A year and a half ago, the three of us were in Kolkata — total strangers. We were in India as part of Dr. Ananda Mitra’s “Communication and Culture in India” summer course and met each other for the first time in the sitting room of our Indian guesthouse with seven other Wake Forest students. We spent that summer traveling the country learning about its dynamic people, history and culture.
One place that particularly touched the three of us was Leh, a city nestled in the Himalayas, where we witnessed a great amount of heartache due to a lack of proper education. We left Leh wanting to enhance our knowledge of the situation: to assess the practical needs, to get all the facts, and to learn from the community what we could not see and what could be done to help. We developed friendships with several local people, and when we left the Himalayas, the three of us knew we would be returning soon.
Dr. Mitra took our far-fetched ideas that we never thought could have a concrete basis and helped us to formulate a research project that would allow to us return to Leh and hopefully answer our questions. We worked with Dr. Mitra throughout the year to transform our ideas into a plan of action and learn about the application process for research grants.
The three of us returned to Leh last summer with the goal of gathering basic information that would help us decipher the obstacles to effective education in Leh. The summer before, we had witnessed challenges facing community members because they were not prepared for the centralized exams given to all students across the entire Indian subcontinent. We decided the best way to learn about the real strengths and weaknesses of the school system was by talking with people in the community, those directly involved, instead of making assumptions from afar. Going to Leh and conducting interviews and developing close relationships with the people who were actually living the experience we were attempting to record and understand allowed us collect data that revealed many successes of teachers, as well as places for improvement in schooling policy.
Our project was a great success in that it allowed us to gather information that we could not discover from home in the United States and will hopefully be used to draft an in-depth survey to be distributed by and amongst the contacts made during our stay. It is our intent that it will be an on-going research project. In addition to developing further research plans, it is our hope that we will have the ability to create a service trip to Leh. We wish for this trip to mutually benefit Wake Forest students, allowing them to live out the motto of Pro Humaniatate, as well as students in Leh, some of whom greatly need our help.
Reflecting on what we have done the last year together, it is funny to think that we may never have met if not for our trip to India. We are very glad that we took a chance – and took advantage of the opportunities we have as students of Wake Forest.