Thursday February 06, 2014
To add pizzazz to your life, you might eat at a new restaurant or take up a new hobby. Or like Elizabeth Khosravi, you might take the challenge further and travel somewhere you’ve never experienced before. A South Burlington High School student, she is home for a brief visit from Mussoorie, India, where she is spending her sophomore year. In the capital of Uttarakhand, one hundred eighty miles from New Delhi, the town of Mussoorie rises more than six thousand feet high into a heap of stratus clouds. This community of just over twenty-six thousand is known as the Queen of the Hills for its green landscape, varied flora and fauna, and majestic views of snow ranges to the north and valleys to the south. When I asked her why she chose India, she said, “I wanted to try something new and different.”
Elizabeth traveled there to study at the Woodstock School, an international residential program. The curriculum is similar to the one offered at SBHS, affording Elizabeth some semblance of home – this is her first time traveling without her family. Still, she’s confident “My family travels a lot. We’re adventurous people.”
On the weekends, she volunteers at local schools as an English teacher for fifth grade students who speak mostly Hindi. According to Elizabeth, their English speaking skills are similar to first graders educated in the United States. The schools in Mussoorie are not like the ones Americans are accustomed to, with brick exteriors, and warehouse-size gymnasiums and cafeterias. Elizabeth explained that the classrooms in which she volunteers accommodate eight students and two teachers. Fortunately, the students benefit from close attention, and have basic supplies like paper and chalk. I learned that the students share rickety wooden seats tucked between narrow concrete walls in schools that look like sandstone bunkers. The Woodstock School provides more, through fundraising efforts. Elizabeth explained that the students live in extreme poverty and walk as long as two hours to school, six days a week. Due to the monsoon that deluged Uttarakhand this past summer with three times more than the usual rainfall, this trek has been especially difficult for the students. The worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami, the monsoon washed away hundreds of villages in an instant, including crops, such as rice, soybeans and wheat. Like much of India, Uttarakhand’s economy relies mostly on agriculture. Elizabeth described how students arrive to school wearing torn clothes, some with the same clothes they wore on the day of the monsoon. “Their shoes are full of holes,” she said. “They might as well not wear shoes at all.” But shoes mean a lot to the kids – many have been passed down from earlier generations. In contrast, Elizabeth pointed to her boots – waterproof material with treaded soles.
Even though Elizabeth did not see evidence of the monsoon’s devastation at the Woodstock School or in the areas where she teaches, she saw how the students were affected. The most difficult part of being in Mussoorie is “seeing how poor the students are,” she said. “They lost everything.” Despite the arduous walk the students endure, Elizabeth knows they experience joy in her classroom. “When I arrive, I see them smiling,” she said.
While in Mussoorie, Elizabeth felt she had to do more than teach to help the students - she wanted to bridge her world with theirs, but she wasn’t sure how. With the help of Susie Merrick, also a South Burlington resident, Elizabeth created “Two Worlds Coming Together,” a website where she shares her experiences in Mussoorie and courageously asks others to help by donating funds. She plans to bring the donations back to India when she returns in early February to purchase items like clothing, food, and blankets. So far, Elizabeth has raised $395. That amount would not feed the average household of 2.34 persons in Vermont for very long. But in India just one US dollar lasts much longer. For example, consider this: On average, one pound of bread costs thirty-three cents and a dozen eggs seventy-eight cents.
So, if you’re a student, or an adult, and are considering traveling for school, work, or even play, Elizabeth encourages you to “go for it, but don’t go because someone tells you to. Enjoy the moment while you’re there because you never know where you will end up.” Elizabeth had no idea that when she arrived in Mussoorie three months after the monsoon that she’d become a passionate voice for hungry children with blistered feet. And no one had to persuade her – she chose to speak up. She chose to act.
When I asked Elizabeth when she’d be returning to Vermont permanently, she said she’d be back at SBHS for her junior year. Then she shrugged her shoulders and said, “But you never know what the future will bring.”
For more information, go to Elizabeth’s website or Facebook page: www.indiegogo.com/projects/two-worlds-coming-togetherhttps://www.facebook.com/twoworldscomingtogether
Elizabeth is also accepting non-perishable items to take back to Mussoorie, such as clothing and shoes: you may leave them in the box off of the lobby at SBHS during school hours.
SOURCE: Melissa Cronin,Contributor