It was meant to be a once-and-done type of thing, but for Mary Cairns and Mike Mays, the girls at the Pardada Pardadi Girls Vocational School in Anupshahar, India, have become an extension of their families.
It started with Mays wanting to take a trip to the Himalayas and Cairns aspiring to volunteer her time to try and stop child slavery. The next thing they knew, they were on Google searching for something with that combination.
“There was 1.4 million hits,” Mays said. “We started doing some research instead.”
But then an acquaintance from Cairns’ job informed them of Virendra (Sam) Singh’s mission to bring empowerment and education to girls and women in India through the school. They took a trip from their home in New Garden down to Fairfax, Va., to meet with Singh and the rest, as they say, is history.
They took a trip out to Anupshahar in 2010 and immediately fell in love with the girls at the school.
“I love the girls,” Cairns said. “I’ll do anything I can to make their lives better, to protect them and to bring them good health. Without good health, education doesn’t happen. The value I get out of this far surpasses anything I could do over here [in the United States].”
The school was established 12 years ago in the poorest region of India to give girls the opportunity to become educated and begin a life of their own without having to depend on an arranged marriage, which sometimes is really just sex trafficking.
“They’re trying to stop child marriage,” Cairns said. “The average age of marriages is 12 to 14. A lot are sold into sex trafficking as a disguise for marriage. They’re taken into the cities and into brothels and that’s the end of it. Our school is fighting really hard to stop that.”
To help combat it, the school runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the summer and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter, six days a week through all months of the year.
“They keep [the girls] there and away from their mothers as much as they can,” Cairns said. “It’s a motive.”
The motive is to allow the girls to break free of the tradition of being uneducated, illiterate and abused. Pardada Pardadi is trying to break the cycle of violence.
On the first trip, Mays and Cairns installed a hygiene program involving washing hands and brushing teeth every day when the girls come to school.
The results were almost immediate.
“Illness has gone done significantly as a result of that,” Cairns said.
After returning home, they decided they had to return to India and this time, have a mission in mind.
“We wanted to have a project,” Cairns said. “We decided since there is no health care in the region, we would build a health center and we were able to raise the funds and do that.”
They went back to Pardada Pardadi in 2012 with 150 pounds of medical supplies in tow and helped hire a school nurse for the new building.
Cairns has decided it’s time once more for her to head back out for three weeks on March 27, this time without Mays by her side.
On a previous trip, she brought hundreds of bras for the girls, who have no access to undergarments where they live.
Since it was such a success, she decided she’d do it again, this time with underwear, which she currently has stockpiled in one room of her house to organize.
“Most of these girls have two pairs of pants and two pairs of tops and the school gives them a sweater,” Cairns said. “That’s it. You give them undepants, socks or bras and it’s a bonus.”
Going with her this time around will be two doctors, one a dermatology resident at Drexel University and the other a general practitioner. They will run dermatology camps for a week.
Out of all this, Cairns and Mays are hoping to share this experience with others to get them involved as well.
“The need at the school is so great,” Cairns said. “Our plan is to now build a medical clinic on the school grounds for women and children, but we can’t do that until we raise the money.”