I volunteered in December 2007 with the Association of Relief Volunteers (ARV) to assist with the building of homes for the Dalit residents of Kothasatram-Indiranagar(KI). While these villagers had been adversely affected by the Sumatra Tsunami of 2005, their plight was further worsened by the social stigma surrounding Dalit communities. You see, the Dalits (formerly known as “Untouchables”) had previously been considered to be below the lowest level of the Indian caste system. Although this system was legally abolished in the 1960s, the Dalit people of today continue their struggle against caste-based discrimination across all levels of society.
I was greatly moved by my experiences with the villagers of the KI community. Brick-by-brick, pail-by-pail of cement, we all worked together to build the houses. The children of the village jumped in to help, too, eager to be a part of building their own homes. The smiling faces and laughter of these children will forever remain in my heart, and I wish them only the best as they continue to grow and learn. The determination of the parents and community leaders in KI also inspired me, and I can still feel the sense of their dedication to thrive and succeed.
After my volunteer expedition, I was able to stay in touch with ARV online to witness the progress and completion of the construction work in Kothasatram-Indiranagar. Yes! We had made a difference!
I then learned that ARV was ambitiously extending its reach to build homes for Dalit people in another village, Gummallapadu. I reached out to family members and friends to share with them the vision and dream of ARV – to provide housing, food security, and education to the most over-looked and under-represented individuals in Southern India. After only a few weeks, we were able to scrape together enough money to fund the construction of an entire house in the village of Gummallapadu. Along with similar donations and fundraising efforts from many other former ARV volunteers, the work in Gummallapadu was successfully completed.
Building homes for Dalits provides them with more than a place to reside. It gives them a sense of security, it gives them stability. It gives them a sense of empowerment and a sense of pride. It gives them hope for their future and their children’s future. Most of all, I believe that reaching out to Dalits lets them know that they are not alone. They are appreciated, they are valued, and they have what it takes to achieve their dreams.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in foreign travel, volunteerism, or building rural communities to reach out to the Association of Relief Volunteers.
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ARV: Building Communities