Though Mills alumna Katharina ‘Kat’ Love had already been planning on volunteering in rural India after she graduated in December, she never expected to be arriving 10 days after a tsunami destroyed large areas of South Asia.
Love is in the Tamil Nadu state of south India, working with the Indian Social Services Institute. ISSI is a rural-based, grassroots non-profit voluntary organization focusing on the women and children of poor rural families in the Pudukottai district. She is currently working in a village of “untouchables,” the lowest caste in India.
Love said, “Sexism is a way of life here, as is the caste system. It really has shown me a lot about social construction and internalized systems of oppression to meet ‘untouchables’ that believe they are untouchable.”
Planning on “doing whatever was needed the most,” Love is teaching English to children five years old and younger, along with gardening, preparing food, and doing laundry, for the ISSI campus. She also helps with fundraising research and administrative tasks. She is hoping to develop children’s recreational programs to encourage equality, regardless of gender or caste.
Though the devastation is widespread in the region where she’s working, Love said, “Even the experiences in which I have been uncomfortable, sick, scared, have been good.” She told the story of an 8-year-old girl named Pristika. “She always has a smile on her face and pretends to play Kuppatti with me, which is a sport for men only. I learned to count to 10 [in Tamil, the local language] from her.”
Love, who turned 21 two weeks after graduating, holds a dual degree in philosophy and PLEA emphasizing in International Relations. She said her decision to double major was “mostly because I take an interdisciplinary approach to learning and looking at the world.”
A member of the swim team and lifeguard at Trefethen pool on campus, Love also played in the basketball club and was a Summer Arts camp counselor for the Athletics department.
Love’s former swim coach, Neil Virtue, said she most impressed him with her personal and political approach to everything she did.
“She didn’t do anything without considering the effects it was going to have on the greater good,” Virtue said.
He has been reading Love’s online journal to keep apprised of her work in India.
Love recommended every Mills woman complete an independent study in something they love. “I did one on the social and political philosophies of anarchism,” she said.
Born and raised in the Martinez area, Love transferred to Mills in the fall of 2003 after earning her Associate’s degree in liberal arts from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, another women’s college.