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Santa Claus Has Come To Town

August 6, 2013

It was a usual morning for the villagers of Echankaranai. Everything seemed usual…except for a small mini-bus fighting its way up the narrow roads of the village. Yes, this was the arrival of a new beginning…the arrival of the sixteen young and enthusiastic Great Lakers who were all charged up for their very first “on-field” learning project…Karma Yoga.

All through the last 10 or more weeks, we Great Lakers have been religiously visiting our newly acquired friends, teachers and family. We believed that the best and most effective way to be able to draw the attention of the villagers towards our motives was to build a relationship – A relationship of trust, of respect for each other just as that of a friend. The language barrier, the vast difference in lifestyles and most astonishingly, the strict caste system that still classifies people as ‘untouchables’ was still widely prevalent out there; these were some of the challenges that we faced going into this adventure. However, that would not even get close to succeeding in deterring us from staying focused to our mission and values. Within a couple of weeks we were, not surprisingly, able to establish a very strong bond with the villagers- the village children to be precise. There was a mutual sense that suggested the birth of a new relationship wherein both the stakeholders would now on, would become the source of empowerment for each other for the rest of their lives. This was buoyed and nurtured by the very impressive event that we conducted at the ‘adivasi’ section of the village to bring about “green-awareness”. We engaged them in a drawing competition followed by a motivational speech, a power point presentation and finally some dance. This by their own admission was the best that these villagers had witnessed on their very own soil.

On succeeding in building a strong bond between the villagers, half the battle was won. However, the other half was tougher to crack. We first made it a point to learn a little more of the local dialect every single week so that we are able to express our thoughts and ideas more clearly to the localities. We then conducted a census across the village to gauge the current potential of the village – A leaf out of the Marketing Research book. We were glad to find very academically enthusiastic kids out there whose dreams refused to be suppressed due to lack of support or finances. This motivated us even more to do whatever it takes to deliver our best in the field. We got hold of the library keys and made the village library our make-shift English classroom. Teaching the kids the value of learning English in today’s world got them pretty serious about the session and they participated with their heart and soul. Games of cricket, kabbadi and dancing sessions were conducted at regular intervals to make sure that the kids were having fun while learning.

The suspense of what was lying on the other side enroute to the village on the first day, the transformation that we experienced and the responsibility of the success (howsoever small) of an entire village, were probably the practical learning-outcomes of the otherwise theoretical concepts on leadership taught to us in class. We were entrusted with the upbringing, the empowerment of an entire village through the application of transformational-leadership or servant-leadership. It was our responsibility to unleash the lion from the sheep and get them to realize their full potentials. It was rather funny at first, but we were frequently realizing that all that we were doing there was nothing but what we have always been hearing about. With a social obligation resonating in our hearts and the desire of endless knowledge being demanded by our brain, we headed to Echankaranai ready to get our hands dirty and to do whatever it takes to empower people.

– Ashworth Vaz

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