Students set for India trip

By Michelle Fincke (freelancer)

A group of our students are preparing to jet off to India this week as part of Trinity's annual volunteering trip. Below we share Trinity's close relationship with the Asha foundation.

Asha trip_Trinity College
Students Maggie Blanden and Chloe Page in India as part of Trinity's annual volunteering trip with Asha

Environmental science student Will Clarke listened with interest to a talk about Trinity’s relationship with the Asha Foundation and its work providing healthcare and opportunity in impoverished slums of Delhi. He didn’t realise he was about to be blown away. 

‘Then Mahinder got up,’ he recalls. ‘I kind of knew him as a student here at Trinity, and he said, “I’m from a slum in Delhi”. And I was like, “What? No way!” ’ 

Mahinder (TC 2016) was supported by Asha and had received a scholarship to come to Australia to study before going on to work at Macquarie Bank in Sydney. 

‘It blew my mind how this small kid from a slum in Delhi had gone on to work in one of the largest banks in Australia and I thought, “This is powerful. This is a program that works”,’ says Will. ‘I could see the immediate impact and it was something I wanted to get involved in.’

Feeling inspired, Will, a 21-year-old from a farm in western Victoria, signed up for the annual student trip to Delhi in early 2018. A group of 11 Trinity students spent two weeks as volunteers, teaching, playing, laughing and learning with young people living in slum communities and whose infectious joy, industry and commitment to the Asha values, which include gratitude, generosity, compassion, respect and empowerment, left a profound mark on the students.

Trinity’s evolving relationship with Asha, which has included shared fundraising activities, giving Mahinder a place to live while he studied, and coordinating student-led visits for the past four years, brings great satisfaction to Trinity alumnus Robert Johanson (TC 1969). The recently retired chairman of Bendigo Bank is also chair of the Australian Friends of Asha and has enjoyed a long-standing connection to India. As the first in his family to have a tertiary education, Robert deeply appreciates Asha’s transformative power.

The foundation came to Robert’s attention when Melbourne University examined the organisation created by newly qualified paediatrician Dr Kiran Martin in 1988. She set foot in a slum for the first time to treat victims of a cholera outbreak, and since then, improving the lives of Delhi’s slum dwellers has been her driving force.  

Asha – which means hope – engages with 700,000 people in 91 slum colonies, providing vaccinations, healthcare and education opportunities. They offer financial services and have a strong commitment to empowering women to lead within the community.

‘It works,’ Robert says simply. ‘Asha really provides people with a full suite of life skills. Dr Martin is an amazing person, and she’s created some extraordinary and sometimes unexpected connections.’ 

Robert says that as long as people flee the poverty of villages for the capital city, Delhi’s slums will continue to grow and Asha will have work to do protecting the poor and vulnerable. ‘If we want to engage with India in the future, it’s important that we engage with all levels of society, not just the elites.’

According to Robert, Asha fits logically into college life. He was instrumental in the arrangements that brought Mahinder to Melbourne – indeed, he now regards him as a family friend – and sees the Trinity student visits, too, as essential global engagement. ‘It’s consistent with Trinity values; it’s a part of broadening and of giving back.’

Will Clarke urges Trinity students to grab the Asha opportunity with both hands. He was moved by the warmth and kindness of the community, and loved playing with kids, but meeting fellow university students living in the slum – whole families living in one room – may have been his most profound takeaway.

‘They’re just so hungry for success, to break that cycle of poverty for themselves and their families,’ he says. ‘That was powerful. Look at my situation: I’m so lucky to be at this incredible college, surrounded by incredible people and opportunities, and I feel that I just have to live life to the fullest, because that’s what these kids do.

‘Even though your primary objective when you get involved with Asha is to help people, it really enables you to come back to your own community ready to deliver the Asha values. Already, Trinity lives a lot of these values, and I feel that’s why Trinity and Asha have such a strong affinity.’

Mahinder with Warden Ken Hinchcliff
Mahinder with Warden Ken Hinchcliff

Mahinder’s journey

When Mahinder arrived at Trinity he expected to stay in a crowded Indian-style university hostel. 

‘A lady showed me my room and the first question I asked was, “How many people are there in the room?” and she asked, “Are you joking?”,’ he laughs. ‘There was a cupboard, a small fridge, my own bathroom: all that, just for me!

‘My first impression was that it was so beautiful, it was like a dream world and I thought, “This is amazing”.’

Mahinder is driven to succeed in life, and from vaccinations as a baby through to university, Asha has been by his side, providing everything from books and uniforms to encouragement and advocacy.

‘Asha helped me to get an education loan to study engineering at university in Delhi. Because we lived in a slum and didn’t have a permanent house, banks weren’t prepared to give us a loan, so Dr Kiran Martin signed my paper as a guarantor.’

After his degree, Mahinder worked for a year before Dr Martin offered him an extraordinary opportunity to study for a post-graduate qualification overseas. Supported by Australian Friends of Asha, with accommodation provided by Trinity College, Mahinder came to Melbourne in 2016 to study the Master of Computer Science.

The motivation and support he received from Trinity staff, Robert Johanson and Dr Martin inspired him. Robert’s graduation speech for Mahinder was live-streamed into the Asha community and the message was clear: after this, anything is possible.

Mahinder is currently in Sydney, working as a software developer for Macquarie Bank and  mentoring the second wave of Asha students who are heading for campuses across the world. 

‘The way Mahinder journeys through the world, it’s obvious that not only is Asha making intelligent people, they’re making good people,’ says Trinity student Will Clarke. ‘Being successful in life doesn’t have to be about how much money you make or who you know. It’s how you carry yourself and how you treat people. Mahinder’s a star.’

By Michelle Fincke

09 Jan 2020