Hanshi Deshbandhu emigrated from India in the 60s and has spent every year since impacting Friends School Mullica Hill
In late May, Friends School Mullica Hill ended classes early and welcomed community members and former students to sit and reflect on 50 years of dedication put forth by one woman, Hanshi Deshbandhu.
Emigrating from India in 1967 with her husband, a Fulbright scholar, it was quickly discovered by many schools in Philadelphia and South Jersey that Deshbandhu had a mind able to impact the lives of many. Employed as a sixth-grade teacher in 1968 by the Friends School, at the time in Woodbury, Deshbandhu began a career that would call for her to play many roles. Teaching many classes, including English, Deshbandhu also assisted with the implementation of the middle school of which she eventually became associate head. In 2005, Deshbandhu became a trustee of FSMH, and she retired from teaching in 2008.
Deshbandhu was celebrated for her innovative teaching techniques and the emphasis she placed on inclusion. She also believed in firsthand experiences as part of a fruitful education. Deshbandhu, on multiple occasions, took students to Europe. During another trip, Deshbandhu and her students visited the United Nations where they sang a song in Hindi to an Indian ambassador.
On May 31, behind the building that bears her name — The Hanshi Deshbandhu Building — magic was the word of the day.
Reflecting on her career and why she spent so many years at FSMH, she said simply, “It is a magical place.”
Sunshine Jones, a local musician who enjoyed Deshbandhu as her sixth-grade teacher in the mid-1980s, sang a song at the ceremony, the iconic 1981 Police song “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”
Several former students of Deshbandhu spoke at the ceremony. Cori McMahon, who graduated in 1989, asked all former students to “think of a word or a phrase that exemplifies a gift that Teacher Hashi has given to you that has had a lasting power.” While McMahon stated Deshbandhu instilled love within her, former student Chris Knisely recalled in 1968, his sixth-grade year, the presence of a woman in a sari was “unusual but it was completely normal.”
In a press release written by Jared Valdez, director of communications and marketing at FSMH, he wrote, “Dressed in flowing and remarkably colorful traditional saris, she made quite an impression when she began appearing on campus in that small rural community. She remembers literally stopping traffic, as passersby attempted to get a look at such a wondrously clad person from India. … She expressed her culture and traditions proudly and uncompromisingly at time when there was an especially heavy pressure to assimilate.”
David Smith, a classmate of Knisely, said, “What I learned from Hashi more than anything was a combination of self-awareness and awareness that I had a role in a much, much broader world than mine.”
The Hanshi Deshbandhu Building serves the first through eighth grades and the library at FSMH. At 86, Deshbandhu continues to serve on the board of trustees.