Sunday, September 27, 2009
You know the place between sleep and waking when you cant tell if what you were dreaming was real or not, this morning I kept hearing screaming “GOOD MORNING JAMES!” As I came to my senses I realized that this was no dream, in all reality there were 6 little kids from our ashram calling for me at 6:30 in the morning. Anyone, who knows me, knows that I am not what you call a morning person but I couldn’t help but smile. I ran down to meet my little friends and we did morning yoga together, it mostly consisted of giggling because I am so not flexible. But in-between the smiles and laughter something clicked inside of me.
This past month I have been searching for something that seemed elusive and not real. I knew we were looking for girls to bring to an ashram, but I am not talking about that part. It was the inner reality and understanding of what we were doing that I couldn’t grasp. There were times I felt like I had a hand on it but it would slip through my fingers. This morning, what clicked for me was that this is real, it is not a dream there are 6 real girls who live in our ashram, their futures rest in our hands. The opportunity that has been given them is something they don’t fully understand at this moment. But the education and training that they will be able to receive would have been close to impossible in their previous situation.
It has been so great to be a part of their lives, there is nothing better to me than seeing the smiles on their faces. I have never experienced these emotions before, I guess this is somewhat like the feeling that a parent might feel about their child. They are all so smart and have the funniest personalities, Sarojany is not shy by any means and likes to play jokes on every one, and give a little “sass” when you are talking. Kirna is the little A.D.D child who likes to have all the attention; she is like the energizer bunny. Dolma is the oldest girl, she is very shy and reserved, she always likes to be cleaning and helping cook. Lata is the second oldest and likes to take charge, she is the leader of the group. Poonam is the quiet lovable one who is always happy and loves to draw. Shobana is the littlest, she is quiet, shy and seems to like to observe, and when you talk to her she just smiles really big. So far these are our girls, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I love all of them to death and hope that I can make a difference for them in some way.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Before coming out to India hiking straight up a mountain wasn’t really something I looked forward to doing every single day. This week I have learned that when you are truly motivated, even treacherous hills can come within your reach. It’s called hiking with a purpose, and one of our purposes this week has been to meet with as many candidates as possible for the Home for Peace Orphanage here in kulu. This has created a unique opportunity to have a series of conversations with community leaders, business owners, parents, guardians, and most importantly many girls who are in need. One of the questions that we have incorporated into our conversations is; what do you value? Surprisingly the answers that we have received all have a reoccurring theme.
Arushi is a very intelligent 13 year old girl. She is currently in 9th grade and has always dreamed to become a doctor. Although her life has not been easy, she is determined to reach her goal. About eight years ago her father was in a tragic accident and suffered life changing consequences; part of his face was ripped off, and has since become mentally ill. Due to this he has become negative towards arisha, and has repeatedly told her that she will never become a doctor. This experience has created a situation that has affected the whole family. They have been kicked out of their homes and have had to move several times. In the past few years arushi has had to attend at least 4 different schools. Despite the challenges arushi has maintained a perfect school average and is the top student in her class since 1st grade.
She has certainly dealt with many trials, but what is most surprising is her level of understanding of her circumstances. She knows and understands that the only way to change her situation is through education, that is why Arushi believes that in her life education is the most important value and investment she can make.
I have learned that at the beginning of any challenge, just as climbing a mountain is, it may be tough and physically tiring. Through the journey you will encounter trials, and might come very close to falling off an edge, as I almost literally did several times. Once you reach the top, you will realize that it was all worth it. These girls we have met, Arisha being one of them have a mountain to climb, they are motivated that they will reach their goals. We are doing all we can to help them through the journey.
India is a vast melting pot of ideas and beliefs. The culture is like a giant ice burg maybe 10% visible to the eye. That 10% are the things like the food, there are many different varieties of curries, and where we are so close to Nepal even my favorite dish, mo mo’s! Other things the outsider might see are the beautiful colors that wrap India like a giant present, the dresses bright and unique. And how could we forget Bollywood and the distinct music. You have to love the 3 hour-long music video’s that are so painful you want to cry. Yet you still find you’re self-watching the whole thing.
This week we were able to experience that 10 % but more importantly learn about the rest of the ice burg, the 90% under the water. We have been working for the last week meeting with the local government and searching for girls to admit into the orphanage we have built. One of the reasons that we are focusing on bringing girls to orphanage is because it is very normal here for girls not to receive an education. Most girls if they go to school stop after 5th grade, then some go on to tenth, a smaller proportion graduate high school, and a select few go on to college. In this culture many believe that women are to be the homemakers and aren’t good for much else. If they don’t fulfill their responsibilities, their husband’s die, or if he cannot work they are regarded as useless and thrown out, and in some cases even killed. In the last several years there has been an up rise to fight for women’s rights. Within India there are great organizations like Nishtha, that empower women and help them become educated, gain skills, run business, and in many instances become the breadwinners for their families. There is an increase of women in India who are becoming political leaders, doctors, and scientists. To the educated community women have great worth, but much of India is un-educated and culturally still has the same old mentality. We have dedicated this orphanage to the educating of young women. Because it is through them that the future will be changed.
This is just one example of some of the underground things that occur here. Some of the other things I have come to learn are, though illegal the cast system is still very much in effect. It is something that has made an effect on us and put barriers up that we will have to climb when we get to them. Some times it is hard to know when you are forcing your culture on some one or when you are taking a stand for what is morally right. We are not trying to make India America, but I will not sit idly and watch a “culture” oppress a person’s freedom, ability to grow, and right to be equal. We have met with several girls from several different casts to offer them scholarships to our facility. They are all wonderful bright young girls, they all loved to play and laugh. They all have had struggles and challenges; some of them even have the same dreams of being a doctor or a teacher. Each of them is special and unique in their own way. They all have the same potential to change the world, no matter what society sees them as. One was not better than the other, they were all equal to us and that is how we will treat them.
