Experiences of SVBF youth volunteers

Education at its Finest

By: Sahana Padmanabhan

The summer of 2015, the youth volunteers of HATCC and SVBF went on a pilgrimage as a group to the temples of Karnataka and also visited and volunteered in a school in Triunelveli, India to teach English.

First, we travelled through Dakshina Karanataka; which is a costal district in the state of Karnataka in India, sheltered by the Western Ghats on the east and surrounded by the Arabian Sea on the west. Through the costal district we visited some of the famous temples in Karnataka. Such as Kukke, Dharmastala, Sringeri, Hornadu, Kalasa, Udupi, Aanegude, Kollur, Murudeshwar, and Madurai. We also visited kutrallam and Kanyakumari.

Next, we went to Triunelveli. Where we had the great opportunity to teach English at Sri Jayendra School and the GKV School.

At Sri Jayendra School, I saw children filled with passion, hard work, and great school spirit. This is all the great work of Usha Madam, Ganga Madam, Kausalya Madam, Nirmala Madam, and all the hard working teachers. They aim to impact quality education. Not only the administration, but also the students made all the volunteers feel at home and accepted us. They were so excited and willing to learn English. Not only did we teach them English , but they also taught us how to be satisfied in life and the height of humility . Beside from teaching, I was fortunate to participate with them in the Independence Day celebration. This day gave me a chance to cheer for my country, India and I could not have done it in any better way.

The Gita Krishnamurthy Vidyalaya (GKV) School was founded in 2009 in memory of Ms. Gita Krishnamurthy who had a life long interest in bringing education to poor children. It is of inestimable value to these very poor children to get an education in English, which is a passport to jobs all over India and indeed the world. It is remarkable how well they pick up the language and deliver it. I could see how willing they were to converse with us without even a little bit of hesitation.

On the first day we visited the school, we descended from the bus and were welcomed by 70 kids who were studying 4th to 7th standard. As we walked up the stairs into the school each student smiled ear to ear which warmed our hearts. The hard work and the willingness to study hard and learn were moving. As a strong believe of education, I decided to sponsor for two children.

I was shaken by the poverty and scarcity of basic necessities of life. The people were living in small huts with few possessions and even less of the mere necessities. We distributed the school supplies and gifts. The things that we think are insignificant and cheap meant the world to these children. Their excitement made me embarrassed when I thought of the way I had lived. I was also amazed that although families of four or five had trouble just surviving, parents still wanted to offer their children a good education and the children were excited to learn. I guess the thing that stuck me the most was despite the poverty and living conditions; everyone seemed basically happy and took nothing for granted.

I put more emphasis on family and friends and the simple things like love and laughter. At the end of each day, I remind myself how fortunate I am to share my happiness with a family. I am so happy that my two sisters and my parents are with me through out my tears and laughter. I have learned how to live in the moment and not to take things for granted. There always needs to be a point in life where people realize that they are blessed with a family to share their memories with no matter the circumstances, in my life, this trip was my realization.

These experiences have instilled in me the passion to help educate children throughout our communities and to never take anything for granted, especially how fortunate we are to live in this country and have the ability to learn and work toward a bright future.

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Pictures of houses

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Pictures of houses

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Pictures of Me with My Group @ Sri Jayendra & GKV Schools

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Pictures of Me with My Group @ Sri Jayendra & GKV Schools


A great man once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. I for one agree. Recently I went on a three -week trip to India to teach English as a student volunteer at a local school. The experience was incredible and definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life.  The trip gave me a new insight on my culture and heritage. One of the main things our supervisor, Shanti Aunty, had told us when we were signing up was that this trip would let us explore our culture. Being both an American and an Indian puts children like myself in a difficult position. There is confusion over which side we should embrace more and in several cases it seems like we need to choose one over the other. Sometimes it can feel as though we don’t belong to either country. But several of my experiences in India have shown me that children like myself are not without a country, but rather we are a part of two different countries, India and America.

The best part of this experience in India was teaching the younger students English. There is nothing better than teaching a child who is enthusiastic about learning. All of the students I taught at both the Sri Jayendra School and the Gita Krishnamurthy Vidyalaya were not only eager learners but also extremely welcoming. They made me feel at home and within a few days I felt like I’d been there forever. Every morning I walked into school only to find myself surrounded by students eager to speak to me about something they had learned, or just to say hello. It was this environment that made me love the school.

Although my favorite memory from India was teaching the students, there was another special experience that stood out. That would have to be participating in the Independence Day celebration. Our trip timing gave us the unique opportunity to be in India during its independence day. With the help of the teachers, Usha Madam and the students, we managed to learn a dance within 4-5 days. Many of the students stayed after school late hours in order to help us to catch up on the dance. During this time I realized how truly welcoming the students at this school were. The final performance turned out incredible. There were several dances from all different regions of India and also some amazing formations. The celebration gave us some insight into how another country, one we call our own, celebrates its independence.

