A page from my volunteer journal
A blog by NVGK Bhat
On my way to Mayamudi, I remember thinking that it was going to be yet another day and yet another site visit. I had wondered whether the school I was about to visit would have any surprises in store for me. After all, as an OSAAT volunteer conducting site visits, I have seen them all – the dilapidated buildings, the damaged walls, the barely functioning toilets. When the thought of kids sitting on bare floors or under a tree crossed my mind, I couldn’t help but smile at the prospect of little kids with their big, bright eyes greeting me as if I am their favorite uncle. “Well, that’s the proverbial silver lining I am looking forward to on this cloudy day” – I had announced with a big smile to PV Subramanya, a fellow OSAAT volunteer and the designated “project champion” of Mayamudi. Subramanya was accompanying me that day.
It was one of several trips we had made to Mayamudi. Every trip we made to Mayamudi was an eye-opener of sorts. The first time I went, Gundu Rao, another OSAAT volunteer was with me to survey the situation. He is a seasoned volunteer with all the right skills we need, to evaluate needs vs. wants, how much is too much to commit, the absolute must vs. “would be nice” amenities, when schools request our help.
I recall how members of the SDMC (School Development and Management Committee) greeted me with a lot of excitement, expressing how grateful they felt when OSAAT stepped forward to help the Mayamudi school. Once the construction began, so many issues just popped up. No one expected the havoc the CoVid19 pandemic was about to wreak. The construction came to a grinding halt a few times as a result of lock-downs. The elephant population in the area started roaming around, emboldened by the silent, empty streets. There were other wild animals as well, making their presence known in their desperate search for food and water. The construction workers on site were obviously scared for their own safety, and there were constant interruptions as a result.
The SDMC and the villagers of Mayamudi were eager to help when I approached them to help get a handle on the situation. They promised their full support, to ensure that the new facilities we were building for the school could be completed on time and within the budget allotted. They guarded the materials and the construction site day and night while also ensuring the safety of the construction workers. Had it not been for their diligence and care, the construction work could not have completed without incurring additional costs and delays.
Looking back on those trips, I have a lot of reasons to smile today. Mayamudi is the 51st school project successfully completed by OSAAT. It is humbling to see that a few volunteer hours I spent on my site visit has helped Mayamudi, a rural village in Koorg district in Karnataka, get a new school building that was needed badly. The cost of Rs. 45 lakhs was funded by several generous donors in the USA, who responded to our call for lending a helping hand to the school. My fellow OSAAT volunteers Subramanya and the engineering team rose to the challenge of managing the design and construction. Thanks to their hard work, the 190 kids and the school staff can enjoy the 4 brand new classrooms and a new toilet block built for them. Subramanya told me what a great feeling it was to see the new building standing tall and proud to serve the future generations of the village for many decades to come. I couldn’t agree more. So many reasons to smile in deed!
Bharadwaj, a seasoned architect and leader of the engineering team, also shared something interesting with me today. “People wonder when we tell them about what we do as OSAAT volunteers. Don’t all OSAAT school projects have a common theme – like run-down schools in impoverished villages? Can’t you just use a cookie-cutter approach to build a few classrooms and toilets? Why waste time designing and engineering each project?” – they face these questions often. Bharadwaj can’t help but laugh. “Do people know anything about soil conditions, weather patterns, ecological issues, local labor and material sourcing challenges? Well, it is our job to figure them out. I just smile and tell them it is all in a day’s work for the engineering team volunteers. What people don’t know is that we have already optimized a lot of the design work. There are things we have to address on a case by case basis and we pay attention to every detail. I find the work richly rewarding to my heart and soul.” I can’t argue with that!
Prasad, another fellow volunteer, is in-charge of BALA ( Building As Learning Aid) implementation. He gets the new classrooms painted with murals of science, math and social studies themes. “I just love to see the excitement on the faces of happy little kids when they sit inside the class surrounded by these attractive, educational illustrations. The broken, pale walls that surrounded them before were very unsafe and uninspiring. For them, the new classrooms are priceless and the paintings motivate them to study well and explore. I see their parents beaming with gratitude and it makes my day” – Prasad’s words totally describe what every OSAAT volunteer feels.
BALA paintings are welcome gift to schools built by OSAAT. Other thoughtful donations to consider are benches, books, computers, school supplies, sports equipment.
I can fill my journal with mundane things but all I know is that, as a retiree, I have found a great opportunity to spend my time doing something deeply gratifying. I want to share the photo of the new building that we built for the school, along with the photos of some of my outstanding fellow volunteers. I welcome you to find out more about OSAAT at www.osaat.org and get involved in any way you can.