Friday, July 4, 2008

Last Reflections

As our time in India comes to an end, it's hard for me to believe that it's really been just 3 weeks since we first set foot in Mumbai. In many ways, the time has flown, and in others, I've settled into a pattern here and feel like I've been in the city forever.

The changes I've noticed, both in myself and in our group, are too numerous to list them all. I watch as my fellow PA students step boldly into the chaos of the traffic while crossing the street, when only a few short weeks ago we had to hold hands just to get the courage to begin. I see how we've observed the poverty and hardships around us with everything from shock to sadness, and I am so impressed with and inspired by my peers as they ceaselessly give their all to the overcoming the challenges we have faced. And most of all, I see how we've grown comfortable with experiencing and sharing tough emotions with each other-- everything from anger to confusion to frustration and beyond.

In the end, I don't think this trip was an opportunity for us 14 extremely privileged kids from PA and Udayachal High School to act as "angels of goodwill" in less fortunate communities for three weeks, and then go home to our double shot Starbucks cappuccinos and on-demand cable, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done and writing this experience off as an impressive filler on a college application. To do so would be an insult to the work we've done here and the things we learned. And while I won't deny that the tired, homesick part of me is ready to go home to hot water and my own bed and take-out Chinese food, I know that my enjoyment of these luxuries will be forever tempered with the images I have in my mind of kids sleeping on highway medians and old men sitting for hours on doorsteps in the slums, waiting patiently for something that I, at least, can't identify. These sights have grown no easier for me to see, but during these 3 weeks I have grown a little bit used to them. In some ways, I wish that wasn't the case. No one should become accustomed to seeing the poverty like the kind we have seen here.

The key to affecting change is to never lose that shock and fury that hits you when you are first exposed to unimaginable injustices. With those emotions as the motor that continues to power your desire to act, and tempered with a "sophisticated empathy" (a phrase Mr. Mundra has used), any change you can imagine is yours for the making. I hope I never lose that vulnerability that has allowed me to get so much out of this trip, and I hope that this is only the first of many experiences I will have that leave me changed for the better in more ways than I could have possibly imagined.


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