Monday, November 30, 2009
Teen trip full of tears, tattoos
Students went to an impoverished area of India to aid its youths
By James Thalman
Published: Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009 9:05 p.m. MST
In what could be called a micro version of East meeting West, a group of Utah teens arrived back home Saturday safe and sound and changed forever by a 16-day stay in one of the poorest corners of the world — West Bengal, India.
Many were sporting intricate tattoos on their hands and forearms — done in henna and hand-painted on by the students, and nowhere near as lasting as the memories they said they will carry with them the rest of their lives.
"It's not permanent," Highland High School senior Nate Kingsford assured onlookers as they checked out the array of little hash marks on his left hand. "It's their way of making sure we don't forget them. This will fade away, but the experiences and the people there won't."
Neither Kingsford nor his 23 student companions were anywhere near weary when they arrived, despite a trip home that had begun about three days earlier.
As the hugs and high-fives subsided, several students said they doubt they will ever be all the way back and that they are as surprised as anyone that a place where people have dirt for floors, where water is carried in buckets and most everyone literally has next to nothing could have given them so much.
Rachel Rawlings' favorite memory — even more than having a monkey in her hut that stole the beef jerky the first night — is the little sisters she left behind.
Story continues below
"I had no idea how attached I'd actually become to these kids," she said. "I didn't want to leave them because I feel like they are my new family. It was heart-wrenching to see every single girl at the school in tears."
She and others shed more than a few tears as well.
"Building a connection is what this is all about," said Robert Baird, founder of Youth Making A Difference cultural exchange organization that arranged the visit, which he said was a year in the making and paid for in part by the participants.
"The kids studied and found out everything they could about this part of India, but there's nothing that compares to seeing it in person," Baird said. "When you can have this kind of trip early in life, something happens or clicks on inside you, you'll continue to do it the rest of your life," he said. "A few didn't believe me, but they do now."
The trip is difficult in every way, many that kids haven't even thought of, Baird said. It's so far away and just plain hard work, "but to to see the good they do and the good that comes to the kids who do it, it's many times more than worth it."
The teens were divided in teams focusing on culture, education, art and language. They had practiced for several months learning Hindi and were mentors to about 200 young girls in four different village schools.
They taught them math, science, English, health, art and physical fitness — all routine subjects back home but in scarce supply to young girls in India who Baird said are regarded as something less than second-class citizens, eking out their living helping to sew rugs.
Add grinding poverty to that social indifference, and anything anyone can do — even a bunch of high school kids who are unsure at times they can stand even two weeks of that life — can make a huge and even lasting difference, he said.
"The kids were so amazing," Kingsford said. "I just couldn't get over how they had nothing, absolutely nothing, and they gave us so much. I'll never forget it, and I'm going back. Got to."
I see less of Manami now. She is visiting many of the groups she over sees, many of whom cannot understand how she could return 15 days ago and still not visited them. Mimi is working with me filming stories of the the women and girls.
I can imagine that back in america many of you are sound a sleep, trying to catch up before returning to school on Monday, probably unprepared for the unplanned jet-lag-induced wake up call at 4:00 am, that will inevitably occur.
I have already discovered how challenging doing video stories in a language I do not understand will be and day one was harder than I expected. I am unclear what we have or what we need to do differently as we film their stories.
Today should be much more positive as we will be visiting with young girls who have benefited from the programs of Nishtha.
Mimi and Manami are still laughing, joking and telling story after story of their adventures with everyone from YMAD. They were moved to tears by the letters you wrote and which they read as we returned to Nishtha from the airport.
I am always amazed at the love, generosity and change that we each experience as we participate in these, “grand YMAD adventures” to India. Thank you Robert, Jodee and everyone from YMAD for the grandest of adventures and as Mimi and Manami keeps telling me, “Let us never forget”
see you all soon,
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I think people believe what I did before I went, which is this; after you cross the border into India you become drastically altered. I'm going to tell a story. Our plane touched down in Delhi, and we waltzed off. I put my foot on the soil of this new country expecting a complete baptism, but instead, I learned a lesson. No matter where you go, dirt is dirt.
I taught children to speak English, solve equations, paint, sing and every subject in between. I love these girls. No matter where you go, love is love.
I left these girls with tears in their eyes. They mumbled broken English about missing me, loving me, begging for me to come back. No matter where you go, separation is separation.
I spent 10 seconds in a complete nosedive over the Pacific Ocean. I thought I was going to die half way through my way home. No matter where you go, having to change your pants...
