Namaste to all back home! Greetings from India! I was excited when I was asked to write this week because I knew exactly what I wanted to share with everyone back home. I wanted to share about getting to hang out with some kids from the slums of Delhi. We met with the leaders of the Reach Out and Pass It On (ROPIO) Foundation to learn about their program for helping children to take their rightful place in society through their Come Together Family (CTF) branch. It was rather eye-opening to realize how many people live in the slums. In Delhi alone, 52% of the population (approx. 20 million) lives in the slums and those numbers are still rising! After listening to some of the hard facts about the poor living in the slums, the program director filled us in about ROPIO’s mission to help the children of the slums by teaching and tutoring students after school and by re-enrolling drop out students and supporting them to the completion of their education. ROPIO also gives the children a chance to explore their own natural talents and gives them a place where they can showcase their skills. When we finished our discussion session, we all went out to go meet some of the children involved in this program and we were able to interact with and just get to know some of these great kids.
We played some ice breaker games and eventually just sat around talking and trying to get to understand each other. Since none of us can speak Hindi and the children spoke only a little English it made the language barriers interesting, but it was really cool to see that we could still relate without language having to be the main factor. During one activity it was fun to talk with some of the youth about different random things such as their ambitions, likes and dislikes favorite classes, favorite songs, etc. I have to say it was rather surprising how excited they were about Justin Beiber. They sang us some of his songs, and we had fun just goofing off together.
Something that really hit home and meant a lot to me was after we played a treasure hunt game. We were all told that there would be a prize at the end for whoever finished first. Towards the end, all of the groups were left with just one number as a clue that corresponded with all of the other group’s numbers for a final code. We had to work together in order to get all of the pieces to crack the code. Once we cracked the code, the leader explained the reasoning for the game. He said that competition can put people against each other in order to try to win, but it is important to realize that we all need to work together in order to reach our end goal, which today was to crack the code that said “family.” The leader said that it is important to realize that we are all one family striving for the same goals and wants, so if we work together then things will go much better than if each of us was on our own. So many times I have been frustrated with America’s individualistic and competitive nature because through this system only one person really wins and the rest lose. It was really great to see these leaders teaching these group working skills to their youth. Also, it was nice to be reminded that I need to take the time to help out my fellow friends and other people without getting so wrapped up in being competitive and going after what I want that I would step on someone else. Working with the slum children has been one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences for me thus far. I hope that we all will continue to keep learning and growing throughout the rest of this trip. I, personally, feel like I have already been challenged to grow in many ways and I hope that it continues. Thank you for all of your thoughts and prayers – I have been especially grateful for them! Namaste!
Our visit in Bodh Gaya has come and gone but our group still talks about how much we enjoyed our time there. The open spaces, fewer amounts of people and a few free days were refreshing in many ways, not to mention the many delicious cups of chai to go along with great conversations.
A personal highlight for Bodh Gaya was our visit to the Mahabodhi Temple, one of the pilgrimage destinations for Buddhists where the tree of enlightenment grows. We were all tired and wanting our promised nap after an overnight train from Kolkata but our schedule had been rearranged and we were told we had a temple tour first thing after breakfast. As we walked into the temple we were surrounded by Buddhist monks, nuns and many others chanting their mantras, practicing different styles of prayer and putting all their focus into their spiritual practice. Our Guide for the temple tour was full of history and facts keeping my attention completely throughout. It was refreshing to see people so dedicated to their spiritual practice and it helped me to appreciate Bodh Gaya a lot more than I had when I first arrived.