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Designed for Action: Seniors connect with the children living at Homes of the Indian Nation while volunteering abroad

March 21, 2023
Eight students in India on a study abroad trip in front of an Indian temple

Written by: Emma Simpson '23

At York College, students aren’t just reading textbooks and listening to lectures. They’re working on community projects, solving real-world problems, and using their education to effect change. In Designed for Action, we meet the students who are making an impact outside of the classroom.

This past winter Dr. David Fyfe, Associate Professor of Geography, took eight students, including four seniors, on an international exchange trip to India to volunteer at the Homes of the Indian Nation (HOINA) hostel for approximately three weeks. Students were responsible for helping around the orphanage, painting fences, helping children with schoolwork, and serving meals. To prepare for this trip, students took a course during the Fall 2022 Semester to learn about India and what current events were happening. This class also provided the opportunity for students to get visas in order, create packing lists, and more.

Hands-on preparation for the future

Students from across disciplines volunteered with orphans in India, giving them an opportunity to put their York College education into action.

Piper Johnson ’23, a Recreational Therapy major, gained a wealth of valuable experience on this trip that she plans to apply in her career. She currently works at a treatment center for children and says she mainly helps with “recreational activities like making slime and other crafts with the children there, and then I also get to help with their group therapy.”

At this job, she is already starting to see how “India allowed me to have more experiences working with kids that I can draw from and compare when working with children here.” Piper says that along with Dr. Fyfe’s class, several other York College classes helped prepare her for her trip to India and the interactions she would have with the children there. Her class about trauma-informed care assisted with understanding how the children might respond to situations they have faced as orphans.

Experiencing India also had a huge impact on Psychology major Isabel Cox ’23, who says that she “would like to continue to work with HOINA in any way I can.” She says, “I am hopeful I will have the opportunity to sponsor a couple of kids at HOINA, serve on HOINA's Board of Directors in the U.S., and go back to India every couple of years to help the staff and children at HOINA.” She hopes to become an organizational management consultant, which would allow for remote work and travel to India for at least one month every few years to continue working with this organization.

Isabel’s Psychology classes helped her create a unique experience for the children she worked with in India. Although students spent time helping with the physical upkeep of the building, they also were able to spend time crafting and playing games with the children. Isabel says that her classes in Entrepreneurship helped her to become innovative with the supplies around her. She was also able to use her experiences as a resident assistant (RA). “I've learned how to make door decorations from being an RA at YCP, so I taught the kids at HOINA how to make their own door decorations and they all have them hanging on the doors of their rooms.”

An eye-opening experience

Although the goal of this trip was to further the education and world experiences of students, everyone walked away with new life perspectives as well. Piper says, “In India, I learned to go with the flow more and be at peace with where I'm at in my life. In India, culture-wise, it's just more about being in the present and growing in relationships.” Her favorite part of working with the children was how they are all one big family. Piper says that “the children talked about how HOINA is home,” and how they see the other children in the orphanage as their actual brothers or sisters.

Isabel also had a life-changing experience. She says, “I challenged myself on this trip, but I also grew so much as a person during this time, and it all happened because I was willing to challenge myself and do something I have never done before.” This trip changed her life. As much as our students had an impact on the children they volunteered with, they also walked away with a different understanding of life.