Bringing change to Chamba one Spring Break at a time

Matt Reichman - Daily Herald | Posted: Thursday, April 15, 2010 12:35 am

It took planes, trains and automobiles to get Springville High senior Justin Calder to his Spring Break destination -- 40 hours of travel each way, to be precise -- and then the real work began.

Calder, along with 16 other Maple Mountain and Springville high school students, returned Sunday from a two-week humanitarian trip to Chamba, India, with Youth Making a Difference.

The project was the culmination of nearly a year of fundraising and training that enabled the students to cart in supplies, teach English classes and provide medical help to orphans and villagers in the Chamba area. Salt Lake City-based YMAD has made two such trips each year since 2005, but this is the first Utah County crew.

"The hardest part was leaving; I just wanted to stay with the kids," Calder said.

It wasn't just a question of foregoing a leisurely Spring Break -- YMAD members attended 15 leadership workshops over the past year to learn how to become not just eager but competent humanitarians during their brief visit.

"As soon as the light clicks on, and they get that they have so much to offer, they become brand new people," YMAD director of operations Eden Cowart said. Each student also rounded up his or her requisite $3,500 through personal and group fundraisers. "It's not one of those things where your daddy can just write a check," Cowart said.

The YMAD group stayed at a compound in Chamba, but split into groups to travel to four different nearby villages each day. Eliza Pullman, a Maple Mountain senior, spent her time at a public school in Raj Nagar, where she worked with mostly younger children. Between games of Duck, Duck Goose and Ring Around the Rosie, she helped teach English and math and conduct basic health screenings.

Part of the YMAD funds went to sending the young children to the dentist and optometrist for problems that would normally go unchecked, so the students learned to spot basic health problems that could be referred to a YMAD physician for further examination.

It's a lot to pack in to two short weeks, so everybody gets pretty attached by the end.
"When we walked up the stairs to the roof of the school [where they held classes], all the children were waiting at the top, and would bend down and touch our feet, then touch their foreheads; that's a huge sign of respect," Pullman said.
Springville senior Chaidee Woods also went to Raj Nagar, and couldn't go anywhere without a few admirers tagging along. Even when going for a jog around the compound, little kids attempted to race up the hills shouting "Didi" ("Sister") alongside her.

"I feel like we left them better than we found them," she said. "Hopefully we left an impression of what they could become -- to dream big."

The students were also able to bring hundreds of hygiene kits, newborn and safe-baby-delivery kits, fleece blankets, clothes and educational materials. These items are gathered year-round in conjunction with local Eagle Scout projects, youth groups and schools, Cowart said.

"We create leaders here in the U.S.," Cowart said. "They get a global awareness that they wouldn't have before. Whatever they take on in life, whether becoming doctors or lawyers or teachers, they have a sense of what service is and how it affects the people around them."

YMAD is always looking for donations, as well as willing applicants. Find more information about both at www.ymad.org.