After graduating from college with liberal arts degrees, we embarked on a journey that completely altered our lives. Initially, we boarded a plane to India with the intention of volunteering on a tea plantation in rural Darjeeling for three months. After more than forty-eight hours of travel, we arrived at our new home – three tiny bungalows set within a jungle at the base of the Himalayan foothills. We were at our Halderkhoti village home.
I began teaching in the nursery classroom at a village primary school. There was no teacher assigned to the twenty children in this classroom and I became the head teacher. The school was sorely underfunded; there was also no electricity, no toilet, and no running water. Mike found himself making village medical rounds with a community-level nurse. After a few weeks, he began rummaging through old medical records with the intention of digitizing the materials for the tea estate.
Together, Mike and I worked on understanding the medical notations in the musty log books documenting every sickness, birth, and death the community has seen in the past twenty years. I began noticing children that should have been in my classroom and after some digging, realized that they had died before kindergarten from issues of fever and diarrhea. This changed everything.
Three months quickly evolved into one year of work in the Darjeeling Foothills. Mike and I began developing a health education program that I taught within my classroom, The goal was to create an awareness of the importance of health and hygiene through student-centered teaching and learning opportunities. Our students learned about preventing germs by washing their hands, brushing their teeth, and using appropriate bathroom facilities.