Hello, fellow Ephs and other Eph-curious blog readers:

I’m Mary, an ’05 alum, and I’m posting to spread the word and get some advice on a project I’ll be involved with this coming fall. Starting in September, I will be heading to India for six months with Students Partnership Worldwide, an NGO working in Africa and South Asia to improve health and environmental education in rural communities. What with all the great work Williams students and alums have done through Williams in Africa, the Peace Corps, and countless other organizations, I thought EphBlog would be an excellent place to tap into some development work wisdom. This is a topic that’s been brought up recently in the Channel for Charity postings, and I hope my thread can add to it.

Students Partnership Worldwide takes a specific approach to development and education, so I’ll try to give a brief description of their programs. SPW volunteers live in rural villages and work in small teams with other young people from the US, the UK, and from the host country. This partnership between foreign and local volunteers is part of what makes SPW’s methods unique. Their programs also focus on motivating young people to make sustainable changes in their communities through clubs and other projects. In addition to working with schools to provide education on issues like HIV and malaria prevention, volunteers assist with everything from recycling centers and school libraries to girl’s health groups.

I’ll be spending my six months in Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state and currently the region with the highest rate of HIV infections in the country. I’ve heard that Tamil Nadu is one of the most beautiful areas of India, so I’m obviously eager to get there and see for myself. To be honest, this kind of work is a big departure for me… I majored in English, and while I’ve written a couple rather complicated and boring papers on Salman Rushdie, this has probably not done much to prepare me for the realities of living in rural India. But I know that many other Ephs have successfully burst this kind of cultural bubble, and if any of you are reading now, I’d like to hear your stories.

To help cover program costs, I’ve also pledged to raise a $6000 donation before going overseas. This is my first solo fundraising challenge, so any advice in that area would be much appreciated, whether general or specific. I would also be very grateful for any loose change that might be rattling in a generous Eph pocket. I’m looking into setting up a website, but until that gets off the ground I can be reached by email (mary.lanham@gmail.com) or by posting a comment if anyone has pearls of wisdom, stories, or questions about SPW. You can also check out their site (www.spw-usa.org) for more information on the program.

Thanks for reading and responding!

(Also, good luck to everybody involved with Channel for Charity. I passed the frosh swim test by dogpaddling, so I’m really impressed with what you guys are doing.)

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