Monday, September 29, 2008
by Michael Scognamiglio
Seven years, blade thin, big clothes, not a sin
Outside the Bombay temple, the markets pulse races
Hindi yelps in the air, quick gasps, blurred faces.
The auspicious day so the temple was spilling
Line winds serpentine, frantically and willing.
But even amidst the throngs of devotees
There was really only one girl I could see
Whispering Hindi to me.
Her hands on her lips, forming a bowl
“Please” she breathes, an arrow to my soul.
The pavement around her, piles of filth
She begged on her tiptoes, up like stilts
Her fragile fingers recite Mozart on my arm
Pressing and tapping and gripping, my alarms
Are blaring in my head, nerves on fire
Cause what I know I should do and what I know I should do are not the same
“Don’t even look at them” that’s what they say
“Shake your head, do not pay, shake your head, walk away”
But the Hindi plea she breathed, was like a sacred prayer
Her wet black eyes framed by untamed hair
As tall as my buckle but her gaze in the skies
Looking straight at me, straight into my eyes
Oh the crowd was a cage
They locked us inside
There was no avoiding this tragic collide
Like a minor note in a major key
She was all that I could see.
We pushed through the crowd, she kept right beside me
Small steps, quick paces, eyes fixed in a hurry
I slipped through the gate, she was stopped by security
But when I looked back through the wire
She was still there, watching me, forlorn eyes on fire.
Cause what I knew I should do and what I knew I should do
I still don’t know
Which one was right
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Daily News and Analysis, "Mumbai - Students Join Hands for Sustainable Change" (August 2008)
India New England "Phillips Academy students learn, serve in Mumbai" (August 2008)
Lokvani “In Conversation with Raj Mundra” (September 2008)
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Friday, July 4, 2008
It’s actually here. There is no turning back from reality now. We are leaving Mumbai in approximately six hours. I cannot quite grasp my emotions yet, however. It is a culmination of sorrow, regret, and apprehensive eagerness. I know that this experience like this will only come once in a lifetime, but I also know that what I take away from NISWARTH in terms of mentality and future action is even more important. I have come away from these three weeks with a burning inspiration to go out into the world, pursue my passion, and make change. I can no longer be content with simply standing on the sideline. Youth are the next generation- that is not going to change- so we have the responsibility to change the world and its vicious cycle.
I have learned so much here, seen so much here- I feel guilty going back to
I have laughed more on this trip than I believe I have during the entire last school year. Of that I am certain. I wish I could condense this trip into an essay or a five-minute speech, but I can’t. It just is not possible. No matter how much we try to explain what we did or saw or felt, no one but us will be able to understand. I wish everyone back home could be a part of NISWARTH. I am beyond grateful to have had this opportunity.
We are coming home soon. And we are coming home changed.Zahra Bhaiwala.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Today we presented at the Udyachal school and I started to realize just how lucky we were to have had this experience. Sure, there were days that we were sick and tired, emotionally overloaded, scared of what we were experiencing. But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Many students approached us at the school and asked if we enjoyed Niswarth, if it was worth the trip. Instantly, I answered yes.
Last night, no one wanted to sleep, due to the fact that we knew the end was closing in. Not to be too cliché, but I just keep remembering that, yes, this is the end, but it’s the beginning of a new mindset for each one of us. Between Michael, Dr. Shaw, Mr. Housiaux, and Ms. Curci leaving last night, Aditya going to Delhi tomorrow, Alana embarking on an Ethiopian excursion, Tessa splitting off at Heathrow, and the final few returning to Andover, there will be tears. This experience has been incredible and I wouldn’t trade what I’ve done for the world.
I am changed. How I will apply this new self, I am still not sure. I can’t even completely put my finger on exactly what inside of me is different. I anticipate being temperamental on my return home. I am sure my eyes will see things differently and my heart will undoubtedly be confused at the way this world works, but I know good will come from it.
