Video-Pal Program

My name is Sophia Cohen, and I live near Miami, Florida. Every other Friday night, I stay up until 10:30 PM eastern time and await a Skype call from Chennai, India, where it is 9:00 AM. When I answer this call, I talk to students at Pathway who are eager to increase their conversational English skills.

I am a junior in high school, and it is common in my school to do volunteer work. Many of my classmates volunteer at races or help out teachers, but I wanted to do something internationally. I heard about Pathway from Bryan University and explored the Pathway website. After learning about the school and the great things it is doing, I realized that I wanted to work with the Anchorstudents in some way.

I started working on a project I called the “Video-Pal Program” in October. Using technology (Skype), I am able to talk with students around the school as if I were sitting with them in the same room. My first night, I was impressed at the way the students answered my questions, and how clearly they were able to speak. I asked them simple questions, such as what their favorite color was, or what their favorite food was. They in return asked me questions about American life, and I showed them different aspects of my culture, such as my lacrosse stick (an American sport I play), and my pet dogs. The program has grown; the students now sing songs to me, and sometimes I show them music videos. I have begun to read them picture books.

My favorite part about these sessions is seeing the confidence in these students grow every time they answer a question. During these sessions, I learn that, despite being 9000 miles away from each other, we are very similar. We sing the same songs, and watch the same movies. It does not come as a surprise to me that the students love the movie Frozen, which is very popular in the United States. In these sessions, not only have the children learned about my culture, but I have learned about theirs.

It really is a small world after all, and with the use of technology, we can learn from each other to make our world a better place. All in all, I hope to further expand the program and one day come to visit Pathway and my new friends.

Sophia Cohen

Volunteers: The Dosdalls

Dosdalls with Children at Pathway

Newsletter editors Jim and Karen Dosdall, affectionately known to the Pathway children and staff as Grandpa and Grandma, spent three weeks in October visiting at the Pamela Martinez School. From 2008 until 2010 the Dosdalls served at Pathway as humanitarian service missionaries. Now residents of Utah, they were thrilled to return and to see the children, noting numerous improvements in Pathway’s facilities. “Having new functioning computers and access to the internet is fantastic,” exclaimed Jim, “and is a wonderful opportunity for the children to become more computer-savvy. Thanks, Keith & Mandi Wisbaum.” Karen added that another fine addition was the periodic Skype conversations and classes which the children are able to have with American educators and older students.

The Dosdalls were appreciative of the time and many kindnesses shown to them by the Directors and the staff. It was the smiles and love of the children which really won their hearts, however. While here, they were able to assist with English Communication classes, piano and choir, as well as interview some of the older children for future Pathway newsletters. They also met with at least eighteen Pathway graduates in Chennai and listened to their stories. There was a common theme among the graduates: A sense of gratitude and appreciation for the care, education, and values training that they received from directors and staff during the years they lived at Pathway.

India’s biggest holiday, Diwali, occurred during the Dosdalls’ stay so they were able to enjoy the sweets and fireworks display providing by the Directors. With this holiday and a “rain day” (cautionary government-directed non-school day because of a nearby cyclone), the children also enjoyed a couple of U.S. movies during the visit. Many were heard in the following days singing, “Let It Go!” from their new favorite Disney movie, “Frozen,” though it is hard to envision in a place where the coldest nights of the year rarely drop below 70 F (20 C).

Volunteer Musings: Alycia

Alycia Altom
Alycia Altom

I had wanted to go to India ever since I learned about the culture when I was in junior high school. After I graduated from high school, the timing just didn’t seem right and things always seemed to get in the way. Finally, this year, I decided I was going to make my dream of going to India a reality. I looked up many organizations and couldn’t find one that I felt was right for me, but then I heard about Pathway. I was immediately interested in Pathway because of what they do for people with disabilities, and I had an overwhelming feeling that I should volunteer with Pathway when I went to India. I could have gone to India to stay in fancy hotels, eat at nice restaurants, and see the sites, but I really don’t think I would have seen the real India that way. We still ate well and had a couple of days to sightsee and shop in Chennai, but the majority of my time was spent serving those who have much less than I do. Even though I enjoyed playing with the kids, learning more about the culture, and teaching classes, I feel that my interactions with the people was my favorite part.

Our village visits were a major highlight of my trip because I was able to see how truly happy people can be without much of anything as far as big homes or worldly possessions. These people who lived in huts made out of coconut leaves treated us with extreme kindness and showed true happiness. While I’ve always known I don’t need everything I want to be happy, it really showed me that people can be happy in even the poorest of circumstances. The children at Pathway showed similar characteristics to those people in the villages. These children don’t have families that they can go home to every night, yet they showed me more love than any other child I’ve met. If we were spending time with the kids, whether on the playground or in the halls, it was rare that my hands weren’t being held by at least one of the kids. I also realize that these kids don’t have a lot of their own belongings; yet a few made me bracelets and wrote me really kind notes. I just loved that these kids who had so little gave what they could to show affection and gratitude.

