Hi, for anyone who doesn’t know me I’m Nick and this summer I was given the amazing opportunity to volunteer with free the children, helping to build a school in rural India, through a scholarship from Blackberry. For the past couple of years I have been involved in social justice issues, you may remember me a couple of years back asking you for jeans to help homeless youth in the HRM, and the results from Woodlawn alone, were overwhelming to say the least. And because of that, my involvement in that cause was really eye opening for me, and I quickly developed a passion for helping others, seeing what a huge difference it was possible for me to make. This passion took the shape of volunteering, especially with the organization free the children.
Free the Children was created by Craig Kielburger when he was 12 years old, after reading about the murder of a boy from Pakistan, by the name of Iqbal Masih. Iqbal was forced into slavery at the age of four, for six years he would be chained to his carpet-making loom in forced labor. He was eventually able to escape though, and he began speaking out against bonded labor, and aided over 3000 children in escaping from circumstances similar to those he faced. Craig was outraged by the news of this boys murder, likely for speaking out against child exploitation, and with the help of eleven of his classmates, formed what’s now free the children, a massive charity with the goal to break the cycle of poverty, by using a 5 pillar model, of education, clean water and sanitation, health, alternative income and livelihood, and agriculture and food security.
I first became involved with free the children through their “we create change” initiative of collecting pennies to provide clean water in areas without it. A small group from my junior high school and I were once again shocked by the support of our community, and were able to raise enough to provide 38 people with clean water for the rest of their lives. I also took part in my school’s free the children group, raising money this time to build a school, and it was through this group that I found out about the Blackberry scholarship program.
In India my group consisted of of 24 youth from across Canada, two facilitators from free the children and a local facilitator and translator, named Rupesh. I helped in building a school for the community of Bagad and it’s surrounding villages. When we weren’t building, we were busy learning about and being immersed in the day to day life and culture of this community, as well as learning about the plans for change as well as the specific challenges the area faced. Bagad is a small, impoverished village the northwestern part of India, in the province of Rajasthan, where the average weekly income is less than $8 Canadian. (show slide of old school) This was the previous school in Bagad, and it was a source of many problems for students. The school was built in the early 50’s, with too few classrooms to accommodate the population of it’s surrounding villages, it was built at the bottom of a hill, so it would flood during the rainy season, it lacked proper bathrooms, and lastly, it was built by the government on community land without the permission of the community, creating tensions between the two, and obstacles getting in the way of education. When free the children intervened in the community in 2008, they were able set to work building an improved school (show pictures of new school), with an appropriate amount of classrooms, sanitary latrines with hand washing stations, and support from the community. At the school, we were working on building classrooms number six and seven, the last two needed for the community. Mostly our work included (show slides) mixing cement, carrying rocks and dirt, and digging, to build up the foundations of the classrooms.
The reason I’m talking about this now, is because I found that my trip to India had a lot of relevance to what we talk about here in church, especially the story of Nicodemus that says:
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above'. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus was talking about seeing through different eyes, seeing anew. And my experiences in India really changed how I saw things in the world. I started seeing myself as a part of something bigger than myself, more than ever before. The school for instance, one of the key factors of breaking the cycle of poverty in Bagad, it wasn’t just built by my group, it was started by people who came before us, and it will be finished by people that will go after us, it’s a massive effort that wouldn’t be able to be achieved without the help of the overwhelmingly supportive community members, and multiple groups of youth. And even that is just a part in fully breaking the cycle of poverty in this one community, out of the millions around the globe needing support.
Then I also started to see the world with not just new ideas, but an entirely new perspective. I felt more in touch to god’s world, through the things I saw like women walking for kilometers at a time just to get water, and seeming to think nothing of it, or a family of eight sleeping on the floor of a one room house with a leaky roof. And it helps in arriving at a more complete image of the creation, as we often see only a small part of it, but with this new experience and knowledge, I found my views on water, education and many other aspects challenged, and I began to see the world’s problems in a different way. I began to see beyond the images of starving children used so often by charities, I began to see that life in impoverished areas was much more complex than just donating, every situation is different. The people in the area and that I was working in for example were very open to change and hopeful for a better future, and Rajasthan is not without resources, it’s a lush place that could thrive if given the chance. With these observations, I saw that the only way to possibly work towards the solutions needed is through a goal of sustainability, and mass collaboration, and I began to see this collaboration starting to come together, more and more. And I also started to see that while things aren’t great for many people, around the world that things are getting better, albeit slowly. Take for example Myani Bai, a woman from Bagad whose daughter, Nankee was born with a birth defect, where her eyes hadn’t developed properly, which left her blind and an outcast. When free the children became involved in the community however, Nankee was able to get the operation she needed, she’s now considered to be normal and she’s been able to gradually gain her sight. My main change in the way I see things is that I see change as more gradual, but also more present in the world we live in.