Today one girl at Udayachal asked if I would come back someday. I told her that I would love to—be it a gap year, a summer internship, or Taranjeet’s wedding. She asked if I would come back and visit the school, if I would see Neha and Ashwaryia, Kartik, Aditya, Soloni, and Piyush (I’m sorry guys, I know I spelled your names wrong!!). I told them that I would definitely see them.
“Do you promise?” she asked.
“I promise,” I replied. “I don’t know when, but I promise I’ll come back.”
And I plan on keeping that promise.
Todays dinner at my fellow udayachalite aditya was a really good experience.The bollywood movie we watched there was soooooo muchhh fun. But departing with scogs and the faculty members was a tearful farewell. That's when we realized how attatched we had got in just a matter of three weeks.
Going home is going to be so difficult. To say good bye to the PA kids is really tough. I'll miss them all. Anyways internet will be our saviour. All of us have got facebook accounts made and hope to keep in touch. We all have planned our follow up projects and are looking forward to being changemakers. WE ARE THE FUTURE CHANGE MAKERS!
UDAYACHAL HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT
On Wednesday, some of us visited the US consulate in Mumbai, and spoke with an official at the consulate, Michael Newbill. He provided us with the State Department's perspective on India and Mumbai's development. He also spoke with us about his background in the foreign service, and what life is like transferring every two years to a completely new coutnry. That evening, we were able to spend some time buying last-minute gifts for friends and family at home, and we went out to an excellent restaurant in South Mumbai.
It is hard to quantify the how this trip has affected me, and for the next few months, that will be a major goal for all of us. The most tangible effect that the trip has had on me is that it has sparked a desire to continue community service and begin participating in service work at Phillips Academy. However, this trip has also given me the opportunity to meet extremely successful, interesting people, who offer many different perspectives on urban development, as well as experiences that will last a lifetime. The most enjoyable and influential aspects of the trip for me were the visits to the various communities around Mumbai, such as the Dharavi community, the Cuffe Parade community, and the Mankhurd building complex. The fact that we are able to experience some of the aspects of life in two very distinct types of communities, the open air slum communities and the building communities, was amazing, but the fact that we were able to actually make a difference on the final day by cleaning a building and successfully petitioning for access to running clean water for the building really impacted us the most.
I am going to miss living and spending time with this amazing group of faculty and students. I would like to thank everyone who has made this trip possible, especially our two head faculty members, Mr. Mundra and Alana. Thanks for reading the blog, and we are looking forward to sharing our experiences with you first hand once we reach home.
-Aditya Mithal (Phillips Academy '10)
It was decided that we all would discuss about the most important topic-PRIVILEGE!
It was then that we understood the true meaning of PRIVELEGE.The activity that we had involved each one of us & made us feel really enthusiastic.Thoughts were just flowing in & out of our minds.Each one of us were told to note down the 8 top privileges we as students had in our lives.Then we were asked to eliminate one by one the things we could afford to lose in our lives which was quite tough by the end.We then had to chose one prime privilege.Aishwarya chose 'A supportive family'& saloni chose 'Living a healthy life'.We were really surprised as this activity was an eye-opener & made us more aware of our comforts.
We then also had a group discussion about the activities in all the three weeks which actually created an impact on each one of us.
In the evening we went to Aditya Bajaj's(an Udayachal student)place & had a wonderful time there.We watched a bollywood movie 'JAB WE MET'& enjoyed every bit of it.We then had a lovely home-made dinner(after 3 weeeks)& relished it to the fullest.
It was then that the toughest part came because Micahel,Mr.Housiaux,Miss Cursy,Dr.Shaw were leaving for Boston.It was an emotional moment for each one of us & some of us broke into tears.But we finally realized the truth that we had to depart.Today was a fun-filled day as well as an emotional evening!!!
-We'll miss u NISWARTH & ALL THE P.A KIDS!!!
............SALONI SHARMA & AISHWARYA NAIR(Udayachal students)!!!
