Four Athenian Alumni Donate 10,000 Masks to Our Local Community

Pictured from left to right: Jim Lin ’07, father Ting-Fung Lin, Shannon Lin ’09

In an act of tremendous global philanthropy, four Athenian alumni joined forces to donate and coordinate the delivery of 10,000 surgical masks to our local community. The alumni, former boarding students from Taiwan, gave Athenian discretion around their distribution. Jim Lin ‘07 and Shannon Lin ‘09 were the original organizers. When friends Jamie Chang ‘08 and Wesley Yang ‘12 heard about the brothers’ idea, they quickly joined the effort.

“I checked in with Jim and Shannon when the pandemic hit,” said Michelle Park, Athenian’s International Student Coordinator, ESL teacher and longtime faculty member with the School. “I wanted to say hello and see if their family was well. They asked if we at Athenian needed anything in regards to supplies, as the U.S. was just entering the COVID-19 crisis. They wanted to make a donation and wanted Athenian to decide who should receive the masks.”

Pictured: Michelle Park and Eric Niles with Maeshah Shaw and Jelani Moses of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers

After a long and complicated shipping process, Athenian received its first delivery last week and has now received the remainder of the masks. Donations have already been made to the SEIU United Healthcare Worker’s Union, John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek, the Springhill Medical Group, and The Gubbio Project, a non-profit serving the homeless community in San Francisco.

On Video: Jelani Moses of Kaiser Permanente

SEIU United Healthcare Workers West members Jelani Moses of Kaiser Permanente and Maeshah Shaw of San Ramon Regional Medical Center visited campus today to receive their donation of 4,200 surgical masks. In the video below, Jelani expresses his thanks.

Apart from sending a huge thanks to Jim, Shannon, Jamie and Wesley for their extraordinary kindness, we also appreciate those who worked to coordinate efforts on the Athenian side: Michelle Park and Vivian Liao.

Community Service in the Age of COVID-19: A Letter from Mark Friedman

Dear Athenian Community,

The coronavirus has disrupted many aspects of our lives, including ways that we work with people outside Athenian to create better communities. The needs haven’t gone away—and there are some new ones—so our challenge is to find new ways to work together. Given the circumstances, we are thinking creatively about how to take action in our local neighborhoods. Remember that the coronavirus isn’t the only thing that’s contagious. Kindness is also contagious. 

Below are some ideas for how to make a difference: 

  • Support an elderly neighbor who needs someone to shop for their food and medicine. (If you live in Oakland or Piedmont, there is an organization called Oakland at Risk that matches senior citizens and helpers. They currently need help getting the word out to the elderly. You can print out their flyer and distribute it, door-to-door, in your neighborhood. If you’re willing to support a senior, you can put your name and phone number on the flyer.)
  • Help an elderly neighbor care for their pet by walking their dog and/or getting pet food.
  • Provide online tutoring to an elementary or middle school student.
  • Pick-up trash or clean up a local park. Maybe you can do this with friends if you maintain 6+ feet distance between yourselves.
  • Organize a fundraiser to support an organization.
  • Volunteer at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties. The food bank is considered an essential service; they are still functioning and they need volunteers. You can sign-up online to help at their warehouse in Concord. Please step forward only if you’re asymptomatic and healthy.
  • There is a severe blood shortage because blood drives have been cancelled. To donate blood, you must be in good general health and feeling well, weigh 110+ pounds, and be at least 17 years old (or 16 years old with parental consent). Contact the blood donation arm of the Red Cross for more information. 
  • This link will take you to a variety of volunteer opportunities that happen completely online.
  • The Berkeley Mutual Aid Network matches people who have needs related to this crisis with people who can help. 
  • Finally, this list of organizations in the East Bay that provide essential services shows ones that still need volunteers, though some volunteer requirements may be age- or experience-specific.

People often respond to disaster with incredible compassion. This Is How You Live When The World Falls Apart is an article in last Sunday’s New York Times about the amazing ways people responded to the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.  Rebecca Solnit’s excellent book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster is a longer work at  the same phenomena. Rebecca lives in San Francisco and the first part of her book describes how people here responded to the 1904 earthquake.

Let me know what you’re planning and we will write our own story of caring for each other.

