Something about seeing such desperation and eagerness for learning in a child's eyes, or seeing the humble thatched roof that provides shelter for the happiest and most satisfied of families has given me a gift more valuable than any certificate or addition to my resume: inspiration. I am inspired to be grateful for what I have, I am inspired to work harder and enjoy working hard by the drive of these kids, and, most significantly, I will never look at school the same way again. It is no longer an obligation, but a privilege. The most important and unique aspect of GYLP is the fact that we got to directly teach the kids; everything else about the trip (the temple visits, the cultural excursions, etc.) was an added bonus, but the exchange of knowledge, culture, and experiences inside and outside the classroom between us and our students was the cornerstone of the growth process on both sides. I think another important part of the trip for me was the discussions we had about the experience, whether it was with the British kids before we started teaching, amongst ourselves on the bus or at dinner about which teaching methods worked and which did not, with Shanti Madam and Banu Madam about what we observed within the kids and within ourselves after some teaching, and with the kids about what they learned and how they benefitted from the experience. Discussing my thoughts and feelings, or writing them down in a journal was definitely a good way to process what was going on and learn from it.
On another note, there are some minor details that I would change about the program. Firstly, the name. Global Youth Leadership Program is something that accurately describes our program. However, it is so vague! Global Youth Leadership Program can describe half of the programs out there. It doesn't say anything about Aim For Seva or even India. Yes it is an appropriate name, but I don’t believe it truly encompasses the goals or nature of the program. This matter is probably something that is out of my hands but I thought it was worth giving my two cents. Secondly, in these 10 days I have visited more temples than I have ever visited. It was amazing to see a lot of these massive, historical, and architecturally innovative temples, but I think it was hard to really appreciate them when we saw so many. Sometimes the temples just blurred together because we were shuttled on the bus from one temple to another. I think it might be nice to cut down on the number of temples we see by a little bit. There are so many and all of them are worth seeing, but I think we would all have a greater appreciation of the temples if we saw a select few. Maybe the temple time could be used to have a yoga or dandiya class? Or more time with the school kids or at the chatralayas. I would also like to have more meditation time at Swamiji's shrine in the mornings. We only did morning meditation 3 or 4 times, but I really enjoyed that peaceful start to the day and think we should do it everyday. I also think that we should have 30-45 minutes of outdoor games with the kids every school day. We did this on the last 3 days and it's a really great way to bond with them outside of the classroom and it helps them become more comfortable with us inside the classroom. I also liked having 45 minutes of outdoor games to play frisbee or other games for just the 22 of us after Sanskrit class as a break and a way to unwind. I think this is an excellent program and I cannot wait to come again next year.
My GYLP trip was amazing, I learned so many things while having fun at the same time. Having the opportunity to teach the kids was a life changing experience. They came into school with such eagerness to learn. Personally, when I go to school, I am not always excited. But the kids we taught live in not favorable conditions and come to school so excited. I found that so inspiring. Another thing I enjoyed about teaching at the school was talking to the kids. When I just talked to the kids, I learned so much about their lifestyle, and the lifestyle of many people in India. From my experience of teaching the kids, I also learned a lot of things. I learned how to be more thankful for what I have. Because after I saw what the kids had in their houses and how happy they were, I knew that I should be thankful for the many things I already had. Another thing I learned from teaching the kids was the value of patience. I learned this value because when teaching the kids, they could not always understand me. Sometimes I would speak to fast, or use a word they did not know. So I learned to be patient with regards to when I do something because of this experience of teaching the kids. Another thing I would like to talk about is staying in the village. I enjoyed staying in the village because by the end of our stay, I did not feel like an American, I felt like an Indian who was actually part of the village. This is because we would wake up early in the morning and go to the temple, and we had the opportunity to converse with the village kids and people. Having these experiences were great because I felt so accustomed to the village by the time I left. The last thing I want to talk about is the people. All the people who came on this trip were great, and I made so many friends from this trip. I enjoyed spending time with them and talking with them. Overall this trip is really an unforgettable experience and I learned so much from it. I am so thankful to Srini Uncle, Sudharsana Auntie, Gauri Auntie, and Kanchana Auntie for letting me come on this great trip.