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Talking about an impressive personality, I also met this really catchy person at a dinner at the Godrej's residence on June 30th. Ms. Farzana Haque, who simply got my attention through her jaw-dropping success stories. She is currently in a great position with TATA CONSULTANCY SERVICES at such a young age!! For me she has now become an inspiration as I also want to have the same qualities of an entrepreneur which she possesess.
Moving on with today, we had a quick bite at Swati Snacks- a restaurant which was suggested by the Consul himself. Later, we went to FabIndia where we had been previously in our program. I shopped a bit for my mum and my friends and hung out with everyone for two hours. Later, we again had dinner at this great restaurant called KHYBER. Vipin and Teressa from Ashoka Youth Venture also joined in with us for dinner. The food and dessert were great. By the end of the day all of us were quite tired and headed back to our appartments.
I can't actually believe that this thrilling programme has come to its closing moments. It was a brillliant chance for all of us to not only learn and experience new things but also groom the potential that sits somewhere deep inside our hearts and minds........ It's definitely going to be tough to say good bye to all these folks because we have become such good friends that we almost feel like family now. I wish all the best to all my friends of PA and hope they have a bright future and I hope they will never forget us. I will surely miss them.
I also want the next groups for the coming year to have more fun and try to learn as much as they can. My best wishes to all of them. Thank you Phillips Academy and Udayachal. I owe a lot to you!!!!!!!
-Aditya Bajaj from Udayachal
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Monday, June 30, 2008
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
"Does anyone know about yellow hats?"
Yeah, not so much.
"There are different kinds of hats, white hats, blue hats, yellow hats. Yellow hats are for positivity."
She beamed and offered to send us a write-up she had read using colored hats . Okay, a visualisation exercise. I feel that. A flutter of weird, yellow hats zipped through my imagination before I selected mine. A sunny leather cowboy hat. I would have to be in some good mood to wear a hat like that.
Her name was Mansi, and she was our friendly and fun Akanksha liaison for the past three days. She cheerfully explained that we would need our new imaginary hats to stay positive in the face of changed plans and expectations. It was a worrying statement, but I stayed hopeful.
Our first task was simple: clean the corridors. We fretted about sustainable service and cleaning supplies, standing up in the building's Akanksha centre. A cozy blue and yellow room with barred windows and seemingly mosaic flooring, covered in typical elementary school fare. ABC's, coloring, and sharing. What we wouldn't give...
Some of us dragged ourselves skeptically into the hallway, others were more optimistic. We followed the Hindi and Marathi speakers (the state language) among us and asked residents for buckets and brooms while a few went to a nearby store to pickup some soap.
After a generous and warm response from the families of the complex in Mankhurd which housed people displaced from slum communities, we armed ourselves with umbrellas, raincoats, and pails to collect water down the street. Running water indoors comes for just minutes, with a few days between.
We took advantage of the wet weather by collecting water from the rain gutters of adjacent buildings. Some visited the source down the road that provided drinking water. There was none.
A taste of life in a seven floor building with poor access to water and a non-functional elevator was had by all. The previous day we were told the elevator was shut down after a child lost his life in a fall down the shaft. When it did run, those living in building 21B were charged outside their means whether they used the lift or not. A rock and a hard place.
The cleaning began. Floors slicked with the foamy water, light and dark hands scoured the halls with modern scrub brushes and traditional brooms made from thin branches bound at one end with a strip of leather. Small children came from their homes to help their mothers wash away the grime. On the second floor, those who live there completely took over the effort. People living in a similar building across the way took notice and were observed starting to clean their halls as well.
Now the water was coming from the building's reserve (kept in two big, blue plastic drums) at the residents' request. A small spat broke out between two women, one unwilling to help, the other telling her she should take advantage of the extra help.
Smiles were all over once-apprehensive faces, both ours' and theirs'. We smiled and laughed and talked, together. Two hours later, the fruits of our labor manifested as mushy clumps of refuse on the lower floors, a result of a trickle down system of cleaning from the upper floors.
