How do you get the youngsters interested in giving back?
This was a question posed to a panel of UCLA alumni at the 2018 Project RISHI Alumni and Initiatives Conference. One look around the room and it was clear nothing needed to be done to stimulate the altruism of the college students and members of Project RISHI’s various university chapters present.
Project RISHI (Rural India Social and Health Improvement) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and implementing sustainable projects to address social, economic and health disparities in the rural villages of India. Students from chapters at universities across California and in the Midwest work together to fight problems plaguing communities 8,000 miles away from them.
On Jan. 28, Project RISHI at UCLA hosted an alumni and initiatives conference at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, where students from other Project RISHI chapters across the country, esteemed faculty from UCLA and the Chinmaya Mission gathered to discuss the organization’s work and upcoming projects.
The conference began as the audience learned the story of RISHI’s founding and its first actions taken in an effort to create change in villages on the other side of the world.
RISHI is the brainchild of Dr. Eri Srivatsan, Dr. Ravi Menghani, Daniel Choi, Dr. Grant Lee and Dr. Aswin Sekar, who started the organization at the UCLA campus with a vision to effect change in Vadamanappakkam, Srivatsan’s ancestral village in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Students from U.C. Irvine, U.C. Berkeley, USC and Northwestern University gathered at the Pauley Pavilion Club to learn from UCLA faculty speakers and alumni about how to refine their approach in tackling problems in these villages thousands of miles away. They were also able to present on their upcoming initiatives, where projects ranged from tobacco de-addiction and water purification to stimulation of women’s incomes.
The UCLA chapter highlighted an upcoming project regarding the computer lab at the primary and secondary schools in Vadamanappakkam.
RISHI plans to not only refurbish the computer lab with new monitors and equipment, but also create a computer literacy curriculum for students by partnering with a social enterprise. The objective of this project is to provide the children of the village with useful skills that will aid them when they are searching for employment.
The conference had two keynote speakers. The first was Dr. Dallas Swendeman, co-director of the Center of Expertise on Women’s Health, Gender and Empowerment at the University of California Global Health Institute. He spoke about his research working with marginalized women in Bangladesh and how to effectively address public health problems.
The second speaker was Dr. Parameshwaran Mahadevan from the Chinmaya Mission, who spoke to students about dharma and how it could be applied to student life.
The conference ended with a beautiful Carnatic music performance by Anand Santhanam, Priyamvadaa Sastri and Srinivasan Govindarajan.
More information about Project RISHI, or to donate to any of the chapters, can be found at www.projectrishi.org.