Everyone has something to teach us.

Last month, my family and I did not spend the holidays opening presents or counting down the New Year in our living room. Instead, we traveled to Rajasthan, in the Aravalli Range of mountains in India, and spent time in a local village (or, as they call it, a hamlet). There, we met a truly inspiring community of people that Indian society considers the “Untouchables.” The Untouchables do not fall into one of the four rungs recognized by the Indian caste system, and face discrimination and a lack of opportunity to rise in Indian society. Yet at nearly 200 million strong, they make up over 15 percent of India’s population, and I believe that advances in technology and communication may be the final straw to break their centuries-old challenges.

Today, the Untouchables are slowly gaining access to parts of Indian and global society that were previously off limits. Global charities like Free the Children, which coordinated the trip my family made, help those who need it most with a “hand up,” not a handout. We were lucky enough to lend a hand ourselves, helping to build a local school brick by brick, and joining the members of the village in their daily chores. And, in return, the 70 or so members of this small community were generous enough to share their wisdom with me. Here, in no particular order, are the eight lessons I learned from this truly impactful, unforgettable experience.

1. Love will find a way.

“Is your marriage a love marriage?” This is one of the questions my wife and I fielded the most, and as we got to know the village elders and the community better, it became clear that their curiosity was rooted in the changing societal tides of the Indian caste system. For centuries, Indian marriages were arranged, with young couples tying the knot after just a few hours spent together socializing and some behind-the-scenes negotiating among their families. Now “love matches” are taking hold, and it’s altering the socio-political landscape. Arranged marriages conveniently keep people within their caste. But if love—and not class and status—is used as a guide, then young men and women from different caste levels will fall in love, paving the way for integration and increased equality.

2. It’s all about the next generation.

When I first started talking to the village elders in Rajasthan, I was certain that they would see money as the key component to lifting their community up to a higher level, and to gaining more resources (of which they are desperately in need). After a few hours with one elder—a weathered man in a white turban—I realized that his solution was much more forward-thinking than mine. “I am most happy,” he told me, “that all of the children of the hamlet are going to school and take their school work seriously. And to be even happier, I want to see them go to secondary school and become smarter than their parents.” Education, not money, is seen as the ticket not only out of poverty but toward a happier, more fulfilling life. How empowering to see that this poor community holds the same values that I do, in the power of education to transform an individual’s potential.

3. One teacher makes all the difference.

Students in Rajasthan walk an hour-and-a-half through remote areas to get to worn-down schools with supplies like ratty clipboards, crumpled paper and unplugged, dust-covered DOS-era computers. Yet when they arrive at the school where we did our work, they are greeted by a headmaster whose enthusiasm radiates energy, and whose smile sets the stage for a positive environment. And he explained to us his standard for selecting other teachers for the school – they must all share his level of enthusiasm for learning. Enthusiasm that overcomes the lack of electricity and the scarcity of resources. The power of one enthusiastic, driven and great educator has the same effect the world over: They foster a passion for learning, demonstrate how education can liberate a student’s future and open students’ eyes to new ideas that ignite intellectual curiosity.

4. Technology is transformational.

Technology has begun to impact all aspects of life in Rajasthan, from the spread of basic but life-changing agricultural ideas and technologies to the slow introduction of early-generation flip phones. One easy example – the community where we were was just getting comfortable planting their mustard seed crops in rows, rather than scattered in a field, and that by alternating rows of different crops they could improve the overall health of the fields. Sounds basic, but this simple technology took a while for the community to embrace, and it will certainly improve the yield of their fields. This community has only just begun to tap into the power that technology has to improve health outcomes and break down the barriers that have historically led to the “untouchables” label.

5. Every drop matters.

It’s not all about new technologies. My family and I completed a water walk from a century-old well up the hill and then up the street to the hamlet, balancing clay pots with precious water on our heads. This well and water system, designed and built five generations ago, is remarkable: It saves and uses every drop of this precious commodity through a complex system that brings up water, fills pots, and sends overflow water back down the well or channels it to an attached mustard field. The resource is precious – water – and the remote community has created ingenious solutions to preserve every drop.

6. Don’t be afraid to get shit on your hands.

In fact, most every resource in Rajasthan is a precious resource—even the manure provided by their cows and lambs. For the Untouchables, the dearth of income-earning opportunities and a disconnection from outlying areas means that they must be ingenious in their use of every resource at their disposal. So twice yearly, the women of the community fortify and insulate the walls of their houses with a mixture of manure and dirt. While I never imagined that I would spend a day packing handfuls of shit into a wall in India, I am grateful for the opportunity to contemplate life’s necessities and for the reminder of the universal need to provide our families with shelter from storm, heat, and cold.

7. Relationships are key.

Villagers in Rajasthan earn a largely agricultural living, selling lamb, mustard seed and various vegetables at the market two hours away. To further support their families and provide a safety net for years when drought or natural disaster ravages their crops, many move to Udaipur to work menial jobs and mail their earnings to their families. They don’t find these jobs through the yellow pages or help wanted—they don’t have access to newspapers or the Internet. Instead, the hamlet’s leader stressed the importance of “friends, and friends of friends.” “We all just sort of make it work,” he concluded of how families can survive these tough economic conditions. “We all help each other, and family is your most important relationship.” And, of course, the human connections we make have the power to change lives and help small villages lift themselves out of poverty.

These are wise words, spoken by a wiser man, who has so much to teach all of us. And it brings me to my eighth and final lesson from the trip I got to spend building relationships with my own family:

8. Everyone has something to teach us.

It may seem trite, but its truth is unmistakable. I expected to learn about the social and economic structures in remote India. Instead, this trip served as a reminder to sit back, listen and soak in the wisdom others have to share with me. It was humbling, of course, and not just because I had to get my hands dirty—the experience gave me a renewed sense of purpose to further grow my relationships with those who are changing the world, to continue to support ventures that further education, and to continue to consider the way I approach philanthropy. Offering a hand up is more powerful than a handout, and seeing the effects first hand is the most powerful of all.

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