December 19, 2005: Headlines: COS - India: COS - Nepal: Service: Napa Valley Register: Nepal RPCV Fran Chamberlain has gone back to one of his early stops in life to help once again in India

Peace Corps Online: Directory: India: Peace Corps India: The Peace Corps in India: December 19, 2005: Headlines: COS - India: COS - Nepal: Service: Napa Valley Register: Nepal RPCV Fran Chamberlain has gone back to one of his early stops in life to help once again in India

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Nepal RPCV Fran Chamberlain has gone back to one of his early stops in life to help once again in India

Nepal RPCV Fran Chamberlain has gone back to one of his early stops in life to help once again in India

While he has made a number of return trips to south Asia, it was a recent trip to India that revealed even more opportunity to improve the lives of children growing up in tough conditions.

Nepal RPCV Fran Chamberlain has gone back to one of his early stops in life to help once again in India

Napan brings Peace Corps roots to Indian schools

By JAY GOETTING, Register Staff Writer
Monday, December 19, 2005 1:05 AM PST
A teacher from Garden in Peace school in the Karumbapalayam village of India reads from Brown Bear, Brown Bear — a children’s book written in both Tamil and English Napa's Fran Chamberlain brought with him for the trip. Fran Chamberlain photo

Editor's note: When the holidays come around, many of us go out of our way to help others in need. But some dedicated Napa County residents go to extraordinary lengths to help others year-round. This series of articles tells some of their stories.

After a career of helping kids learn, especially those in dire straits, Fran Chamberlain has gone back to one of his early stops in life to help once again.

Chamberlain served in the Peace Corps in Nepal from 1964 to 1966, spoke near fluent Hindi, and brought the spirit of those times to his job as a teacher in Napa as well as other positions he's held since.

While he has made a number of return trips to south Asia, it was a recent trip to India that revealed even more opportunity to improve the lives of children growing up in tough conditions.

After leaving the Peace Corps, Chamberlain furthered his education, pursuing graduate work in communications and working in the film industry and educational television.

In 1971, he returned for further schooling, this time in Asian studies.

As both teacher and administrator with the Napa Valley Unified School District and the Napa County Office of Education, he honed his teaching skills, earning him recognition in 1984 as California's Teacher of the Year.

Chamberlain returned to Napa from his most recent trip to south Asia just before Thanksgiving.

Today's Indian constitution outlaws the long-standing caste system, but it still exists de facto. It also requires all children from 6 to 14 to receive a formal education, but getting them into the proper setting is often difficult.

Initially during the recent trip, Chamberlain visited in Delhi with a group known as social jurists, attorneys devoted to improving educational opportunities for Indian children.

From there, he traveled to the area around Chennai in southern India and ventured out to quarries where large numbers of India's 100 million working children toil in the rocks and dust. Many families depend on their children to augment the household income, leaving little or no time for school.

Chamberlain also observed groups of people, including children, known as rag pickers, rummaging through garbage and trash heaps for plastic which can be recycled. The material is put in stacks which are picked up by truck, paying the pickers a pittance for their labor.

Their only educational opportunities exist after hours, thanks to an Indian befriended by Chamberlain, Dr. Rama Manivannan, known better as Mani.

With the help of Lotus Outreach, a philanthropic foundation devoted to helping support existing educational and social programs, Mani began a program he calls Buddha Smiles. It is inspired by the Gandhian philosophy recognizing the spiritual, moral, cultural, economic and politic as essential components of holistic development.

"What the foundation is doing is very powerful," said Chamberlain.

Except for a program manager, all the work is done by volunteers with less than 5 percent of the funds raised used for administration. Chamberlain became one of those volunteers, going into classrooms and helping the youngsters who are learning both in their native tongue as well as English.

In India, teachers earn between $50 and $100 a month. "They extend compassion in a very direct way," said Chamberlain.

Chamberlain headed in this recent direction when he saw an article in a Bay Area paper noting Hewlett-Packard was looking for people to participate in a program helping to make connections with kids trying to break out of poverty and achieve academic excellence.

That led to his five-year involvement as director of the afterschool program for the Developmental Studies Center based in Oakland. Working with organized groups across the country such as Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA, he has helped lay the groundwork for continuing education for children in need of additional help.

When he learned of Lotus Foundation, Chamberlain invited key players to Napa which only whetted his appetite for further involvement. "I decided I wanted to see more," he said.

Lotus' mission is to abolish child labor and foster education and health services. It is currently working in India, Cambodia and Bhutan.

After an initial trip to the region, Chamberlain was moved to return. This time he filled a duffle bag with books and other learning tools in both English and Tamil. When he returned, he helped in the classrooms which operate from 5 p.m. into the evening hours to accommodate the young workers.

He said the children are extremely hungry for knowledge. "It was incredibly inspiring to see them reading and reciting poetry," he said. "One boy was reciting something in Tamil, followed by 'William Shakespeare.' He was reading Shakespeare."

Chamberlain remains in regular contact with his Lotus friends. "Those people are unheralded saints," he said.

He thinks the future will be bright for many of the young people he's dealt with in the Indian villages. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if some of these kids find opportunities," he said.

Even in the 10 years between his Peace Corps service and his next visit, conditions had greatly improved, but there's still a long way to go.

Will he return for another round of teaching helping the Lotus Foundation? "Probably," said Chamberlain. "I'm trying to figure out the next steps. I'm 64, and maybe it's time to pass the torch."

His relationship with Lotus Outreach is an informal one, "but who knows what might happen?" he said.

The friendliness of the people there, and no doubt their recognition of Chamberlain's own compassion will likely lure him back for another round of helping the young people of the region. "As I was leaving, a young girl blew me a kiss," he said modestly. "That's just not done there."

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Napa Valley Register

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