Mark Friedman

Community Service and Round Square Director

Traveling to Colombia and Coming Back “A Whole New Person”

by Lev Dufaux ’23

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This installment is a speech about International and Multicultural Understanding delivered by 8th grader Lev at Morning Meeting to the Middle School.

We had hiked for about an hour or so, the air thinning more and more with each step up the mountain. Our conversations began to slow as we rose over 9,000 feet. Once we neared the top, gasps and yells of excitement broke out of our airless lungs. Our dewed faces lifted when we saw a big blue-green gleaming lagoon cradled by a bowl of jungle, like a potion being brewed in a witch’s pot. Last year, I went to Colombia for a Round Square conference that Athenian annually takes part in, along with three other Athenian Middle School students.

The Round Square trip was an opportunity to bond with people all around the globe, immerse myself in a culture very different from American culture, and develop leadership skills that will help me and others create a better home for everyone. South America was new to me, and I had no idea what to expect. Colombia led me through a whole other culture; it almost felt like a new world. Like a hug and kiss whenever you meet someone, or the smell of exotic food that lingers through the air. When I explored Colombia, I experienced new flavors, new landscapes, a new language, and a very loving community. Dancing was a very big part of my trip there. We had dance competitions to our favorite Reggaetón songs, laughing at how terrible we were at Cumbia. We tried all kinds of new wild Colombian flavors, my personal favorite being hot chocolate and cheese, which melts on your tongue like cotton candy. I met all kinds of new people, not just American and Colombian, but also Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican, Brazilian, Canadian, British, Argentinian, and Danish people.

One moment that changed who I am today was when we did a service project in a small school in the mountains. At the school, we created murals, made a new playground, took care of the children, and made the school a more enjoyable place. When we sat there in the worn down schoolhouse, I realized that the kids were not super young, but closer to my age. Later, our guides told us that they were so small because they didn’t have easy access to food. Keeping these children in mind keeps me grateful for my community, and it compels me to help others. Knowing that I made these children’s lives a little better keeps me focused on leading because it changed not only their lives but mine as well. I became inspired to stand up and lead, and I now feel comfortable sharing my opinions.

Never have I gone on a trip to a foreign place and come back as a whole new person. I met so many new people that I still talk to this day, and more often than not I find myself thinking about all the great experiences I had with all kinds of wonderful people. I miss the smell of freshly made ajiaco soup pouring out of small restaurants and the taste of homemade arepa that gives you a reason to step out of bed in the mornings. I miss the warm hugs and kisses when you meet someone. I miss my good friends that I made that I still talk to today. I haven’t forgotten about Colombia one bit, and still keep a part of it on my wrist every day, a bracelet the color of the Colombian flag. Special thanks to Esteban and Cynthia for organizing and supervising the trip, and to Kyle P., Kate L., and Maddie G. for coming along with me.

Book Expo: A Community Partnership

A few weeks ago, Athenian hosted its second annual Book Expo. While our Book Expo shares a lot in common with other book fairs at other schools, there is quite a bit that makes it uniquely Athenian. It was important to us that we make this Book Expo a community event, so we partnered with Orinda Books, a local independent bookstore and every title that was showcased at the Expo was hand chosen by one of our librarians or an Orinda bookseller.

While a major purpose of the Book Expo is to encourage recreational reading among students, it also catered to our adult community. We wanted to give parents an opportunity to come on campus, meet our librarians, and browse titles for their children as well as themselves. We stocked a variety of popular adult fiction and non-fiction titles, which were a big hit. Ten percent of all book sale proceeds went to support our library program and 10% of the proceeds went to Bella Vista, an underserved elementary school in Oakland that we have a longstanding partnership with. This year we raised nearly $400 for these causes, which will go towards purchasing books for both libraries.

With the money we raised from the Book Expo last year, we were able to purchase more than 50 new books for Bella Vista’s library. Because community service is a foundational pillar of the Athenian community, we wanted to do more than just donate books. Eight students from the Middle School and Upper School Library Advisory Boards got together in June to visit Bella Vista and read books to their K-5 classes. The students paired up, chose a few favorite picture books to read, and went to three different classrooms during their visit. The elementary students were so excited to have visitors—they enjoyed being read to, and the older grades had fun with Q & A sessions afterward, asking our students questions about middle and high school life. Our students ended the day feeling like they had made a positive difference and were excited about future partnerships. We look forward to our next trip to Bella Vista!