After being a part of the Global Youth Leadership Program, I can think of no better way to spend a holiday break from school. Seeing the way of life in Manjakkudi has truly been an eye-opening experience. Working with the children who come to the Swami Dayananda School from Manjakkudi and its surrounding villages has helped to shape my perspective.
Walking past any classroom in the school, I could not help but be amazed by all of the smiling, eager faces that awaited us. Teaching the sixth standard students, it was very refreshing to see the ceaseless excitement and thirst for knowledge. Trying to keeping up with my class’s curiosity, I decided to show them a science experiment involving static electricity. I could not believe the reaction that I got from my class and one girl even told me that the science experiment was like magic to her. It was only while standing in front of that class that I began to realize how privileged I was to have such a good education. In America everyone knows that education is good however most American children go to school everyday unenthusiastically. The children in the Swami Dayananda School in Manjakkudi view education as a gift and value every bit of knowledge they can receive.
It was also very inspiring to hear them say their ambitions were to be doctors, engineers, police and other honorable profession while most of the children’s parents were uneducated rice farmers, The children were also very enthusiastic and generous. Every day I was offered something by the kids whether it was a piece of candy, a part of their snack or a card. Even though the kids came from poor villages they were so happy, generous and excited to share whatever they had. The kids incredible attitude has taught me more than I could ever have taught them about English, math, or science.
Although there are myriad words one can use to describe the 2016 GYLP trip, it personally served as a major catalyst for change and offered a new outlook on the way I view the world around me. For example, The idea of having family and loved ones around you is far more significant than any materialistic wealth one can possess, as evidently seen in many village homes we visited. Also, school no longer holds a negative connotation to me as I was able to see first hand the type of motivation and excitement the children possessed when sitting in classrooms, entering school, and welcoming the education they receive with highly positive minds. One student stated, “How can the sky be the limit when there are footprints on the moon?”. This highlights the level of ambition and drive for success found in these children, something I took back with me to keep dreaming and working hard to achieve my goals, not letting miniscule obstacles hinder me from doing so. My most prominent highlights of this trip would have to be the one on one conversations I had with my students, visiting the village homes, and meeting Kausalya, an eleventh grade student who showed me that anyone can achieve anything with nonterminating effort and a solid ambition. Finally, the temple excursions, chatralaya visits, and the Veda Patasala visit were amazing moments on the trip, especially the Veda Patasala. To view the amount of dedication and sacrifice those young men have put forth to heighten their spirituality and intensively practice Hinduism is far beyond commendable. Above all, I see Manjakkudi in a homely sense and for certain, will come back for a longer stay with my family to absorb all the wonderful culture, people, and spiritual offerings found in the village.
In terms of improvement, I have a few constructive thoughts on what can be improved for next year’s trip. First and foremost, I think the amount of time we spend with the children in school should be increased to at least one more day. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to them after wonderful conversations and bonding with them. Also, in regards to temple visits, I think we should shorten the list by maybe one or two. Seeing these amazing architectural wonders, historical landmarks, and powerful deities were an amazing delight but in place of some temples, we could have added more time with the children, chatralaya visits, and even spend more time at Swamiji’s shrine. Finally, I would prefer to skip over Dakshinachitra next year. It’s undoubtedly a beautiful museum and allowed me to explore south Indian culture further but due to it being scheduled the morning before departure to the airport, the four hours we spent at Dakshinachitra could have been time to unwind before a hectic evening. All in all, I hope to keep in touch with Banu Madam and Shanti Madam in regards to improving the library for the children, more resources for the school, and more. I would also like to formally thank everyone who made this trip possible and allowed me to end the year on an amazing note. Your efforts have provided me with an eye opening opportunity and I’ll cherish the memories from this trip for the rest of my life as well as doing everything possible to come on this year’s trip as well.
