Volunteer Bios

Volunteers bring with them new skills to share, different approaches and methods to be tested, and an enthusiasm for our cause. While working with us, volunteers are expected to create systems that will allow their work to be replicated in the future as well as to share their talents with teachers and staff in order that their knowledge will remain available and continue to impact the students, schools, and organization after their departure.   

Present Volunteers:

1. Sridhar ChariSridhar Chari

Sridhar Chari is a management professional and also active in the Higher Education Space. He is a strategy consultant and also provides mentoring and coaching services. Now serving on RDF’s board as Treasurer and guiding RDF’s strategic vision and sustainability plans, he says, “With over two thirds of our lives being spent in the glare and lights of the corporate world, it was thanks to Ms Vandita Rao that we had the opportunity to participate in a world far removed and infinitely more rewarding. To see the smiles in the faces of the underprivileged school children in remote villages as they pursue an education that would lift their generation and generations after them out of the grip of poverty, is a vision that surpasses anything else in the world.

2. Jayashree ChariJayshree Chari

Jayshree Chari is a mother of 2 daughters, both well settled, and has been a primary school teacher off and on. She assists Headoffice and schools in budgeting and accounting. On her experience with RDF,s she says, “With RDF I have found a new meaning to life, a new meaning to “giving”, a new meaning to philanthropy that goes beyond monetary figures. Running such Institutions is hard work, requiring persistence and passion, two new traits that we have imbibed. We hope that we can continue to contribute to the yeomen, noble work in the years to come.

3. Girija SastryGirija Sastry

A self confessed Math enthusiast, Girija jumped in to assist Class 10 Math teachers and students in Kalleda School to improve their Math concepts. Even though she is still recovering from a spinal injury, which kept her bedridden for over a year, she travels to Kalleda and Matendla schools to support as required. Her enthusiasm and patience is highly appreciated by everyone!

4. Neha DhariaNeha Dharia

Neha Dharia is RDF’s Communications specialist. Since 2010, she has helped with design and content for RDF’s Annual Report and writing weekly blogs. Though she works fulltime, she has unhesitatingly helped RDF when needed. She puts in all this effort remotely since Neha is based in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Vibha Hinduja

A whiz in Accounts, Vibha has worked tirelessly with Jayashree Chari in analyzing and monitoring school and Headoffice budgets. This is invaluable support to RDF to manage donations, meet donor requirements and reach the right program and beneficiaries.

Past Volunteers:

6. Grace HeusnerGrace Heusner:

Grace worked with RDF from January to April 2013 at Kalleda, Rollakal, and Redlawada schools. While she will be studying law, she has always loved children and wanted to explore India from the inside.

She says, “I’m so glad that I was able to work with RDF, and that they were able to take me on as a volunteer! I mostly helped the schools with their English language in the classroom, but also got to work on Grow By Reading. In every capacity, the enthusiasm I encountered from the teachers and students was so encouraging and it was great to see progress every day. Though I was only in Kalleda for three months, the entire community will stay with me in my heart for the rest of my life!”

7. Rachel CohenRachel Cohen:

Rachel is RDF’s first volunteer who stayed a full academic year in 2011-2012, after having spent a summer in Kalleda in 2009. Her love for children, her interest in international development and the desire to experience a different culture made her take the decision to return to Kalleda. She started with taking English classes, but ended up guiding the teacher and student training in all 4 schools. In her own words, “I came intending to teach English, but ended up experiencing so much more: bonding with teachers, training staff, exploring with students, celebrating with whole communities, and learning about a different way of life.  Every day was an adventure and a chance to experience a culture that was by turn puzzling, amazing, strange, fascinating, and beautiful.  I feel very lucky to have been part of a community of teachers and students who were so welcoming to me and so enthusiastic about learning.  To have been given the opportunity to grow with them is something that I will never forget.”

8. Angie ObergAngie Oberg

Angie was a facilitator at a Leadership Institute conducted by fellow volunteer, Kevin Crouse in July- August 2012. Interning at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, she heard of RDF through Kevin. Her interest in sustainable water systems led her to conduct awareness sessions and field trips with students on environment degradation and how to renew and sustain sources of water and energy. Of her experience, she says, “Before arriving in Kalleda, I was not sure what to expect. I had never been to South India or a rural school. I had the opportunity to spend about a week with the students, including two intensive days during the Leadership Institute. During that time, I came to know many of the students personally and without exception each one approached the new activities with enthusiasm and smiles. When I think of Kalleda, what I remember most are lots of smiling faces and even more enthusiasm. It was great experience!”

9. Kevin CrouseKevin Crouse

Kevin Crouse, Research Fellow At Rutgers Graduate School of Education, came to Kalleda school to study the educational innovation happening at RDF schools. He worked with teachers to develop more student-centered teaching methods and taught students over a six weeks period at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. At the end of June, he ran a Youth Participatory Action Leadership Institute for the 9th and 10th Classes in which invited educators and leaders came to Kalleda to lead small groups of these students through a community-centered critical thinking process of analyzing a community issue, developing a depth of understanding around it, and planning potential locally-sourced solutions.

10. Christine DiepenbrockChristine Diepenbrock

We began with the basics of photography–flash, zoom, and focus—and quickly moved on to lighting, composition, and photo editing. The students showed immense creativity; some experimented with angles, and others took the cameras to visit and photograph their homes and families during our trips into the village.  A few even climbed onto a roof to better capture the annual Bonnalu festival, in which women carry lit bonnam (stacks of clay pots, each filled with a different material) on their heads. It has been great working with the kids!

