When teacher Mindy Eichhorn went to India to teach abandoned women life skills, her own life changed.

An Affinity with India

Her interest in India started when she was at the University of Tennessee where she earned a B.S. in Special Education and an M.S. in Education.

“I took a class about women and cross-cultural perspectives and something about India was a magnet. I felt pulled to the women of India,” said Mindy Eichhorn, a COE student currently working on her doctorate in international education. Upon graduation from UTenn, she moved to Hartford and started teaching for Hartford Public Schools in the summer of 2002. But her interest in India never flagged.

“I decided I wanted to go to India for a year. I heard about an NGO, one of its focuses was India. They told me about a couple of places I could use my skills,” she said. “One option stuck out – it was a home for orphan girls and abandoned women in a village outside Pune.”

The place was “Mukti Mission.” “It means ‘salvation,’” said Eichhorn, who flew there in the summer of 2004 to work for one year. But one year turned into four. Even then, Eichhorn did not want to leave the country she had grown to love. “Once you go and see the need it is really hard to leave,” she said.

At Mukti, Eichhorn worked in a “special” school helping women aged five to 45. “They all had special needs,” she said. “Most had been abandoned by their families. They were all clumped together. We started a candle-making project to help them earn an income. It is still going on.”

At the close of her year-long program at the Mission, and not yet ready to leave India, Eichhorn travelled to a medical teaching college and hospital in Vellore in South India. She worked in the hospital developing a pediatric unit and in the neighboring school for the children of hospital staff where she helped put together an inclusion program. Eventually, she moved again, this time to Mumbai where she worked for Destiny Education “doing teacher training, seminars, and consulting in schools.” In Mumbai, she met a student in UMass Amherst’s College of Education’s Department of Educational Policy, Research and Administration, who encouraged her to apply to COE.

“Even to come here, to the College of Education, was a difficult decision because I was so needed there in India,” she said from a meeting room in Hills South. “The field of special education is still developing there. There is still so much work to do.”

“In the future, I would love to go back and do dissertation research there and continue in special needs education,” she said. “I’m here, trying to nail it down. I know I need more focus on policy and research methods. I know I’m going to learn a lot here being in an international learning community. That’s one of the reasons I’m here in EPRA.”