We returned to our starting point, the blue and yellow room. Sweaty, clothes soaked in rain and soap water. Grinning widely. Surely the high-traffic staircases and corridors would soon be dirty again, but perhaps we started something else. Perhaps we unexpectedly found the sustainable, successful impact for which we were aiming.
The people of 21B worshipped Allah and Ganesha, spoke Hindi and Marathi. Different backgrounds, different lives lead in different slums. They were civil to their neighbors, but yesterday they worked together. Community-building catalysts disguised as one-time volunteer housekeepers? I hope so.
Leaving the colony makes me think about the experience here thusfar. I remember the hazy first night, two in the morning carrying all of our luggage. We met all the Udayachal students, and their names all blurred together in my sleepy stupor. My native roommate, Karthik, and I got to a slow start, and with small talk dwindling, I assumed it would be an awkward three weeks. The next morning, I knew I had jumped to conclusions, as we had all begun to warm up to each other. Now, a little more than a week later, I feel like I've known my pals forever. The conversations have moved far beyond the, "Do they eat Reeses Pieces in India?" or "Do you have a Crosswords in America?" to sincere topics. Discussions of american school dances, the emerging popularity of love marriages in India, the difference between Hollywood and Bollywood, and more have taken up hours at night. Topics as serious as politics and terrorism also come up, and it is fascinating to hear the perspectives of those with very different problems. For my birthday present, they all signed a huge card, and presented me with a neatly wrapped box. Inside was a joking mug, but my favorite was the inscription on the bottom in pen: "Don't Forget Us"! No quesiton about it, I definitely will not.
On a different note, today was one of the most inspirational days of my life. We returned to Mankhurd, a relocation community that houses families from the slum areas. Our plan was to simply pass around a petition to increase the amount of water flowing through the pipes (as of now, it's once every three days, for 20 minutes). We all felt quite passionately about this, so it came as a shock when Mansi, our Akansha host, informed us that we would be cleaning all 7 floors. The majority of us seemed bummed, not because we felt we were too good to clean, but because it seemed impossible. While the accommodations are comparatively nicer than the slum areas, the halls are caked in dirt, flies swarm furiously around, and trash was piled haphazardly in corners. We had two hours, it seemed like an impossible job. "We can get help from the community!" she encouraged. "What an idealistic thought!" I assumed, I felt that we were already invading these peoples spaces, now we're going to ask them to do hard labor and tell them what to do! When we set out to ask for supplies, I cringed thinking of their hurt and indignant reactions.
I was wrong, completely wrong! It pains me to recall my attitudes and unfair preconceived notions. Not only did many supply us with brooms for sweeping, detergent for scrubbing, brushes, and buckets, but almost all of them helped! 7 floors of people, all EAGER to help! Out of nowhere, the halls are flooded with people, scrubbing and washing! Even the monsoon rains, which had contributed to my pessimistic attitude that morning, were more useful than we could imagine, supplying us with a steady flow of fresh water from the drain pipes outside the building! Halls were flooded with water, women and children swishing suds into dirty corners, men hustling up stairs with extra supplies and water. As water was used up quickly, I spent most of the time filling up buckets and bringing them up the stairs, a task that I could manage and that I knew would be of great help. All of the residents were joking and laughing, young boys trying to impress me by carrying as many buckets as they could.
After an hour of filling the bukets from the streets and hauling them up the flights, I passed a man standing by the rail on the fourth floor. His boy grabbed my pants leg and starting speaking at me in Hindi. I looked up apoligitically, and prepared to keep walking with my buckets, when he said, "Come!". Startled, I approached the rail and saw him working a pully system. He had tied a bucket to a rope from the ledge and was lowering it to a nearby drainpipe! "Smart!" I pointed to his brain and we both smiled, what an amazing idea! Even the men of the community, who we presumed would stay away from our work were doing all they could! Young children used the newly slippery floors, caked in suds, to their advantage as a makeshift slip-n-slide. As toddlers flew past me on their tummies at speeds previously unknown to man, it hit me how wrong my initial impression was. In addition to passing around the petition, we got the entire community to have fun with this job, and while it may not have been as sustainable as we were pushing for, it surpassed social barriers and led to change in, I think, everyone! This one boy, I called my "detergent sidekick" because he always insisted on spreading the detergent when I doused the floors (sometimes he sprinkled too liberally, I had to teach him the correct pouring amount). He palled around with me for the majority of the 2 hours, and even though I don't think we exchanged more than five words, he was giggling the whole time, begging to help with everything! That was an experience I will never forget.