I can honestly say that this trip helped me find myself. It allowed me to see another side of India that I’ve never been able to see. It allowed me to develop new passions for service and teaching as well as make several new friendships that will last a lifetime. I am forever grateful for being given the opportunity to serve an incredible community. I can only hope that I’ve given my students at least a fraction of the knowledge that they have given me.

Pooja Casula

10/11/15


Before my trip to India this past summer, I did not consider myself to be someone connected to my culture. The week I spent travelling to various historical, religious, and cultural sites in India was extremely eye-opening for me. I was able to see India in ways I hadn’t before – usually, travels to my home country included visits with family in the same cities every time, but I was able to experience various new cities as well as temples I had always wanted to visit, but never had the opportunity to. While the week spent on pilgrimage was incredible, the experience I had volunteering at the Jayendra and GKV schools was indescribable. Despite my qualms with the living conditions and self-doubt in my ability to make a difference, the experience was one of the most meaningful in my life. These children, who came from backgrounds of illiteracy and poverty, were excited to be in school, to have the opportunity to learn for the first time, and their motivation and dedication inspired me. Not only was I given the opportunity to teach them, but they ended up teaching me so much more – including what it means to come from humble backgrounds yet still have positive attitudes and big dreams, among other lessons I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I met some of the most beautiful minds at the GKV school, and although there was a language barrier between us (they hardly spoke English, and I do not speak Tamil) it wasn’t hard to interpret the amount of passion they had for life and for their education. The children, with their bright eyes and vivacious laughter, were so eager to be the first in their families to learn, and grew attached to us quickly. When they asked us if we would be a part of the school’s performance for the local Independence Day celebration, we agreed instantly. The Independence Day Celebration was massive, and one of the most memorable experiences I have ever partaken in. I had never felt more proud to be Indian than when we finished the performance, fists raised, shouting “Vande Mataram.” Standing next to the children we had been teaching, all of whom were proudly adorning the orange, white, and green of the Indian flag, I truly felt like I belonged. I would not hesitate to return to both the Jayendra School and the GKV School, both of which have impacted my life greatly, and I hold dear to my heart.

Archana Raghunath (12th grade)

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One can be acculturated to certain types of values, beliefs, norms, and even culture. Culture is something that we all have; it is something that defines who we are. Culture is the reason why you love the things you do and the reason why you act the way you do. This is not something that you can get from birth, its something that needs to be learned. As a tradition, my family goes to India every few years to meet our relatives and spend time with them and come back… but we never really learned and/or visited places other than shopping centers and near by temples.

During the Fall of 2014, I was given the opportunity to go on a volunteering trip to India where we would tour different places and teach english to children in a local school. At the start, I imagined this trip to be mediocre and bumpy because this kind of trip has never happened before. Fortunately, I was wrong and this trip changed my entire perspective. As I met the other volunteers that came along we quickly became good friends. We connected very fast and were more conformable with this trip. The first week of our trip, we visited areas like the Kukke Subrahmanyan Temple, Rama Temple, Sringeri, Udupi and so much more. We also visited other historical figures like the Bahubali Statue, Sriman Falls, and Zodiac Pillars. This tour also included some famous rivers like Tunga, Bhadra, KumaraDhara, Nethravathi River and many more. This opened my eyes to all the new places that we saw and the depths and beauties of India that I didn’t even know existed.

Once the touring week concluded, we directed our way to Tirunelveli, where the school was, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal Golden Jubilee Matriculation School. Honestly speaking, I was very nervous and excited at the same time. My volunteer friends and I shared our different lesson plans which made us all more confident and we were ready to teach. Once we reached the hostel, there were about twenty girls waiting for us near the doorstep with bright smiles, and a hearty welcome. Even though it was almost midnight they were very energetic and incredibly sweet and generous. At this point, I astonished by the energy each person had and their generosity for us. The first day of class, my stomach was in knots and I couldn’t seem to do anything with my hair. I took all my pens, papers, notebooks and other miscellaneous items and stuffed into my brand new bag. I triple checked all my lesson plans and I was ready to teach my first class. After breakfast, myself and the other volunteers made our way to the school, which is right across from the hostel. We first meet with the Principal, Usha Madam. She also greeted us with a big smile and invited us up on stage for the morning assembly. As I was on the dais, I saw all the students in proper uniforms and lined up perfectly one behind the other, all under the strong morning heat of India. Then, Usha Madam introduced each one of us to all the students, they paid their undivided attention and encouraged us. We were also introduced to the Vice Principal Ganga Madam, Correspondent Nirmala Madam, and Principal of GKV School, Kousalya Madam. Later that day, I took my first class. I saw the students line up with excitement. The teacher assigned my class and i led them to a place under the trees outside. I first started by telling them about myself, then learning their names, and hobbies. The Forty five minutes went by in a breeze and all my nervousness vanished and i was enjoying the company of the children. Soon after that, the days and classes passed by and I had created a special bond with my kids and they had such a passion for me.

