I want to begin by telling a little story. In 2011 I visited the Aberdare Ranges Primary School near Nakuru, Kenya. This was the first service-learning trip organized by the Notre Dame School of Education, Sydney. Two other lecturers and I along with 21 students, travelled to a displaced community of internally displaced people to volunteer at a local primary school built by an Australian NGO for the children of this displaced community.
When I returned I was introduced formally to Sagar Athota, a colleague from the School of Arts and Sciences. He was interested in what we were doing in Kenya and he told us about his hometown of Tenali. I was quite interested in what Sagar was doing in trying to help the most disadvantaged children in his community. Having just come back from Kenya, I was acutely aware of the importance of education to reverse cycles of poverty and discrimination. I was impressed by his connection to his community and thought that this is what service-learning is all about – here we have a true success story. The idea of an Indian kid growing up, working hard, moving overseas and becoming successful, isn’t new, but what grabbed me was Sagar’s dedication to helping the community he came from.
In one of our subsequent meetings Sagar told me the story of his mother, Dayamani; a tireless schoolteacher and school Principal who always put her children first. He told me of the award she won and how she changed the lives of her students through her love, compassion and dedication to her work and to the children she taught.
These two stories – the tireless hard-working mother and her successful son who wants to help his community inspired me to want to be part of something that we could build from the ground up. Sagar and I started talking about a potential trip to India so he could show me what he had started and what his parents and brother were doing in India. Needless to say I was inspired about what we could be achieved and a year later we went on our initial trip with ten students from the University of Notre Dame Australia.
The rest is history – when we returned to Australia a core group of students led by Sarah Bee, now the Australian Director, and Sagar and me started a charity and started building the Dayamani Academy.