From Hyderabad to Kumasi, Ghana

In July when I came to Hyderabad from West Africa I knew that I wanted to facilitate a cultural exchange between students in India and students in Ghana. My prior organization, Exponential Education, runs a great Girls’ Leadership Program with girls who are the same age as the students at Railway Girls High School. This foundation provided a great platform for the girls in both countries to explore what girls life is like in India and Ghana, both the good and the bad.

Admittedly, this was an emotional project for me. My last year was spent in two vastly different, yet uniquely amazing and welcoming cultures. At Railway Girls school, we spent time learning the Ghanaian language, Twi, while digging through many of the pictures I had of Kumasi. They also learned their Akan names (pertaining to the day of the week that they were born on), which required me and Rachel to learn an entire new set of names. And their questions never ran dry. Why do they shave their heads in Ghana? What festivals do they have there? What kind of problems do they have? What do their dresses look like?

The result is highly personal and intimate. Girls from both sides share the very real problems that their communities face, while also revealing what makes them proud to be both Indian and Ghanaian. They share their language, their dress, their problems, and they also ask good and honest questions. Take a look to learn something about both of these amazing groups of girls.





Bansilalpet: Crime Investigation Bansilalpet Unit

When I proposed the idea of doing a fiction film to the students of Bansilalpet High School, they were unanimously excited to begin screen writing, story-boarding, and preparing for their parts in the movie.

We chose to do a crime show to further utilize and explore the problems of pollution in Hyderabad. They were very familiar with the crime show trope, and were eager to play the roles of police officers, criminals, and victims, especially in the context of very real problems in their communities.

This project began with the question: “What is a problem in your community?” We discussed noise pollution, water pollution, drinking and smoking, and lack of jobs. Then we decided to look at the ones that were most common. Everyone in the class agreed that plastic pollution was the most rampant problem where they lived, and that the lack of dust bins (trash cans) and awareness were large contributing factors to this issue.

The students wanted to create this short crime piece to raise more awareness about plastic pollution.

Stay tuned for the third project, where they show and explain how to recycling your plastics into useful everyday items!


Happy Halloween from Hyderabad!

Back in July after my first class at Audiah Memorial High School I road the bus back home with a lump in my throat. My first day did not go so well. My entire introduction lesson that I had planned fell apart in an instant when I realized that, as a Telugu-medium school, my students understood very little English. Explanations of The Modern Story, of me, and of our classroom goals were completely lost upon them with no translator present. How was I going to generate classroom discussions? How was I going to get to know these students? How would they get to know me? How would we learn?

These worries all vanished the moment I put them in front of the camera. Some of these students are born-actors. And some are incredibly creative about experimenting with different camera angles. After doing a few photo and video scavenger hunts, I knew I wanted to give them the opportunity to write, create, and act in films that they were truly interested in, and to keep them actively working in-front of and behind the cameras as much as possible.

Last week several of my students asked if we could do a film about ghosts for our final project. They were so passionate about the idea that within one day they created a story outline and a shot list. Ultimately (with guidance from the TMS Team), I decided that we should choose a different topic for the final project. As a compromise, I came to Audiah the next day and told them that we would spend one day in production for their horror film in the spirit of Halloween. This is what we created! Enjoy! Happy Halloween!






Audiah Memorial: “I am” Visual Poem

What are you curious about?

To me this question seems nearly too open-ended. Everyday in Hyderabad something new will peak my curiosity or make me pause in thought. Sometimes it’s cultural (Why are we putting statues of Ganesh, the elephant God, into the lake?). Sometimes it’s food related, often along the lines of “What is that?!” and “I wonder how they make chicken biryani…” No really, though. How do they make chicken biryani?

When I posed this question to students at Audiah Memorial High School, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I was expecting from them, but I certainly didn’t expect what I heard that day!

Click here to view our first photo project! In addition to their curiosities, they also explore their collective and personal identities in the form of a Visual Poem. Enjoy!


Happy Friendship Day!

Last Monday morning while I was setting up for my morning class at Bansilalpet, a student came up to me, grabbed my wrist, and tied a red ribbon around it.

“Happy Friendship Day, teacher!” she said.

I looked around and all of the students had red ribbons tied around their wrists. The ribbons had white letters that said things like “My Special Friend”, “My Best Friend”, and “Happy Friendship Day”. Some students had different colored bands, some only had a few, and some had so many that they filled both wrists nearly to their elbows.

Friendship Day is a popular holiday in India which takes place on the first Sunday of August. One of my teaching assistants, Gita, told me that within the past three years the holiday has become increasingly more popular, especially within junior high and high schools.

“It’s a really cute holiday that the children get excited about,” she said. “But I think it is an important day too. It promotes peace and understanding, caring and sharing.”

I wasn’t surprised that friendship was an important theme in many of my students’ lives. Two of the four schools that I teach at, Bansilalpet and Railway Girls, both decided to center their first big project, a photo story, around friendship. Each school has spent the last two weeks exploring the notion of friendship. What is a friend? How can you be a good friend? Why is friendship important?

It made me reflect on the role of friendship in my own life. Bouncing around from place to place, it can be difficult sometimes to make and keep friends. But already in Hyderabad I feel like I am falling into a really supportive and fun community. I have had an amazing month and am excited to continue learning about the city and meeting new wonderful and exciting people.

