MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Canton Man Makes a Difference Half a World Away
August 14, 2012
by Brianna Lertora
Tom McKenney of Canton graduated from Stonehill College last year with the desire to experience a completely different culture and learn more about his own life. One year later, he is mid-way through a year of service in Agartala, India, through Stonehill's International Extension Program. McKenney divides his time between teaching in a rural Catholic school and raising money for Boys' Town, an orphanage outside of Agartala for boys who lost their parents through violent conflicts. He took some time to answer a few questions about his experience for the Canton Journal.
Why did you decide to do the yearlong service program in India?
I wanted to have a chance to experience a completely different culture and develop my professional skills through teaching. Most importantly I wanted to learn about myself so I could have a better understanding of what I want to do in life.
Who or what were your biggest influences while growing up?
Definitely my parents and my entire family as they have always been supportive and very caring. Also my fellow volunteers on previous service experiences have really been role models and inspiring people in my life.
What kind of work do you do with the program?
I currently work as a teacher at a rural Catholic school called the St. Andre School, whose student body is composed of the indigenous tribal people of Northeast India. Here I teach various subjects such as Microeconomics, Indian Economic Development, English Literature and Grammar, and Moral Science starting with grade 3 up to grade 12. After school, I am also involved in tutoring students at Boys' Town, which is an orphanage for boys who lost parents from violent conflicts in the region.
How were you selected for the program?
I had applied to the program during the spring of my senior year and then entered the interview process, which fortunately led me to being selected.
How are you fundraising for Boys' Town?
I have been raising money for the Boys' Town orphanage through an online website called gofundme.com/boystown. Through this various people have been extremely generous financially and also through sending packages with school supplies.
What are you fundraising for specifically?
The fundraising is to help with numerous repairs for the dilapidated buildings along with providing the boys with some fun things. If enough money is raised we would like to help those boys who finish grade 12 with funding for college and/or job training.
Why did you choose to start the fundraiser for Boys' Town?
Family is very important in India and not having parents there for you during your youth can be extremely difficult. The orphanage does an excellent job raising and supporting the boys so I simply wanted to be able to make a small contribution to make their difficult lives maybe a little easier. All the boys are truly an inspiration with how happy and successful they are in school, so knowing how far a single U.S. dollar goes here motivated me to try help out.
What has been your best memory or experience thus far while doing this fundraiser?
After the first few initial months of the fundraising and coordinating with individuals here we were finally able to repair all the boys' failing beds. One of the boys told our volunteer group how he has trouble waking up in the morning for school since he can finally sleep nicely. Even though fixing beds and getting sports equipment are simple things, it does show that each small contribution we make does go a long way and shows people that you care.
What are the kids like that you work with?
All my students are extremely friendly and usually very polite, which makes teaching them a real privilege. Sometimes, though, with a classroom of almost 60 good students that like to chat a little, it can make for a chaotic scene. Most of the students are very curious and intelligent, but sometimes they are very shy so trying to get answers can be a challenge. I think most of the children realize that they are fortunate to be attending school since most village schools are closed, which results in a strong work ethic and a desire to learn.
What is your relationship like with them?
I do really enjoy having fun with the students by playing games and telling ghost stories, but I also always strive to remain professional since I am their teacher. I find that with the older students in grades 11 and 12 I can be less serious and still hold their attention, while with the younger students I have to work a lot harder to maintain their focus. Having a 45-minute bus ride everyday crammed with two of my students in the small bench is a great way to get to know them better and have a few laughs outside of the classroom.
What do you plan to do when you return from India?
Currently I am planning to look for a job either with a non-profit agency or in economic development research. I am becoming more interested in teaching back home, too, so I still have a lot to think about.
Anything else you'd like to add?
So far the year has really been a learning experience in the classroom while also being immersed in the culture. I definitely have a lot more respect now for any teacher, as it can be an exhausting job that takes a lot of skill. It has been an exciting year as I've been exposed to so much that I think will benefit me in the future, and I still know there's much more to come.
McKenney will continue teaching at the St. Andre School and serving at Boys' Town until December, when his program ends. If you would like to make a donation in support of Boys' Town, or read about how Tom and the boys are doing, please go to http://gofundme.com/boystown.
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