Westminster in India 2014

Friday August 1st 2014: Karla and Lauren W.
Today is the first day all the students and faculty are together in India. Most of our group participated in a pre-trip to the northern part of the country (only eight hours travel) while the remaining students traveled 35 hours from Salt Lake City.  After a little rest, we are ready to roll.

We started our day by visiting Subhati College in Wai. Subhati College students earn their Bacherlor’s Degree in Computer Application. They gladly let us use their computers. After so many days without communicating with our loved ones, we finally had the chance to let them know we are safe and sound.

Later that morning, we had the opportunity to interact with the students of the Subhati College as we exchanged friendship bracelets. We were introduced to the students and Swati, the president of the college. The introductions in India are very formal. We took turns singing our national anthems, India’s first, then the American anthem. Next, the trip leaders were presented with flowers. Finally, the Indian students presented us with friendship bracelets. This year, friendship day is celebrated on August 3rd. We really enjoyed talking to everyone. Both parties had the opportunity to ask questions about each other’s culture and ask for clarifications about certain aspects we didn’t understand. One component of our class in India is a research report. We were able to ask these students questions pertaining to our individual research topics. The responses we got gave us the confidence to keep asking.

After lunch, some of our students rehearsed a play to be presented in Panchgani (the next Sunday). The play presents different stereotypes and difficulties families face with a child with a disability. Later, we had the opportunity to visit the dam outside Wai (the village we are living in). However, to get into the dam, we decided to make it fun. We decided to go on an ox cart and experience rural life. Each cart transported five people. The experience was interesting since the ride was slow and after each bump we hurt (OUCH!!). The ride made us realize that we are so lucky to be living in a country with so many commodities.

In the evening, the girls in our group decided to celebrate friendship day by going to downtown Wai. The festivity is only open to women. Why? The festival tends to get really crowded and as part of modesty and respect, only women participate. There, women sang songs and play many games. One of the games consists of grabbing the hands of another women and spinning. Whoever falls down or feels dizzy loses. Since most of us are white and come from the U.S. the women in the community decided to take pictures of us. We were celebrities! We were holding babies, taking pictures, spinning for an hour, and we all had a fun (albeit exhausting) time during the Snake Festival. It was overwhelming and exhilarating, and truly gave us a taste of life in India.





Saturday, August 2nd: Carissa and Vanessa

After a breakfast of grains, mixed veggies, spicy curds and sweet fruits all “kitchen sinked” together, a slice of wonder bread and the famous chai tea we headed out on a windy road to a school outside of Satara. We were slightly concerned on our timing because we had a long day ahead of us. However, after an hour of twisting and turning we arrived at the school and were warmly welcomed. The children were separated into groups of boys and girls. The girls began the welcoming ceremony with bells and dancing. It started to pour down rain but that did not stop them from continuing their dance. The boys constructed a man made tower to welcome us and did a dance as well.

We then traveled to various classrooms were we observed the teaching and interacted with the students. The students seemed very engaged in the teacher’s alternate teaching styles. They were procedure based and very hands on. They incorporated a lot of games in order to teach basic math concepts. The school also had a focus on group work and students learning from one another. It was clear that the students had been clearly taught procedures and how to do each game that they demonstrated for us. After several classrooms we were asked to meet with the teachers who were eager to hear feedback of our thoughts on their school. They were very interested in having us compare their teaching ideals to that of the United States. It seemed to be most positive to focus on the appreciation of teaming and working together with students. The teachers also served us a wonderful and filling lunch. Just before we were treated to well… another lunch!

After visiting the most innovative and inspiring school I could imagine for students in India. Viashali, a psychiatrist and founder of the Maitra Clinic and Hospital, took us to a local restaurant where she ordered countless amounts of delicious Indian food for us. As it turns out, the food is always better when someone else orders. During the meal I was able to join Vaishali, along with Carrie, Whitney, and Karla to discuss mental health and health in general in India as it compares to the United States. From what I was able to gather, much of what Vaishali and her husband Animish Chavan do at their mental health clinic is very similar, but their clinic goes well beyond the typical care one would find in India or even the United States. They work to treat the illness instead of patch the holes. For instance, they started the “BRAIN AND MIND GYM” at Satara where many innovative tools are used to develop cognitive and emotional mental health. The idea behind this activity workshop was to teach valuable skills for mental health so patients can wean off of their prescriptions for illnesses like depression instead of being confined by them indefinitely. Although I know almost nothing about the types of mental health clinics in the US, programs like this seem extremely helpful everything and we might be able to learn something from them that could be life changing across the nation. As trained social workers and therapists in Colorado, Carrie and Whitney were both able to have a much deeper understanding of the programs and importance of the clinic as a whole.

