Countdown to India: Introduction

USC Project RISHI has been my home for the past couple years, and I can honestly say that we are as much a family as we are an organization. We live together, mentor one another, and help each other grow in our personal and professional spheres. We are brought together by our love for creating change, our interest in conducting philanthropic research, and in uniting students of all walks of life for one common goal: the betterment of life for the peoples of the Indian subcontinent.

Our operations in the village of Naga Valadia, Gujarat, have completely changed my perspective on health care, social work, and the seamless integration of socioeconomics with sustainable philanthropy. Within the first year of operations, the organization held multiple eye health camps serving hundreds of villagers unable to afford proper care, provided literacy materials to impoverished schoolchildren, and beautified the village with murals. As the team continues its preparation for two more landmark initiatives (an educational and medical campaign against tobacco addiction in the local tri-village area to reduce oral cancer rates, as well as an integrated curriculum with the local Indian Rotary branch to improve local literacy), I asked two of the top USCPR representatives, my fellow co-workers, for a few comments.

MT: Why are you two excited about going to India/what made you commit to going to India? What do you personally hope to gain from it?)

Dhiraj Pangal

So, this will be my third India trip with Project RISHI. Each time we go, the organization’s mission and its methodology seem to get stronger. As we continue to develop relationships with locals in Gujarat, our NGO contacts, village leaders, all that jazz, trips have an opportunity to become more and more impactful. Adipur is starting to feel like a home away from home, funny enough…I have a lot of good memories of that city for only a few weeks spent there. It’s enormously rewarding helping people, but it’s just a fantastic feeling when you plan the work yourself. It’s a fantastic experience.

Avi Borad

My name is Avi Borad, and I am part of Team India. I have been a part of Project Rishi for about two years now and have been involved with planning our past initiatives. This year, I finally have the opportunity to go to India and interact with the villagers that I have heard so much about. I have to say, I am pretty excited! Summer for me has consisted of overseeing the completion of our initiatives whether it be filming for our adult literacy campaign or coming up with ideas for our tobacco awareness campaign. What seemed to be just a few fleeting ideas several months ago is finally coming together to form the two initiatives that we will be implementing in India in T-11 days.

MT: Could you describe the initiatives on the docket for this summer’s trip?

Avi Borad: I have grown up speaking Gujarati (the language spoken in our village, Naga Valadia); however, being able to use what seemed to be an ordinary skill to help establish our literacy curriculum and film videos has been an eye-opening experience. I am sure all of you are thinking: How are you going to teach villagers how to read and write Gujarati if you are only going to be in the village for a week? Well, that is the great thing about the initiative that we are planning. It is sustainable. Over the course of the past few months, we have established the infrastructure for a Gujarati education program for the adults of the village, a majority of whom are unable to read and write. This program combines a traditional classroom setting with an e-learning curriculum. Our planning for the traditional classroom has mainly consisted of us establishing that curriculum and creating weekly scripts for our volunteers in India. For the e-learning aspect of our class, we have been filming videos that will serve as a review for the in class portion of the program. It is amazing to think that with our literacy initiative we could achieve full adult literacy by 2019.

I have also had the opportunity to help with our tobacco awareness campaign. One of my favorite parts about Project Rishi is the ability for you to mold your ideas into an initiative.   What was just a document full of pictures and words turned into purposeful and informative posters and pamphlets. The difficulty that arose in the creation of these informational media was being able to convey the message that tobacco is bad for your health without the use of words due to the fact that a majority of the adults are illiterate. However, we were able to overcome this challenge with the use of various multimedia to supplement our project.

MT: Are you worried about anything with T-11 days to go?

Avi Borad: We are still working tirelessly on getting the finishing touches on our literacy projects. We have a few more videos that need to be taken care of, as well as some worksheets. Luckily we have a team working pretty much around the clock (we get some help with time differences) and we’ll be ready to go by the time we leave. It’s always a grind with the huge amounts of work, but we can manage.

MT: So it’s been a little rough getting things off the ground?

Avi Borad: Any philanthropic work isn’t a cakewalk, you always run into difficulties now and then. But that’s what makes it all worth it. I have an amazing team working with me, and we’ve overcome a lot to make this initiative a success. It doesn’t matter how much work it is, it’s always absolutely worth the effort if we make a difference, yeah? I am eager to see how the villagers respond to both of these initiatives. It is naive to think that everything will go off without a hitch; however, our week in the village and contact with the heads of the village will provide us the opportunity to tweak our initiatives based on the villagers needs.  

MT: How has your past work prepared you for this year’s initiative?

Dhiraj Pangal: So a little background; my former role in USCPR was as the head of our initiatives wing. Initiatives is where I really grew as a PR member. A lot of that work was actually making the products of our past two initiatives. That being said, the ambitions we have for this trip exceed anything I did by miles. Now, I get to kind of be a part of all aspects of the initiative. At the end of the day, I need to make sure our team plans accordingly (and has planned accordingly) to get our vision from a dream to a reality. If anyone remembers, at the beginning of the semester, we had like four teams working on different initiatives. THESE ARE THOSE INITIATIVES!...Oh, guess I didn’t really answer the question. Look, point is, the literacy initiative’s main goal is to provide a complete classroom experience to have students (adults) pass a basic literacy exam administration. I think we do a real good job with that.

MT: What is one thing you hope the villagers gain from the initiative you have been working hard on for the past year?

Avi Borad: I hope they start really enjoying seeing us, and taking an active role in their own village improvement. We can’t do much if we don’t empower the villagers, but if we empower the villagers there really isn’t much we can’t do. 


Updates will be regularly posted on our weekly blog! Follow our team’s success and the village’s road to recovery on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Buzzfeed. USC Project RISHI is an organization dedicated to sustainable change and meaningful philanthropy across India, eradicating inequality and poverty one village at a time.