February 25, 2009


Homer teacher immersed in India’s poverty

High school teacher spends summer volunteering in orphanages, helping poor children


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Homer language teacher Dean Williams talks about his recent work in India to the Zonta Club Tuesday at the Community Restaurant in Cortland. Williams spent the summer in India working with homeless children.

Staff Reporter

Even as a veteran world traveler, Homer High School teacher Dean Williams was unprepared for the shocking conditions he witnessed in India last summer.
“I could not believe, after seeing 57 countries, that there could be so much poverty,” Williams said Tuesday evening at a Cortland Zonta Club meeting at Community Restaurant.
Williams, 43, presented a slideshow and spoke about his trip to India for the club, a professional women’s service organization that focuses on issues affecting women and children. The group hosts guest speakers once a month.
Williams teaches German and Spanish at Homer High School and travels each summer. He set up his trip to India through Cosmic Volunteers, a Philadelphia-based organization.
For the first month, Williams lived in New Delhi, where he worked at a care center for homeless boys.
He regularly walked through the streets of an impoverished neighborhood, recruiting children to follow him to the care center, where he taught them hygiene, basic math and English. The children slept and ate at the center but could leave at any time, Williams said.
“Many kids don’t stay in that center and make it a lifestyle to get an education, because the street life is more interesting. There’s money to be made in the streets,” Williams said.
These children had been separated from their parents, so Williams and the other volunteers helped several of them to find their birth parents.
But when they found parents, the parents usually sent the children away, having purposely abandoned them.
After four weeks in New Delhi, Williams went to Bangalore to live and work in an orphanage.
Williams stayed in the orphanage all day, while the older children went to school. Williams said a British volunteer and he would spend each day with 30 sick infants, who all lived in one room and slept on a concrete floor.
“It was disgusting. It was horrible. There’s nothing to do,” Williams said.
One day, a British girl volunteering with Williams told him that the pastor who worked at the orphanage was beating one of the young children, and Williams said he physically threatened the pastor after confronting him about it.
Williams was asked to leave the orphanage and began working at a prison for youth offenders in Bangalore. He said some of the youths were there for murder, and others were autistic children who had committed no crime but were kept there because of their disabilities.
Williams said that after the trip he came to “the realization that you wanted to do something good, but you couldn’t help everyone.”
Next summer he will go to Germany to lead Homer High School’s German exchange program, which he formed. He will also spend time in Italy. In the summer of 2010, he plans to go to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He said that although those are “third-world countries”, he has been assured that his living conditions will be better than those he faced in India.
But even if the conditions were just as bad, he would still go, he said.
“I’m weird like that,” he said.
After Williams’ presentation, the women of the Zonta Club discussed some of the problems that he addressed, such as the lack of birth control and the lack of educational opportunities for girls in poor regions.


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