The little village of Marlukuntay is 20 miles from Bangalore, India, and 12,000 miles from Alta High School in Jordan School District.
But some of the children sitting on the dirt floor of a two-room school in Marlukuntay wear T-shirts with the Alta Hawks emblem or the bengal tiger of neighboring Brighton High, and all of them have been touched by the generosity of the Salt Lake high schools.The building in which they hold class is meager by American standards, but it's a school - a place for learning. It was built this summer with funds partly provided by Alta High students and teachers and with the physical effort of some Utahns who worked alongside Indian "untouchables" directed by higher-caste Brahmins. The project was coordinated through CHOICE, a volunteer program promoting small-scale development throughout the world.
Rebecca Olsen, Alta history and anthropology teacher, promoted the cross-cultural program and ultimately raised $380 at her school - enough to buy 1,200 blocks of granite to help erect the Indian school's walls. More than half the money came from the efforts of Rhonda White's honors students.
Olsen and five other volunteers then went to Marlukuntay to help with the actual construction of the two-room school. In the group were four teachers: Willie Cowden, English teacher and track coach from Brighton High School; Helen Smith, Kennedy Junior High School; Sheika Kanth, Rowland Hall-St. Marks; and Olsen. Jack Smith, a retired businessman, and Victoria Petty, a college student, rounded out the Utah volunteer group.
Cowden sponsored a track meet to mark the last day of their involvement on the construction project, when the walls were window-high. He ran against all the village boys, who "were fast despite limited practice and bare feet."
Each runner received one of the 40 T-shirts Cowden had brought.
Marlukuntay villagers raised three-fourths of the money needed for the granite-and-mud structure. Village elders hired a local mason at $2.50 per day to supervise; male laborers earned $1.25 per day and women who carried water and stones on their heads to keep the work going were paid 75 cents per day.
The Utah volunteers worked six hours a day for five days, sleeping on rented mattresses and showering by heating water on a fire and dousing themselves with a quart jar. Some of the group suffered the intestinal upsets common to trans-planted Americans, and they learned some fundamental living skills, such as washing their clothes on a rock.
Before leaving India, they traveled to the north of the country to visit the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Varanasi and other areas.
Olsen is considering three projects for the summer of 1991 - a hospital for a needy village, a school for rock quarry workers or a water purification/health care project. She can be reached at 575-7550.