A Dunkirk native is helping to make a difference across the world. Jay Phillips, formerly of Dunkirk, traveled this winter to India to work with students who are visually impaired or blind.
In February, Phillips traveled with two colleagues to the state of Maharashtra near the country's west coast. The trio stayed at a facility called Anandwan, a school for blind and deaf children. The facility was opened about 50 years ago for patients diagnosed with leprosy.
"Since its inception as a hospital for lepers, they have sort of become this catch-all for people who have been cast out of some other facet of society," Phillips said.
Dunkirk native Jay Phillips traveled to India in February to help teachers of visually impaired and blind students. Phillips (far left) is pictured with three teachers who attended a three-day conference at the school.
A cured leprosy patient stays and works at Anandwan. All goods produced at the site are then sold to benefit the school.
Visually impaired and blind students study at Anandwan in India. Dunkirk native Jay Phillips explained the school is decades behind compared to the United States.
Phillips, who currently teaches visually impaired and blind students in Ithaca, helped teachers at Anandwan with instructional material and methods. He traveled with colleagues Todd Noyes and Gauri Kolhatkar, who is from India. During their week-long stay, they hosted a three-day conference for teachers which attracted teachers from all around Maharashtra. The technology at the school, Phillips said, is outdated and decades behind what is used in American education.
"They have teachers for different grade levels. The thing is that a lot of their teachers aren't necessarily trained to work with people who are blind or visually impaired," said Phillips. "They're just government appointed in many cases. That's why we're there helping them to put together better methods of instruction and better ways of developing and implementing classroom instruction."
He said one of his favorite parts of the trip was working with the people at Anandwan. He had praise for the school.
"The place is quite remarkable because it's not a place that wants sympathy or pity at all. Their whole mission statement is we don't want charity, we want a chance. Their goal is to empower the people that live there to the utmost," Phillips said.
"The one thing that is their big mission is that this is a group of people looking to make a change for all the right reasons. ... It's just a bunch of people looking to do the best they can with the people they work with," he added.
Students at Anandwan live at the facility, working together to help each other out. Phillips gave an example of someone who may be confined to a wheelchair helping out a student who is visually impaired or blind navigate the school. Everyone who attends school also works making goods. All proceeds from the sale of these goods benefits the school. Phillips recalled seeing a woman who had lost movement in her upper extremities sewing with her feet.
This was the first time these Americans traveled to Anandwan. The organization was very welcoming and hospitable, according to Phillips. The group went in with the mindset of cooperation and not being authoritative Americans, he said. While in a different country, Phillips did have a bit of culture shock. He said the way people communicate was unique by using nodding instead of verbal communication. People would have distinct nods instead of saying "yes" or "no."
He also said the culture does not have as much physicality as the American culture; many residents do not hug or shake hands when greeting one another. Phillips also raved about the "incredible" food he ate while there.
He traveled more than 20 hours to get to India. Phillips said the flight over was about 14 hours, and coming home was about 17 hours. The time difference lined up so while flying Phillips was able to see the sun up for 24 hours.
Anandwan has already invited the group back in February next year. Phillips said he is hoping that he and his colleagues can make the trip again.
"It was a trip of a lifetime. It was something that was unexpected. I never thought I would be going to India. It definitely has been a trip that I'll never forget," Phillips said.
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