By Elise Gregg
On June 2, 2021, the Namaste Miami Indian Cuisine restaurant in Coral Gables was filled with FIU students, faculty and alumni. Though some people were reuniting and others meeting for the first time, all guests were there to show support for residents of Bandhwari, India — more than 8,000 miles away.
The dinner was part of a new fundraising effort by FIU’s International Business Honors Society (IBHS) for Bandhwari, an under-resourced village on the outskirts of New Delhi. The village has grown familiar and dear to many IBHS students throughout the 6-year-old Bandhwari Women’s Project. While the pandemic has created difficulties for the women’s project, students and alumni have continued their work in support of the village, with a goal to raise $10,000 total.
David Wernick, a teaching professor of international business who serves as faculty advisor for IBHS, founded the women’s project in 2016. The project focuses on helping the women of the village gain financial independence through creating hand-crafted fashion accessories. IBHS students manage the production, logistics, marketing, sales, and distribution of the products, with many of the items sold on campus and via the IBHS website.
The initiative has given these women a means of economic freedom and security, stability in the village, and material goods, from new sewing machines to health items. However, it’s also benefitting FIU students in many ways, from building business skills to gaining new humanitarian insights.
“It’s been a life-changing experience working hands-on with the Bandhwari social initiative,” said former IBHS president Joseph Devlin (BBA ‘20), “not only for me, but also seeing the improvement of the village, and the elevated confidence of the women that get more skilled every year.”
However, the pandemic has created some difficulties for the village and project. The village is small but densely populated, making it hard to social distance, and many of its residents can’t afford to stay home from work. Maite Elizalde (BBA ’20), a graduate student helping remotely from Spain, noted that many villagers must risk infection in order to provide for their families. Vaccine shortages and India’s overwhelmed health system have created additional vulnerabilities.
While IBHS students haven’t been able to make the trip to Bandhwari, or sell their goods on the FIU campus, Devlin noted, IBHS has an Instagram page, and a website landing page designed for e-commerce before the pandemic, allowing sales to continue.
The Bandhwari Village GoFundMe has raised around $4,800. After a strong initial response, funds raised from the benefit dinner, and a $1,000 donation from WTDC (a Miami global logistics company), IBHS doubled its original goal to $10,000.
“There’s a lot of people that are still interested,” with many donating large amounts “because they understand the situation,” said Elizalde.
Bandhwari still needs a great deal of help, say the students who have witnessed poverty in the village firsthand.
“Not everyone can imagine what it really is until you’ve actually been there,” said Elizalde. “I think it’s really important to actually put ourselves in their shoes.”
Reflecting on the success of the Bandhwari program and the outpouring of support from IBHS students, alumni, and friends, Wernick commented, “The magic of international service-learning is not just that it changes the lives of others – it changes you. You become aware of the wider world around you and your place within it. You become more patient, humble, and grateful. And you begin to have a new perspective on what truly matters in life, and what is just details.”
To contribute to the Bandhwari Village fundraising project, which provides sanitary supplies, nutrition and basic necessities for the village, please visit the GoFundMe page.