Monday, September 7, 2009
It has been a rainy week in Chamba. It is sunday and it is beautiful, today we have driven for 2 hours from the city of Chamba to the small remote village of Tisla, we came across a great group of girls living in the local orphanage. As we walked into the building and seemed to have put a stop to their movie, a group of 27 girls sat in a small room enjoying their Sunday matinee. It was a great sight, 27 different girls, all with different stories, different experiences, all together as one. As we talked to them, we gained great compassion for them, it was very interesting to hear their desires, they want to learn, they want to have opportunities to further their education, I thought about all the opportunities that I have had in my life, and I am sure grateful for every single one of them.
As we talked I began to think how challenging it must be to live under those circumstances, their stories are not fairy tales, they have had major struggles. On this day I carried my video camera, as I kept my eye underneath the viewfinder, I could not help to think of their situation, every shot I took, every close up, had me thinking and reflecting about their stories. I was able to see their stories from a different lens, my eyes were opened, the camera stayed the same, but my vision changed. As we left, the girls had genuine smiles on their faces, they were truly happy, every single one of them had a look of appreciation, they all gathered around, and sent us off with big greetings, as we went down the stairs, all I could see was the smiles on their faces. Happiness is found even under the most difficult circumstances. We hope to be able to work together with them in their education, something that will truly be beneficial to them. I don’t know if the girls ever got to finish their Sunday movie, but whether they did or not, I know they are truly happy.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
In November of 2005, in the village of Kalsuin working in a small Muslim orphanage just out side of Chambe changed the way I looked at life forever. This orphanage was in the worst condition out of all the orphanages we were working in. The images of the frail malnourished children are still burned in my mind. I remember after my first full day of working there and being totally exhausted. I was sitting on my parent’s bed, tears streaming my face, overwhelmed by the experience and poverty of these children. I couldn’t understand why they had to endure all of these challenges. I pleaded with my mom to let us take them home to give them something better. Mothers seem to always know what to say. She said, “no son we can’t take these kids home, and we can’t change what has happened to them. All that we can do is try our very best to make their lives a little better”. From that moment something changed and I was determined to follow that advice. I spent the next week sharing my heart with these kids, playing games, doing art projects, and medical assessments. We painted a big globe on the wall, all the kids covered their hands with paint and we spent a whole afternoon laughing and putting handprints on the wall. That was the best day of my life.
I was nervous, almost 4 years later returning once again to this small orphanage that had such a big impact on me. It had been raining in Chamba and all this rain had caused some mudslides. So as we sat in the car waiting for the road to be cleared my anxiety grew heavier. We finally pull up to the wall that surrounded the facility. A little dirtied face with a big smile poked out of the gate. Then as if another mudslide, children came rushing out to greet us.
It was great to be back, memories rushed in to my mind, it is hard to describe the experience and emotion that came with this experience. We met with the warden and inspected the building, assessed the needs, and looked for any further help we could offer. As we had discussed these things we had been standing in front of that big world I helped paint, it was dirty and the hands were faded. In this facility the children are moved from this home after they reach the 5th grade. So even though the children I originally knew and loved were gone, I could hear the whispers of their laughter of that day faded with the mural.
We soon had to go so we could visit some of the other orphanages and schools we are working in. For the rest of that day I was lost in thoughts and memories. I was asking myself, why we were out here? That thought from my mom came back to me , we are “trying our very best to make their lives a little better.”
Saturday, September 5, 2009
I may have been born in Utah, but for some reason my heart longs for Chamba, every time I come around those mountains and see my small city I feel this feeling of peace, like I am home after a long journey.
Chamba is the place where the first YMAD expedition took place, it was the first taste of India that I had. It is where many youth have left a part of themselves, and it has changed their lives forever. There are 4 orphanages that we have worked in over the last few years. We were asked to follow up on previous projects and scout out some new ones, so it was another 12-hour car ride... But it was well worth it.
We were traveling and stayed with a very good friend MR. Prakosh Domi, an older man who owns a travel company. His house is a good 1 ½ mile hike, pretty much straight up the mountain. When we reached his guest house we had the most beautiful view of the Himalayas, it had been raining so the tips of the great mountains were dusted in snow.
After a goodnights rest, we arose and hiked down to the car. We headed to the heart of Chamba to the girls orphanage we call Temple, this because of several historical stone Hindu temples near by. One of the reasons we kept coming back to India was because of these girls. The building they live in is over 200 years old and is about to collapse. One of YMAD’s main objectives is to get a new facility for these girls. We had hoped that these girls would want move to Kullu to a new and better facility.
It was good to see their faces, I have seen them grow up and they have done just that grown up! It has been wonderful to see that process I feel like I have watched a sibling grow up. We had a good visit with the girls in Temple and talked about moving some of them to Kullu. They were intimidated by the offer, and expressed that they wanted to stay in Chamba. I felt their fear as they spoke, everything in their lives has been hard and inconsistent. The only sense or normalcy they had was between each other, they were their own family and the thought of moving and possibly splitting up was more than they wanted to deal with. When we first met them we promised that we would find them a new place to live, and we keep our word. So the search for their facility continues….