Community Service: A Practice in Kindness, Activism, and Self-Awareness

By Izzy Millet ’19 and Jennifer Salako ’19
This is the first in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This first installment is a speech about community service delivered by Izzy and Jennifer at Morning Meeting to the Upper School.

Izzy: One of the first things I want to emphasize about community service is that it is a service, and while it will certainly benefit you as you go through the different stages of community service at Athenian, your first priority should always be those you work in service of. It’s intended to be a sacrifice of your free time, a donation of your skills and effort, and a commitment to helping others. It is not always convenient, or easy, or even fun. But if you dedicate yourself to the work, even if it is just for one hour a week, it will be an enriching and life-changing experience and one that is full of lessons to learn if you keep an open mind.

Jennifer: When most people think about community service, they usually think “oh, this is just another thing I have to do to graduate. A few days at St. Anthony’s or Glide, and I’m done.” But I want to remind you that it can be more than that. There is a reason why Community Service is a part of the Athenian experience, let alone, a Round Square pillar. When you pick your project, pick something that you feel passionate about, something that you believe aligns with your interests. If you enjoy playing an instrument, you could give free lessons to younger kids in your area. If you do martial arts, then you could organize a self-defense workshop. There are tons and tons of projects and ideas you can take on, and they do not have to be boring.

 

Izzy: One of the things that I’ve always loved to do is to work with kids, and when I was designing my community service project for my junior year, I decided to work with Jewish Family and Community Services. I was able to start tutoring with an Afghan refugee family who had arrived in the United States only a few weeks earlier. During the rest of the summer and through my junior year at Athenian, I biked to Concord every weekend to work with the three boys on their English conversation skills, school work, and to spend time with the family. I’ve had the pleasure of handling this project off to Micah ’20 and Avrah ’19, and I am hopeful that it has the potential to stay in the Athenian community for years to come.

 

Jennifer: In the future, I hope to pursue a career in medicine and possibly establish a teaching hospital outside the US, so I decided to volunteer at the Sand Creek Kaiser Permanente. I have been a volunteer since January 2017 year and the experiences I’ve had as well as the people I’ve met are a part of the job that I appreciate the most. Never before did I imagine that I would be able to have such a deep conversation with a deaf woman I helped out at the pharmacy. I never thought that the impact I could make on someone’s life could be so huge and I take that experience to work with me every day. I think I’ve learned more about the place I’ve grown up in for the past 17 years in the last 6 months because of this job, and I am so happy I chose to do it.

 

Izzy: One of the reasons I think community service is a pillar of Athenian, and one that we pursue so actively, is because of where we stand as a school. This is a college prep private school. We just completed a multi-million dollar campus reconstruction, and virtually 100% of students graduate with the option of attending college. Because of the countless privileges we are provided by virtue of attending Athenian, it is so important that we continue to be aware that there are many people, in the Bay Area, in California, and across the world, who are not granted these same privileges. Community service allows us to practice kindness, activism, and self-awareness.

 

Jennifer: Another reason why I believe Athenian includes this pillar as part of its foundation, is because community service is not something you can learn in school. It’s something you have to experience firsthand in the real world, and it’s a space for you to reflect on what you know, or what you thought you knew. Giving back to the community and appreciating that which it has provided you is something many often take for granted. Understanding how you want to give back is another step in understanding yourself and what you stand for. It’s the part of you that Athenian wants you to recognize can make an impact not just as an average student, but as a global citizen.

Athletes with Character: Remembering Scott Leister ’05

Athenian student-athletes are known for their character, both on the field and off. We value leadership, dedication, service, playfulness, and compassion. Scott Leister ’05 was an outstanding student-athlete who embodied the pillars that are the foundation of an Athenian student. Scott’s life was tragically cut short at age 21 when he was killed by a drunk driver. August 2018 marks the tenth anniversary of Scott’s passing.

Scott before a high school dance

Scott embodied the pillars that are the foundation of an Athenian student. Scott played varsity soccer all four years at Athenian and was a valued member of the team, for his athletic ability, game strategy, and team spirit. He was also an active participant in international experiences, committed to community service, and a frequent outdoor adventurer. Scott went on to become a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Rochester, was a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, and was intending to pursue a medical degree to further his international humanitarian efforts. In 2013, California Highway Patrol published a service video about Scott.

