In 2010, my dad asked if I wanted to join him on a trip to India. Because of my adventurous spirit, I agreed to join him with no idea of how this country would touch me so deeply years later. I was very fortunate to spend nearly 3 months in India in the fall of 2018. During my time there, I was introduced to an organization who is bringing education to children and safe employment opportunities for their mothers, ultimately bringing freedom to these families. This organization, Mukti Volunteer Village, works to support families who are providing these opportunities in Kolkata and Jaipur. Mukti is the Hindi word for freedom, which fits nicely with the purpose of each project- to bring freedom to children, girls in particular, and women.
While I was in Kolkata, I volunteered at Mukti Volunteer Village’s after-school program for children.
Picture this: homes, some made with bricks and cement while others are made with tarps, lining both sides of an active railway track. These homes are built no more than 5 meters away from this railway track; it is a slum. In the front room of one of the homes right next to the tracks is a room filled with 60 kids, ages 5 to 14, eager to learn. This room is a few feet bigger than my office, certainly not big enough for all of these children. This is the Tangra Mukti Education Centre. The children are sitting on the floor, with their workbooks open on their laps. Many of these children attend school during the day and come here for homework help by the teachers. Other children do not attend school, but are still invited to this program to learn basic English, Hindi and Math skills. One of the hopes of Mukti Volunteer Village is that these children will leave knowing the importance of an education- the freedom, empowerment and hope that it brings.
Along with time for homework help, these children also play many games, and they love to sing and dance. Beginning in 2020, Mukti Volunteer Village is planning a Summer Camp for these children, to continue to learn and grow and build community in a safe place.
I had never understood the freedom that education brings until I was listening to the stories of these children. Without an education, they are unable to get a job that pays more than a few cents a day. Often these jobs are not safe and do not provide financial stability to support a family. However, education opens many doors to jobs that provide the necessary support! Even knowing basic English, one can obtain a job at a hotel or restaurant. Education opens doors that otherwise would never be entered.
With the relationships that I built, and all of the experiences that I was a part of, I knew that I couldn’t just return home and not continue to support this Kolkata project however possible. I needed to continue to build these relationships. Heyoo approached me with the possibility of beginning to build a relationship between our campers at Widjiitiwin with these students in Kolkata, and I was over the moon excited! To be able to connect two parts of my life that I love- Camp Widjiitiwin and this Mukti project in Kolkata- meant the world to me. It is our desire at Widji to teach these students in Kolkata a skill, or to help further their English abilities, through our campers. My new friends in Kolkata have much to learn from our campers at Widji, and vice versa. At the end of the day, kids are kids and have a desire for community and connection. So why not build up our community while we build up this community in Kolkata too!
During my latest trip to Kolkata, I brought Widji stickers and frisbees to share. We sang songs and played games. The joy that filled the room is truly unforgettable. Widjiitiwin is a special place with a community who supports each other at camp and outside of camp. Now, we are simply spreading this community beyond the walls of Huntsville, Ontario and even beyond Canada, to share with our new friends in Kolkata!
Stay tuned to see how our campers at Widji and our friends in Kolkata connect this summer in this special project.