Joshua remembers what it was like growing up in A. Konduru.
“There were so many children,” he recalls, looking out the window as he drives down dusty brown roads of the village he walked countless times as a youth. “They would all come to the same school, maybe 10-15 villages at the same government school in town.” He sighs as he grips the wheel more tightly. “There’s no proper education system. For most of the kids, the foundation here is not enough.”
That was over 20 years ago but Joshua knows that not much has changed for the rural village of A. Konduru in eastern India. It’s a cycle, Joshua says, describing the perennial social problems of his home. “Most adults here work as day laborers repairing bicycles, working in the fields, brick factories, things like that. Most children end up doing what their parents did. Very few kids get out.
But Joshua doesn’t believe that such a cycle has to be the story of A. Konduru. And neither does International Teams.
Last year, A. Konduru became one of the newest communities in ITeams’ 2020 vision, a mission to see physical, social, and spiritual transformation in 50 distinct communities around the globe by the year 2020. Through strategic partnership with a local association of Indian schools and churches, called the United Christian Church of India (UCCI), International Teams hopes to see a new cycle take shape in A. Konduru.
“A. Konduru is a farming village and many of its residents are marginalized farm workers with no opportunity to better their or their children’s way of life,” says Randy Luth, who, along with his wife Sheryl, is the Community Transformation Coordinator (CTC) for ITeams in A. Konduru. “But in the years to come we hope to see barriers pertaining to the caste system broken down and people truly seeing others in this community as valued members of society.”
To that end, Randy and Sheryl have spent the past year forging partnerships, assessing community needs and assets, and building relationships with locals and leaders throughout the community. The couple also started a small business called A. Ku Designs that employs local women to hand-make quality fashion accessories for sale in the U.S. With over 25 years of collective business experience –Sheryl working in the fashion industry and Randy owning a flooring business in Grand Rapids, Michigan– the couple is excited about the value and spiritual influence that a well-run business can bring to a community in need. “We’re eager to see Christian businessmen raised up and empowered to show Christ’s love to the community through their words and actions,” Randy says.
The next step in a new cycle
However, the biggest step in starting a new cycle in A. Konduru is just beginning. This past fall, International Teams, along with friends at UCCI, launched a new private school where kids are sponsored to receive a quality education and boarding close to home. That education includes English classes, an important skill that many in rural Indian villages never have the chance to learn.
“It starts with the kids,” says Randy, surveying the palm-tree-festooned plot of land in A. Konduru where a slew of recent renovations have brought Grace English Medium School into existence. The school is now filled with teachers, school supplies, and 50 sponsored children in grades one through three. As the school grows each year, so will the number of grade levels offered. “It’s the only way to break the cycle,” Randy adds. Standing nearby, Joshua nods his head.
Joshua knows the difference that education can make for individuals and families in India. For the past several years he has worked with UCCI as the organization launched and now operates seven different schools across eastern India. Those schools have already seen remarkable success, offering some 2,050 kids and their families a viable alternative to overcrowded government schools.
For Indian families like Suseela’s, that alternative makes a world of difference. “I don’t have a husband,” says the young mother of two. “So I would just send my son to school. I used to work in the fields and sometimes I would have work, but sometimes I wouldn’t. It was hard daily labor and I would worry about my kids while I was away.” During those years, life was difficult for Suseela’s family as her son’s education suffered greatly. But last year, Suseela’s situation changed when her son received sponsorship to attend a UCCI school. Suseela was even able to find work on campus, preparing lunches for the children.
“Many problems have been solved for us,” Suseela says, looking around the campus grounds where her family has found a new start to life. What does her son want to be when he grows up? Suseela smiles at the question. “I don’t know,” she replies honestly. “Now, he can choose for himself some day.”
More than education
Driving away from A. Konduru at the end of the day, Joshua talks about his dreams for the future. “It will not be easy,” he says with his eyes fixed on the road ahead, talking with Randy and Sheryl about plans for the years ahead. “But with God, it can be done. And it needs to be done.”
But Joshua and those at ITeams know that a school is just the beginning of seeing transformation take shape in A. Konduru. At the heart of it all, transformation is grounded in relationships, working together to solve the problems a community faces in a way that points toward Christ.
“We are excited to develop inroads in the community,” Randy says. “To walk alongside mayors, village leaders, police, government officials, and pastors. We are at work now so that one day, A. Konduru as a community may adopt the desire for no one to be invisible or left behind.”
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Please pray for the village of A. Konduru and the families and kids that live there. Pray that the Lord would break the cycle there and that we would bless these early years of the new school. Pray that it would truly be a blessing to the community. And also, please pray for Randy and Sheryl Luth as they juggle many relationships, projects, and responsibilities in a challenging environment.