PdC woman to talk about her summer educating people in the New Delhi garbage dumps

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Melissa Collum, of Prairie du Chien, likes to spend her summers helping “repair the world” in developing countries. This past summer, she was in New Delhi, India, and Nepal for two months, where she specifically educated people living in the garbage landfills.

Melissa will speak about her time with the Indian landfill inhabitants during a presentation at the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library, Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m.

By Correne Martin

The Friends of the Prairie du Chien Library will hold their annual meeting at the memorial library on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6:30 p.m. Following a short business meeting, the public is invited to hear current president, Melissa Collum, speak about her experiences this past summer, working with generations of families living in the garbage dumps of New Delhi, India.

Collum lives in Prairie du Chien, is the daughter of Ted and Janet Finn, and is a professor of educational studies at UW-La Crosse and Viterbo. 

She lived and worked in Nepal and India for two months this summer, as an extension of the immense focus on education and health initiatives she’s devoted her professional life toward.

“Historically, I’ve done a lot of work with non-governmental organizations and startups in developing nations,” she said. “My reputation precedes me for what I do, I guess.”

The former United Nations volunteer’s connections allowed her this opportunity to spend time with those living in a New Delhi landfill. There, she performed educational evaluations, looking at the efficacy of schools in relation to the country’s curriculum and in accordance with United Nations mandates. She also provided professional development and medical exams in collaboration with organizations there.

Collum also provided educational programming for nuns in the northern provinces while there. Also in Nepal, she and her team held a class on health and hygiene. The goal through her trip was to foster development of the school and community for the future, she said.

Furthermore, because there’s little to no access to bathrooms or hygiene products in schools, she and her team ran a program called “A Day for Girls.” The program makes and distributes menstrual hygiene products to girls and women and provides education as well as family planning.

In a recent UW-La Crosse campus news article, Collum said her motivations to serve in developing nations stems from her overarching philosophy of life to help “repair the world,” or as she says in Hebrew, “Tikkun Olam.” And education is a natural focus because “education is the greatest equalizer there is,” she adds.

“We serve others to lift them up so they, in turn, may serve,” Collum said. “It is reflective of servant leadership.”

Her international experience spans throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. Next summer, she intends to take some La Crosse and Viterbo students with her to survey, teach, do medical evaluations and health care overseas. 

Collum’s presentation at the library Nov. 12 is the start of, as she puts it, bringing interesting people’s stories to the community and highlighting global initiatives. 

“We don’t tend to look at our own as experts, because we feel experts need to come from outside our community,” she stated. “The library is hoping to tap into any local people who have interesting things to share, and also demonstrate that the library should be seen as the hub of the community.

She encourages the public to attend and bring friends. She said her talk will be about 40 minutes long, with tie for questions to follow. 

“It’s about my journey of discovery of people who are not seen, and even when they are, they’re exploited. People, including children, do in fact live in the garbage dumps.”

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