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:

2. Jayashree ChariJayshree Chari

Jayshree Chari is a mother of 2 daughters, both well settled, and has been a primary school teacher on and off. She assists Head Office and schools in budgeting and accounting. On her experience with RDF 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 Bangalore.



Past Volunteers:

6. Grace HeusnerGrace Heusner

Grace worked with RDF at Kalleda, Rollakal, and Redlawada schools. While she studies 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. 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

Andrew Flachs was a research scholar with Wash U, and this was Andrew’s second stint at volunteering with RDF. In 2012, he was based in the RDF VAPV Junior College, where he instructed students on the photo blog project. He came back to continue his research on farmers, and 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 photo blog project with school students.

 Pooja Saxena

Pooja, now based in the US, helped RDF by supporting Math and Science curriculum in Redlawada and Rollakal schools. As a professional 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

Vivienne arrived in November and shared her extensive administration and management knowledge with the schools as well as the head office. She helped 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
They introduced the Youth Empowerment Digital Storytelling Program at Matendla. They also took charge of the art class and ran 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
Sophie was the first Bridges to Understanding intern to arrive in Hyderabad and take over the Youth Empowerment program at Kalleda. During her stay she helped 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
Robert is CELTA TEFL certified and worked closely with teachers 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
She worked in the role of Public Relations and Development Manager. Her major tasks included 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 nonprofit culture of urban Hyderabad has been a rich learning experience and one I will carry with me forever.”



Samata and Shubha Katta
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 to India as part of her Global Poverty and Practice course. She designed a series of science experiments using simple materials that students themselves could conduct/perform. 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
An International Baccalaureate student in Austria, Nick couldn’t resist the rave reviews of his sister Bella, so he hopped on a plane to check out RDF for himself! Dividing two weeks between Matendla and Kalleda he spent time teaching conversational English, joining in various sports, and exploring the area. Nick also managed to pick the Director’s brain about the inner workings and finances of the organization before continuing on to a business camp in China!


Daniel Wolkowitz

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

Elizabeth Sewell

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

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!


Sebastian Mayr:  “Teaching at RDF Matendla was an unforgettable experience. I enjoyed every minute of my stay, and was sad to leave after both a challenging and engaging 19 days. I left the school with a desire to return, and see the other RDF schools throughout the country. I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself in the process, but have also formed a close and affectionate bond with the students and teachers working at Matendla. Adapting to a virtually unknown culture to me, everyone helped in the process and made my stay at the school both welcoming and hospitable. Teaching the students seemed to become more natural every day, and their eagerness to learn was evident from the first day onwards. I cherish the memories I’ve shared with the students and teachers, and I would like to once again, thank everyone for making my stay so memorable ! I am very excited to return next year and continue my RDF journey”.

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