By Anvi Joshi (‘21)
This past summer, juniors Sreeya Vuppala, and Ritika Sarma spent almost a month in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India teaching boys in a juvenile home how to read, speak and write English.
“I work with children that are privileged every day,” said Vuppala, who is a karate instructor in her spare time. “These children are children that don’t even know their parents anymore, so it felt good to be helping people that really needed it. They were a lot more grateful for everything that they had, even though they have a lot less.”
The pair volunteered through an organization called Uplift Humanity, a non-profit that uses education to help underprivileged kids assimilate back into society and make better lives for themselves. Many kids they worked with had committed a crime, run away from home, or had been left there by parents who simply could not take care of them.
Their applications consisted of basic information, focused on getting to know each volunteer, including an essay about a fictional nonprofit they would make if they had the chance where Ritika Sarma detailed “an organization that targets more educational opportunities for people with physical or learning disabilities”.
After that, they were selected to go to a certain location in India, based on what languages they speak. Ritika and Sreeya were two out of 11 sent to Hyderabad.
In June, Sarma said of their hardships, “Most of the kids weren’t talking to us because they weren't used to us. They didn't really know us, so they weren't really open. I had to figure out how to get them to talk more and that was really hard.”
Still, there were highlights of being a teacher, like meeting increasingly interesting kids. All the kids would make things for their teachers, but one student, who was an extremely talented artist, drew Ritika pictures. He would also assist her when she could not figure out a word in Telugu, translating it from English to the other kids, and he quickly became her favorite.
“We were working with them, helping them develop social skills. We had to give them talks about our experiences with drug use to discourage them from doing it again because a lot of them had been through that type of lifestyle” said Vuppala.
In their free time, the volunteers would collaborate on translating and planning lessons from their curriculum books. Other times they would play street cricket with those who lived near them.
They would also often play games with the kids during fifteen-minute mental breaks in their four hour days. One memorable student tried to arm wrestle everyone. Ritika only won once, but consideringly, she’s very proud of this fact.
“I thought it would be a good experience, that would make me feel more grateful for the life I had. Working with these kids, they didn’t have that much, but they were still so happy with everything. I don't know that just made me think,” said Sarma.
Sreeya also had her own reasons to go to India.
“It was the year before my junior year, so I didn’t want to just sit at home all day while my parents were busy. I wanted to do something…Experiencing India without our parents [was a whole different experience]. We were the ones that didn't fit in for once… We were immersed in our culture. Even us volunteers had only been to privileged parts of the world… it was a different experience to see the way they [lived]. Even the way they play sports, they used whatever they could to set up… wickets for cricket.” she said.
Both girls stated that the experience wholeheartedly changed their outlook on life, and it may very well have changed a lot of other things. Uplift Humanity has worked to help hundreds of underprivileged children through donations, education, and volunteering, and every effort makes a difference.
“I would recommend [this experience] to other people. It is expensive, but if you can afford it, even if you don't know any of the Indian languages, I highly recommend it” said Sarma.