Erica had the idea of handing out slips of paper so the kids could ask questions if they wanted to and I was impressed with how deep and sincere their questions were. I also had kids pull me aside to ask me questions, and I was grateful that they felt comfortable enough to confide in me about not having many friends, being sad about the loss of a loved one, or feeling shy. While I don’t think I said anything to the kids or gave them advice that was life changing, I am glad that Erica and I were there and that Pathway has the volunteer program in place so these kids can have someone else to talk to.

Overall, I was impressed with how kind, giving, sincere, and happy everyone was that I came in contact with. Like I said, we were dealing with the poorest of the poor, people who really don’t have much. While I think they have every right to be sad because they have lost their family or their homes, they still radiated happiness and love. Alycia Altom

Inauguration of Wisbaum Computer Lab

It was a wonderful day at the Pamela Martinez Matriculation school. There was great excitement written on the faces of children and staff. All were waiting with great expectation and anticipation in absolute silence, without taking their eyes off the large white screen. Principal Annadurai was very busy making last minute arrangements, checking quality of images on the screen and listening to the audio…. At the appointed time of 9:30 a.m. (IST) and 9 p.m. California time, there appeared beaming faces of two wonderful friends of Pathway, who were welcomed with a spontaneous round of applause by nearly a hundred children and staff who were thrilled to receive Keith Wisbaum and lovely daughter Mandi. The Wisbaums made their virtual presence via Skype and were received warmly by Prasad, Chandra Prasad, Sudha Subramaniam, Dhuli Patnaik, Annadurai and others at the entrance of the new computer lab. The youngest child at the occasion, Kavipriya, did the honours of ribbon cutting on behalf of Keith and Mandi. After the formal inauguration, the father and daughter were taken on a virtual tour of the lab where they were able to see several brand-new desk-top computers, some lap-tops, and sophisticated printers, all arranged neatly in an air-conditioned environment. They also witnessed several students operating the new systems which were connected by LAN.

A noted attorney from Laguna Beach who specializes in obtaining justice for elderly clients subjected to trauma and challenges, Keith Wisbaum said that he was delighted to participate in this novel event. He declared that that he and Mandi were thrilled to be a part of Pathway and contribute in this useful way and he wanted every child to benefit from this endeavour. Mandi said that she was very happy and missed Pathway and the children a lot. She promised that she and her faither would visit again.

Dr. Prasad and Chandra Prasad thanked Keith and Mandi for their generosity for granting this great gift that will benefit hundreds of children and requested their continued love and partnership. There was music and joy during this special occasion.

Letter from Volunteers

Saba Nader & Jean Butel
Saba Nader & Jean Butel

When we decided to go to Pathway together we honestly did not know what to expect. I had been to India once in my life, at the age of 10, for the inauguration of the farm, but that was as far as my experience with India and specifically Pathway reached, and for Saba it was his first time. The only real expectation we had was to make some sort of difference at Pathway. How and what, we would find out once we got there.

Under the direction of Dr. Prasad and Chandra we planned to teach Science, Mathematics, English, and Computer Class to various standards from IV to VIII. In addition to teaching, we were assigned to take some of the boys for swimming class.

Our daily life for the five weeks we were at Pathway therefore consisted of time in the classroom, time at the pool, and time spent playing with the kids during their recesses and free times. What we learned, however, stretched far deeper than just playing and teaching. We knew beforehand that the children had come from backgrounds of profound poverty. But it was not until we were able to spend real time with them that we truly realized how little they had had in their life and how much Pathway was providing for them. What is more, by spending meaningful time with the kids we wanted them to know that we believe in them, have hope in their future and faith in their ability to make something of their lives, irrespective of their very humble beginnings. We wanted to instill in them a belief that they could do it if they tried and that even though they did not start in life in favorable circumstances by any standard, they could have a life of fulfillment and joy and that they had the support and love of people from entirely different backgrounds in far away countries.

The most rewarding aspect, therefore, was not reading English poems or learning about different kinds of animals together. The greatest reward was the relationships we formed with the kids we spent time with learning, playing, and laughing together. We love the children of Pathway, and look forward to returning in the very near future!

Jean Butel and Saba Nader

SRM University Volunteers

SRM University Volunteers
SRM University Volunteers

A group of 10 to 20 students from SRM University in Tambaram, near Chennai, come each Saturday as volunteers to spend half a day with the children, take over classrooms, teach enrichment material, and serve as role models for the children of English language, education, service, and enthusiasm. The numbers and faces may vary from week to week, but their coming is always eagerly anticipated and appreciated.

Visit of David & Angelyn Bryce

David & Angelyn Bryce with Prasad
David & Angelyn Bryce with Prasad

It was a red carpet welcome that awaited the arrival of our beloved guests at Pathway, Chennai. Tiny tots from play school and kindergarten were armed with beautiful red roses to welcome the visitors at the Pamela Martinez Matriculation School and Orphanage. There was excitement on the faces of children and adults with disabilities to receive the guests. Srikanth and Murugan were vying with each other to garland the lovely couple.

