IESC India: Arrival in Delhi and Visit to the First School in Hathras

As part of Intel’s ongoing commitment to improving education through the effective use of technology, Intel’s Education Market Platforms Group (EMPG) launched the Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) in September 2009. This program is a short-term service and career development opportunity, for a select group of Intel employees to travel to a developing country to directly support the deployment of Intel-powered classmate PCs. In this blog, Balaji Srinivasan reports on his team’s first days in India.

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IESC India: Arrival in Delhi and Visit to the First School in Hathras

by Balaji Srinivasan

Our team had known each other for only a few short weeks but we had become a good working team already. We are diverse in our jobs at Intel and locations around the globe: K N Harsha from Intel IT in Bangalore, India is our technical leader on the project; Arvind Amin from Intel’s Software and Solutions Group in Dallas, Texas is serving as a teacher; Gary Motyer from Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group in Shannon, Ireland is serving as a teacher; Darrin Donithorne from Intel IT in Portland, Oregon is our team Project Manager; and I, Balaji Srinivasan, from Intel Sales & Marketing Group in Cary, North Carolina am serving as technical backup.

All the planning by the team prior to departure is paying off. We arrived at the Delhi YMCA Tourist Hotel on Saturday March 26th and got the first of many lessons to be had during this amazing journey on how things are done in India. For example, in India, always halve the first offer for service or product as haggling over price is expected for all transactions; none of us paid the same amount for a cab ride from Delhi Airport to our hotel. Gary Motyer, a seasoned traveler and “first ascent” mountain climber was able to get his taxi ride for far less than any of us. He seemed to have a knack for haggling with the local merchants throughout the trip.Indiaone.jpg

After a fitful sleep in what is considered an average hotel (imagine Motel 6 quality), we spent only a bit of time on Sunday 27th finalizing our preparations for Tuesday’s visit to Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Confident we were well prepared to train the teachers, we used the afternoon to go see Delhi for the first time. Seeing amazing places like the Red Fort and Jamal Masjid (See photo: Jamal Masjid Mosque and Darrin in the foreground) and eating at world renown Kareem in a rundown poor part of Old Delhi were incredible experiences that stimulated all our senses to the fullest. This was our second lesson: to take it all in and try hard not to judge what we were witnessing for the very first time as India would show us a tremendous variety of old and new and test all of our assumptions formed prior to our visit.

The kickoff meeting at the Delhi office of CARE, our partner organization on the project, on Monday, March 26th gave us a good overview of what to expect at the Hathras and Mainpuri KGBV schools. We then boarded our very first train to Agra as it would be our home base for the first week of our 14-day adventure. (See photo: Harsha and Balji sampling platform food on the train to Agra.)

Once we arrived in Agra, we made it an early bedtime as key to our trip success was to ensure we got ample rest as each day would bring a long drive to the KGBV schools, hot temperatures and smog and dust that most of us were not used to back home.

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Tuesday morning March 29th, we purposefully arrived with low expectations but found the school was actually well maintained, equipped and organized; in fact we would later learn Hathras was one of the best ranked KGBV schools! The girls went through their morning assembly which included calisthenics, singing, praying and reading the daily news. The guiding principal, Prathibha-Ji, has a doctorate in Hindi studies and was singularly focused on making our visit successful while treating us like “God as we were guests in their school.” The girls are provided with room and board for an entire year as the principal and supporting four teachers focus on educating these girls to age-appropriate literacy goals for the 6th, 7th and 8th grade. These are girls who had dropped out of their local schools for various reasons in rural Uttar Pradesh. The teachers were very energetic, eager to learn and had accomplished much more than we had expected since the Intel Learning Series classmate PCs were installed in mid-year 2010.

Our lesson plan involved introduction to computers, basic PowerPoint and spreadsheet skills, and advanced topics like classroom collaboration software. Each of us took turns leading and supporting the various lesson plans. At this school the English proficiency was quite low. The language barrier was eased by excellent translation support by Harsha, Arvind and Shaleen-Ji.

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The girls at Hathras were ever so curious and eager to interact with such strange visitors as us. We were told the girls would be shy but it was not true as we quickly made many friends. Darrin broke down the communication barriers by joking with the girls. When I showed them pictures of my family, they were entranced by the pictures of America, snow skiing and pictures of the earth from an airplane. They tried hard to pick up our English and some of the girls would on their own continually translate to the other girls what we were saying to them.

The girls’ proficiency level with the classmate PCs was pretty good considering how little time they had used the PCs and some even knew shortcuts like ctrl-alt-delete and could navigate better than some of the teachers! This proved to us that given a powerful new tool like an Intel Learning Series PC, kids of any age and education level could quickly learn and make great use of them. The girls (and some teachers) could surf, search and download pictures and information from the Internet.

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Each day was split in half by a wonderful lunch prepared by the mess hall crew. They lived and cooked from the same building within the school grounds, and they would prepare all the required meals each day for more than 100 people. The elaborate midday meals were a welcome break for the teachers as we were teaching a lot of information in three short days, and it gave us a great chance to build our relationship with the teachers.

Our final day at the Hathras KGBV school and departure ceremony taught us our next lesson about India. Goodbyes are never short and sweet! The kids performed many songs for us, they gave us beautiful homemade cards and we even got in a game of handball with the teachers and girls. (See photo: Gary receiving his greeting card at the closing ceremonies). It was more than we could have imagined from our Hathras visit. We saw incredible potential in these teachers and students and we hoped their KGBV education supported by CARE and Intel, using classmate PCs, would propel them to achieve great things when they grow up in rural Uttar Pradesh. As we drove back to Agra, we were exhausted, amazed and thrilled at being afforded this golden opportunity from Intel (as part of our core value of Great Place To Work) to make a difference in so many lives with our volunteer effort.

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P.S. Click here to catch up on the adventures, experiences and learnings from the 14 previous Intel Education Service Corps teams and the other two teams who are working right now in Kenya and Vietnam.

2 Responses to IESC India: Arrival in Delhi and Visit to the First School in Hathras

  1. Kirk McFaul says:

    Great story so far Balaji! We miss you, but it sounds like you are making a great impact locally in India!

  2. Balaji says:

    Kirk thanks a bunch. It was truly awesome. It is great to be back home after such an amazing journey. The rest of our journey should post soon…