With our second major initiative trip almost underway, USC Project RISHI has been working around the clock to ensure our operations in Naga Valadia are efficient, effective, and above all, designed to create the greatest possible change in our village. The expansion of our philanthropic aid lies wholly in our ability to conduct thorough research and charitable missions abroad, and every member of our organization has been more than happy to lend their spare time making our initiative a success - all while working around full time jobs and prestigious research internships.
I won’t lie, it’s been exhausting, and at times incredibly frustrating. The path to success is paved not just with good intentions, but with people who can deliver and do the damn job. I am proud to say that Project RISHI has proven itself an incredible organization, showing a cohesion and dedication far beyond what I expected of regular college students, and it is with this in mind that I asked more RISHI leaders about their hopes for the summer 2016 mission:
Me: Not to indulge in self-promotion overmuch, but we’ve done a LOT of work this summer. Could you crystallize it for anyone unfamiliar with our operation?
Kunal Varshneya (President 2014-2016):
I’ve been President of USC Project RISHI for the past two years, and I couldn’t be more proud of this squad. Our first initiative was no walk in the park – conducting eye health camps for hundreds and providing educational materials for impoverished kids doesn’t happen overnight. Our two initiatives this summer are even more in-depth and provide a good basis for our future operations in India. We’re implementing an anti-tobacco educational campaign to raise awareness amongst both adults and children, as well as providing mass amounts of tobacco-free alternatives (to chewing quids) to cut down oral cancer rates. Furthermore, we’ll be kick-starting a massive literacy initiative in a partnership with the local university to increase the staggeringly low literacy rates in Naga Valadia.
Me: …..That’s quite a mouthful. Could you break down both initiatives so it’s a bit easier to digest?
For tobacco, we’re doing a combination of community outreach, education, and material prevention – we’re using an educational campaign to focus on the schoolchildren and to create seminars for adults who know little about the dangers of tobacco addiction, all while providing the local nurse with affordable non-tobacco alternatives to distribute to the local population.
For our literacy campaign, we’ve partnered with the Rotary Club of India as well as the local University of Adipur for our aim of drastically raising literacy rates in Naga Valadia. We’ve developed and written our own curriculum, which consists of worbooks as well as tests and videos (all specially tailored to suit the needs and occupations of the villagers) so as to educate them to a level of verbal and written competency as defined by the Indian national standards. Everything we have written is developed and filmed from scratch, all with the end goal in mind of helping the villagers make better lives for themselves with their new knowledge.
Me: Are we sure that we’re serving our villagers’ best needs by with these campaigns?
Absolutely. RISHI’s modus operandi has always been sustainable change – going in and providing reforms that can’t be kept running in our absence is a waste of both resources and time. We have conducted extensive research over our past two trips to Naga Valadia, surveying many of the villagers and studying the area, and found that the villagers really found both oral cancer and illiteracy to be extremely prevalent issues that they wanted addressed.
Me: But surely many other organizations could say that they’re doing the same thing? What makes USC Project RISHI any different from the others?
The difference is, we’re not governed by outside influences. We create all our projects from scratch, fund them ourselves, and conduct research so we can expand our initiatives – it’s run fully by college students to expose them to realities they don’t get to see at a privileged college like USC.
Me: But what is it that really makes our missions any different from any other charity delivering aid?
Look, the difference is that we’re a grassroots organization asking the community WHAT they want addressed – and then we address that specific need. We take a scientific approach to charity and apply that rigor to the research we conduct there as well, all to make sure that we aren’t going in there blind to the needs of the people we serve. We don’t just deliver aid, we work WITH the community to establish real change that can be sustained even after we leave – it’s quite a bit different than dropping a few packages of food and leaving with a warm fuzzy feeling.
Me: What do you look forward to most from this trip?
Honestly, just seeing the organization grow over the past two years has been the best feeling, and it’s seeing the village change in a similar fashion that really validates the hard work we put in. Seeing the villagers being genuinely grateful that we come in as helpers, not as “saviors,” is really what RISHI is all about – creating a community. It’ll be fantastic helping out with our community contacts, running the programs, even conducting research – it all benefits both our organization and the people we serve, and that’s what matters.
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.