From November 2009 to November 2011, we will be working in India.
Since its founding in 1958, more than 43,000 Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) volunteers have shared their skills in over 120 countries. CUSO-VSO is the North American arm of VSO. The in-country organization with which we’ll be working is called South Orissa Voluntary Action (SOVA). SOVA manages a variety of community development initiatives, such as:
- Training local youths as ambassadors to teach their relatives and friends about hygiene, HIV/AIDS, and the importance of education;
- Microloan programs for farmers and small business cooperatives;
- Reproductive health training for village midwives;
- Personal hygiene campaigns to combat diarrhea;
- Bringing attention to established government programs that the community isn’t aware of or doesn’t understand; and
- Improving the quality and safety of school buildings.
We will be working in the district of Koraput, located on the Eastern coast of India. The population of Koraput is 1.1 million, 85% of which live in remote, rural areas. Koraput is the second poorest of the 500+ districts in India. The area is in desperate need of help.
The quality of education is an example of the area’s poor conditions. In Koraput, where the literacy rate is 36%, education is not a priority and school dropout rates are high. Many parents insist their children work rather than learn. In the 185 villages where SOVA works, 64 do not even have schools. For many schools that do exist, teachers either abuse their students or do not attend regularly.
During this experience, we expect that we will encounter hardship and happiness in equal measure. As volunteers, we will receive a modest monthly salary (about $170) to purchase living necessities. Our housing will be comparable to the local SOVA employees’ accommodations. We will be expected to participate in local customs and activities, including market days, festivals, weddings, and other events. To communicate with our neighbors, we’ll learn to speak in Oriya, the local language. Although there are many uncertainties as we plan for this adventure, we are assured of one thing—the next two years will be rewarding beyond measure.
This opportunity to work in India is exciting in so many ways, not the least being that we can use the skills gained during our careers and the knowledge gained from our education. Corey will be working as an information technology professional, using some of the same techniques and skills that he uses in his current position in Pittsburgh. For instance, he will be reorganizing multiple data collection systems into a centralized database to enable more effective and accurate outcome evaluation. Gina will be a communications advisor, promoting and publicizing SOVA’s programs through printed and electronic materials, including the organization’s website. She will also prepare reports for current and potential donors regarding SOVA’s work.