11. Andrew FlachsAndrew Flachs

A research scholar with Wash U, this is Andrew’s 2nd stint at volunteering with RDF. In 2012, he was based on the RDF VAPV Junior College where he instructed students on the photoblog project. Now back to continue his research on farmers, Andrew has still managed to carve out time two days a week to assist students and teachers in building language skills, classroom instruction, help with the Grow by Reading program and of course, the photoblog project with school students.

 Pooja Saxena

Pooja, now based in the US, helped RDF through 2011 and 2012 by supporting Math and Science curriculum in Redlawada and Rollakal schools. A a profession with over 16 years of experience in the Education Management sector, Pooja found RDF through a Google search, was intrigued by our work and flew down from Delhi to learn more! Her passion for enabling teaching and students got her to return each month from New Delhi to her ‘adopted’ schools. She is a firm believer that the latent capacity of every individual can be developed and utilized to its full potential through the power of Education.

Vivienne Barton
4 months, November ‘10 – February ‘11

Arrived in November and will share her extensive administration and management knowledge with the schools as well as the head office. Vivienne will be helping the CEO with recruitment, administration and public relations efforts.

Vivienne says:“RDF is truly transforming the lives of hundreds of rural under-privileged children and their families in the state of Andhra Pradesh, thanks to its imaginative and lively approach to education. It is a privilege to have been part of this unique educational project.”

Johanna Bjork and Gudrun Hulda
3 months, October – December ‘10

Arrived together in October and are introducing the Youth Empowerment Digital Storytelling Program at Matendla. They will also take charge of the art class and will run a comics workshop based on the ideology of a grassroots NGO World Comics India.

Johanna says: “Imagine this: Having lunch with 370 big smiles,working with students who would rather have a consecutive 13 day school-week than having a day off, and having children singing outside your room while you finish tomorrow’s homework in the evening. This is my reality!”

Gudrun says: “There is something magically ordinary about Matendla. The atmosphere is peaceful, hopeful and friendly. Students, school staff and villagers alike treat me with warmth, courtesy and happy smiles. My heart has a reason to smile every day.”

Sophie Geist
3 months, September – December ‘10

Sophie is the first Bridges to Understanding intern to arrive in Hyderabad and take over the Youth Empowerment program at Kalleda. During her stay she will also be helping the home office with the Sponsor a Child program and marketing efforts.

Sophie says: “Working with RDF has been an enriching life experience both through its rewards and challenges. The organization’s unique mission and implementation in the classroom makes working with the students a collaborative and fulfilling effort. This experience has exposed me to a completely different way of life, and provided me with the stability and access to learn from others, and especially from myself.”

Robert Kirby
3 months, September – December ‘10

Robert arrived in Hyderabad in September. He is CELTA TEFL certified and worked closely with teachers at Narsimpalli School to improve their skills and aid in the transition to English medium.

Robert says: “Each school has its own unique character, but all RDF staff and students share the same enormous dedication to making the most of very little. Volunteering here has meant making a visible impact on the lives of remarkable people – there’s nothing to compare to that feeling.”

Piya Banerjee
8 months, August ’10 – March ‘11

Piya is working in the role of Public Relations and Development Manager. She is working closely with Smt. Neena Rao (Strategic Advisor) to create sustainable systems, partnerships and fundraising strategies. Her major tasks include brand management, creating marketing materials, planning the annual fund- raiser, establishing an online presence for RDF, and building and maintaining relationships with partners and donors.

Piya says: “As an Indian who has been brought up outside of India my whole life, my work with RDF was an amazing opportunity to come back and experience India in a very real way. To learn about village life, meanwhile navigating the non profit culture of urban Hyderabad has been a rich learning experience and one I will carry with me forever. “

Samata and Shubha Katta
1 month, June – July ‘10

They Divided their month between Matendla School and Kalleda School. Samata, who will be a senior biology major at University of California at Berkely, came out as part of her Global Poverty and Practice minor. She designed a series of science experiments using simple materials and intended for the students to perform themselves. Samata and her mother Shubha, a chemist, demonstrated the experiments and worked with teachers to incorporate them into the curriculum. In addition, they both taught conversational English classes to interested students.

Nick Labak
2 Weeks, June ’10

An International Baccalaureate student in Austria, couldn’t resist the rave reviews of his sister Bella, so he hopped a plane to check out RDF for himself! Dividing two weeks between Matendla and Kalleda he spent time teaching conversational English, joining in the sports, and exploring the area. Nick also managed to pick Vandita’s brain about the inner workings and finances of the organization before continuing on to a business camp in China!

Daniel Wolkowitz
1 week, June ‘10

A teacher in New York, came to Kalleda School to visit his friend Marena and found himself volunteering. He spent his afternoons at Wadlakonda School School finishing the CfBT courses with teachers there.

Elizabeth Sewell
11 months, December ’09 – October ‘10

She taught her second Youth Empowerment class, which created a digital story about dowry (the first focused on water pollution and political corruption). She also took care of administrative tasks related to board meetings and coordinated volunteers and guests, including the Washington University program and the partnership with Bridges to Understanding. She also updated information on the RDF website.

Elizabeth Herb
5 months, December ’09 – April ‘10

Co-taught a Youth Empowerment course with Elizabeth Sewell and individually produced a digital story focused on earth pollution with half of the students. Additionally, she took on the role of PR and Development Manager. During her time with RDF, she tackled the enormous task of gathering and cataloguing information regarding the needs of all five schools and the junior college.

Marena Lin first came to Kalleda last summer and taught several English classes experimenting with Linguaphone technology. She returned on a research grant from Harvard and lived in Kalleda for one month, during which she took time to help teach CfBT English classes to teachers at Redlawada School. While here she also taught Ultimate Frisbee to the JC students, explored surrounding area by “cycle,” and introduced everyone to “the world’s best samosas” in the next village!

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