Rotary Club of Hinesville Assistant Governor Brigitte Shanken spoke Tuesday about her recent trip to India as part of Rotary’s friendship exchange program.
Shanken spent 32 days in India, and called the experience, "eye opening and life-changing."
She said she and other Rotarians and associates were showered with gifts wherever they went.
As part of the program, Shanken stayed at the homes of eight different families, attended 40 Rotary meetings and participated in several Rotary project in her month-long journey.
"There are officially 122 languages in India," she said. "Not to mention all the dialects. But English is a predominant language."
Shanken, who wore a traditional Indian dress for Tuesday’s meeting, spoke about the culture, the spicy foods and the gifts her group received throughout their trip.
She spoke about meeting people from all walks of faith. Hindus, Buddhist and Catholics like herself.
Each day was packed with new experiences, Shanken said.
"We would wake up at 6 a.m. and be out of the house by 8 and sometimes not get back until midnight," she said adding they traveled by trains, cars and bus.
"And sometimes you spent four to five hours traveling to just one location," she said.
Shanken said she visited locations and saw several projects that were directly supported by the Hinesville Club.
She spoke about seeing people move about the cities on adult tricycles, which the local club sponsored.
She met with women who were the recipients of a sewing machine initiative that allowed them to work from home while still bringing income in to support the family.
She spoke about school-aged girls who would have to forgo education and be placed into the work force to support their families.
She visited several water purification systems, another initiative supported by the local club, and learned how clean drinking water was helping prevent debilitating diseases on those communities.
"We visited endless water projects and water projects using reverse osmosis that is used to provide clean water, especially for the children."
She said some of the systems were tucked away in isolated areas to benefit the families in those rural communities.
She toured several artificial limbs centers, which are sponsored by Rotary.
"India has a high rate or incidents of diabetes," she said. "So there are a lot of people who lose their limbs due to traffic accidents. Traffic is crazy there."
She also toured a facility that provides free cornea surgeries for those in need to restore their eyesight.
But she added there is still much that needs to be done to support the people, especially the children of India who still live without basic needs many take for granted.
She said many schools lacked basic bathrooms, meaning children went to the bathroom outside on sand, typically near the same area where they played or ate. Shanken said many children still walked those areas barefooted.
She showed a picture of a girls bathroom facility that was just a concrete wall. Girls would go behind the wall and squat on the ground.
"Being a mother of girls and being a woman, going into that environment, those open bathrooms, where you actually squat, no toilet, no toilet paper, no privacy…I think the most difficult part of our trip was to see this. I can smell it right now," she said.
She added girls will often forgo drinking sufficient water for the day to avoid having to use these facilities. She said that opens them up to medical issues.
She said these lack of facilities is one of the main reasons girls tend to leave the education system, especially after puberty.
Shanken said the Rotary polio initiative is ongoing.
"You know I cannot explain to you, as a Rotarian, the fulfillment of holding a child and knowing that those drops, that I believe each cost 60 cents now, and from your contributions is helping that child to not be crippled later on," she said.
Shanken said six Rotarians from India will travel to the United States in April and have plans to stay in Hinesville and Brunswick. The group is set to arrive in Liberty County April 24.