Mr. Shaw gave a fascinating talk on economics, jampacked with huge words and crucial world topics. I am looking forward to Satara tomorrow, but for now, time to spend the first 9 hours of my birthday partying it up with the crew!
I am glad you had a great time visiting the homes of the students of our Special Care Center. We hope the students of Phillips Academy as well as the students of Udayachal High School had a great experience.
Our students of Special Care Center, Save The Children India had a very enriching experience interacting with the students of Phillips Academy and the Udayachal High School. At the end of the workshop it was very interesting to see the four groups perform, whether it was dance, art, computers, or theatre. For the first time I saw them [STCI students] so confident. The way the students connected, it was hard to believe they had only spent 8 hours teaching them. It was a very emotional moment when each student as a part of the group came up to say a few words to thank the students of Phillips Academy and the Udyachal High School. What really touched them was the way the students made them feel a part of them like any other normal child and they knew they had found a new friend. Words are not enough to express the joy and happiness the students felt.
With Warm Regards, Natasha
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Today was our second venture into the community here in Mumbai. I felt much more prepared for the experience, having already been exposed to similar environments on Friday during our STCI home visits.
It has not gotten easier for me to see the living conditions in the slums here in India, but I do feel that I have become accustomed to it. On our first day here, Mr. Mundra drew a distinction between observation and judgment. Over the past week here, I think that one of my personal achievements has been developing the ability to look at something without drawing premature conclusions about it. That has definitely served me well as we have ventured into the community, where we are usually greeted with friendliness, but where we also have to be prepared for animosity and wariness on the part of community members who see us as outsiders. It helps to go in without assumptions, as Mr. Mundra said: observing, but not judging.
Our assignment this afternoon, given to us by Akanksha, was to take two hours in the community to complete a kind of scavenger hunt in small groups. Our goals were experiences, not tangible objects-- things like finding the cheapest oranges in the community, faking an ailment and visiting a doctor, using a public toilet, and finding the oldest person in the community. My group was able to complete most of the tasks fairly quickly, so we spent the remainder of our time interacting with community members, even visiting some of their houses.
I never cease to be surprised by the generosity of these people. When we visited the homes of STCI students last Friday, their parents were very welcoming to us, but part of me wondered if they only were so open and inviting because they had already known we were coming. I now know that this is not the case; on many occasions today, I was invited with open arms into a stranger’s house (a stranger who did not expect me), where I was offered food, told stories, and allowed to play with the family’s kids. This kindness always surprises and touches me. That I should be shown such patience and consideration, when it would be easier (and completely justifiable) to greet me with anger or disdain, is a rare and meaningful thing.
On a side note, I think it is getting hard for a lot of us PA kids—many of us are battling sicknesses, allergies, sleep deprivation, and the difficulties of dietary adjustment. On top of it all, we are 8,000 miles away from home and are no longer running off adrenaline. We’ve settled into a pattern here and are slowly but surely beginning to realize how very over our heads much of this experience is. I think it will take a lot of perseverance for us to continue to get as much out of this trip as we possibly can, but I have no doubts that we all have it in us. We’ve proven it again and again already, and I can only believe it will get better. Our willingness to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into yet another challenging and nervewracking experience today was again an example of the drive and strong character of each and every person on this trip that makes me honored to share this experience with them.
Their remarks and ensuing discussions will focus on three central questions:
- What are the main challenges Mumbai will confront in the next 20 years?
- What roles do young people in Mumbai and from outside India play in the development of Mumbai?
- How are young people empowered to be Changemakers?