The Beginning

This week met the first of many milestones. First, was the end of our training period. Piya and Remy took us out for an outrageously delicious Farewell-and-You-Survived-Training Dinner and then dropped us off at our apartment where we said our goodbyes. The Fellows all agreed that the feeling reminded us of when our parents dropped us off at university for the first time. We were, somehow, on our own.

The beginning of the week was spent rickshawing acrossed Hyderabad to visit our schools. We survived our first week in India, and now we were to begin our navigation into the government school system, and into teaching. Each of us had to meet with our respective headmasters and teaching assistants, and also to finalize the class schedule.

By Wednesday all of our schedules for the next six months had been finalized. Between the four Fellows, we each have two schools where we will be teaching. Additionally, all of us are teaming up with one other Fellow to teach at The Railway Girls School.

This marked another important milestone; our first class. Rachel and I were paired up to teach at Railway, and spent all of Wednesday scripting our lesson plan for our first class on Thursday. We spent a lot of time thinking about important teachers in our life. What makes a good teacher? Which activities will be the most effective? How can we create a classroom environment that is fun and welcoming, but also one that will create equal learning opportunities for all students? How can we be liked, but respected?

Luckily, the Railway girls were welcoming, attentive, and ready to learn. We spent the first two days of class doing icebreakers, learning names, and preparing to dive deeper into the art of digital storytelling. The girls were just as excited as we were, and I can tell that we are going to have a great semester with them! Here are two pictures that we took to commemorate the first day of class!

TMS Fellow Dara and the girls from Railway pose for a picture on the first day of class.     Rachel and the Railway girls on the first day of class.


Finally, in Hyderabad.

Greetings from India! Even as I sit here now, inside the fellows’ apartment in Hyderabad, there is an element of disbelief that I made it here at all. Amongst our daily activities which has included training, school visits, and searching for the best local coffees and delicacies, every once in awhile when I step back I think to myself: “Wow, I can’t believe that I am actually here.”

Two weeks ago I was stuck in West Africa without my passport. When I found out that I would be joining The Modern Story in India I began the visa process from abroad, which required me to send my passport and visa application from Ghana back to the United States. Generally this process, applying for the visa by mail, should take about ten working days in total. But due to the switching of visa outsourcing companies and the huge backlogs of applications as a result of the switchover, my application (and passport!) was held hostage for nearly two months.

Between the frantic emails to Piya and Remy about the unknown status of my application (and thus, actual arrival date in India), and my emotionally draining more-than-three-times daily calls to The Big Bad Visa Outsourcing Company, my stress and anxiety levels skyrocketed. All of this while also being alone abroad in Ghana. I felt like a stateless person; unable to go, and unable to leave.

On June 27th I finally got word that they had processed my application and everything moved very quickly from there. I had a good friend of mine get my passport in New York and ship it to me in Ghana. And three days later I booked another ticket to Hyderabad, picked up my passport in Kumasi on Wednesday morning, and traveled straight down to Accra, where I left Ghana the next morning. After I boarded the plane in Accra, I had no more worries. I was finally on my way.

I arrived in Hyderabad on Friday morning. Remy picked me up, we dropped off my bags at the apartment, and we went straight to Railway Girls School. Even though I was pretty exhausted from the journey (I couldn’t sleep on the planes!), I was so happy to finally meet Piya and Remy, and of course my new co-Fellows!

Even now, as I sit here at 3 o’clock in the morning, unable to sleep from jet lag and the migraine I had this afternoon, I can’t help but think about how lucky I am to have finally made it here. I am so happy to be here in Hyderabad and to be connecting with my co-Fellows, and to share this journey with friends, family, and other followers. Until next time!

Meet Dara

Last summer I heard the story of Cho, a Tibetan refugee, who walked by nightfall for two months to India from a Chinese-occupied Tibet. I was studying abroad in northern India and this service project, a simple language and culture exchange, was meant to serve as an integration method to help prepare us for living in a nearby village. However, for me, hearing his story had a profound impact. Cho told me: “Please tell others my story. I want others to know”. I remember wishing that I had the tools and the proper platforms to get his story out into the world, and not just my small connections to it.

Before I met Cho I understood how important personal storytelling and digital media could be in personal development. While living in New York City I volunteered to teach digital photography to inner-city junior high students. The transformation that occurred was stunning to watch – my students became more confident, it gave them a changed perspective on their world, and it excited them to learn more. It created passion. After meeting Cho I decided that I wanted to do more service for youth, and to help them find their voice in our ever-changing world.

This passion for service also propelled my interest in global education. Following university I moved to Kumasi, Ghana to work for an American NGO where I ran peer mentoring programs in rural villages. I spent seven months there working within the school systems, learning Twi, traveling West Africa, and hearing people’s stories. It was during this time that I learned about The Modern Story Fellowship, and knew that this would be the perfect next step for me to explore additional educational systems, listen to more people’s stories, and to also return to a country that I love.

I think that global education is an ongoing dialogue; it bridges cultural and religious gaps to achieve learning and understanding. I love teaching because I love being a part of that dialogue, and because I never want to stop learning about the world. I am so excited to be a part of The Modern Story, and for this new adventure!