The pains of a 5:30am wake-up call and five hours on windy, bumpy rural Indian roads were quickly washed away when I stepped out of the vehicle to a cacophony of drums and cheers. Today we inaugurated our 12th READ Center in India, our first in Maharashtra. Today was the reason I do what I do.
Receiving the traditional red tika on my forehead as I walked through the gate, I barely recognized the building that I had first seen some six months back.
Once an empty space, it was now painted bright orange and white, filled with rooms with immaculate stone floors, quality furniture, books, computers, games, and colorful educational posters.
Community members joined READ’s implementation partner, the Swades Foundation, to cut ribbons to the various sections of the Center – the library, computer lab, training hall, women’s section, and early childhood sections.
A dancing procession built the excitement of the crowd and led us to the inauguration ceremony. Speeches from local representatives and organizations reminded the community about the power of education, equality for women, and community ownership. Village members danced and performed – highlighted by a play of several young children on gender equality and women’s rights.
When I was asked to make an impromptu speech, I jumped off stage, landing in a pile of dirt in front of a group of wide-eyed Indian boys and girls. Placing my fingers in the ground, I mimed planting a seed, and walked over to a two-foot high sapling tree.
“Six months ago, we came together with an idea, to build a community Center here in Khamgaon. That seed has now grown into a small sapling: this beautiful new READ Center. Now it’s up to all of us to ensure that this sapling grows big and strong and bears fruit for all of you – girls and boys, children, adults, and elderly.”
The roar of applause from the crowd signaled their approval and excitement for the opportunity to bring education to everyone in this community for the first time, thanks in part to funding support from the Caterpillar Foundation.
Ceremonies like this remind me that the frustrations and challenges of international development work are worth it.
After my speech and a few closing remarks, we headed to a local home where the READ Center women’s savings cooperative made us a delicious traditional Maharashtran lunch of rice with daal, potatoes, and vegetables. Appropriately, it was the men who served us the food as we sat on a typical clay and cow dung floor and reveled in the success of all of the hours invested into making the Khamgaon Center a reality.
Unfortunately, we had to leave shortly thereafter. Some of us to trek the five hours back to Mumbai, others to immediately start training the librarian and the local management committee, and still others were off to rural Rajasthan to prepare for another inauguration only days away – another village to receive the fruits of education and opportunity that come from a READ Center.
About the author:
Jayson Morris, Director of Strategic Partnerships
Jayson serves as READ’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, where he helps to solicit and steward some of READ’s largest in-country and global fundraising as well as programmatic partnership.