Last year, I had the privilege to be a part of the 2015 GYLP trip to Manjakkudi and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for the 2016 trip and here we are now. There are many similarities yet so many differences between the two trips but overall, I felt that I was able to connect with all the students of the Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School a lot more than last time.
One thing I felt was helpful towards making connections with the students was the icebreaker session on our first day at the school. This was especially beneficial for me because it helped me understand the children we were working with during our educational exchange. For example, coming into this trip, I knew that the children would eagerly listen and try to fully understand what we had to share with them, but some of them were not as eager to open up to us. As a matter of fact, the class we interacted with that morning was especially quiet, and we had to actively seek ways to get them to talk. I am glad that we got to work with that class because it helped me understand and prepare for how to go about teaching and interacting with a class when they don’t open up as easily as you would expect.
Another aspect of the trip that helped me connect with the school students was outdoor games. During this time, interacting with the students was different than interacting with them in a classroom atmosphere. Everyone is open to playing with each other and you are able to meet children that aren’t in your class. However, even during outdoor games, all the children maintain their proclivity to learn. They eagerly and actively asked me, “Akka please teach us some American games that you like to play”.
Finally, being able to visit the homes of children studying at the school helped me fully understand them and their way of life. Many of the houses in the village are houses most American teenagers cannot fathom to live in. However, they are all happy with how they are living. This experience was really refreshing because of how different things are in America. It seems as though no matter how much we have, we are always asking for more, but the people of the village we visited are perfectly content with their lives.
My trip to Manjakkuddi in December is the best experience I’ve had as a school student and will cherish forever. My thanks to Srini uncle, Gauri aunty, Sudharsana aunty, Kanchana aunty and our entire team for making this a memorable trip. Our stay at the guest house and all of us being treated as special guests by everyone at Manjakkuddi was very warming. Thanks to all of the chefs for the great food. It was a truly amazing experience to have been a teacher for students at Manjakkuddi school. It was wonderful to see the impact that we as teachers had on our students. I enjoyed when our group went to visit our students’ homes. It was really an eye opener was to realize how happy and thankful they were with what they had. It made me think how much I could do with the resources I have and also made me feel extremely thankful for all that I have. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to teach my 6th graders and realized how much more could be done for them from a curriculum standpoint. I am very thankful to the school board to have provided opportunities for all of us to give small speeches to our students and share our input with them. I have been blessed to have known Pujya swamiji Dayananda Sarawathi for all my life. Now I feel very proud to have known Swamiji as I have seen how he has had a positive impact on Manjakkudi. I’m very thankful to have visited Swamiji’s ancestral home and the meditation hall. I loved visiting all the temples, specifically the Tanjore temple – I was really amazed with the architecture. The Kumbakonam chariots and their design were very impressive as well. I enjoyed visiting the vedha pata shala and being able to participate along with those kids in their procession. I felt very gifted when all of us were part of the puja that was performed on behalf of the new clinic to be constructed. Each of us had the opportunity to place a brick as a base for the main construction. I thoroughly enjoyed the Mahabalipuram and the Dakshin Chitra (though I felt that the students should have taken a break on the last day and should have just spent time together instead). The great explanations provided for the history behind Mahabalipuram made me appreciate it much more. Above all, I am glad to have made new friendships and to have had this experience.