Chief Guest and Keynote Speaker:
• Sanjay Ubale, Minister for Urban Development, State of Maharashtra
• Michael Newbill, Chief of Economic and Political Affairs, US Consulate in Mumbai
• Shaheen Mistri, Founder and CEO of the Akanksha Foundation
• Navroze Godrej, Special Projects, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. (PA ’01)
• Emily Kumpel, graduate student at Berkley and volunteer for Haath Mein Sehat Project in Mumbai (PA ’02)
Participating schools and organizations include:
• Phillips Academy, Andover, MA USA
• Udayachal School, Vikhroli, Mumbai
• American School of Bombay
• Bombay International School
• Akanksha – Social Leadership Programme
• Save the Children India
• PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action & Research)
• Haath Mein Sehat, Mumbai
• Ashoka Youth Venture
Monday, June 23, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Visiting the Dharavi slums was an eye-opening experience. The first of two homes that the group visited was in a packed, cramped alley. The houses were so closely linked that the roofs blocked out most of the light. The resident of the home said that she and her family have to move around every fifteen days, since they do not own a home. Two of her four children were hearing impaired, and another had polio. She and her family had left their village to provide a better life for her children. One of her hearing impaired children attends the STCI Special Care Center. The second home that we visited was located off of a main thoroughfare inside the slum. The house had three floors, fans, lights, a television, and a Nintendo game system. Three brothers and their families lived there. The structure was entirely legal, and the family had to pay Rs. 100 (Approximately $2.50) per month as rent. A highlight of this visit was the hospitality shown by the residents. Soon after we arrived, one of the members of the community went to purchase a large bottle of the popular soft drink, Thumbs Up. We were complete outsiders in an extremely poor community, and yet we were still made to feel extremely welcome.
The protests at the Muland Mall gave a true depiction of the role religion plays in India. It showed how religion can change relatively small events into a state or even a nation-wide affair. The news stated that the police in the entire state of Maharashtra were put on high alert, and extra officers were sent to the Sikh communities across the state to prevent more protests and violence.
Today (June 21st), we saw another side of India. We shopped at the brand new, state-of-the-art, Oberoi Shopping Mall. The mall gave us an excellent example of India's recent rapid economic development. Inside the mall were countless stores selling all brands one might find in any mall across the globe, an arcade, a multiplex cinema, and an extensive food court. We were in the mall for over three hours, and the entire group had a lot of fun. One of my peers even said that "this is the nicest mall I've ever visited."
We also visited the popular destination for Mumbaikars and Tourists alike, Juhu Beach. The beach was filled with people enjoying the view and the breeze. However, the entire beach, and the water was littered with trash. We explored the beach for over thirty minutes. For dinner, we enjoyed an excellent meal at the Hotel Sea Princess, within walking distance of the beach.
These past two days have been overwhelming, thought-provoking, and have given me much more perspective on my own life. I have experienced mobs, slums, malls, and beaches, and each event has given me new information on the development of both Mumbai and India as a whole. India is a country of stark contrasts; office buildings housing international corporations and brand new international schools neighbor Asia's second largest slum. However I believe that for in order for India to continue to sustain the relative economic prosperity and development of the past decade, something must be done to diminish the discrepancies that currently exist within India. Although India has come a long way since its independence sixty-one years ago, there is still much more work to be done. As the trip progresses, I hope to find out what tactics are being implemented currently and what else can be done to decrease these discrepancies.
-Aditya (Phillips Academy '10)
Friday, June 20, 2008
Though they were very poor, their nature was quite warm and hospitable and they felt free to share their problems. The basic challenges that they faced daily were that the electricity supply was not regular, it was really hot, & the water supply was not regular. There was a garbage dump close to the house we visited and so the place kept stinking. The area was very crowded with houses leaving a really narrow path to walk. The circulation of air in the houses was not good and may be that was the reason I observed an exhaust fan in every house. The houses were basically a small room on op of which another room was illegally made. The stairs to the room on top were steep and narrow.
