Mary Cairns and Mike Mays are not your average volunteers. Cairns, an interior designer from Kennett Square, and Mays, who is in the software business, were always interested in Indian culture.
"I wanted to do something in human trafficking but I realized the solution was in education," Cairns said.
The couple decided to travel to India for almost five months in September 2010 and lived among the villagers of Anupshahr, located about four hours from New Delhi. It was in this community that the couple discovered the Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES), a vocational school for girls.
The school was founded in 2000 by Sam Singh, a retired head of DuPont South Asia. Sam grew up in Anupshahar; although he left many years ago, he moved back in 1999 to use his success for the benefit of the people he left behind.
The school educates 1,200 girls ranging in age from 4 to 19, creating a new generation of self-reliant and educated young women who will break the cycle of poverty in the region.
During their first visit, Cairns and Mays were stunned that the villagers knew little about oral hygiene.
"Villagers would only earn about 14 U.S. dollars a month," Mays said, so the thought of buying a toothbrush seemed wasteful.
Since the couple's first visit to India, 3,000 new toothbrushes have been purchased and 1,200 have been distributed to all students. This program is funded to continue.
The couple returned to the village in October 2012 for another five weeks. They helped open a health center and hired a nurse/health teacher who speaks English. An immunization program has also been started, where a group of doctors from neighboring Bulandshahar have agreed to visit the school monthly and provide immunizations and medical and dental check-ups. The couple has also helped with administering eye exams and glasses, and five girls were tested and fitted with glasses.
Cairns said the project is not just about improving the school: "The girls are becoming empowered and are breaking out of the cycle of gender discrimination and the challenges faced daily by girls and women," she said.
The couple will be discussing their experience, along with the school's founder Sam Singh, on Sunday, Feb. 10. Learn how this school is changing the lives of girls and empowering women in rural India, about the daily challenges they face, and how you can make a difference in the lives of thousands of girls.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT Discussion about local volunteers' experiences India, focusing on school for girls founded by Sam Singh, a retired head of DuPont South Asia
WHERE Willowdale Chapel, 675 Unionville Road, Kennett Square, Pa.
WHEN Sunday, Feb. 10, 4-6 p.m.
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