by Neha Anand and Rose Massa
The USC chapter of Project RISHI was founded just three years ago, but today it has grown to a dynamic club of over 40 members. Its purpose and vision was similar to the mission of the nine other university chapters: to promote sustainable development and growth in rural Indian communities. Founders Kunal, Dhiraj, and Akash did not necessarily foresee the club taking off with the energy and commitment it has, “I think I can speak for us three when I say what we thought would be a small side project became an integral part of our lives,” Kunal shares.
With over 900 recognized student organizations, hundreds of which are service-based and community-focused, RISHI rose to the challenge. “We had to market ourselves and distinguish ourselves from other organizations doing really cool work, which was pretty tough,” Dhiraj acknowledges. “Establishing a critical mass of people that a) knew who we were and b) were willing to help, was a real challenge - one that we're continually reassessing and redefining,” he further explains.
The village USC RISHI works with, Naga Valadia, was chosen due to its receptive leadership and basic infrastructure. USC RISHI first visited the village in 2014, and has now traveled there three times. Current initiatives RISHI members are working on include tobacco usage and adult literacy, two solvable issues in the village. Raina, a member of team India, describes her understanding of the villagers: “In our bubbles of familiarity and comfort, we forget that they have starkly opposing lifestyles. They don't have the concept of a weekend or a vacation. Every day they do the same thing over and over again, and they can't just say that they're bored or want to quit. What that means to me is that they're stronger human beings who live a harder lifestyle, but never get the opportunity to complain.”
Every trip to India is different as members gain a greater insight to the community, its people, and its problems. Currently, while both working on a tobacco de-addiction pilot study and a literacy campaign in the village, USC Project RISHI is still working on new ideas to implement this summer to improve village relations. VP of Initiatives Avi states, “In this future trip, we aim to mend these relations through a VRI (Village Relations Initiative). This VRI will be focused on a larger population, and aims to show that we do care about the people in the village.”
Ultimately what differentiates RISHI from other clubs at USC is the RISHI family. “I think that culture is something that is unique not only to our chapter of Project RISHI, but Project RISHI in the whole landscape of organizations at USC,” Founder Dhiraj explains. USC RISHI members form more than just a service club. True friendship is inherent in USC RISHI’s foundation, and it is definitely a leading reason RISHI has thrived so quickly at USC. Founder Akash speaks about member relationships: “You know what they like, what they don't like, where their strengths are, their weaknesses are. And then because they're your friend, and you care about them, you work to highlight their strengths and complement their weaknesses. And what develops is a trust, a friendship, and a working partnership.”
The future of USC Project RISHI is looking bright. More research, new initiatives and additional trips to Naga Valadia are definitely in store, combined with a rapidly growing RISHI family.