We all were really eager to know the comments that the onlookers were passing. It was really depressing to see the poverty in which our STCI friends were living in. This was when we started realizing how much we have & we began to appreciate the pleasures of life. This visit had a huge role in changing our outlook towards life.
- Kartik and Neha (Udayachal)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
On behalf of all the children and the staff members at the shelter I want to thank you for the donation, that your organisation has made to support the activities being run at the shelter.
With your support we will be able to arrange many more educational and recreational outings for the children, and give them a fun-filled childhood they deserve. The children are really excited and are looking forward to this.
It was also touching to see all the young students, eager to give their time to reach out and interact with the children. I do hope that the experience was as meaningful for them as it was for our children
We are sure that with the support of committed people and organisations such as yours we will be able to achieve our mission of "No Child Working, Every Child in School and Learning Well"
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
A stern woman in uniform greeted us at the top of the staircase leading up to the floor, which had been devoted specifically to SOS. After she opened an incredibly ominous gate, we passed by a few barred windows, removed our shoes, and were greeted by an enthusiastic group of girls who were interested in continuing our conversations from the previous day.
Amidst the colorful walls and bright saris, I connected with the girls through Piyush, who was an excellent translator. When we began, only one girl answered his questions. While some of the girls whispered questions to her, spoke amongst themselves, or simply sat to enjoy the experience, the group became more and more relaxed as the girls became more comfortable with our presence.
In our hour-long meeting, we shared photos, songs and candy. As a side note, Aditya, Mr. Mundra and I were asked to sing an American song. To be quite blunt, I do not sing. Despite having a long relationship with music, my vocal chords have never benefited from those years of lessons. Thus, upon their request to sing an American song, I simply did not know what to do.
“This is a once in a life time opportunity,” Mr. Mundra said (of course there was no pressure here). So, after a good few minutes of mumbling, reddening cheeks, and changes in keys, with the help of Mr. Mundra and Aditya’s humming, we finised the American national anthem.
This post has come to be more of a summary rather than my opinions on the event simply because I find it incredibly difficult to put into words what I have been seeing. To talk with these girls, see their reactions to our questions, and hear their lives, one would not see that they are survivors of years of trafficking, egregious sex crimes, and for me, incomprehensible lives.
For the readers, here is what I am trying to comprehend-
• How a girl who is more or less my age can have a four-year old child.
• How she can only see that child once every two weeks.
• How these girls have no freedom- they are in the possession of the government are refined to the government sites. Any desires to leave this compound (to see a movie, buys clothes etc.) must be down under strict supervision.
• How distressed one girl became when we talked about our age, birthdays, birthday parties and astrological signs- she did not know any of that information.
• Although all the girls looked quite different, due to the fact that they are not only from various rural villages from all over India, but also the surrounding countries, one girl looked part Caucasian. She completely understood English.
• How one girl, who was incredibly confident, said she would have liked to become a phone caller. She will not be able to because of her current situation.
• How the girls described that they really wanted to be able to travel. The listed London, Germany, Italy and America as their top destinations. All of those locations are prominently featured in Bollywood films, they described.
• What they do when they are in their government compound- talk about their pasts, as one girl said.
• How much I connect with these girls, how similar I feel to them, yet how incredibly different our lives have been.
• How privileged I am.
After finishing off our day at one of the nicest restaurants in Mumbai, (which, per person, came to cost less than our sandwiches in Logan airport) we walked a few blocks to a ritzy, chic gelato place, much like ones we would see in any major city in the U.S. Yet, being Mumbai, surrounding the small entry way were children begging for food, money, anything. As the first overweight Indian teenager I have seen left the gelato place, a malnourished child approached our group, tugging on our sleeves, pointing to his mouth. Whether or not it was the fact that I am lactose intolerant, was bloated, or had just seen a child dying from hunger, for some reasons, which I still cannot identify, I never ordered a dessert.
I encourage all readers to learn more about the SOS program via the STCI website (which you can find on the side bar under links). Questions and comments are, of course, welcome.
Best wishes to all,