Marc Kielburger on Creating Community in India
India has a way of fundamentally changing you, writes Free the Children co-founder Marc Kielburger. In this special guest post, he shares the experience of helping the Virgin Atlantic corporate team build a school in Rajasthan — and watching them become part of the community.
This is an exclusive guest post by FREE THE CHILDREN co-founder Marc Kielburger. Get inspired by our full series of posts on TRAVEL THAT TRANSFORMS here.
India has a way of sticking with you. To feel the thick heat; to ride a rickshaw through narrow alleys and come perilously close to hitting a stray cow; to see the Ganges River at sunset, is to be fundamentally changed. But what struck me about my most recent trip, this time to Lai Gow with a Virgin Atlantic corporate team, was witnessing that transformation in other travelers. We tend to bear witness to amazing feats when Westerners volunteer abroad with us on a Me to We Trip, but this was something special. Particularly considering it was this team, which included Holly Branson, who could travel anywhere (including outer space,) that was visibly moved in India.
We’d returned to the same build site in Lai, a remote village in northern Rajasthan where, last year, the Virgin team broke ground on a new school. It was remarkable for them to see that the bricks they’d laid now had walls and a roof, and housed classrooms. The team met students who might never have set foot in a classroom otherwise, whose lives they’d changed, and they in turn were transformed. It was palpable.
There are few social gatherings for corporations, even those fuelled by a good Scotch or a killer DJ, that offer comprehensive employee engagement; that allow coworkers to bond in a meaningful way, let alone fall into each others’ arms, brimming with pride at a tangible impact they’ve created. We all appreciate corporate social responsibility in theory. But this was unfolding in the most meaningful and tangible way.
I watched this group, whose day-to-day conversations might typically include spreadsheets and the weather, share a life-altering experience. I watched them create a lasting legacy, build a caring corporate culture, create retention and a sense of loyalty. And in the process, change lives.
Newlyweds Holly Branson and Freddie Andrews, on their second official trip together as husband and wife (the first had been their honeymoon just weeks earlier), came to bear witness to the community’s progress. The women in this rural community do not typically encounter tourists, let alone a savvy celebrity globetrotter like Holly. But despite a world of difference between them, Holly had an immediate bond with the local women. She carried water with them; she was invited to their houses for tea; she helped with the cooking. For a brief time, she lived the life of a Lai woman, and I witnessed an extraordinary and surprising connection. The whole Virgin team built meaningful connections that I’m sure they’d call friendships. Over the course of just a few days, I watched them share memories that will last a lifetime.