By: Kirsten Dimovitz
Last year for CGIU, my team, comprised of myself, Brooke Staveland and Ryan Toney, committed to partnering with the Sri Ram Ashram in northern India to establish a peer health-mentoring program called the Peer Health Education Network. We were full of energy and excitement about the prospects of travelling to India and working in a field we were all passionate about. Our goal was to build on the partner school′s network and structure to empower students to teach and learn from each other. The idea was to travel to the site and address the children’s biggest needs, so as to avoid imposing our own ideas and biases on the school, thus truly benefiting no one. After talking to children, teacher, parents and community members, we would sit together and draw on their answer and combine them with our own public health knowledge. The curriculum would be created and implemented with the help of local teenagers, and will focuses on identified community health issues that students and their families face. We saw the failures many other projects had around the world because they were unsustainable or realized on a consistent flow of money and staff. We wanted to make a lasting impact without centering the project on ourselves and how we could benefit.
Yet, we encountered a hurdle in almost direct correlation to this. My team and I spent almost all of our spring semester applying to the business plan, to CGIU scholarships and other local organizations. But, we kept failing. Failing to obtain any money. And we could not figure out why. Maybe our approach wasn’t techie or innovative enough. Maybe we need a fancy gadget to take to the communities. We could not figure it out, and never did we stop to think, maybe we were asking for money for the wrong reasons. Looking back it’s easy to see where the problem lied. It lied not in our well-constructed project, but in the fact that the project was built to be grassroots and sustainable, meaning our costs were virtually zero. Our biggest cost when we were applying for funding was in airfare. As students, and now we considered ourselves team members, we couldn’t afford to travel to India on our own dime, so as other NGOs do, we budgeted our airfare into the cost structure. Yet, because we were asking for money from others, and the budget sheet read $6,000 in airfare and $50 in materials for the actual project we had a problem. We did not receive money and thus we were stalled. We had to go back to the drawing board and try again. Innovate around the own problem we created.
And after Mr. Clinton’s speech at CGIU, we came up with an idea. It was our duty to ourselves and to our partners to continue with this project even though we hit a roadblock. Powering through and flying to India with money from our own pockets was not an option we could afford to take however. But I’m passionate about technology, and during that same time, I was reading tons of articles on e-learning. And Brooke and I had the idea, while sitting in the parking lot at the University of Miami. Why not bring ourselves virtually to the students? We were excited. We could still make this work.
We flew home inspired, but we were again caught in our own web. We were entrenched in midterms, and applications for funding which we would never received yet applying to stole countless weekends from us. And then the summer came, and our partners were out of school and we were in full time jobs. India seemed like a distant dream. As school was just about to start in India, I was on a plane to Kenya, and Brooke a plane to Budapest. Though we tried to keep in contact with ourselves and our other team members I was basically off the grid. Now, being in the capital city Nairobi, I have access to WiFi and this access to my own thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for so many months. We had to reckon with ourselves. We let our project sit and stall. And after seeing so many goodhearted development projects miss the mark or pull out Kenya, I couldn’t believe our good intentions were going the same way.
We both return from our study abroad programs in late December. And though, we’ve slowed our progress, we are recommitted with new intention and new insight from our experiences abroad. We know what needs to be done to accomplish our commitment, and we know we can do it. We have the simple funds from GW to produce educational materials, to produce videos, and to give and on the ground donation for the launch of our program. We’ve learned more than we could have imagined and feel even more prepared to do something meaningful. Sometimes things don’t work out as you planned, but that’s okay, as long as you stay committed and benefit your community in the end.