 Many people take advantage of money. whether it is in India, USA, or anywhere in the world. As humans, we are always in need of something or the other. Whether it is clothes or toys or electronics, we think of it and we get it. Happiness does not depend on the quantity of money but on the way how we use it. The other school we volunteered at was called the GKV School. This was mostly based on children who come from a poor family and cant afford education. The founders of this school’s main purpose was to change the children lives but giving them education, so they can one day grow up and get a job and live at a higher life style. Similarly, as we approached the school about sixtey to seventy children were waiting by the door to welcome us in. We each got assigned a group of children and we connected fast and grew a strong connection with one another. This school consisted of more younger students who were already struggling to pay for a low rate school. I was inspired by these children who came to school almost everyday with a smile on their faces even though their live is filled with hardship.

August 15th, Indian independence Day. This was the day that was annually observed as a National Holiday in India filled with joy and color. One day, all of us sat on the stage and hated them practice on the grounds for this holiday, as they were preparing a performance. Usha Madam quickly noticing our awe in their performance asked us if we wanted to participate with them. She gave us the opportunity to be a part of the performance. I was put into the Bhangra team which originated from the Punjab Region. I had to quickly learn the part within four days and became really good friends with the Bhangra Team. We had several practices separately and with other groups such as Garba, Bharatanatyam, Mohini Attam, and many other types of dances that was all put together in one performance that represented the school. On the day of the performance, we arrived at the grounds in our costumes and watched other schools present as well as preform ours. As soon as the celebration was complete, we went back to the hostel and we were sharing our experiences amongst each other as we heard our songs playing from the schoolyard. We quickly rushed over to realized that it was a surprise competition and that our school had won first place.

The three weeks time that we spent there flew by really quickly. As the time came to say goodbye, tears filled up in everyones eyes. We had grown an inseparable bond with each other. The children we taught made us cards thanking us and all the Bhangra teammates were sad to see us leave. We thanked the Principals, the Vice Principal and the Corrispondant for all their help and hospitality. This trip changed my life. It gave me the perspective of India’s origin as well as the life style. I had the opportunity to teach English to the less fortunate and got a taste of India. I would like to thank the Sharada Temple who gave me this opportunity, all the adult volunteers and Shanti Aunty for making this possible. The hardest part of this trip was to say goodbye to my new volunteer friends. Sahana, Nidhi, Archana, Neha, Pooja, and of course Karthik. We had created inside jokes, roomed together, and became as close as siblings in that trip, and even though we all live in the same country, in the same state we couldn’t imagine being apart from one another.

- Mahima Balaji, Sophomore at John P. Stevens High School   


“Everybody stand-up and jump,” I told my fifth-grade students after seeing their confused faces when I tried to verbally explain the present perfect progressive tense.

After a couple seconds of jumping I pointed to one of the kids and asked, “How long have we been jumping for?”

“30 seconds”, he responded.

“We have been jumping for 30 seconds,” I say forming the complete sentence that I want them to be able to form.

“Everyone touch your toes,” I command.

I point to another kid and repeat previous question and ask him to form a complete sentence using the present perfect progressive tense.

“We have been touching our toes for 15 seconds,” he responds. I’m elated that my students are finally understanding the tense. The feeling of pure joy when you know you’re making difference by teaching someone is impossible to replicate.

Over this past summer, I volunteered at the Sri Jayendra School and the Gita Krishnamurthy Vidyalaya through the temple’s India trip, where we spend a week touring temples and the two weeks volunteering at the schools. More than I taught the children English, they and the faculty of the school taught me more about life, equality, hard work, and pursuing a goal for the good of the people.

My whole life I’ve been privileged. I live in a home with running water, my own room, among a million other amenities. I live with my parents, who love me and give every opportunity I could possibly want. I could literally go on and on about the amount of privilege that I’ve been given, but before India I failed to appreciate how much I have been given. I obviously knew that in the abstract that I’ve literally won the lottery of privilege, but I failed to humanize poverty. In India, we met children where school was their one opportunity to escape poverty; for them poverty wasn’t some abstract concept. All of the children worked hard, gave me their best effort, and were grateful. After meeting these children, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anyone else to succeed more than I wanted them to because they had qualities of amazing human beings.

If you want to know that the time and effort you spend volunteering is making a difference, while also becoming a more knowledgeable person yourself I highly recommend going on the temple’s India trip. The trip made me love India a lot more and made me want to make the world a better place with a more equitable distribution of opportunity.

Not only was the volunteering experience an amazing opportunity, the tour of the temples was also fun and a great learning experience. We visited so many temples in such a short period of time, thanks to the meticulous planning of none other than the fantastic Shanti auntie.

- Nidhi


Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation (SVBF) is established as an international extension of the ancient Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri, Karnataka State, India. It is incorporated as a non-profit religious and charitable organization in the USA. The Foundation functions under the direct guidance of the Jagadguru Shankaracharya, His Holiness Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamigal of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham.

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