It's unbelievable how satisfying simply giving back to your community can be. Today was by far the most memorable day of my volunteering experience here in Hyderabad.
Just a little background information on the program, before I begin describing my experience:
The group who organized this program is called Svecha, which means freedom in Telegu. They started this program with three people (Kirin Mai, Arvind, and Shiva) with five slum children one year ago. The parents of these children were apprehensive about this program thinking that they would politically scam or rob these children of their youth. But obviously this was not the case. The Svecha staff slowly won the confidence and trust of these parents and today there were approximately sixty children. Most of these kids had never been to school before Svecha. The older girls stayed home and helped their mothers with domestic chores, while the boys were sent off to do manual labor. There are child labor laws in India, but it is apparent that they are not strictly enforced. When parents are so poor that they are not able to feed and provide for their families they have no choice but to send their kids to work rather than school. But because of Svecha, these children have gained something that is invaluable: an education. Svecha sends each and every one of the slum children to school. These children have grown to look forward to and love their Sundays when they are able to play games and interact with the Svecha staff.
Ammama (my Grandmother) informed me that we were to travel to one of the local slums in Hyderabad on Sunday morning to spend time with some of the kids there. I was immediately excited, as I adore kids, but also a bit nervous, because I wasn't sure what to expect. Sunday morning came, bright and early, and I dragged my sleepy sluggish self to the car promptly at 7:45 AM. The car ride consisted mostly of Ammama talking while I was still trying to wake up. I was worried that I would be a sleeping zombie when we arrived but this immediately changed. As soon as we arrived, I was struck by the conditions. The drive to the slums had been filled with glamorous malls and colossal shopping complexes. To think that a whole world exists beyond the glamor was unbelievable. We eagerly approached the area where the staff was gathered. We were introduced to Aravind, Kirin, and Shiva. They briefly told us about the program they had started and then we began.
The program begin with a prayer recited by some of the older girls.
There were so many kids there. I believe it was around sixty or seventy. After the prayer, Ammama (my grandmother) and I asked Kirin if it was OK for us to engage the kids with games. The day began with London Bridges Falling down, which the kids absolutely loved. Their squeals of joy and laughter when they were caught were heart warming.
After the first game, we played three more games. Each one filled with laughter, smiles, crazy dancing, songs, and chasing after each other. After the games, we gave each child a packet of biscuits and milk; they were thrilled. But something about this struck me. We were told by the staff that the children would only drink half of their milk and biscuits and give the rest to their parents. It is evident that these families are so poor and impoverished, to the point where their children must sacrifice so much to help their families. However, the staff would not allow the children to leave with their biscuits and milk and ensured that each and every one of them drank and ate their snacks. The children quickly ate their snacks and then I had the opportunity to mingle with each one of them. Although there was a language barrier, we high fived, and hand shook like the best of friends and had a great time. They laughed and told me their names and were so friendly and affectionate towards me. They even said "Sunday Vosta Va", which is Telegu for, Will you come back next Sunday? And I said of course, because I had the time of my life with those kids.
I don't think I can even begin to describe in words the feeling spending time with these kids gave me. Despite the difficulties and poverty they face, they still manage to greet each new day with their beautiful smiles and laughter. They are able to look past the obstacles in their life and be happy. These kids are my role models and I was honored to be able to spend the morning with them. They were so loving and affectionate. They said their good byes approximately 30 times and followed me to the car. They held my hand and blew me kisses through the car window and chased after our car. I was so sad to leave them, and I honestly could have spent the whole day with them. In fact, I wanted to take each and every one of them home with me. This trip to India has been life changing in so many ways, but this was one of the most important experiences I have had here thus far. I know these kids and the perspective and attitude I was able to gain there will always remain with me.
Also a huge thanks to the staff (Arvind, Shiva, and Kirin) who coordinated this. Without them, I would not have been given this extraordinary opportunity. Also a thanks to Ammama for making sure I got involved in this wonderful community service project!