Scott’s memory is kept alive at Athenian. For the last ten years, we have recognized a student-athlete with the Scott Leister Spirit of Athenian Award. The Scott Leister Award is inscribed with the following text: “We will teach our sons about Scott. We will cultivate in them the qualities he showed the world: Responsibility, Humility, Service, Play, Love. They will become men who live Scott’s message. They will teach their children about Scott and the values and qualities he embodied. Over and over again Scott will live in new lives. Like thousands of raindrops falling from the sky, his compassion and his play will keep dancing in this world and beyond.”

The winners of the Scott Leister Award to date are Ben Wang ’09, Jeff Sohn ’10, Jared Madden ’11, Ian Truebridge ’12, Tyler Huntington ’13, Anthony Aguilar ’14, Brendan Suh ’15, Andrew Kocins 16, Bradley Altomare ’17, and Victoria Akinsanya ’18.

To provide Athenian students with the opportunities Scott had as a young person, Scott’s family started The Scott Leister ’05 Endowment for International Community Service. Scott’s mom Carol Leister has become a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Victim Advocate and she and her family have spoken to thousands of people including law enforcement officers and DUI offenders. And every year, Scott’s family sometimes accompanied by Athenians march with Walk Like MADD.

Athenian teaches students about the hazards of drinking and the fatal consequences of drinking while driving in its health classes. MADD publishes the following statistics on its website:

  • Drunk driving is still the #1 cause of death on our roadways.
  • There are 300,000 drunk driving incidents a day
  • There are 10,497 deaths a year. That’s 29 deaths every day and one death every 50 minutes. Each and every one of them is 100% preventable.

Athenian Continues to Send Leaders Into the Educational Community

Two years ago, after years of contributions to and growth at Athenian, two employees went on to become Heads of Schools at independent schools in Marin and Washington, DC. This past year, two more veteran Athenians moved into leadership roles in the world of education. Nancy Nagramada is now the Head of Middle School at the San Francisco School and Lisa Haney is the Executive Director of the California Teacher Development Collaborative. Both Lisa and Nancy embodied so much of what makes Athenian special and we will miss their dedication, joy for teaching, genuine love of the students, and sense of fun and humor they brought to their work at the School.

Nancy began at Athenian in 2003 as our Dean of Diversity. Nancy wore many hats in her 14 years at the School. Teaching in the Middle School for ten years, she created signature curricular components including the 8th-grade English class family migration story project, the annual production of West Side Story, the 8th grade speech project, and the hallmark Interim trip to Washington, DC. Nancy ran Athenian’s Summer Programs for five years, furthering Athenian’s “public purpose” work through engineering programs for girls and a pilot partnership with Aim High. Nancy lived on campus with her family for ten years and was a pillar of the residential community. She rallied the faculty and staff every year for the Faculty/Staff show, pulling off elaborate musical productions to benefit the Starehe Schools in Kenya. Nancy was also the Middle School Dean of Faculty, a leader and participant in many school improvement projects and task forces, the leader of the Admission Ambassador program, and in her last year was the Special Assistant to the Head of School for Strategic Initiatives, and 9th grade history teacher. Nancy was always the first to volunteer, whether it be an improv performance, setting up a meal train for new parents, cleaning up a messy room, or rallying students and faculty alike for fun and games.

Nancy has now moved across the Bay and is taking her extensive teaching and leadership experience to a philosophically similar school in the heart of San Francisco. Like Athenian, The San Francisco School has been delivering an education rooted in intellectual curiosity, playfulness, diversity, and engagement to preschool through middle school students for over 50 years. We will miss Nancy’s energy, can-do attitude, and sense of fun that she brought to everything she was involved in. We know that Nancy will continue to be a fierce advocate for students and a champion of social justice in the world of education in her new role.