The experiences I have had in GYLP have changed my outlook on life, education, and dedication. Manjakkudi, a small village with a huge spirit, managed weave its way into a deep place in my heart only within a span of two years. Over the past two GYLP trips I have attended, every wonderful person I have met has made a positive impact on me and has taught me something valuable. As soon as we arrived in Manjakkudi, we were welcomed by the principal of the Swami Dayananda Matric School, Shanti Madam, who promptly told me that she remembered me. We were welcomed into the dining hall; the cooks offered us tea, coffee, or hot milk. This is one of the most special aspects of Manjakkudi; everywhere we went, we were treated like family and welcomed with open arms. When we went to the school for the first time, it was so touching to see all the students clapping for us and waving to us, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that it was a gesture that made us feel so loved. Over the next couple of days of teaching the students, I was constantly surprised by their enthusiasm, their participation, their dedication, and their hunger for knowledge. It was such a contrast to the way us Americans perceive school; we never want to go, we pray for snow days so we can stay home. We take our education for granted. These kids take every opportunity they get to learn and are grateful for everything they have. This showed many of us that even though we came to India thinking that we would teach the kids, we learned so much more from them. In the school, I became very close with an eleventh grade girl named Kaviya. She remembered me from last trip, and told me that she had waited an entire year to give me a hug. We talked so much and became so close over the few days that we were together. She taught me so much; she was so sensitive and talkative and she treated me like an old friend. When I told her I like mehendi, she brought some to school the next day, came in early just to do it for me, and proceeded to put it for many other girls as well. She was talented and did it beautifully. When I told her I watched Tamil movies sometimes, she bombarded me with names of great movies that I should watch and the best comedians and actors. When it was our last day, she cried and made me promise to come back and visit her. I will never forget all the experiences I have shared with the students in that school.
Although spending time with the students was definitely the highlight of the trip, there were other aspects of the trip that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed playing chess with the boys in the boys chatralaya and I loved playing badminton with the girls in the girls chatralaya. I also loved visiting the Veda Patasala, going to the Thanjavur Big Temple, and walking along with the procession. These were once in a lifetime experiences that I will cherish forever and that will stay in my memory. I appreciate the careful planning that was put into the trip this time, as well. It seemed to me that since we have thoroughly planned everything properly this time, the students as well as the members of GYLP got more out of the trip and everything was more organized.
I do have a couple of suggestions for next year’s trip, however. Although the temple visits provided us with more insight on our culture and knowledge about the beautiful architecture, many memories of the temples we went to are vague in my memory, since we visited so many of them. I think it would be more beneficial for us if we went to fewer temples; that way, we will appreciate the temples more and it would perhaps provide us with more time to spend with the students. On that note, although the days we did have were packed full of activities with the students, I think it would be better for us to have maybe a few more days with them. It would definitely reinforce the material we have taught them, and it would give us more time to bond with them. So, instead of classes that last until the students leave school, I think we should have more days with the kids and more time for sports and bonding each day. After seeing how the kids interact, I’m sure everyone will agree that they learn better if they get to know you or have bonded with you.
Overall, this experience has been wonderful and I consider myself blessed to have gotten this opportunity. I would like to thank Srini uncle, Gauri Aunty, Sudharshana Aunty, and Kanchana Aunty for taking care of us and making sure we had a great time, the students in the school that have taught me so much and whom I will miss so much, my fellow GYLPers, all of whom I have grown very close with, for making the trip fun and exciting, Banu Ma’am and Shanti Ma’am for welcoming us with open arms, and everyone else who made this trip a great experience. I am hoping that I will be able to go on the trip next year, as these experiences have changed my life.
On the first day of the trip I was very excited, I had heard so much and I hoped it would live up to my expectations. I am glad to say that without doubt it surpassed them. I could never have imagined the effect the whole experience had on me. The temple visits, the culture, the chaperones, the food, the British kids, the school, and the other 21 kids all taught me so much but none as much as the students. From their eagerness to learn to their constant smiles despite their backgrounds they were just so different from anyone else i've encountered that I was amazed. I will carry their enthusiasm with me into my own education. They showed me that they believe education is worth all the hard work and time that is needed for it.
I'm glad I got the chance to impact so many people’s lives. I feel like having the teachers with us in the classrooms helped because they broadened their perspective and learned new teaching methods from us and provided us guidance and help when we needed it. Also, I really liked how we got to interact so much with Shanti Madam and Banu Madam. They explained to us what we were dealing with and what they expected us to teach. The feedback session before the last day of teaching was especially helpful to learn how the other kids were teaching and what the school wanted us to emphasize when teaching. I was surprised to see how involved Shanti Madam was in some of the students lives. She really cared about each and every student and knew that they all deserved an education.
