India Alt Break trip to become self-sustainable

AU students might not be needed on the Tamil Nadu India Alternative Break in coming summers.

For the past four years, AU has partnered with the non-profit organization Communities Rising to focus on social justice in India. Around 10 students are accepted each summer to work as camp counselors at the Communities Rising Summer Camp in Vikravandi, India, according to Tamil Nadu co-leader Jess Lawson.

“I think our goal is to allow Communities Rising to really be sustainable without AU resources in the next few years,” said Lawson, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The summer camp serves over 100 dalit children, also known as “untouchables.” Dalits are one of the most marginalized groups in Indian society. AU students work with Indian co-counselors to focus on empowering dalit children though photography, robotics, swimming, dance and more.

“A lot of these children, when they’re growing up, are told their whole lives that they’re not worth it,” Lawson said. “That they’re dirty and disgusting and less than human.”

The trip is already on its way to being sustainable, according to former trip participant and School of Public Affairs junior Kristen Pulkstenis.

“Communities Rising is expanding quickly and the only non-local personnel they once couldn’t do without (people to teach swimming, since it is a nearly nonexistent skill in the Tamil region) are now supplemented by Tamil young adults,” Pulkstenis said in an email.

Lawson looks forward to Communities Rising not depending on AU resources or funding.

“If they are sustainable without us, there’s less pressure on them,” Lawson said.

Even if Communities Rising no longer needs AU students, Lawson and her co-leader Rose Brown, a sophomore in the School of International Service, hope the trip continues.

“The cross cultural experience that American counselors get, as well as the Indian counselors and, most importantly, the Indian kids— I think that’s crucial,” said Brown. “Even if the camp is sustainable, I do believe that American counselors should still continue to go.”

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