One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in India were the stark contrasts of the country. Beautiful hotels and apartments touching shanty towns. Families on the center dividers of the highways with kids that had no shoes or pants on, banging on the window of an Audi. And the most shocking of all, the school fence being the only thing dividing the children and their playing ground from the dump. Very quickly I began to realize how important my experience as a community partner was going to be in comparison to visiting India as a tourist.
At the end of week two, our group went to visit the Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity House for destitute men and women and for those abandoned by their family members because of mental and physical disabilities. We got out of the car and were greeted by the sisters who took us to a small room where 15 elderly women were sitting. The girls spread out, some of us sitting in chairs and others on the floor, and for a few moments it was silent. None of us really knew what to do. We didn’t speak their language so even the most basic form of interaction was tough to figure out. I felt completely helpless at first, but slowly I got the hang of it and used my body language to connect. We massaged their hands and painted their nails while we simultaneously sang every song we could all conjure up the lyrics for: Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Christmas carols. It didn’t matter what we sang because the atmosphere in the room changed, creating a calmness that I prayed would give the women a few seconds of peace.
“I began my journey to India with the goal to empower the children I would be teaching and coaching. While I believe have I accomplished this goal, I myself am also walking away feeling empowered.”
The guilt I felt, after getting to spend only two hours with these women, knowing I would never again return, made me question the benefits of visiting in the first place. But as we left, I was blessed by each woman and I was reassured that the simple act of human contact goes a long way. I tried to push aside the unoriginal question on replay in my head — “Why is it fair that I live a life of endless opportunity while so many others do not?” — and reminded myself why I originally began my journey: to share connections with others, to learn, and to love. There are many things I can only wish to change, yet touching the lives of those I cross paths with is something I most definitely can do without a second thought.
Teaching the students of Vidya school has been another very humbling experience for me. I have never been more inspired by a group of kids. Their eagerness to learn and excitement to see us every day made me appreciate my time here in India and all of the opportunities I have had back home as a student athlete. Today was the last day at school and saying goodbye was by far the most difficult part of the trip. One of the girls asked me what I liked the most about the school and I took a second to respond. If I had to choose one thing, I would have to say it has been the way I was welcomed by all the students. These kids have never traveled outside of India and rarely see foreigners so everything, from the way we looked to the way we interacted with each other, was unfamiliar to them. But this didn’t seem to matter. They didn’t care that we couldn’t speak their language and in fact they loved how ridiculous we sounded trying to pronounce their names or simple Hindi phrases. They not only accepted us for who we are, but they loved and respected us for spending time with them even though they knew it would eventually come to an end.
Additionally, I found humility seeing how supportive the kids were of their own classmates. Not all of them were able to keep up with the English lessons or pick up on the sports we taught, yet there was always a classmate ready to break down the process in Hindi for the struggling students. And never once did I see a kid sitting alone because he didn’t fit in. They joked around and poked fun at each other and occasionally got aggressive like all kids do, but it was amazing to see the appreciation all the students had for uniqueness. This form of appreciation hasn’t always been as visible to me back at home.
I began my journey to India with the goal to empower the children I would be teaching and coaching. While I believe have I accomplished this goal, I myself am also walking away feeling empowered.