As I met with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday there were always questions about my recent trip to India as a member of the CoSN Senior Delegation. Many times I felt that the slogan on our tour bus – “Incredible India” – gave a good broad-brush description of a wonderfully diverse country.
However, I found that whenever I really got down to telling the story of what we learned and experienced my comments usually revolved around three “P’s”: People, Passion, and Purpose.
PEOPLE – There is no question that the people of India are truly its greatest asset. Their graciousness and sense of hospitality cannot be overstated. We experienced sincere warm welcomes wherever we went. It did not matter if we were simply chatting with people we met in the street, shops and hotels, or if we were conversing with our hosts – both adults and students – at the schools and non-profit organizations we were fortunate enough to visit. Everyone expressed an eagerness to share their stories as well as a curiosity about us, why we were visiting their community, and what we might share with them.
PASSION – The people of India are passionate about their families, their history and their culture. Whether visiting with people living in the crowded cities or those in the more affluent communities, dedication to family is a strong priority. That sense of family extends to their neighborhoods and community at large. The historic temples and shrines as well as the magnificent colors in the fabrics of saris worn by women throughout India conveyed the rich sense of culture that permeates so much of India’s way of life. As magnificent as the historic treasures are, it is the eyes and smiles of the children that illuminate the passion of the people of India and give a glimpse of what the future holds.
PURPOSE – It is a given that India faces enormous challenges in multiple arenas including basic infrastructure for housing, refuse, water, transportation, technology, education and more. The school directors and non-profit leaders we met with never shied away from the struggles they face. Rather they meet them head-on with a determination to invest in the people of India as a way to solve India’s current problems. Whether looking at teacher education as a way to reach more students, as demonstrated by the Learning Links Foundation and the Agastya Center, or emphasizing the importance of STEM education for both boys and girls at every school we visited, the unifying trend is to invest in human capital as a means for growing India into a strong, self-reliant, powerhouse nation. Other common threads inherent in the sense of purpose is an emphasis on educating the whole child, an infusion of the arts along with STEM curricula, and a laser like focus on student learning projects that support the “greater good”.
In my conversations with students at each school we visited I always asked what they hope to do when they finish with their schooling. A young 8th grade girl told me she aspired to be an aeronautical engineer. I responded by telling her that I live in Southern California which is home to several aerospace industries and said that perhaps she might end up working at one of them. She did not miss a beat when she asked me if she might share another of her aspirations with me. I said, “Certainly”. Her reply: “I was born in India, I live in India, and I want to stay in India”. With that sense of determination, pride and purpose it will be a thrill for the rest of the world to watch “Incredible India” grow and develop over the next few decades.