Once we finished stuffing our mouths with delicious Indian food, we were able to actual visit the Maitra Clinic and see a glimpse of their magic for ourselves. The waiting room had been newly redone so it was beautiful, with wood paneling and a modern look as you can see in the picture below of our classmates sitting around discussing the clinic with steaming cups of chai in hand.

Along the walls the previous year of Shannon’s photovoice project, “We the People” was displayed illustrating the shared difficulties of people with mental and emotional distress around the world. These stories illustrated the connections that can span continents, as it was sometimes only possible to tell the stories apart by the name at the bottom. One such story struck me as particularly difficult and impactful, so I am sharing it below:

Shrikant described the photo by saying “This is a photo of the medical shop where I have worked for the last 5 years. The shop owner – my employer – is very cooperative. I have very warm and nice feelings about the owner as well as the shop, so that is why I have selected this photo. The shop owner is very understanding about my illness. He used to allot my work accordingly, but my other colleagues are not as cooperative. They used to tease me. I’ve decided to quit this job, but still I feel affinity towards my employer and shop. I’ve taken this photo as a token of my affinity and love.”

Similar stores and pictures were placed around the room, but they all shared a story of either inclusion or exclusion by specific people they interacted with. This project reminded me that the world is much more connected than we sometimes thing because we are all just people. In fact, the clinic as a whole reminded me of this because it was there to treat people with an illness just like clinics are built to do in the United States, or at least how they should be built. Unlike in the US, however, the small team of doctors and therapists work together to see over 70 patients a day! They also are starting a telepsychiatry project that works to reach patients in the smaller villages. Through this program they train general doctors and nurses from the villages as well as treat patients with particularly difficult cases. In this way their work can spread much wider than the small clinic in Satara.

After leaving the clinic, we finished the day with some shopping where all of us must have bought out an entire shop of bracelets. We will call them best friend bracelets, but in reality they are Raksha bracelets for the Hindu festival known as Raksha Bandhan, which is on Sunday, August 10th this year and sisters will tie them on their brothers in exchange for a gift and protection for the coming year. Some people even bought material to later take to seamstresses in Wai to make Kurtas (traditional Indian long shirts that we wore most days on our trip) and Saris.

We all miss our family and friends immensely,


satara school carissa

satara school

satara school girl

anamish clinic group

photo voice clinic

Sunday, August 3, 2014: Susan

​Today we headed up to Panchgani to the Baha’i Academy.  This is where Johanna and Karla had their internship this summer.  It was focused on educational goals that lead to moral and social awareness.  This was explained through presentations done by Johanna and Karla, as well as members of the Baha’i Academy.

Following these presentations, some members from the group helped put on what is called a “Happy Hippo Show;” these shows are used to portray social/moral issues, and then used to create discussion in the audience. The show that we performed demonstrated a justice issue- parents refusing education to their child with a disability because of embarrassment.  I had the opportunity of playing the mother who was ashamed of her child.  This was a difficult role to play because it is a position that I do not agree with.  Following our visit to Baha’i Academy, the group went to Mapro’s pizza parlor.  We were all excited to have a break from all of the spices!!  YUM!

