HBS Making a Difference in Rural India

Over the winter break, I went with 99 HBS students and partners on the India Trek. While the trip was filled with very interesting and fun experiences, one stop on our tour stood out from the rest – our trip to the Rajugella village. My words won’t do the story justice, but try to picture this.

You are sitting on a modern, air-conditioned bus. You leave Delhi and drive for about three hours when your bus turns down a bumpy, dirt road. You view extreme poverty out of the windows of your bus. Suddenly the bus stops and you look up to notice about 500 people that have come to greet you. They are singing, dancing, clapping their hands and playing musical instruments. You exit the bus and are swept by the masses into the center of the village, stopping along the way to say hi to some of the children of the village, who are noticeable because of their wide smiles and inquisitive eyes. You show some of them what they look like on your digital camera. They are amazed!

As you near the center of the village, you are greeted by members of the village who adorn you with the traditional Tikaa (the red dot on your forehead) and a Mala (necklace of flowers). As we find our seats, we are treated to signing, dancing and music-playing. We are invited to join in and many members of the Trek do so. Everywhere you look, you see smiles. After the dancing ends, several members of the village corner some Trekkers and ask questions about America in their broken English. Other villagers, take Trekkers for a tour of their village, showing us with great pride their milking cow and their modest homes.

As the sun began to set, we headed back to our bus. As I board the bus, I overhear what seems to be everyone talking about “how moving an experience they just had.” As I find a seat on the bus, I strike up a conversation with one of our Trek organizers (a 2nd year at HBS). During our chat, I hear some horrific stats. I hear that 99% of the women in the village are not educated beyond the 5th grade, nor are 60% of the boys. I hear that the annual income per capita of the village is ~ $100 and it has increased at a nominal rate of ~ 0% to 1% over the past 20 years (note, for all of those that don’t remember or have not yet completed BGIE, this is before inflation, i.e. they are losing buying power).

Upon contemplating these statistics, the group was (in my interpretation) overwhelmed by two main feelings. The first feeling was a sense of admiration. A speechless awe. We were amazed that the people of Rajugella could be so welcoming, so warm when they face such difficulties. They handled themselves with such pride, grace and energy despite their extreme poverty and the lack of improvement to their situation.

The second feeling that the group had was an overwhelming desire to help. It was amazing how many people felt compelled to do something for the people of Rajugella. And so we decided to help in the way that we know best. To leverage our abilities, training and contacts to solve a key root cause of the village’s economic difficulties. We decided to help improve the education of the children of the village. Doing so requires building a schoolhouse and then organizing accreditation by the government. The India Trek of 2004/2005 has taken on a project to build a schoolhouse for Rajugella. As a group, we have set a goal of raising $50,000 and overseeing the building’s development. We plan on raising these funds through individual contributions, first year charity auctions and corporate donations. In addition, several members of the Trek have decided to turn the organization of the school system (after the schoolhouse is built) into a field study.

Our trip to India, and in particular to the village of Rajugella, was a once in a lifetime experience. For many of us, it changed the way that we see developing nations. And while our efforts in Rajugella are only a drop in the bucket, it feels good to know that HBS is making
a difference to some

Editor’s note: If you would like to learn more about contributing to the construction of the Rajugella schoolhouse, please contact Irina Zeltser at izeltser@mba2006.hbs.edu or Steven Cohn at scohn@mba2005.hbs.edu.