CR provides out of school programming for students from underserved, rural villages in south India.  We teach classes in English, math, Tamil, computer education, art, music, and dance for over 1600 students. Our innovative On Target curriculum is designed to close the gap between our students’ learning levels and grade levels. Our Resilience Initiative teaches our students various problem solving and decision-making strategies they can use to address the challenge of living in severe poverty. Read more about our programs.


By Jake Houle, American University ’15


My life will never be the same after my time in India. After being home from India for a few months now, not a single day goes by when I don’t think back to it. I think of the plane ride, the airport, the food, the heat, the traffic, the landscape, the music but above all, the people.


The Ganesh Temple in Pondicherry


What impacted me the most from the entirety of my journey to India was the love and warmth of the people I met there. Right when we stepped outside of the airport terminal, I was greeted and embraced by group of Indians and welcomed with great enthusiasm. This type of greeting was more than enough for me to forget the seemingly endless 19-hour flight I had just completed. From that moment until my journey ended in India, I experienced that same level of kindness, warmth, and above all love from my new Indian friends.


Arun, Selvadurai and Jake in Mahabalipuram


During my time there, I worked with Communities Rising a nonprofit organization that runs after school programs in rural villages in south India. I traveled with a small group of college students from American University as part of their Alt Break program. The highlight of our trip was working as counselors at the annual residential summer camp hosted by CR. This is the 4th consecutive year that American University students have traveled to India to work to volunteer at the summer camp.




There, we worked along side 30 Indian camp counselors-mostly college and high school students who have been volunteering at the camp since it first started 4 years ago. Camp activities included arts and crafts, performing arts, Lego robotics and photography and  lots in between.

Jake and fellow counselors Viki and Prince


Having been a competitive swimmer in the past, I was lucky enough to work at the pool where we introduced 180 local Indian children to the wild, fun, and at first, scary world of swimming! The challenge of the 110 degree heat, language barrier and the sometimes-overwhelming excitement of the kids just melted away when I saw how brightly they smiled as I held them while they experienced swimming for the very first time. It was truly amazing how even with no verbal exchange, there was such a great sense of trust and understanding between the campers and me. When lessons were over, the English-speaking Indian senior counselors and junior counselors were just as eager to learn how to do the different formal strokes in swimming. They were so impressed by the butterfly stroke in particular, that by the end of the week I felt as if my arms would fall off!


Swim Lessons


This was just one small experience that I had while in India. Every day, was a completely new adventure for me and the other American University students whether we were shopping in Pondicherry, swimming in the ocean at Mahabalipuram or exploring the nearby town of Vikravandy.


The Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram


Now that I have arrived back home and am getting back to my routine, I carry with me the experiences from that trip and the lessons learned from it. I walked with the people through their daily routine and exchanged ideas about life, love, politics, religion, and family. I find myself constantly referencing these exchanges in my conversations about such topics here at home.


Liza and Jake Enjoying a Photo Shoot


My experience taught me that there is not substitute for experiencing India and it’s people and culture first hand. My work with CR allowed me to gain a broader perspective and to grow as a political science major. It is one thing to sit in a classroom and learn about how other countries, but it an entirely different thing to actually go and experience living and working side by side with the people who live there. This experience has impacted the way I view politics not only around the world, but here in the United States too.


Mealtime at Camp


I hope to return back to India one day, and reconnect with the many people I met and with whom I developed friendships. I want to go back to do more work with Communities Rising, but I also want to go back to learn more about India, and how it is meeting the challenges it faces in today’s global economy.


Temple Shop in Pondi


I have no doubt that this trip had a greater impact on me than I did on the Indian counselors and campers with whom I worked. I have a new appreciation of not only India and its people, but of my responsibility to the global community. At this point in my life, I don’t know how I’ll meet that responsibility but I do know that it is something that is now an important part of my life and my future.


Last Day of Camp


Reunions, Continuations and Contemplations

CR Intern Colin Powers is working in India for the next two months.

It’s the second Sunday of my second stay here at SAMSSS and the first one I’ve successfully not succumbed to my jet lag and slept the better part of it away (that’s a lot of ‘s’, I know). I’ve now completed a full week of teaching at St. Mary’s and I can say that sleeping is definitely not far out of question. My notions of what it would be like to teach to a classroom of forty children were virtually all off, besides that I’d be a nervous wreck on the first day and that there would be lots of sweating and gesturing taboot. There is much of that. It has been no easy task to filter my ideas and abstractions for teaching written English through the scope of a kid who is just beginning to piece the language together for themselves, doesn’t read storybooks, poems or even comics on a regular basis, and whose only real interactions with the language (for the most part) happen on the blackboard, through recitation and memorization. Or James Bond.