Tomorrow we begin teaching! J


August 3rd , 2014: Joanna

We started our day today at the Baha’i Academy in Panchgani. The road up to the academy was very narrow and curvy. Once we arrived at our destination, the staff of the academy and some friends from the local community greeted us. We spent some time mingling and eating cake.  After the mingling session some of the fellow travelers of Westminster in India performed a Happy Hippo Show. The show was performed to make people aware of the discrimination towards people with disabilities. Following our visit to the academy we went for lunch at Mapro Gardens, which is a very famous restaurant in India. They specialize in pizza, sandwiches, and ice cream. After lunch the big group divided up into smaller groups to go on different adventures. The different things the groups did was motorcycle rides, hike to a waterfall, shopping, and going back the hotel to rest. I was in the group that hiked to Ligma Falls. It was about a 45-minuet hike to the main waterfall. Once we all returned to the hotel we divided into our teaching groups and went over our lessons. ​

Monday, August 4th: Geoff and Lauren G

Today was a very exciting, the very first day of teaching in Wai High school and the kids were amazing. We met in the teachers lounge area on the main level of the school and got introduced to many of the schools educators. They then welcomed us with a wonderful introduction of the entire school and made all of us feel very special. After the welcoming ceremony we were split off into our teaching groups and headed to our first classroom. I think we can all agree that we were all a bit worried about the language barrier and how well our lessons would be received, but we quickly realized that these students not only understood us perfectly, they were extremely intelligent as well. Many were excited to participate and give their input as well as answers to our questions. We would walk around the classroom and interact with the student while they were writing in their science journals and many were anxious to show us their responses to our questions. Our teaching style was an obvious change from their normal routine, one teacher even expressed after the class that he loved our teaching style and that no teacher there taught in such a way. Each class was such a wonderful experience. After the class was finished we were immediately bombarded with students asking us to write down our names on a piece of paper as if we were local celebrities, shaking our hands, or putting friendship bracelets around our wrists while telling us, “happy friendship day”. Every corner we turned was another group of students with smiling faces so eager to talk to us.

Following lunch we split up and went to either Akshar Institute or the local Wai library. We went to Akshar where we were again greeted guest in their lovely school. On the floor of the entrance were many intricate designs with sand in a multitude of colors showing the excitement of our arrival. Two young woman dressed in traditional Indian attire blessed us with a candle and rice, situated on a silver platter, then placing a red dot in the center of our brow. As we followed Dr.Tapare and the others on a tour of the school. we were able to meet many of the adorable student ranging from the very young to the much older. —All with contagiously smiling faces and enormously big hearts. As we walked into the upstairs room where the students worked on the crafts, we were surprised to see the beautiful workmanship that they were all capable of and the attention to detail. They had a job to do and they did it extremely well. The entire school was one big family with every student looking out for each other and always lending a helping hand like an older sibling to the younger. The lesson we gave was on plants and it went remarkably well. The students were so receptive and intelligent and we were able to learn so much from all of them. They immediately taught us the name for the flower (phool), the stem (danda), the petals (pon), and even the roots (mhoole). The pictures they drew of their flowers were beautiful and detailed and the lesson went over flawless due to the students amazing participation.

I never would have thought that I could have received as much love and education as I have from the students and from just this short time in Wai, but i have. I would definitely say that the first day was a huge success and that we all loved every bit of it.






Wednesday August 6, 2014: Sherry

Today was our last teaching day at Wai High School. The students were getting used to us and the teaching went better. It was sad to leave the school knowing we would not be back again. Teaching at the High School was very rewarding. The students were very well behaved and tried hard to use their English as much as possible. Some of us had other obligations else where so Carolyn had to jump in where she was needed. She said she loved having the opportunity to teach the children again.

Vanessa, Jan and Sherry went to Akshar in the morning to share ideas with the Mothers of children with Down syndrome. This was there first mothers support group. They all shared ideas, concerns, happy times and hard times they have while mothering a child with a disability. Sherry shared her experience with her son who has Down syndrome. Dr. Tapare interpreted the meeting. Even though we could not understand each other’s language we could understand the common feelings we share as mothers raising children with disabilities. It was a very powerful experience for those there. Mrs. Tapare shared a poem in Marathi that brought tears to the mothers’ eyes. This was there first support group, and they committed to come together every month for more support and friendship.

The afternoon was split into two different groups. One went to Akshar to teach a lesson and the other group went to the library to sort through the pictures the girls had taken for the Photo Voice project. There were many pictures to choose from, and the girls were excited to pick their favorites. It will be fun to see this project come together and see what the girls chose to write about.