Lisa came on board at Athenian in 1991 as the Director of International Programs. Lisa taught ESL and started the first student club focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion at the School called The Multicultural Alliance. Lisa’s continued interest in supporting deeper cross-cultural understanding inspired her to lead six international interim trips, two to China and four to Tanzania. Lisa’s global interest reflected in the courses she taught, including the 9th-grade world literature program. She developed a variety of seminars including Utopian Literature; Migrants, Nomads, and Aliens; and regional literature seminars focusing on Africa, South Asia, and India.

As Lisa’s role in the community expanded, her care for student and faculty wellness continued to focus her work. Lisa held a number of leadership roles during her time at the School, including Humanities Department Chair. She became the Upper School Dean of Faculty and advocated for and supported her colleagues as a member of the Upper School leadership team with strength and compassion. Lisa spearheaded a process to develop Athenian’s professional development and evaluation program and helped the School define its “Standards of Excellent Teaching.” Lisa worked closely with student members of the Gender Equity Coalition to found the Athenian Sexual Assault Prevention Program, now a required part of the Athenian curriculum. Creating a warm and welcoming space wherever she was on campus, students and faculty alike looked to Lisa for guidance and support.

Lisa’s substantial work developing teachers at Athenian was complimented by her work with teachers through UC Berkeley Extension and the Berkeley and San Francisco Unified School Districts. Lisa also has leadership experience with international and diverse school populations, including working with the State Department improving English language education in Tanzania. Lisa will bring all of this experience with her to California Teacher Development Collaborative where she will continue to be a teacher of teachers. Lisa is the perfect person to continue CATDC’s mission of supporting teachers to collaborate and create a teaching and learning environment that is rewarding, inspiring, and productive. Athenian faculty will continue to benefit from Lisa’s wisdom and care through CATDC professional development opportunities.

While we miss seeing Nancy and Lisa on a daily basis, we are lucky to have them remain members of our community. Both Lisa and Nancy’s spouses, Mark and Charlie respectively, work at Athenian and they both are parents of alumni. Nancy has a son in the Upper School who will now commute from San Francisco to remain an Athenian Owl. We are so grateful for Lisa and Nancy’s nearly 40 years of combined service to Athenian and we are thrilled they will remain directly connected to Athenian.

Life in Flight: What’s Possible After Athenian

Updated November 28, 2017

The core values of Athenian’s mission provide the foundation for 21st-century success: critical and analytical thinking, collaboration, teamwork, and creativity.  For proof of this, look no further than Keenan Wyrobek ’99.  During his Athenian experience, he built rockets, competed on the swim team, and embraced failure in projects and experiments as a learning opportunity. The skills Keenan built at Athenian served him well at Johns Hopkins and Stanford, and in developing the reading app Bam Boomerang and the Personal Robotics Program at Willow Garage.

In founding Zipline, Keenan combined his robotics expertise and a strong desire to help others. Recently featured on National Geographic’s Chasing Genius series and CNN, Zipline gets medical supplies to communities that are difficult to access. Keenan’s drone-operated delivery system sends urgent medical supplies to patients who can’t be reached otherwise. Health workers can order critical items like blood by text message from Zipline; within minutes, a drone takes off and medical products are delivered quickly and safely by parachute. Zipline, one of Keenan’s service-oriented tech startups, has raised nearly $50 million in funding for its innovative, humanitarian, life-saving projects and has delivered thousands of units of blood saving countless lives. Keenan tells us, “My Athenian education prepared me for what I do at Zipline. In my work at Zipline, I draw on the hands on the problem-solving experience, technical knowledge, and leadership skills I gained at Athenian every day.”

Keenan delivered a TEDMed2017 talk at the beginning of November sharing about his work providing blood and medical supplies to hard to reach populations and Zipline was a winner of the 2017 INDEX: Designs to Improve Life Award, which came with a €500,000 grant. One of the jury members, Ravi Naidoo, said Zipline “is a great systemic interplay of designers, governments and society bringing the best first-world technology to the poorest.” With a successful operation in place in Rwanda, Zipline will be establishing four distribution centers in Tanzania in 2018 and plans to continue expanding to countries across the world. Plans are in the works to begin delivering blood to remote areas of Maryland, Nevada, and Washington as well, serving as a pilot project for a global rollout redefining the delivery of emergency supplies.

Watch ZIPLINE – 2017 BODY WINNER from INDEX: Design to Improve Life® on Vimeo.

