I reached India two days later than expected, due to flight cancellations. With the rebooking, I was unable to meet Nupur to collect the bookbags and school supplies that the International Federation of Medical Students Association had donated. However, I did meet Nikita (a University of Durham student, pictured at right) and, in total, we purchased 100 bookbags. This is more than expected as the cost of the bookbag was less at the wholesale market. The wholesale market was your typical hustle-and-bustle marketplace filled with stores and street sellers. I browsed through different stores before I decided on one that had a collection of Hannah Montana and soccer bookbags.
This picture represents the team — my pharmacy peers and University of Durham students who donated the supplies — that allowed the school-supply project to be successful. My mother (Usha), sister (Sabrina) and brother-in-law (Hemanth) assisted me in purchasing and distributing the supplies.
I visited the afternoon preschool batch; my mother, who is currently in India, was to distribute the school supplies to the children in the morning batch. The children were hysterical when they saw what I was going to distribute to them. I spoke to them about the importance of education. But looking at their expressions, I knew that they were too excited to comprehend what I was saying.
I asked them what they would like to be when they grow up. They answered: teacher … doctor … and I inspired one young girl to say pharmacist. One boy answered that he wanted to be a “bhai” (gangster). I wonder what influenced his answer. I gave him encouragement and, hopefully, inspiration on considering other career options. Last year, when I volunteered with these children, one boy told me that he wants to be a “banana wala” (person who sells banana on the streets). Upon further inquiry, I found out that he helps his father sell bananas in the evenings and had not considered other career options.
Before class started, I spoke to a student named Ankita (pictured at left). I asked her to show me her school bag. She passed me a tiny plastic bag that could barely contain her two notebooks. When I gave Anikita her new pink Hannah Montana bookbag, I could see that she was overwhelmed with excitement. She was smiling, and her eyes were glistening. She stared at her bookbag as she watched me place pencils, a pencil sharpener, eraser and a Cadbury chocolate bar in her bookbag. When I placed a pink pen around her neck, she looked up at me as though she was wearing a princess crown.
One particular boy worried me. It was evident that he was severely malnourished. He flapped his arms down, just like a skeleton, and unlike the other children he was too weak to be excited. It was sad to see him, but it served as a reminder that as pharmacists, we have the ability to help and inspire children worldwide.
My hope is that through this project we have given 100 children the tools and inspiration they need to learn and succeed in school. Personally, it was rewarding to give the children their first bookbags. This project has inspired my next project, which is to help bring undernourished children to better health.