David and Angleyn Bruce were the visitors who had created a great stir at the school. Their daughter, Anna Bryce, visited Pathway two years ago. Almost all the children in grade 3 and above were heard chanting in chorus the name ‘Anna’. Many of them had spent time with her in learning to draw, many had spent hours with Anna playing. Some recalled their long conversations with her. She had created a great impression on the minds of several children. Girls at the Pamela Martinez School were absolutely keen to teach Anna to tie a Saree and they were thrilled to give her demonstrations on several Indian outfits, such as salwar khameez, half -Saree etc.

L-R : President Gordon B. Hinckley, Judge William Sheffied, and A D S N Prasad
L-R : President Gordon B. Hinckley, Judge William Sheffied, and A D S N Prasad

David and Angelyn Bryce had travelled all the way from Utah to visit and meet the children of Pathway. They were here to witness the work done at the organization. Dr. David Bryce is a professor in the Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. They were received with great affection and love. In a specially arranged event by children, the couple conveyed their love for children and urged all of them to do well in their education. They also recalled their daughter Anna’s visit to Pathway and said that she was looking forward to revisit them again. Chandra Prasad thanked Bryces for their kind visit and for their marvelous support to Pathway. She also fondly recalled Anna’s contribution and her exceptional talent in drawing and portrait sketching. One of her projects was to prepare sketches of two of Pathway’s benefactors, Gordon B. Hinckley and Judge William Sheffield, and of Dr. Prasad.

Volunteers at Pathway: BJ and Saba

Saba and BJ
Saba and BJ

It was a great homecoming, a wonderful experience for us to welcome Jean Butel (BJ), a fine young man who came along with his friend Saba Nader. Both of these young gentlemen visited Pathway and spent more than a month working, serving, and caring for the children with great dedication and love. BJ, son of our illustrious and loyal benefactors, Jean-Luc and Carole Butel, was no stranger to Pathway or its various activities. BJ and his sister Talei, along with their good parents, were present when the Pamela Martinez/Agro Farm for Children was dedicated on January 2, 2001. It was a time of nostalgia for BJ and for all of us. He remembered very clearly the festivities where the former President of India, Honorable Shri R. Venkatraman, delivered the keynote address.

BJ, an avid student in international business and finance, is from Chicago, and his friend Saba, a graduate in finance, is from Beirut, the largest city of Lebanon. They traveled all the way to serve the poorest of the poor of India. Being accustomed to the comforts and luxuries in their countries did not deter them to give their best to the orphaned and semi-orphaned children of Pathway. Their love and affection were palpable in everything they did. BJ and Saba developed instant bond with several children as they taught them English, swimming and games. BJ’s teaching in the seminary was really enjoyed and appreciated. During their stay they had the opportunity to visit various parts of India and experience the diversity of the nation in its culture, language, food, etc. Both these great souls left a great impression in the minds of the children and of us. They also spent some time and contributed toward refurbishment of the quarters. To cap it off, the visit of Jean-Luc Butel was really enjoyable as he revisited Pathway and spent considerable time with the children. Everybody at Pathway looks forward with great fondness to their coming again.

Let Them Live with Dignity

Britany Barnes
Britany Barnes

By Britany Barnes

Pathway, Chennai is a place where a work of powerful love is being done, unbeknownst to many in the world. Several students with disabilities attend special education classes there, as well as participating in vocational classes and even paid work by creating beautiful works of art—from jewelry to nativity sets. No matter the severity or type of disability, all staff expect something great from every student. High expectations have made all the difference at this magical place. Many times throughout my tour of the facilities, I found myself choked up at the special work being done by very special people, both staff and students.

What was most charming about Pathway, Chennai and Chandra was the attitude of “ability,” rather than “disability.” Chandra never used negative words like “dis” or “unable” to describe the students skills, nor did she praise them like little children; she simply spoke of them as they are, human beings making a contribution to the world. She explained the importance of giving the world a more accurate view of what people with special needs are capable of and how they are indeed assets to the world. It is not her desire to yield sympathy of any kind from the public, only a better understanding of our responsibility to care for and love all people and value the contributions they make, despite obstacles their disabilities might make.

I felt a powerful jolt while sitting in the room with Chandra viewing the students’ final work all in glass cases when Chandra held her index finger up and said with a sincere expression, “Let them live with dignity.” What is most profound about her statement is the word “let,” which implies that there lies a responsibility for all mankind to pave the way for a change in thought, a change in action, a massive change in well-set norms. It’s time we let all kinds of people in our world live with dignity by first loving them, and next learning to understand and appreciate what they have to give. Chandra, Prasad, and all the people at Pathway are embracing that responsibility by dedicating their lives and hearts to this great work, and they do it with a sense of dignity, love, and the most humble gratitude.