Auburn/SPU student’s summer break: Working with India’s young 'Untouchables'

Karie Chamberlain enjoyed her summer working with the children of India.  - Courtesy photo
Karie Chamberlain enjoyed her summer working with the children of India.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

As a young student with a passion to teach, Auburn’s Karie Chamberlain reached out to touch the “Untouchables.”

Her five-week summer mission project in India was an unforgettable experience – a chance to make a difference and help a struggling society living half a world away.

“It opened my eyes,” said Chamberlain, a junior-to-be majoring in special education at Seattle Pacific University.

Chamberlain volunteered with a human rights organization, the Dalit Freedom Network, through SPRINT (Seattle Pacific Reachout International), a short-term missions program for students.

Along with five other students, Chamberlain helped teach at Dalit schools around the southern city of Hyderabad. The group hosted fairs, zoo trips, games and other activities for Dalit children. They assisted teachers in some schools, led instruction in others.

“One kindergarten class had 90 kids,” Chamberlain recalled. “The need for attention (was great) because there are so many kids.

“Just to be able to shake their hands and say, ‘Hello, my name is …’ was so exciting for them.”

Known as India’s “Untouchables,” the Dalits are subject to oppression, social disdain, child labor and human trafficking. While the caste system has been abolished under the Indian constitution, there still remains discrimination and prejudice against Dalits.

Chamberlain is hopeful conditions will improve for the Dalits through the people’s ongoing social liberation movement.

“It’s a slow process just because of the process of educating another generation,” she observed. “I think education is a big part of it because with education comes knowledge and with knowledge come jobs. Knowledge brings power.

“It’s slow but there’s hope.”

Chamberlain also hopes to return some day to India to resume outreach efforts.

“The more you go, the more you can do,” she said.

At SPU, the SPRINT program has been organizing student short-term mission trips throughout the world for the past 24 years. Students must raise their own money for airfare, training, room and board, and team expenses.

SPU, a premiere Christian university, provides students with the opportunity to engage cultures and change the world.

“It was an interesting experience,” Chamberlain said.

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