Saturday, August 30, 2008

Final thoughts from India--what we did/accomplished

I realize that I've left out the entire justification for the trip--what we did when we weren't meeting with the Dalai Lama, on weekend boondoggles to Amritsar or the Taj. The main purpose of this trip was to volunteer.
Monday through Friday, the cadets and myself were placed in volunteer assignments throughout lower (Indian) Dharamsala. Four worked at a summer camp, two worked with special needs kids, one taught English, and one worked in a local hospital. I taught computer skills and typing in a small community center.

We also saw the power and challenge of money to solve problems. In preparation for this trip, Kris received generous donations from his community, mostly books and supplies to help in
schools. We also ran a garage sale at West Point of all my old adventure racing and military gear that collectively raised about $700. We planned to make purchases once we hit the ground. However, Cross Cultural has a strict policy on donations. Posted around our house were large posters, showing the problem of volunteers giving funds and the very real concern that this would produce expectations, dependence and all sorts of problems that would remain after our volunteers (and money) went home.
Nevertheless, after a number of meetings with the Cross Cultural staff, we found the middle ground. We split the cost of repainting the dilapidated community center, transforming it over a weekend from a run down, dank concrete to something more resembling a school. We purchased school supplies and computer peripherals for the center, sports equipment for the camp, medical instruments for the hospital, delivered on our last day with a member of the staff present.

The guys also saw the incredible need. My center, the Sahyog community trust, created from an initial donation now sees its funds completely depleted. After considering closing down the center, a volunteer earlier this summer 

floated the idea of selling the beautiful Indian scarves online. The sale of each scarf allows the fund to operate for a week. When 

I wasn't helping kids learn how to type or (in classic Army officer fashion) teaching them PowerPoint and Word, I worked with the center's director, Yamini, on how to market the scarves and build this critical business. Shy but whip smart, Yamini is doing what she can to become a businesswoman and keep her center 

afloat. If you have a second and need a beautiful X-mas gift that provides a very genuine feel good, please take a look at what they have to offer here.

That about does it from India. We are now back, half a world a way in far more than actual physical distance. I hope to keep this blog going as already I am loving getting back into the classroom again, teaching 

American Politics during the most fascinating election of my and my students' lives. We have a great semester set up with a slate of guest speakers ranging from Dan Rather to Paul Begala to the head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and others.

The Dalai Lama experience has made our little trip well known and I've been asked to talk about the importance of these relatively new additions to the 47 month experience. This idea 

began a year ago with my simple desire to travel to India (and get someone else to pay for it), received eager support from my department, continued through an application by the cadets, task organization so each had a role/responsibility, preparation meetings at my place where cadets researched and gave briefs on the history, culture, language and political situation. The Rubin Foundation hosted us on a Saturday in April, where we toured their fantastic museum of Tibetan art and heard from scholars of Buddhism and a representative of the Tibetan gov't in exile.

The goal of this 'operation' was simple--to help make these eight cadets to be better officers. Like all military operations, we conducted an after action review (AAR) so I figure the cadets' own assessments of this experience matter much more than my own. Thanks for reading:

The experience provided me with what I feel to be the greatest preparation I could have had for a deployment. This is due to the high volume of cultural immersion and a strong team centered environment emphasized by the Officer in Charge which allowed me to get in the mindset of thinking what it would be like to be a second lieutenant. This allowed for bar none the best learning points in my own personal leadership style than I have ever known before.

It was a fantastic experience that taught me much more than could ever be learned in a classroom setting. It developed me as a person and as a future officer.

I believe that all of the cadets who attended the AIAD received some of the best training for becoming a second lieutenant on this trip than most experiences at West Point.

Knowing what to expect greatly reduced the assault on the senses that was Dehli.

I was exposed for the first time to a situation where my belonging to the US Army was a sensitive issue, which was a valuable experience.

I experienced a very new leadership climate, different from what we usually experience at USMA. It primarily fostered individual responsibility and initiative.

My trip to Dharamsala, India was one of the richest experiences of my life. I truly feel that I will be a better officer because of it.

Not only did I enjoy the trip, the time I spent in country will 100% have a positive effect on how I operate in the not too distant future when I am deployed. I learned how to fit in a foreign culture, the importance of learning the language of the people, and other cultural norms imperative to different regions.

If I had merely traveled to India as a tourist and seen the sights, stayed in hotels and not really interacted with the locals I would not have been able to take away near as much as I did living among and interacting with members of the local community.

One comes to realize that every culture and way of life exists because it works and makes historical or practical sense in some way. Even if you don’t agree on a personal level with the way things are done, learning to work within the framework of that culture and at least temporarily putting aside your disagreements is the only way to be productive.

I may have not understood why certain things are the way they are in India but I came to appreciate them all the same. It taught me not to look down on the people of another nation because it is possibly to learn a great deal from them.

The process of making a contact, sustaining it, and working it to obtain a meeting with a man of such global importance was a great lesson that genuine feeling, a smile, and determination can lead to the incredible.

The exposure to the country we were in gave me perspective on developing nations and the perils of language and cultural barriers. This trip brought forth the realization that you truly need to understand where you are going prior to getting on the ground or else it will be difficult.

Being able to interact with other cultures is a requisite for functioning properly on future deployments. Furthermore, working with mentally disabled children gave me insight into my future profession. I plan on becoming an Army Doctor. Working with these children has solidified my objective of attending medical school and becoming a doctor.

I was able to assist in the delivery of a baby, sit in on a surgery, and refresh my medical skills

As an Army officer, I feel that I will take this learning experience and be ready for anyone, anything or any country that I find myself deployed to

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