Reflections from Dharamsala – Celanese Employees Improving the World

In June, ten Celanese employees departed for Dharamsala, India to participate in the first of two Celanese International Impact Program (CIIP) service events in 2016. The first group’s assignment is to serve for two weeks at an Anganwadi – a daycare setting.  A few of our employees reflected on their experience shortly after arriving in India to start their assignments.

Silke Zimmermann
Frankfurt, Germany

Our first days have been very impressive, emotional and joyful for me. I’m impressed by the friendliness of the people – no matter if they work in developed areas or in the under-resourced education center where we volunteer.  I’m equally impressed and emotionally touched by the kids. We teach them the alphabet, numbers, colors and rhymes each day. It’s sad to see how little they have. No daycares filled with toys, no rooms with chairs or tables, not much light in the rooms either. We sit with the kids on dirty carpets, on the concrete floor. They call me “Didi” (big sister) and seem to be full of happiness when we show up and play and sing with them. When we did the “monkey song” today (thank goodness I’m on a team with Cole (Florence, USA) who plays guitar), one little boy was finally singing the song on his own.

Sometimes I think our first world problems are nothing compared to what these people’s lives are over here. Do we really need bigger and fancier cars, big houses and all the fancy things around us to impress people we don’t even know or we don’t really care about? Sometimes I ask myself who is teaching whom? People and kids with so little, having no valuables and opportunities in their life, but are so rich in their hearts and can give us more than you can pay with money.  I’ve already had so much fun with my colleagues from different locations in the U.S., Europe and Asia.  We have such great and passionate people that it makes me very proud to work for Celanese. One of the best experiences I can think of.


Sugam Kulkarni
Mumbai, India

I was really proud when I got the email confirming I was chosen for CIIP, not only because I could volunteer and do community service but also because it was in India. As our departure drew closer I got more and more excited wondering if I could really make the impact that I wanted. When June 12th came however, it came with a lot of anxiety. My early morning flight from Mumbai was delayed and I was on the verge of missing my connecting flight from New Delhi to Dharamsala. I barely made it to the boarding gate and to my surprise, I found my Celanese colleagues eagerly waiting for me. They were all glowing with excitement; having traveled over twenty hours, there was no sign of jet lag at all. After 90 minutes we were in Dharamsala, at an altitude of 1100 meters and situated in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Nothing specific was scheduled for the evening so we settled down and started learning more about one another. In spite of being from different backgrounds and regions, we easily connected.

There was an adrenalin rush when Laura (Dallas, USA) and I were dropped off at our workplace, a daycare center called an Anganwadi. The moment we entered the community, I was stunned. They have very little resources. Rural India is so different from urban India.  We started settling in by initiating conversations with the assistant teacher and befriending kids arriving. Some children came alone, some with their moms, most of them crying as loud as they could – all just staring at us. It seems like a daunting task, but with Laura’s nice singing and my Hindi speaking we have already made progress.


Laura Otto
Dallas, USA

This is my first trip to India and I have to say, it hasn’t been comfortable. I am with people 24 hours a day and not just any people, LOUD people! When I walk down the road, cars or motorbikes passing by honk loudly at me. The food is just a little spicier than I am used to, making my mouth burn after most meals. I haven’t had a hot shower since arriving to Dharamsala.  The people I am working with don’t speak English, so it is a lot of work to try to make myself understood and also to understand. There isn’t safe drinking water from the faucets, so I need to carry bottled water with me. All these experiences have reinforced in my mind that physical comforts and conveniences do not equate to happiness.

I have been overwhelmed by the poverty I see in the children I am working with, and yet they are just like any other children; there are troublemakers, class clowns, grumpy toddlers, over achieving students, and caring little helpers within the group. They are full of laughter and excitement. I can see love in the faces of the mothers that drop them off and they have a teacher who really cares about them. There is so much I wish I could do for them, but can’t. I am not going to change the dirty concrete floor of their one room school building, or buy them the fun new toys that my nieces and nephews have. But I am hoping during my time here they will be able to feel that another person loves and cares for them and hopefully learn some new things. I can already tell that I will probably benefit more from this experience than they will. By leaving my comfort zone, I am learning a different culture and stretching to become a better human being. Despite not being comfortable, I am so happy to be here.


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About the author


Laura Otto (l.) is global sales analyst and is based in Celanese’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
Silke Zimmerman (c.) is senior compensation and benefits analyst for Celanese in Sulzbach, Germany.
Sugam Kulkarni (r.) is regional sales manager for Celanese’s engineered materials business in Mumbai, India.

There are 16 comments. Add yours.

  1. Lisa Moessing says:

    Probably there aren’t enough words to describe what your CIIP team is currently experiencing in India. I am so glad for each of you to take that experience and can’t wait for you to come back and share your stories.

    Enjoy the second half of CIIP #1 2016 and bring us some sunshine to cloudy Germany :)!

    • Laura Otto says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your comment. You are right on – words and pictures are inadequate to describe the experience. I am really thankful for the opportunity!

      • Wilson fernands says:

        Hi this is Wilson I just want to thank laura for the visit in india its so many things to learn in this beautiful world .welcome to india

  2. Neel Sircar says:

    Moments are the most precious gifts in life – something we often forget in our lives. Perhaps, it’s fitting that Dharamsala was chosen as the first CIIP event for 2016. It’s a special place, especially to me since it’s my father’s birthplace. I am pleased to read about your warm and heart-felt recollections.

  3. Sheng Wei says:

    Thank you all for sharing your week 1 impressions. These heart-felt words reach human hearts. I am so glad that Celanese arranged this opportunity. Please do share what else we can do for this daycare.

  4. Diane Crawford says:

    Thanks for sharing! …”and a little child shall lead the”……I can certainly see the leading going on, what a life changing opportunity for all of you.

  5. Belur Sethuram says:

    Great to hear about all the good work the CIIP team is doing. As Laura comments, the task may seem daunting and at times frustating as you can only do so much for the kids, but every little thing counts and I am sure what you are doing will make a huge difference to the kids, their outlook in life and what they take back to their parents and families. All the best for the rest of the program.

  6. Wang Junjue says:

    I just feel so touched and moved after reading all the detailed thoughts and emotions you shared to us so that I could have a more direct sense of the real living situation of Indian children. We will support and participate in this kind of meaningful activities without doubts in the near future which will be aimed to help those who are in need meanwhile would also definitely become a precious experience during our whole lives. Looking forward to your continued update. Thank you for all your efforts again.

  7. Wendy Suter Lim says:

    Way to go team! So proud to hear all the great work and experience sharing. India is a place very close to my heart, from family members to friends, and colorful Delhi stays vivid amazing experience for me, 14 years ago… And I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside…

    Thank you team, and all the best for the remaining trip!

  8. Ruediger Dingeldey says:

    Laura, Silke and Sugam, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. You are making a big difference even if it might not always feel that way. – Don’t think global during these days. See the joy that I am sure you are bringing to the children you are with. And continue to let us be part the wonderful things you are doing in your next blog text.

  9. Todd Elliott says:

    Hi to Laura, Sugam and Silke — it was great to read about your experiences and connecting with the big world out there — thank you for working with those children

  10. Susan Rahe says:

    Thanks for the great blog – and reminding us of what the world needs. Your service will reach far and wide!

  11. Mike Cook says:

    Bravo i detected something in everyone,s comments. It took me a number of years to understand.It is not the things we have but the people who we love and have touched our lives for the better that make us rich.These children and you all will share that from now and forever.

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