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An adventure on the other side of the world

Jeremy Johnson is pictured with some of the Yuwa players.

Plenty of new college graduates find themselves entering an unfamiliar world, but for Jeremy Johnson the adjustment has been a little more extreme.

Johnson, a 2006 graduate of Christian Life School who graduated in December from Northwestern College, is currently serving as a public relations intern for Yuwa, a non-governmental organization working with girls in the rural state of Jharkhand, India. Home these days is a village where most people live in mud huts. Electricity is sporadic, but nearly everyone has a satellite dish. His office is split between a soccer field, where he works as a goalie coach, and a four-star hotel in a nearby city, which is about the only place he can get a reliable Internet connection.

Johnson commutes to the hotel by motorcycle, though he'd never ridden one before he arrived in India.

"Trips into the city are always different," Johnson said by email. "One day it can take 25 minutes to get to the hotel where I use Internet, and the next day we can run into riots (We're talking the works: Burning tires, people waving bamboo sticks and screaming and all of that) and the same trip will end up being an hour and a half."

Johnson's duties for Yuwa vary greatly from day to day. He's spent time pitching stories to Indian news outlets, helped develop a website and taught English to some of the girls involved in the program. He gets up every day for 5:30 soccer practices.

Johnson heard about Yuwa from a friend. The group uses soccer as a tool to improve the lives of of girls in an area where young women are typically illiterate and often forced into arranged marriages by the age of 15. Many of the girls in the Jharkhand are viewed as valuable only for what they are able to contribute to the home.

Yuwa uses soccer to get the girls out of the home and interacting with other girls their age, and to encourage the girls to go to school.

Just about two years in, none of Yuwa's girls has been married off before the age of 18, and the Jharkhand state soccer team, made up mostly of Yuwa girls, has moved from 20th place to fourth. One of the girls has moved on to India's U-13 international team.

Johnson has done his share of traveling. He lived in Spain for a semester and he's spent time in Italy, Mexico, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. But India has been a whole new world.

"It's easy to be reminded that I'm on the opposite side of the world," he said. "The biggest difference that I've seen here is the value put on women. Essentially, the entire home is run by the women while the boys are out goofing around with no responsibility at all."

Johnson said he's long been interested in NGO work, and his time in India has been a valuable experience. He'll be in India through at least the end of June, but he's considering extending his stay until July or August. Once he's done he'd like to work or teach in Asia or South America. He's considered starting his own NGO.

"I've really enjoyed the work that I've been doing," he said. "It's a completely different experience than any office work I could be doing back in the U.S., and every day is different."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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