After teaching and working with the girls we all met at the library for the women’s book club. Westminster college students and some women in Wai started this book club a few years ago. The women’s book club still meets every month. This month they decided to share poetry about nature. The women from Wai shared some of their favorite poems and even sang a couple of them in Marathi. Then Carissa shared some of her favorite poems and took some pictures on the John Muir Trail to share with the women in India.

After the book club meeting the staff at the library and the staff at Akshar treated us to a delicious dinner at a new restaurant in Wai . We sat and talked and ate a wonderful Indian meal.

The day was full of a lot of activities and experiences. It was a great day!







Thursday, August 7: Haley:

Today we went to the rural schools. We went to Gulumb. They gave us a very warm welcome, greeting us with bindis and the rice blessing. We then had our welcoming ceremony on their outside stages. They gave us a Ganesh statue, a coconut and a bouquet of flowers made by the students. The ceremony continued with songs and dances by the students. I loved teaching at this school because of the scenery and just how warm and welcoming everyone was. After teaching we went to the library to work o Photo Voice. The students had some very interesting photos to share, accompanied by some very insightful stories. They were all very knowledgeable about our environment, what was causing the problems and what we all can do to work on the problem. It was interesting to compare the problems that they had with the environment here in Wai with some of the problems we have back in Salt Lake. There were definitely differences, but I was very surprised by how many more similarities there were.


Friday, August 8: Sean Thorpe


What a sad day! Today is our last day teaching at the schools here in India. We have had such an adventure this past week, experiencing different classrooms and cultures alike. We split into two groups and taught at two different schools today, I taught in Utare. The experience was amazing. We had the opportunity to participate in a ceremony dealing with a statue where we would place some chalk on the top, and a flower on the bottom and then light a candle. After the ceremony we began teaching and the students, like always, were fabulous!


After teaching, we split into two new groups, one headed to Akshar for a goodbye ceremony, and the other group headed to the library to set up for our photo voice gallery. The closing ceremony at Akshar was truly amazing. Watching these students perform what they had learned for us was incredible. They performed a couple of dances, and then we were able to participate in a couple of dances with them. After the performance, we debriefed with Dr. Topari and some of his staff before we headed over to the photo voice gallery.


The photo voice gallery was very impactful, and something that I hope to participate in again. The girls worked hard and their effort paid off because the gallery was beautiful. We socialized, viewed the photos, and read the narratives. We even had treats after! The girls were so excited to see their work posted for the community and us to see. Each girl received a certificate and you could feel their pride as they walked up to get it.


After the girls had left, we stayed at the library and watched a film about superstitions and traditions made by Arohi. After the film was over, we had a discussions and made connections between our cultures.


We finished the night by going to dinner with Lalit and his family. There we met some of the families that would be participating in the home stay. Like always, the food was delicious and everyone was happy.


Join us this summer for an incredible service learning project in India

Join us as we delve deep into India’s culture and history while undertaking  education-based service learning projects in Wai, India and communities in the surrounding rural area.  “Westminster in India” has been involved in service projects in Wai for the last five years, and has developed some incredible partners and relationships that are directly tied to the Indian community in Salt Lake City.  We’ll explore what it means to be a true citizen of the world.  Students will gain a better perspective of the educational needs in rural India, as well as how these are rapidly changing due to India’s high tech boom.  Westminster students will develop a science module using inquiry based teaching techniques, then take this to India where they will work with local teachers to implement and teach the lessons in primary schools, secondary schools, or a school for students with special needs.  Central to this course is cultural immersion in India’s rich heritage, which students will experience by living and working side-by-side with their Indian counterparts and exploring the rich history of Wai, where its beautiful temples on the Krishna River exist alongside slums where poor Indians live with limited access to quality education and other services.  We’ll be working with the enthusiastic students here to help address some of the challenges these communities face as they share their incredible culture and traditions with us.  Below are some photos from service learning projects carried out by Westminster students and faculty in Wai, India this past year.

Interested in the course, becoming involved in a service project related to India during the year at Westminster, and in earning money towards the cost of the trip to India?  Check out the India Fellows Program:

India Fellows Overview

India Fellowship Application