I met these girls and love them with involuntary devotion. I love their teachers, their leaders, their supervisors. I love Nishtha in its entirety. I love my new sisters, mother, and grandmother with more hope than I have for any other being. They live in India, but they could live down the street for all I care. So, let me answer the question most frequently asked. I was not, and no one ever will be changed by India, but its people have carved my soul into an object of unbelievable peace and appreciation.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to have had this experience. I want to express a humble thanks to all my family and friends who generously donated to help YMAD projects in India. You will never know how much your donations will help the education of the students we have been working with. You will directly improve their future.
I want to give a special thanks to Cedar Ridge Middle School in Hyde Park, UT. The hard work of collecting school supplies and the money you raised will go to help over 280 students here. The funds you collected will go to classroom improvements such as water purifiers for clean drinking water, new chalkboards and mats for the students to sit on. You will be helping to sponsor education for these students in need. You are amazing. I wish you could have been here to hear the student’s express their gratitude to you. Thank you so much for your support.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
There’s a time in life when you have to admit defeat. Here I am. I don’t know if anyone out there cares what I have to say or expected a great documentation of my trip, but if I’ve let anyone down, sorry. I could take a picture, make a film, breath every last infinitesimal detail into my mind, but when you’re not here, you’re out of the loop.
I know a few things. Leaving will make you dumb, crying will make you silent, strength is measured in heartbreak, and blogging is taxing work.
Wow, we’re having such a time! I seriously love every second that I’m here. Not only do I love the people I’m with but I love the girls that we teach. They love my blond crazy hair; all they do is pet me. I get such a kick out of it! We just got back from our little excursion in a Tiger Park…pretty intense. We saw a ton of monkeys and a crocodile! Good thing we didn’t go swimming…
On Sunday, we had to saw bye to our DBS school girls. Everyone had their own expectations of how the day would be. We all knew it would be hard. But we weren’t too sure how it was going to go down at all. So we arrived to the DBS and had time to spare with the girls to just play games and teach a little more English. We all tried to soak up all we could from those girls – every smile, hug, and laugh. After that, it was time for our cultural exchange. We went in a huge room with all the girls and sat down to watch the girl’s dances and wait for our turn. They were amazing! Then it was our time to display our culture. We did all our songs and dances. Our final song was a combination of “I’m Yours” and “Three Little Birds.” As we preformed the song ALL of us were crying. One of the last lines is “ ‘cause our time is short, this oh this is our fate, I’m yours.” That seriously killed me! The little girl that sat on my lap turned and looked at me with a confused look, wiped my tears, and pulled my face close to hers and squeezed me tight. I think she was trying to tell me everything would be okay and that I need to be strong. It was hard to be strong when you have like five sobbing girls in your arms begging you not to leave. I would give anything to take them all home with me and give them the education and love that they deserve!
Teri and I were talking after that experience. I was telling her that I never knew I could be so in love with these little girls and only know them for a week or so. Teri, being so wise replied, that it just shows us how much in our lives material things get in the way of getting to know the real people and opening our own horizons. I just have never been inspired by people in my entire life, like I have been here.
P.S. Mom, I did get to have crab at the tiger camp, not lobstah though. Your comment made me teary, you’re amazing. Have fun in Maine! I love you more than anything in the world. Please have an ice cold diet coke waiting for me though, I’m cravin’. Love you all! See you soon.
Namaskar! India has been an extremely remarkable experience for the entire YMAD team, and I feel like every single team member has grown so much here. On Sunday, we spent our last day with the kids at the Day Boarding School. It was so much fun! From dancing to singing to laughing to crying, it was one of the best days of my life. It was so hard to leave the kids; I had no idea how attached I’d actually become to these kids. I didn’t want to leave them because I feel like they are my new family. It was heart wrenching to see every single girl at the DBS in tears as we said our last goodbyes. I don’t think that any of us realized how much we impacted the lives of these people in the short time that we spent with them.
We have been living in the jungle for the past two days while visiting the Sunderban Tiger Camp. It was very relaxing to spend time on the boat and look for animals. The first night, I had a monkey in my hut. We didn’t really sleep because we were scared it was going to attack us, but there wasn’t any harm done. It just stole some beef jerky. I would just like to thank everyone again for all of the great support and love in making this expedition possible!
I am having the time of my life. This is truly a unique experience and I am glad I have had the opportunity to be apart of YMAD this year. On Nov. 22, 09 we had to say good bye to our kids in the day boarding school and it was one of the most emotional days of my life. The kids here are amazing! They have to do so much and have nothing like what we have in America but are still happy and are so bright. The first day we attended the boarding school the girls were really shy and didn’t understand much of what we were saying, but by the end they could not only understand full sentences but speak full sentences. When I had to say good bye to the girls I have been teaching I started to cry and so were the girls. Priya, one of the kids I have been teaching said, “don’t leave, don’t leave, I love you, I need you, take me home with you” all in English, I was so proud of her but so sad at the same time, I held all my kids for as long as I could but soon enough I had to leave. I love these girls so much and am so thankful for the opportunity to come to this wonderful country. I hope I will have the privilege to come back someday and see these amazing girls. For all who have contributed to YMAD and these kids I personally thank you.