Gratitude and Meaningful Contributions

I am particularly grateful for our Athenian community this week. As our neighbors to the north battle unimaginable devastation, Athenians immediately jumped into action, creating supply drives, taking in the displaced, saving animals from shelters, and coordinating a school-wide response. When tragic events happen nearby, Athenian’s founding values of service and community hit home for all of us. I know that it takes a commitment to send your student to Athenian, and I am humbled by how easily and eagerly Athenians extend their commitment to our broader community.

As these events unfold around us, we must remain clear of vision and purpose. Our founder, Dyke Brown, started Athenian on the belief that “intellectual fitness in combination with moral virtue and concern for societal needs and civic responsibilities is the only way to truly educate our young.” I believe in the Athenian mission now more than ever. I see our students and alumni responding to crises in the world by wanting to help, and they know—even the 6th graders—that they can. We must continue to offer an Athenian education because we need young people who believe in goodness, who want to serve society, and who are committed to the well-being of humanity. Brown’s insight from sixty years ago remains true: “This is the kind of person our nation and the world needs, and this is the goal of The Athenian School.”

I am reminded of a poem Dick Bradford often reads in the fall, Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost. Nothing that is beautiful can ever last, as is the devastating case in Napa and Sonoma. Loss is inevitable, and I want to teach our kids that the cycle of life and death reminds us how precious certain moments are, how much we have to be grateful for, and how each one of us can be a shining light in another’s time of darkness.

In the coming weeks, we will be reflecting with our students around many of these themes. We will encourage them to explore their feelings, to investigate life’s injustices, and to lend an able hand. We will leverage the resources of our School to offer aid where we can and to instill a sense of civic responsibility in the young people we educate.

Now, we simply want to ask you to think about what is meaningful in your life and where you can make contributions that support your values. I donate my time and money to humanitarian relief organizations, to support orphans in Uganda, and to Athenian, because I believe in those causes and I want to model for my children how just one family can make a difference. Please join me in reflecting on what is meaningful in your own life and where and how you and your family can make the world better than you found it.

Thank you for being a part of this community. Your children inspire me every day and I am grateful for the energy, joy, and love they add to the world.

With humble gratitude,

Eric F. Niles

Head of School

Round Square Service Trip 2017: Athenian Delegation Reports from India

by Mark Friedman, Director of Round Square and Community Service

Greetings from Pathways World School, located in a rural area south of Delhi.  It was a long journey here. Our three hours in the Amsterdam airport were an unexpected pleasure, though—we wandered through shops full of wooden shoes and tulips and ate our last fresh vegetables for two weeks. Landing at 3:00 AM, the Delhi airport was thronged with people. Thousands stood in long queues to enter the country. Every shop was open. Usually, I do one big currency exchange for everyone in the group because you get a better rate exchanging more money, but not in India.  Because of India’s demonetization policy, you can only exchange US$85 per passport.

I love the first taste of the air in a new place. Leaving the airport, we drank in the pungent and smoky air of Delhi. Arvinash, a stylishly-dressed history teacher from Pathways was waiting for us. Despite the fact that our flight from Amsterdam had been delayed, our group was unified in wanting to stick to the day’s schedule, which meant getting to breakfast by 9:00 AM after only a couple hours of sleep.  We are all staying on the Pathways campus, the girls in a dorm and me in the guest house.  The dorms here have a guard on duty 24/7, a woman in front of each girl’s dorm and a man in front of the boy’s.  As I said good night to the three Athenian students and the security guard at their dorm, the sounds of singing and chanting from a nearby temple filled the early morning air.

A few hours later, we arrived at the cafeteria.  The school’s 500+ boarders had finished long before. We surveyed the food, looking to see what we could eat to follow the rules of only eating foods that were “cooked, bottled or peeled.” Toast and cereal were our main breakfast fare.

We met three girls—Yukti, Maansi and Anya—who would be our hosts for the next four days.  They made a presentation about the school’s ongoing work supporting government schools in local villages and then we were off to a school 20 minutes away. The drive itself was fascinating. Women wearing bright colors with huge bundles of wood branches balanced on their heads.  Thin cows wandering and sitting alongside the road.  Hundreds of cow pies drying in the sun, to be burned later as fuel. The village school is located less than a mile from the city of Gurgaon in a village called Parla.  It seemed incongruous to be in rural India and have dozens of 20+ story apartment towers looming nearby. The school we were working at was founded in 1931 by the grandfather of the current service director at Pathways, Sunil.  What a treat to be there working with him! As we drove to the school, Sunil pointed out a plot of land that he said belonged to his family for “thousands of years.”

