A warm welcome in Mumbai

A version of this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post/Global Motherhood. Reposted with permission.

It was 100 degrees outside when we pulled up in front a school in Mumbai last month. We were greeted by the sounds of booming drums, singing voices and ringing tambourines. The children were assembled outside of the school to welcome us. Before arriving, I was curious about how these children would receive us, but all doubts slipped away as they met us with open arms. The memory of that welcome continues to humble and inspire me in my travels to similar schools around the globe. Fifty students from two Mumbai schools were selected to participate in the three-year Johnson & Johnson Bridge to Employment (BTE) program designed to provide academic support, encourage lifelong learning and build awareness of careers in health care. BTE also works with parents, teachers and employees to support and guide students to new opportunities.

According to 2012 data, only 58 percent of students from municipal areas graduate, leaving 42 out of every 100 young people without a high school diploma. For more than 20 years, BTE has been focusing on impacting communities all around the world with similar statistics.

We’ve trained over 20 Johnson & Johnson employees, who serve as volunteers to mentor these 50 children, ages 13–16. BTE volunteers here in India and in all programs around the globe talk to their mentees about life and what it took to reach their own career goals and why civic engagement matters. Mentors teach students time management as well as resume writing, interviewing, teamwork and communication skills.

During this visit to Mumbai, we showed the students recognizable photos of all the places where BTE is located. The purpose was to show them they are now part of a global family.

The children we serve spare no excitement showing their gratitude during our visits. Students from all BTE programs compete annually to become a student ambassador to attend an annual BTE meeting and showcase their program and learning. Every October, the Alliance Building and Training Session brings 70+ attendees from 18 programs implemented in several countries to share their experiences and learn from one another. The topics focus on youth development, youth motivation and engagement, and global youth activities. In 2015, two BTE India students will be selected to join 16 other students from nine locations around the world (Africa, Australia, Europe and United States, to name a few) as student ambassadors. They will work on a project together and present it to the audience of their peers, Johnson & Johnson employees, school staff and the leadership of each of the BTE programs.

Through BTE, we witness lives changing because of the commitment and dedication of students, their families, volunteers and community partners. I am inspired by the program’s progress in our first six months. I left Mumbai knowing that great things are going to happen, and I am excited to see the results at the end of their three years. The students, teachers, parents and partners that I spent time with have made an imprint on my life and reinforced that this work is important for the children of the world.

FHI 360 has managed BTE for Johnson & Johnson since 2003. To help provide scholarships to BTE students in Kenya, please download the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app. For every photo you donate to FHI 360, Johnson & Johnson* will donate $1 to provide health care scholarships to students in Kenya.

*Johnson & Johnson has curated a list of trusted causes, and you can donate a photo to one cause, once a day. Each cause will appear in the app until it reaches its goal or the donation period ends. If the goal isn’t reached, the cause will still get a minimum donation.

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