Michelle Malpass shares her life-changing experience
Michelle Malpass shares her life-changing experience
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“The future depends on what you do today.” —Mahatma Gandhi
My greatest goal as a parent is to raise kind, generous and compassionate humans. It’s not about what they do, but who they are and how they treat others and the planet. I’ve long dreamed of a family volunteer trip, not only to teach the value of contributing to a community project, but also to instill an awareness of needs and differences in the world.
When we discovered that ME to WE India operated in the same state as Traction on Demand’s India office, it was too serendipitous to pass up. And what an adventure it was, with three generations on the road together: myself and Greg, our three kids (ages four, six and eight), and my parents.
After an incredible week visiting the Traction team in Jaipur, we set off to explore rural India, learn about ME to WE’s approach and give our time to a cause we believe in. One bumpy drive later, we arrived in a rural town called Kumbhalgarh. We were warmly welcomed by our amazing ME to WE hosts, Ricky and Avinash, who were both born and raised in the region. They were very knowledgeable of community needs and thoughtful in their approach (they were also very receptive to endless hide-and-seek requests from our kids).
When WE Charity was founded over 25 years ago, education was their primary focus, but they quickly realized that supporting the entire family and community was key to alleviating poverty (learn more about the WE story here). They developed a holistic five-pillar approach, which includes education, water, health care, food and opportunity. It was inspiring to see all five pillars in action in the community we visited.
We spent our time volunteering at the school site on two main projects: building a brick wall at the entrance and stairs into the school. The new school building has been open for a few years and was well received by the community; enrollment has increased by 58 percent. The school is looking to expand due to a continual increase in demand.
As for our kids, I was a little wary of how they would react to working on-site, if they would grasp the concept of what we were doing and why. Well, it turns out they embraced it! They shoveled dirt, sifted sand, made and poured concrete, carried and laid bricks. It made my heart smile to see them fully immersed in the projects.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” —Helen Keller
I had my doubts about the impact a couple of days volunteering would do in the grand scheme of things. Two things turned that around for me. First and foremost, ME to WE Trips run as a social enterprise, so just by virtue of signing up for a trip, you’re contributing funds to their work on the ground. Second, I do believe that every little bit counts; that it’s better to do something than nothing; if every potential volunteer said, “What good I am going to do on my own?” we wouldn’t see any progress at all. We were one spoke in the wheel of volunteers who come to support the project, and together we can make a powerful impact.
Along with building the school, ME to WE provides a great regional educational experience. We visited Kumbhalgarh Fort at sunset (largest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China), did yoga at sunrise and met local artisans who taught us their craft, including a fourth-generation tie dye artist. We also took an Indian cooking class (ridiculously good, highlight for Greg!) and walked through the beautiful countryside among rice fields and mango trees. Our kids’ highlight was holding a 15-day old goat, while mine was visiting Jan Ki Bai, who welcomed us into her home and shared her world with us.
Jan Ki Bai’s home is about 12’ x 12’ and made of cow dung and mud—a very effective building material that insulates in the winter and cools in the summer. She’s 25 years old and a mother of three, aged two through seven. She was married at 15 and moved away from home to start her own family. She described her daily routine, starting with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up to fetch water and wood for the morning meal (then repeated several times a day). We joined her to gather water from the well and feed her goats, getting a glimpse into her life. The stark differences in our lives, as well as similarities (as mothers), blew me away. Her strength was apparent, both physically and mentally.
Jan Ki Bai and her family lead incredibly different lives from us, not better or worse, just different. There was such beauty and peace in how they lived in the present moment; something we can learn from, considering our distracted and complex lives back home.
WE is doing some incredible work on the ground, and it was an honor to witness it firsthand. There is still so much to be done. For me, the hardest part was seeing the inequality between men and women. Coming from a community that places so much value on equality, it was difficult to see women treated as inferior, not reaching their full potential. Even harder was how the women knew it wasn’t right, yet culturally it was the only accepted way.
My greatest goal as a parent is to raise kind, generous and compassionate humans. This trip had it all: Introducing them to concepts of giving, working hard for others, immersing them in different cultures, adapting to new environments, time in nature, new friendships. The discussions were meaningful: who is Mahatma Gandhi; that we lead different lives not better ones; that happiness isn’t tied to things; that running water isn’t universal, but empathy is; how easy it is to take what we have for granted; how it feels good to give.
Since our return to Canada, our kids haven’t been incarnated into mini Mother Theresas and Gandhis—in fact, most of the memories they’ve shared about our trip revolve around seeing monkeys, camels and tigers—yet a seed has been planted. If enough seeds are planted in their childhood, seeds of empathy, acts of generosity, acceptance of our differences and that every person’s actions matter, my hope is that these seeds will cultivate a desire to be the best they can be for themselves, for others and the planet.
With love, Michelle (and Greg, Luke, Bria, Shea)
Michelle Malpass Director of Community Performance, Traction for Good.