Angels from Australia/ Missionaries of Charity

What happens when four Australian students opt to work with gifted individuals in India? They make a difference, says Patricia Mascarenhas.

Exploring what India has to offer as a country may be sufficient for some international students but not for Dragana Nenadic, Kate Withers, James Sullivan and Chris Stanley-all from Australia’s Deakin University. After gaining an understanding of their host country the foursome wanted to do more. “I wanted to offer any help I could to the community,” says Dragana Nenadic.

Pledging one’s time and talent is a great way to ignite change and positively impact the community. So, the foursome volunteered their services at Advitya, a non-profit outfit, which works towards providing a better life for the differently abled.

Their short stint at Advitya was a hugely rewarding experience. For instance, they learned that many people in India do not acknowledge mentally challenged individuals. “I think the issue here lies first with the government and their lack of support, which leads to the lack of education,” says James Sullivan, adding that many still fear gifted people and are biased against them. “People need to understand that they’re just like other human beings and need to be treated with respect,” he adds.
The students believe that the mindset of people here needs to be altered. And the change should begin at the ground level- in schools and colleges. “More should be done to educate children and encourage them to step forward for people with special needs,” says Kate Withers. “It adds another dimension to studies and provides something that cannot be taught in a classroom.”

There are some people who feel that working with gifted students is demanding and troublesome. Nenadic brushes off this notion. She says they helped the Advitya students in making sequin crafts, which the non-profit sold to raise money for their organisation and pay the students a monthly salary. “It was really simple and fun,” she says, adding that such an activity develops discipline and the salary encourages hard work, good behavior and a sense of worth for the students.

They also taught dance, paper crafts and participated in a weekend gala, which was a sort of a shopping mela. “The event had 22 vendors and NGOs that showcased and sold gifts for Christmas,” says Chris Stanley
Speaking about how this experience changed them individually, Stanley says, “I’ve never been involved with any kind of volunteer work before but this has allowed me to learn so much and be more involved in giving back to the community.”Nenadic agrees with him. “I want to make volunteering a permanent part of my life. The satisfaction from helping someone cannot be matched by anything else.” Finally, says Sullivan, “It is not one person alone who can make a big difference, it is the combined small effort of many.”