Sunday, December 03, 2006

Meeting “Bob’s Kids” at the Jai Hind School, Bodhgaya, India.

We wanted to do some meaningful volunteer work during our sabbatical. Derek Whitefield, a brilliant lawyer with whom I have worked throughout my career, introduced us to Michael Bourne. For the past few years, Michael has been working with Academy Award-winning film producer Robert Chartoff to provide education and health benefits to a group of children living in the rural villages surrounding Bodhgaya. This is in the Bihar region of India, which has some of the worst poverty, lowest literacy and unchecked population growth in the country.

These kids, numbering approximately 200, have come to be called “Bob’s Kids” in the community. They revere both Michael Bourne and Bob Chartoff with almost religious ferver (“Bob is a God,” one child told me). Most of them attend the Jai Hind School, which is a private school that runs, as we understand, without any government support. The school is costly by India standards, and the students would be unable to attend without Mr. Bob’s and Michael Bourne’s financial (and logistical) support.

In honor of Mr. Bob and Michael, we planted a small grove of mango, mahogany and bodhi trees to symbolize the growth of the children of Bihar.

So far, our volunteering has been exceptionally satisfying (we wish we could stay two months!). In addition to spending time with the kids, we have had the opportunity to visit with them and their parents in their homes in the villages. This has been an educational—almost surreal—experience, stepping back 200-300 years, to a time before running water, electricity and indoor plumbing (i.e., toilets). For me, travel is at its best when it forces me to confront, physically as well as intellectually, the fact that life can be lived—and is lived—in a manner completely different from how I live.

We want to thank Mr. Bob, Michael, Derek and Anil Chaurasia, for making this volunteer opportunity possible. Anil has provided invaluable assistance this past week making arrangements, translating and shuttling us throughout the Bihar region.


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