I had a great time on this trip but there's always room for improvement. One thing I think we should change about the trip is to cut down the number of temple visits to one a day. All the temples were beautiful and interesting but more than one a day made things feel repetitive. I also think that student teachers should be told to reflect upon how their teaching affects the kids. Also, I think the subjects taught should be more skill based than actual subject matter. We want to teach them skills that will stick with them forever and impact their lives and improve their learning experiences.
Overall it was an inspiring experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Before going on the GYLP trip, I was expecting to meet children who aimed to thrive in their educational and recreational pursuits and who were grateful for everything they had, despite their socioeconomic situation. However, once I stepped foot into the various chatralayas and villages where the students stayed, I realized that they weren't grateful and focused on their education despite their living circumstances, but rather because of them. The children in these communities don't have the luxuries that we American students have, but they all strive to take full advantage of one of the most important aspects of their lives: their education. While many students in America dread school and wake up every morning with frustration about learning in the classroom, the children in Manjakkudi wake up in the morning with curiosity and a genuine will to learn. It made me realize how lucky we are to receive an education, because it is the fundamental step to even greater pursuits in life. I truly believe that I learned more from the children in Manjakkudi than they learned from me. They taught me how to play Kabadi, how to win a game of hand cricket, but also how to be grateful for what I have. I felt so blessed when I saw four of my students standing up in front of the school community and reflecting on their experiences during the five days we spent with them, not because it demonstrated that I taught them effectively, but because they exhibited the courage to speak about something in English and the pursuit of knowledge. I truly admired this and looked up to them for it.
I didn't just learn from the Indian students, though. The twenty-one other students who accompanied me on this trip comprised the best group of people I could have had to join me on this journey. Each one of them came from different backgrounds, upbringings, and experiences, despite the Indian culture that we all share. Some of them amazed me with their impeccable courage and people-skills. Others exhibited sensitivity towards every one of the students and teachers and did their best to listen more than speak. But I can surely say that I was amazed to see that these students who study in America and exemplify American values also stay in close touch with their Indian roots via sloka chanting, bhajans, and mastery of Indian languages. As a first-year college student, I have been exposed to various experiences and situations in the new place that I call home, especially with my education and my friends, and I got so caught up in it that I didn't spend as much time on learning about myself and about the nation my family and I come from. Being around such a diverse group of motivated, talented individuals during these two weeks was exactly what I needed to stay in tune with the culture I come from, and even though most of my fellow GYLP peers were younger than me and still in high school, I look up to them as role models for staying in touch with my own cultural upbringing and for maintaining the curiosity to learn more about where I come from.
I am incredibly humbled to have participated in the GYLP trip to Manjakkudi this year, and although I may not be able to go on the trip again this December, I wish all the best for future GYLP students and hope to visit the Swami Dayananda Secondary School and other chatralayas again soon.
Life-changing. In one word, I just summarized the entire Global Youth Leadership Program that took place in 2016. When my parents had signed me up last year, I didn’t really realize the true meaning of this trip. I didn’t even know that we were going to be teaching kids. But as the days and months passed, and as the trip loomed closer and closer, I began to get a closer understanding of what GYLP really was. From all the intense preparation for our teaching, I could tell that Srini Uncle, Sudharsana Aunty, and Gauri Aunty really took this seriously - and I had too as well.