Colin teaching 8th Standard English at St. Mary's

‘Intimidated’ is probably the best word I could summon to describe my gut on Tuesday morning, when I was plopped down in front of my first class of squirming, giggling eighth standard kids. Maybe ‘shaken, not stirred’, if you will. But things change quickly once you figure out that all their nervous curiosity and unknowing rubs off easily onto yourself, and becomes an inclination to learn and create.

Colin keeping them interested

On Wednesday I showed my VIII-B class how to write acrostic poems. Remember when you got a new notebook in elementary school and on the cover you had to come up with words that describe yourself using each letter of your name? That’s an acrostic. The class came alive. I let the kids fly as they shouted suggestions at me from their seats, and I would copy down their silly creations onto the blackboard. After one or two more periods of this for each class I began to show them that you could form real sentences out of these poems, and eventually I’d like to see them crafting little stories from simple brainstorming exercises like this. Obviously it will take time, but I’ve already witnessed a few kids writing acrostics independently, apart from my examples and prompts on the board.

Colin-taking it all down

Saturday I read from Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a book Betsy had sitting in her room from a book fair in Pondy. Though it may still be slightly above their comprehension levels, it was fun to map parts of the plot out on the board as a visual appetizer to the more difficult vocabulary and concepts. Weekend class is a torturous notion in itself so I deem drawing a few chalk dragons a welcome stress reliever. Still, even when I read to them there is eagerness shooting off in all directions, which helps me worry less about my job and focus more on the excitement they show for the language.
Apart from my school days at St. Mary’s, I’ve been settling in on my return to Vikravandi. Things are generally as they were when I left. SAMSSS has a new exterior paint job, and there are two new puppies that frequent the dining room, but besides that it is mostly unchanged. Such is rural life. Such is paradise.

Colin handles English alphabet assessments at Malakondai

Every afternoon during the school week, Betsy, Agni and I make our rounds to the CR after school care centers at neighboring villages to test the youngsters on their letters and alphabets. Each time I get to relive the experience of the ongoing roadside carnival that is daily life here. It’s difficult not to want to project yourself onto every little wrong you see. Not all can be fixed. Many of the subtleties of the culture here can be jagged or unsettling but better left out in the sun to grow as they may. Faith almost seems a more relevant part of my day here than at home. I think the important thing is to remain open and keep barreling forward, sounding your goofy saxophone-esque car horn all the way to let everyone know you’re ready to surrender to the overwhelming color of it all.

09.14.14 —


2014 CR Staff Retreat

CR staff traveled to the south Indian hill station of Yercaud for their first professional development retreat. The retreat kicked off  2 new CR educational initiatives.  Teachers were introduced to On Target, an innovative  program designed to close the gap between students’ learning and grade levels in English, Tamil and Math. They also were introduced to CR’s Resilience Initiative a program that teaches mindfulness, social decision making and problem solving skills. Both programs are now being incorporated into CR’s after school curriculum.

03.09.14 —

All in A Day’s Work for CR Intern Colin Powers

Colin and the hostel boys

CR Intern Colin Powers starts his day by teaching English and math to 50 4th and 5th graders. In the afternoon, he shifts to CR’s after school program and teaches English to a group of middle school students from two nearby schools. He ends his day by teaching math and English to a group of boys who live in a nearby hostel. Teaching this last group is definitely an exercise in “blended learning.” The boys range in age from 7-17. Some know a little English and basic math, others are still learning their numbers and letters. Colin takes it all in stride. When it all gets too overwhelming-he turns to soccer! Colin is a returning CR volunteer. In 2012, he  joined a group of volunteers from Camp Hill Sr. High School (Camp Hill, PA) and worked through one of the worst cyclones in south India’s history. Undeterred by his cyclone experience, Colin signed on to spend part of his gap year between high school and college interning for CR. He begins his freshman year at Bennington College in August.

Mario Cassion Anand
Indian Counselor
2012/2013 Summer Camp

“I am a part of all that I met in my life.”
It is with immense pleasure and with whole hearted gratitude that I am expressing my experience here with Communities Rising. CR is really a great opportunity for the kids of my district and a very good pathway for a beautiful and bright future for India. CR has given me a great privilege to be an Indian counselor and to be a part of summer camp. “Education is the only way to emancipate the world” – a philosophy which was rightly chosen by CR.  It is by God’s grace they chose Tamil Nadu and are working for the betterment of the students in our district. CR has given its best in the way of teaching the kids swimming, robotics, photography, arts crafts, drama.  All the activities which we taught at camp are a great track for their life and educational. I can assure you as a teacher, that the impact of the summer camp is shown clearly in their academics in school. I want to thank the Communities Rising organization for the good work it has done. Wishing you all success CR and great years ahead!

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