A three week summer program in India that focuses on education, development, community, and personal reflection.
Number of Students: 12-15
Director: Raj Mundra
Faculty Leaders: Catherine Tousignant and Erin Strong
Themes: Service-learning, education, personal reflection
Niswarth brings together people and ideas from across the globe. It focuses on multiple perspectives, it works to identify and understand context, and it digs into the complexity of pressing issues within communities. We put students into an unfamiliar context and then invite them to examine the connections between our external views of the wider world and our internal reactions to new experience. As we discover these connections, we emphasize the practice of humility and patience, questioning our assumptions and habits, recognizing our shared humanity, examining our obligations of empathy and our need to understand others. Connecting knowledge, goodness, action, and reflection in a continuous cycle, we gain a sense of purpose and a sense of meaningful connection with those around us.
When I returned to Andover, I began to understand the complexities inherent in the simplest of statements. History was no longer a series of facts, because I realized that to get people out of poverty or behind a single idea required knowledge not only of dates and historical figures but also of the political, economic, and, most importantly, social patterns of the day. Niswarth gave me the anthropological tools to explore subjects as interconnected, the periods of the day no longer separated by arbitrary periods but interrelated by their common themes. If environmental science explained the scientific reasons why one place had more natural resources or was at a greater risk for higher pollution sequestration, then English presented me with the more abstract ways that these disadvantages and advantages could affect an individual. In short, Niswarth taught me that beyond figures and facts and endless streams of information there are people to be explored and appreciated and understood.
-Michaeljit Sandhu ’09, Niswarth 2008
Niswarth was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. There is no other three weeks of my life that were as intensive nor as instrumental in shaping how I view a range of issues, from global poverty to education disparities in Mumbai, and the different ways of achieving social change. Social entrepreneurship became one of my greatest passions as a result of the trip, and I owe many of my experiences post-PA graduation to Niswarth. I would never have ended up interning at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public in Washington D.C., nor joining some of the social innovation initiatives at UNC, if it weren’t for Niswarth. When I look back on my time at PA, Niswarth changed the way that I see the world quite unlike any other experience.
-Brandon Wong ‘12, Niswarth 2011
The Niswarth program has been supported by several organizations and individuals: The Abbot Academy Association, Navroze Godrej ’01 and his family who have hosted the teachers and students, and grants from many Phillips Academy families and individuals. Over the past 10 years, Niswarth has partnered with many organizations in Mumbai who understand the goals of the Niswarth program. They have helped to create opportunities in which Niswarth students can contribute in different ways to their on-going work in local communities.
These organizations have inspirational leadership, are involved in connecting schools and communities at various levels, and have been wonderful hosts.
This past summer, we welcomed Phillips Exeter Academy (PEA) to the Niswarth program. In this unique collaboration with our traditional rivals, students and faculty from Andover and Exeter were eager to learn from each other and from our partners in India, through a praxis model of action and reflection, bringing together goodness and knowledge back to our campuses.
Since its inception in 1999, the Niswarth program has developed a library of resources, including articles, interviews, books, and other materials designed to prepare students for their summer experience. In addition to program-specific links, Mr. Mundra recommends a series of readings and videos to prompt reflection, discussion, action, and learning about good global citizenship practices, modes, and opportunities.
While each of our global programs provide specific materials related to their geographical and disciplinary focus, there are a number of overlapping themes and questions that emerge– how to be a thoughtful, open, and engaged global citizen; what are helpful tools and skills through which to approach, process, and reflect on these experiences; where might there be opportunities to tie them back into the PA experience and classroom?
With these and other questions in mind, this spring we will be piloting a shared pre-programming session for all Andover students who will be traveling abroad this summer. This session will invite students to find commonalities among their upcoming experiences, and to think together about modes for learning, reflection, engagement, and communication. Our conversations will begin with a screening of novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TedTalk: The danger of a single story.
Niswarth Program: Summer 2014 Resources
Partners – we will discuss the notion of partnerships and what our relationships may be with these outstanding organizations. Niswarth has developed and nurtured these partnerships over many years:
News Sources – nice to have a sense of what is being reported by the New York Times and BBC as the most important news coming from India:
Niswarth – Hindi for “Non Sibi” – was an idea that was conceptualized in 1999 between Raj Mundra, PA faculty member, Chad Green, Director of the Community Service program at PA, and Pheroza Godrej, a parent of Navroze Godrej ’01 from Mumbai.
What would a program look like that connects Andover students to communities in Ahmedabad and Mumbai? We knew that students would be out of their comfort zone, have a desire to become involved in community projects, and want connect their learning to the Andover curriculum.
In the past ten years, a number of educators, local organizations in Mumbai, and participating students have developed the comprehensive three-week summer service-learning Niswarth program. The resulting curriculum builds a kind of understanding that connects scholarship with field experiences.
The keys to our work:
Students return to Andover with new sets of perspectives, a deeper understanding of how to convert the ideals of goodness and knowledge into collaborative action with the community, and a sophisticated set of skills and empathy to lead local and global initiatives.
This level of integrative learning in an unfamiliar community encourages students to understand that improvement of the world must be highly contextualized.
Once students are exposed to a level of complexity and diversity and understand that they can make a difference, there is no going back. The papers and articles we read about development have real meaning. Our empathy grows as we listen to stories of people in any community. We view problems as opportunities. In a variety of ways, Niswarth students have become catalysts and leaders for positive change at Andover, in colleges and within communities around the world.
Raj Mundra, Director of the Niswarth program, also teaches biology, coaches football, and is a residential dean for PKN. He came to Andover in 1991 as a teaching fellow, has taught in Switzerland, Kenya and India, and currently lives in 1924 House with his family. During the 2009-10 school year, he was on a year-long sabbatical in Mumbai, India. He is also the Founder of Educators for Teaching India which provides outreach and education on the teaching of India in public and private schools.