Though all 22 of us students went to Manjakkudi to teach other students, I feel that we ended up learning much more than them. Much more than what the brain can comprehend. I, for one, learned that we must not take all of what we have for granted. Visiting the homes of the children, we saw how much their parents, grandparents, and even the children themselves struggled to make education a possible option. Many children lived in houses fractions the size of our homes here in the states. Just to make ends meet, many parents worked up to 3 jobs - sometimes, to no avail. One girl’s father only came home once a month from Trichy, where he worked to help his family survive. Words cannot express the emotion that we all felt when we heard the many stories of families who were close to breaking apart, ones of families who survived on the smallest of things, the ones of families who were living on the edge. Thanks to GYLP, I now know the full extent to the suffering of the poor in India, and hope to help India better itself in an infinite number of ways: starting with next year’s GYLP program.
The highlight of the trip was teaching at Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School in Manjakkudi, Tamil Nadu. Since the time that Pujya Sri Swamiji resided in the village, the town itself has increased dramatically. The Tamil medium school, though having been built a while back, was the beginning of the revolutionizing of the small village. Soon enough, an English medium school was built not far away, bringing in students from over 50 villages in the 30-mile radius. Kids all the way from UKG to 10th standard attend the school, which even has a physics, biology, chemistry, and computer lab. Witnessing the school was not the only privilege we, as student-teachers, had. We had the opportunity to teach the children. I myself taught 7th standard, and it was of the best experiences in my entire life. Walking into the class on the first day and seeing all the smiles on the faces of the students gave me a new insight on life. They were excited to come to school and learn. Unlike the children of America, who have an extremely hard time getting ready and actually accepting the fact that they have to go to school, these children were happy to come to school everyday. Throughout those 5 days of teaching all us GYLP-ers noticed that many of the students refused to say that they were confused. But as the days went on, we could see an improvement - in both their courage to stand up in class and ask for help, and even stand up in the assembly to talk about their experience with us. In the closing assembly for the GYLP program, many students of all ages stood up to tell the audience about how they felt throughout the time we were there. One student from my class, Santhosh Kumar, stood up and told everyone how he deeply enjoyed the experience. He almost brought me to tears when he called to us, asking us to stand and addressing us, saying that “Shashwath Brother and Aira Sister” are both like an actual brother and sister to me. Not just only him, but after hearing every single student request for me to come again the next year, I again felt so happy that they themselves were looking forward to my visit next year.
Not just only the teaching, but the cultural part impacted my experience as well. The visits to all the temples, from the Brihadeeshwar Kovil in Thanjavur to the Ramaswamy Temple in Kumbakonam, showed an insight to our Indian culture and history. The trip to the Veda Pathashaala wowed me, showing the patience, focus, and strong will of the students, and inspired me to take whatever I can do to the next level. Waking up at 3 in the morning to chant and witness the puja at the temple was a whole new experience. Still, waking up a little later to view the sunrise in Manjakkudi was breathtaking, and visiting the temple shortly after brought me back to my Indian roots.
Overall, this trip was amazing, but there were things that could be fixed. For one thing, we visited many temples in a short span of time. We visited around 10 temples in the span of time that we were in India, and much of our time that could have been spent readying our material for our classes. Also, visiting Dakshina Chitra on our final day in India made our schedule a little more hectic than normal. Skipping over the museum could have given us a bit more time to wind down and prepare ourselves for the journey home. All, things aside, this trip was life-changing and I am sure I took more things away from this trip than I had given.
This trip has truly been an eye opening experience for me and I can gladly say that I am happy that my parents enrolled me in the GYLP program. At first I was really skeptical of whether or not I really wanted to to go. All the other times I had been to India, I really had not enjoyed it. Up until the last minute I really was not sure if I was going to gain anything out of this trip. That all changed when I first arrived at the airport. Immediately when we were checking in I was greeted by a ton of faces, some familiar and others new, but they all seemed just like me and we started talking, immediately we all got along. This is where GYLP for me was the best decision of my life. On the plane we joked around over the seat to seat chat and on the long bus rides we had some interesting bonding games. Nonetheless, I was happy that I was there in that moment. Once we reached Manjakkudi, we were greeted with warm smiles and so much hospitality, it was truly amazing. We went to temple after temple after temple, honestly, I'm not going to lie, I did not think that I would have made it out alive after going to all those temples, but it was ok when we finally started teaching. Everything that I thought was not good about the trip was washed away when I first met my class. It was a awe inspiring to see the children we taught come from all different villages so eager to learn. I will never forget the smiles the children gave me or the “hello brother/Anna” they told me. If I could I would go on this trip at least one more time.
