Gig Harbor High School seniors Annalisa Cochrane and Janna Miles went outside the box when it came to their senior projects.
In fact, they went outside the country.
Cochrane and Miles traveled last month to India, where they spent a little more than a week working with preschoolers in medical camps and orphanages.
Under the auspices of Youth With A Mission — an international, interdenominational, nonprofit Christian, short-term missionary organization — the girls got a chance to interact with Indian preschoolers in various forms: leading them in songs to improve their English, employing a stethoscope to check their heartbeats, taking their blood pressure and noting their heights and weights for medical record-keeping purposes.
Both stayed with friends in an apartment located in Maharashtra, an Indian state. Their activities were focused in the cities of Pune and Lonavala.
Pune is the ninth largest metropolis in India, the second largest in the state of Maharashtra, the capital of which is Mumbai, the most populous city in India, and the fourth-most populous city in the world.
Pune is the administrative capital of Pune district. Lonavala is a town and a hill station Municipal Council in Pune district in Maharashtra. It is about 40 miles away from the city of Pune, 60 miles away from Mumbai.
“Probably the best experience of my life,” said Cochrane, 16.
“Too short,” said Miles, who turned 18 while she was in India.
The trip took place from Feb. 16-24. Both raised the money themselves to afford the costly airline tickets to the world’s second most populous nation.
Some people were skeptical about their ability to raise the necessary funds, but that didn’t stop Cochrane and Miles.
“I raised it all pretty much by myself,” Cochrane said, noting she has worked as a babysitter, a party planner for an area jump house for kids, and she’s also worked alongside Miles for Blessed Bean Coffee, a Florida-based company that is growing through Internet sales, wholesale, bulk sales and private labeling.
Cochrane’s church helped raise money, too, she said.
Miles’ family helped her raise the bulk of her funds.
Money was less of a concern in India, because of the favorable rupee-to-dollar exchange, Cochrane said.
The most expensive part of the trip was the plane fare, she said, noting that, due to their increased purchase power, transportation and food in India was relatively inexpensive.
“It was one of the best parts,” Cochrane said of Indian cuisine, which is characterized by the use of various spices, herbs and other vegetables grown in India.
She also didn’t mind the frequent servings of chai tea, a flavored beverage made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.
Miles wasn’t quite as enamored with the food, owing to its spicy nature, especially in comparison to milder Western cuisine.
Cochrane’s greater appreciation of Indian food isn’t unusual, given that it wasn’t her first trip to India. Her parents spent a total of 26 years in the South Asian nation working as directors of Southeast Asia operations for YWAM. Cochrane, who skipped second grade, spent about 10 years there with her parents from 1998 to 2008.
During a visit to an orphanage last month, Cochrane said she got to meet a 14-year-old girl whom Cochrane’s dad had held when she was just 11 months old.
It was the people and the different way of life that captured the attention of the Gig Harbor High students.
“There are so many people,” Miles said. “People just seem to hang out, like they have no place to go.”
The contrast between the haves and the have-nots and how moving a short distance could take one from a well-off place to a slum was rattling, Miles said.
“That contrast, I was not expecting that,” she said. “It’s a crazy contrast.”
“There were pockets of India like America,” she said, “like malls.”
Then there are things you might see in India that you may not see here, like a cow with an extra leg on the back of a truck. Cochrane said the cow was considered especially holy because of its deformity or mutation.
In some regions, especially some states in India, the slaughter of cattle is prohibited and their meat may be taboo. In Hinduism, the dominant religion in India, the cow is a symbol of wealth, strength, abundance, selfless giving and a full, earthly life.
Cochrane said she was impressed by the hospitality of the Indian people, noting that the overall pace of life there seems slower than in America.
That slower pace, however, did not extend to driving. The manic pace of traffic with large crowds of people around, not to mention dodging sacred cows, was like being in a video game, Miles said.
It turns out, Indians were just as interested in the two girls as they were in the country’s inhabitants.
Two blonde Americans stand out in India. They attracted a lot of attention and were the subject of frequent photographs.
“They were so nice, though,” Cochrane said.
Now that they’re back, Cochrane and Miles are working to disseminate the details of their trip.
“We have to write a report,” Cochrane said regarding their senior project, which also will include a presentation next month.
Miles said she wanted to stay longer, and Cochrane said she did not realize how much she missed India until she went back.