My journey started on Sunday 5 of July with the flight from Zurich to Delhi and thereafter a plane which took me to southern India. When I arrived in Pune I got picked up by Lila Poonawalla and was taken to my hotel. After a short break Firoz Poonawalla and I hit the road again and drove approximately one and a half hours out to the countryside. In Kamshet we visited several schools supported by the Lila Poonawalla Foundation (LPF). We were always warmly welcomed with flowers, music and dancing by the children and teachers.
I was stunned by how grateful and appreciative the children, parents and teachers were of what LPF as well as the Biltema Foundation are contributing to support them. I received a lot of letters and drawings from the Lila Juniors. I also had the chance to talk to the students and find out about their future plans and expectations. They were also curious to know how I experienced the visit and the current situation in their country. I told them that I disliked all the waste and rubbish on the streets. I found out that this is a topic which is also very important to the girls since they are taught about hygiene and health in school. The most challenging part for their generation is to get through to the adults, making them aware of the situation and the problem so they would change their way of thinking. They asked me how we are dealing with this problem in Switzerland and whether I knew a solution to the problem. I was impressed by how active and involved the girls are, thinking about how to change the country for the better at the age of only 9 to 10. They are all very eager of knowledge and enjoyed listening to my experiences. I was also given the chance to see the new sanitary facilities which were sponsored by the Biltema Foundation a while ago. They did a good job making sure to maintain a high standard of hygiene in the schools.
Later on we also visited schools in the city centre of Pune until it was time to go back to the hotel again. There I had dinner with Lila and Firoz.
The next day we headed for Gawadewadi where we visited some smaller schools, where I was greeted with a lovely ceremony by the students. It was again impressive how simple everything was, starting with the forms, which three students were sharing, the chairs, up to the IT rooms, which are run by solar panels.
Most kids grew up in very poor families, many of them being half-orphans. Especially the parents expressed their gratitude for enabling their kids to go to school, getting clothes and school material as well as food.
In the evening, I was invited to have dinner with the main board and advisors of the Lila Poonawalla Foundation. They also introduced a new project to me to supply healthcare services to the children and their mothers.
At 9 am, I was picked up again to be part of the scholar award function of the Lila Junior’s. Each year a batch of over 200 new students are taken on to the Lila Junior Program. Every girl was given a certificate of acceptance and a satchel to start their education with LPF. I had the privilege to hand over those items to the kids who were very happy to have been given a scholarship.
After the award function I was taken on a sightseeing tour through Pune. I visited the Cultural Museum and also the old town and the markets where I got a glimpse of the everyday life in India.
For dinner I again had the privilege to meet staff of the foundation. The schools committee as well as counsellors sat together with me to talk about projects and further steps towards better education for kids in India. I was told that especially the work of the counsellors is an important part of LPF’s mission. On a regular basis they go out to the villages and schools to talk to teachers, students and their parents to ensure everyone is satisfied with the work LPF is doing. I was also informed about all the voluntary work done by former students and staff to provide further education to the students. On Saturdays they would teach courses about health, IT, art etc. Everyone at LPF is getting involved and is very much interested that the children get a wide knowledge and a good education.
On Thursday I was invited to the cultural program where the students who passed their exams with the best grades were awarded and were presented with a calculator which will be useful in their next level of education. The ceremony included several speeches by the staff and students as well as music and dance performances. The students spoke to the audience about their future plans and expectations they got for life and their further education with LPF. Some of them dream to be a doctor one day, a teacher or even a pilot. And they are all very confident to achieve this goal with the support of Lila and their donors.
Several groups performed traditional Indian dances. It was very touching to see the effort they had made. I again was given the chance to talk to the girls. I had taken some Swiss chocolate with me, which I then handed to them as a gesture of my appreciation. It turned out that I had brought too little with me tough. Still I made sure everyone got at least a piece to enjoy. It was one of the highlights for me to see how excited and passionate the girls performed their dances. I was deeply moved by the beauty of this spectacle and I hardly could talk when I was asked to give a short speech to the audience.
With those memories I left India, the same evening and headed back to Switzerland. Many thanks to Lila and Firoz and the whole LPF-Team making this stay so memorable.
Lila and Firoz asked me to pass on their gratitude to the Biltema Foundation Board, especially to Sten-Åke Lindholm and Göran Grosskopf.