Last year, I remember sitting in the lecture hall at arsha vidya gurukulam hearing from a group students who just went on this aim for seva trip. I was mesmerized and immediately asked my parents to sign me up for the trip. I knew that this trip would be life changing, but only after going on the trip I realized how much it changed me. On orientation day in Manjakkudi, India the whole student body in the higher secondary school gave a warm welcome to the student teachers. Each student had a warm smile on her face and greeted us with the utmost respect. Even the lower and upper kindergarten students had a genuine smile on their face as they high fived each of the student teachers. Some kids also offered me candy as it was there birthday. At that moment I realized that these kids truly wanted to go to school. I also realized that they were genuinely happy to learn from the student teachers. I also had another life changing experience when visiting the home of some of the student. The students come from far away villages and usually live in small huts. When visiting their house their excited faces greeted us with the utmost respect. Inside the houses there was very little room and no sign of technology even then they offered us something to eat. This sign shows how humble they are. Visiting these students homes told me that these students taking nothing for granted whether it's their education or a meal. Another life changing experience was the children's eagerness to learn. When teaching this children in the classroom they also had their eyes trained on mine and had full attention throughout the duration of the class. When I asked them a question all the students would raise their hand high up saying “Sister, sister I know the answer, I know.” Even when the class was over and the students were on break, they did not want to leave the class. The students kept asking questions. On the last day, the students showed their gratitude of my teaching by giving me pencils and pens. They also wrote cute little notes saying how nice and kind it was for me to come and teach them. These small acts shows how the students really appreciate leading from me. Oh This GLYP Aim for Seva trip was truly and eye opening experience it should me how to appreciate every item you have in your life for the clean water you drink to your education
Going to Manjakkudi, India as part of the 6th Global Youth Leadership Program is an experience I will never forget. From visiting famous temples to teaching the extraordinary school children, each day of the trip was filled with countless activities and once-in- a-lifetime opportunities that I’ll always cherish. I think it is fair to say, however, that mentoring the bright students of Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School was the best experience of them all. These children were all so eager and excited to learn, it taught me just how valuable receiving an education is. The students inspired me to appreciate everything I have and to never take my life for granted, which is a lesson that will stick with me forever. It was truly humbling and emotional to see the houses from which these students came and to hear stories of the struggles their families faced. Even from the little they had, the families always wanted to offer us something; they always wanted to give. Seeing this reminded me of the purpose of our trip: being contributors; helping those who are less privileged than ourselves; making a tangible impact. And this, we tried our best to accomplish. I loved seeing the children’s faces glow with curiosity whenever we would teach them something new, whether it be in science, math, or English. In turn, they would always want to show us their own skills and talents. These ranged from singing, dancing, drawing, and writing to playing musical instruments and sports. Visiting the Chatralayas and the Veda Patashala were also motivating, as the passion for success was clear in all the girls’ and boys’ words and actions. Moreover, being able to escape the loud, bustling streets of India and come into the calm, quiet village of Manjakkudi was heartwarming for us all. The simplicity of the village is what made it awe-striking and beautiful. Places like the open fields and Swamiji’s shrine brought me a sense of relaxation and peace of mind that are very difficult to attain elsewhere. As far as ideas to improve the program, my one big suggestion would be to spend more time with the students. I felt that as I finally got to know the students in
my class, it was time to leave already. If we can see so much growth in the students in just four days of teaching, a few more could create an even greater positive impact. In all, I am so lucky to have had the chance to go on this trip and even more lucky to have met the wonderful people who came on it with me. Thank you to everyone who made it possible and eagerly awaiting GYLP 2017!