My adventure to Kochi, India was extremely humbling, eye-opening, and rewarding. It was amazing having the opportunity to work with the GVI team and Raksha Schools’ students and staff.
Raksha Society is a school for special needs students in Kochi, India. They have students of all ages and ability. We worked specifically with the vocational unit; which was started to give 18+ students the ability to learn a skill or trade to begin earning revenue for themselves and their families. In India, disabled students are often seen as a burden to schools and businesses. Many schools do not allow anyone with even a minor learning disability to attend because it lowers the competitiveness of their school. It is also very uncommon for disabled people to be married; which is a huge part of Indian culture. Raksha and the vocational unit have the ultimate goal to give these students the education and skills to eventually “send them out” (as Elizabeth, the principal of Raksha School, would say) into the community to work.
The vocational unit of the school has sub units, some including paper bag making, carpentry, tailoring, cooking, and data entry. We worked specifically with the paper bag unit to streamline a business plan for them to follow and eventually transfer and implement to the other units.
The first time we visited Raksha School, I was very nervous for my team and I’s first meeting with Elizabeth. I wanted to make sure that the project we had already begun and would continue to work on was exactly what she wanted and needed. It was very hard to understand the general environment and small cultural differences just from communicating over the phone that would later be important details to consider for our project timeline. For example, we didn’t think of how long our presentation would take considering the time it took to translate from English to Malayalam. We also didn’t consider the 20-minute daily Chai breaks (which we all always looked forward to) that came around 3 PM.
I also wanted to make sure that Elizabeth knew we were there to support her and her goals for the school. A fancy business plan that requires advanced technology and unnecessary measures would have been completely useless to her. In other words; she needed to know that her goals were ours.
After the first meeting with Elizabeth and meeting the rest of the staff and students, I felt extremely welcomed and grateful to work with them. The faculty and staff at Raksha choose to work there because of the positive and family oriented environment, despite earning almost little to no salary at all. Elizabeth’s main goal was to help the students make more revenue for themselves, even if that meant lowering her own salary and taking on more expenses as a school.
They are truly a family.
My favorite memory from our project was our first time meeting the students. The moment we walked into the room their faces lit up with the most wide and genuine smiles. We had not even introduced ourselves but I have never felt so welcomed into a community that knew nothing about me or where I came from.
The students took the time to show us how to make the paper bags, which I failed at the first few times. (It is a lot harder than it looks!) This was a special moment because it reminded me that I had just as much, if not more, to learn from the students than they ever could from me.
Leaving India was extremely hard. I had met so many amazing people and had great experiences. One thing the Indian culture taught me was the value of family. The family unit is so important to every aspect of life, and I want to take that back with me and implement it into my own life.
This trip also made me realize that in my professional career, I hope to find a company that values its people and community over just making a profit. Elizabeth taught me the importance of this when she was willing to sacrifice her own income for that of her students. For me, meeting my career and professional goals won’t be to just attain a C suite status or a have a huge salary, rather more importantly ending up in a role that I can find my purpose and have a reason to get up and go to work every day.