Twice a week after leaving the Vidya school, the ACE in India group travels to the Earth Saviours Foundation (ESF) for a second volunteering opportunity. ESF’s mission is to help mentally disabled people who have been abandoned by their families and have nowhere else to go. Our first day on site we were greeted by a staff member who gave us a brief introduction to the Earth Saviors Foundation, followed by a tour of the rescue center. As we weaved our way through the hospital-like beds, each of the residents greeted us with “namaste.” We soon came to the realization that none of the residents spoke English. We began to wonder: How can we build relationships with the residents if we couldn’t even speak to them?
“One of the beautiful aspects of being in this program is that even though we all come from different backgrounds and will take away different lessons from our time in India, we have bonded through our experiences and have created friendships that will last far beyond our time in India.”
Our first task at ESF was to paint the dorms to help brighten the buildings. Due to our subpar artistic skills (we are athletes, after all) we always finished each session coated in paint. Did we even paint the wall or did it paint us? Jokes aside, one of the residents came up to us after offering us some of her own soap and water. She had the biggest smile on her face as she was so excited that she had something she could share with us. We accepted the kind offer and proceeded to wash our hands. During this we decided that maybe we could share some English words, so we pointed at the water and said “water” and then we pointed at the soap and said “soap”. She then gave it a try. She attempted to pronounce water and soap, at which point she began to hysterically laugh. We couldn’t help but to also laugh and soon enough the three of us all stood there laughing together. At this point we discovered we didn’t need verbal communication to have a bonding experience.
From then on we realized that it didn’t matter if we spoke Hindi or not because through our actions we could share an experience that would bring us together. The next time we visited ESF we were on a mission to think of something we could share with another resident that could help build a relationship. There was another resident who was only 16, one of the youngest people living there. She was found on the road with her brother, both of whom are often seen pacing around ESF. She is known to be rather quiet and will occasionally say a few words or smile at you. We wanted to share something with her that would make her smile. We decided to draw some simple flowers on a piece of paper. When we gave it to her she very gently placed it down next to some fruits she had received that same day, but said nothing. She stood up with her eyes locked to the floor and continued pacing. But after just a few steps we saw a smile emerge on her face, and we knew that without even talking we had been able to bond with her.
Upon reflecting on the theme of building relationships through mutual experiences at ESF, we realized that this is exactly what is happening amongst the Duke and Stanford students in the ACE group. Whether we are at the Vidya school, at ESF, or even just walking around New Delhi, we have determined that our shared experiences bring us closer than anything else. There is an aspect to experiencing something new that helps foster the friendships between the Stanford and Duke students. One of the beautiful aspects of being in this program is that even though we all come from different backgrounds and will take away different lessons from our time in India, we have bonded through our experiences and have created friendships that will last far beyond our time in India.