Our first day at the village school, we started painted murals.  It was Friday, but a school holiday. There were dozens of boys from the village there to play cricket and watch—or occasionally help—us. Not a single girl. One of the school’s art teachers was there, Druvswamini, and she helped sketch the original designs for the murals. The village only has electricity in the evening, so Pathways is putting in a solar system at the school as that is the only way to have electricity during the daytime—and without electricity there can be no computers at the school. Some of the equipment for the solar system arrived that day.

The full moon was that night. The village’s temple is across the street from the school. As the morning wore on, more local women arrived at the temple to drum, sing, and chant. Sunil and I went to visit and then brought the six girls over. The first time the girls sat with the women, but the second time our girls danced with the local women. Lord Shiva is the local god and the song that the women sang was about him.

Part of the temple structure was the old well for the village where the women all used to come for their water. Most of the local water is from the ground. The water table used to be 30 feet down but is now 200 feet, and dropping 10 feet each year.

We headed back to school for a late lunch. The students have physical education and sports every day and the Athenian girls chose to go horseback riding. Before dinner was a cultural event about slam poetry and spoken word. There were also a number of songs performed, all accompanied by guitar. Interestingly, it seemed like something that could have happened at Athenian. Indeed, Isabella performed a song with one of the Indian girls serving as our host. The three Pathways’ girls joined us for our post-dinner debrief.  We had an interesting conversation about how women are treated in Indian society.

The next day was Saturday and we headed back to the school at Parla. In addition to finishing the murals, we also helped install some new wash stations for the students. Good hygiene and washing before each meal is part of our strategy for staying healthy in India, but it’s also important and challenging for the locals.  Pathways supports many local schools with new wash stations. Pathways not only installs the hand washing stations at 17 local schools—in partnership with Rotary International who donated US$60,000 to the Pathways for this work—but the Pathways maintenance staff visits the local schools to do ongoing maintenance on the donated items.

After lunch, our group of six students and a few Pathways teachers headed off to go camping.  A short ten-minute ride from school, we came to an outdoor adventure facility.  We had fun going down the zip line and were challenged by things like a climbing wall and cargo net. While warm during the day, it does get cold at night. We ate dinner around a big fire. At 10:00 PM, the Athenian students retired to our tents, though the cold meant that most of us slept poorly.

We were up at 6:00 AM for trekking, or hiking.  A red sun rose over foggy fields.  Cow pies dried alongside the path. We scampered up two rocky outcroppings for views of the surrounding countryside. Then we headed off to the Surajkund International Crafts Mela. This featured over 1,000 booths with crafts from all over India and many other parts of the world. We were joined by several faculty families on this outing, which made it extra special. The crafts were amazing, if overwhelming in their profusion. Olivia attracted a lot of attention and many people wanted to have their picture taken with her.

On our last day at Pathways, we began with a visit to Prakashpuri Temple, which is set in a peaceful valley. We visited a meditation case in the nearby cliffs and were served chai. Then it was off to visit two government schools that Pathways supports. We wandered amongst classes high-fiving students and admiring their school work. Finally, we arrived back at the Parla School and finished the murals we had been painting.

Sunil, Pathways’ community service director, is the one teacher from the area.  He invited us to his home in the late afternoon.  We got to meet his wife, daughter and parents, tour his home, explore his village, and go on a 90-minute hike in the countryside. What a treat! Then his wife made homemade curry and poori.  The wheat is grown in the family’s fields and ground at his house. We were so well fed that we skipped dinner in the cafeteria.

The three Athenian girls and the three girls from Pathways have grown very close. It’s astounding to think that they didn’t know each other four days ago. When they’re together, it’s a riot of animated talking and laughter. We depart Pathways tomorrow for Old Delhi and the farewells will be sad. All three of the Pathways girls are interested in coming on exchange to Athenian, so one way or another I expect these relationships to continue.

That’s all for now! I’ll check back in with more in a couple of days.