Thursday, June 19, 2008

June 19, 2008

It is hard to believe that we have only been here for for four days. The amount we have learned, seen, and absorbed is more than surreal. Today was a day of reflection and pondering of our first impressions and experiences here in Mumbai.
Rising "early" for a change, and leaving for STCI from the colony at 9 AM, we arrived with an hour or so before our scheduled time with the children. We used this time for individual check-ins, written response, and reading "What Sort of Mother Are You?"- a moving and inspiring article on one mother's dedicated and driven work towards improving the lives of disabled individuals. Mr. Mundra asked us to consider several difficult questions: What are we really doing? Are we making a difference? Is our experience worth the time and money spent to come here? Can you see tangible results of our presence here? We had to look inside ourselves and ask- What can we do? What are our strengths and weaknesses? He went on to describe how the NISWARTH program has a unique approach, which should be focused on more than a harried search for a sweeping outcome. We were reminded that we are working with types of organizations and types of children whom we would not interact with any other way. We have met disabled children, child laborers, and girls as young as ten years old who were ruthlessly trafficked. Our reactions to these meetings and the manner in which we conduct ourselves and combat these issues is what is most important. To be able to overcome this obstacle is a different task than what we face academically in school.
All of the teachers expressed how proud they were that we were throwing ourselves in, simultaneously meshing and collaborating with each other in our mutual quest here in Mumbai. The more one puts into his endeavor, the more one gets out of it. "Bombay is a city where the issues are always in your face," as Mr. Mundra succinctly stated. While attempting to piece together my thoughts and emotions of the last few days, I kept coming to a realization that life truly is short. Each time I see a beggar tapping on the car window, or a child sleeping in the dirt path, I remember that there are so many things we want to do, and there are so many people we want to help- but it is impossible to do everything. While this was depressing in some factors, I was reminded that we must do our best with the time that is given to us, but not compromise our own happiness. I found that what I have love most about this trip so far is not so much experiencing the political, cultural, or logistical aspects of India- but simply the moments we have been able to spend with the children. Seeing them smile, seeing them laugh, being in constant awe of their continued success at any challenge we present to them- is truly priceless. I hope to be a doctor, a profession I believe provides the most direct connection with humans. I believe I benefit most from this connection, this bond that is formed on both ends of the spectrum. In my own eyes, we have all accomplished what I set out here to do. We have all brightened at least one child's day. We are in the process of gaining a thorough understanding of the reality. We are getting the exposure, we are opening the door to an otherwise unimaginable world. I am only looking forward to our time to come.
At about 11:30, we assembled into our four project groups (Art, Theater, Dance, and Computers) to make our final preparations for our exhibitions. Although my Art group had finished the main component of our product (which was a large paper consisting of the child's two handprints, their name in Hindi and English, and any decoration they so chose), Neha, Mr. Mundra, and I decided to add to their portfolios. Mr. Mundra donated a plethora of supplies to the Art Program at STCI, and we gave them a special black-scratch paper to create rainbow designs. Two of the girls, Sana and Rukhsana, produced flower designs that could rival any of my classroom sketches. We also used this time to assist the children in their actual presentation of their work, slowly working them through "My name is _____" and "Mera nam _____ hain." I have noticed a dramatic change in the confidence of all the children over the past few days.
After a lunch reminiscent of my own traditional home-cooked meals (palak paneer, toor daal, aloo, and roti), many of us arrived early at the Conference Room before the exhibition to spend extra time with the children. Photos were snapped left and right, and I was engaged in an unyielding game of chase with a boy who had just turned five. I honestly do not even think about the childrens' situations when I am with them. I play and talk and feel as if they are my own family. I have laughed more during this trip than I believe I have during the entirety of the last school year.
The final exhibition truly baffled the board members of STCI. The dance group performed two classical Hindi songs with grace and enthusiasm, and was asked for a repeat performance. The theater troupe put on a short but clever skit that utilized a scenario of a bear and animal, ending with one child's concluding lesson that one should always keep good company. The computer group displayed a completely child-produced power point presentation consisting of pictures they took themselves, as well as created manually using WordTools. Many children also came up in front of everyone to give their thanks at the end of the event, a first step for almost all of them- according to the board. We were informed, to our utmost joy, that we truly have made a positive difference. The feeling that overcame me is inexplicable. It was simply proof that we must be doing something right here. We are on the right path.
After the presentation, we had a few hours to pass until the dinner scheduled with Police Chief Kamble. I truly observed the bonding of our own NISWARTH group during these short moments. I have noticed that we are no longer segregated in Udayachal and Andover clusters, but are interspersed, sharing our cultures, language, and memories. The notebooks of my American classmates are dotted with newly-learned Hindi vocabulary, and more than one Udayachal ear harbors the white earpiece of an IPod at all times. Just last night, nearly all of us stayed up past midnight- despite the long day, we were not exhausted enough to play infinite rounds of "Spoons," presumably creating enough of a racket as to prevent any poor resident from sleeping at all. I am honestly baffled by the closeness I feel to everyone in our group, which at first seemed random and divided. I know it can only get better.
All of us, including the boys, got Mehndhi (Henna) done on our hands by a few of the STCI students. Hopefully, visual proof will be up on the internet soon so that all can see how professional these girls are capable of being. I have not seen such elaborate and skilled work done at some of the largest Indian weddings. This just goes to show how we have been surprised by our underestimation over the course of the trip. Instead of passing all the time at the STCI center, we voted on spending an hour shopping at a string of local clothing and item shops. With the help of Udayachal teacher Taranjeet, many a bargain was made.
On the bus rides, I have found myself staring out the window to see the streets of Mumbai, while may always seem the same- soiled and crowded- there are many small instances that I have noticed. In the dusk, I was drawn to the light of a small wood fire which a child and his father were huddled over, roasting a dead chicken. Another father was propped up against the side of his slum with his child in his lap, reading to him from a tattered book. In the heat of the day, while humming the Bollywood tunes of the radio under my breath, I tend to see harsher realities. Yet another one-limbed man migrates from vehicle to vehicle, another insect-ridden infant is bathing in the puddles of poverty. Why has God created suffering? Why has he created poverty? Why has he allowed hunger?
I could write endlessly about the rest of the day, and the rest of my own thoughts. Yet time is always a constraint. Until next time.


HeyShaLaNeyNo said...

Very nice post - your comittment to the program is outstanding.

These posts really help make us feel like we're along with you.

Aftab said...

Zahra, your post was very well written, informational, emotive and inspiring. May your passion for community service continue for many many years to come.