Well we just got back to Nistha after being on what felt like an all day bus ride. We finished exploring the jungle after being there for 2 days and not seeing any tigers. Rather disappointing but we did get to see a crocodile and some monkeys. Oh and we did get to see some spotted deer. But the jungle was cool and the huts we got to stay in were nice (we got to have some hot water for our showers, even though the hot water was from a bucket it still was nice knowing hot water was somewhat accessible) But since it has been a while since I last blogged I would like to talk about the last day at the day boarding school.
We got to the day boarding school around 11 and we got to be with the kids right away. We didn’t have to teach any workshops and so we just got to play games with them. After the games the kids wanted to take a million pictures. Whether they were in the picture or if they took it, didn’t matter as long as they got to see it after. After that we had a big culture exchange/ goodbye. It was cool to see the girls dances and I think they enjoyed seeing ours. Then we had a huge spur of the moment dance party. Everyone danced and it was so fun. Then after we sang the I’m Yours song and it was a downfall from there. Everyone started crying because we all realized that it was goodbye. It was hard to say bye to them when they would come up saying your name begging you not to leave. Or asking you to come back again next year. It was definitely one of the hardest things I have done. Which is why I am nervous to go to our villages for the last time because we will have to say goodbye to them too. But as hard as it will be it will be nice to be heading home soon. I think we are all sick of curry and would like to eat some pizza or hamburgers… talk to you all soon!
We just got home (I say home because Nistha feels like Home in India) from Sunderban Tiger Camp. No one really saw tigers but I swear Hailee, James, and I did see one just barley hiding in some trees! Being in the jungle was fun but I really missed my school girls saying goodbye to the day boarding school girls was really hard, I feel like we have made a difference in their lives though and we have truly thought them how to love. I can’t wait for tomorrow morning we are going back to our village schools one more time, it’s a bitter sweet feeling because if cant wait to see all of their smiling faces. Saying goodbye will be a killer because I feel like I got really close with these girls and our time together was so short. I love being here in India everyday is a new adventure! I can’t believe our time is winding down it feels like just yesterday I arrived, yet so much has happened on this adventure I hate to see it end.
The last week has different then I ever expected it to be. I never thought I would be so attached to the girls. Working with them everyday was tons of fun and I became close with all of them. On Sunday when we had to say goodbye to the girls it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I kept it together until I saw a few of my favorite girls bawling. Then I lost it. I was overwhelmed with so many feelings. I felt like I was saying goodbye to my sisters. I would give anything to be able to go and just hang out with those girls one more time. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to the village girls. I am lovin life here in West Bengal though. I will see you all in a few days
The last week was definitely one of the best weeks of my life. I love it here so much. Right now we’re in the jungle at Sunderban, but I would way rather be back at Nishtha. Last week I got so close to the girls in our village school and at the day boarding school. It is so much fun to teach the girls and it is the best feeling when you know that they are understanding the stuff and are making progress. Sunday was our last day at the day boarding school, and saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I have to come back here some time to see them again. Everyday here is just a party and I’m having a great time. Mom and Dad I miss you but I’m having the time of my life. We only have a few days left here so I have to make the most of them. I’ll see you guys soon.
This last past week with the children has truly been one of the most remarkable experiences of my seventeen years. I never expected that the children would have such a big impact on my life.
Before the trip to India, I was more interested in the activities we would be doing after working with the children: shopping, traveling, and being with my friends, but now I am devastated that I am not working and helping educate the children. I had such a great time being with them, and it was such a great reward to see their growth through the past week. They started out as shy children with little confidence that were too afraid to interact with us. At the end of the week I could truly see their growth. They were willing to sing, dance, and play with the YMAD gang. They also amazed me with how well they spoke English! On Sunday, our last day with the children, I would carry on conversations with the girls that I thought would never had happen earlier on in the week. As we spoke English they went out of their way to teach me Bengali, and it was a blast. I never expected that leaving them would be so hard. It was great to see how much they grew in such little time.
As I sit here in the Sumdarban tiger preserve I can’t help but think of what a great experience I had with the children. Someday, hopefully I will be able to come back to West Bengal, and I truly can say that this adventure has had a positive impact on my life!
Monday, November 23, 2009
So, Anju went first and all the girls turned their heads so they wouldn’t be forced to see the pain; all they heard was a “ahh, ahh, ahhhh, oh.” I think that convinced Kirna to go next and that it wouldn’t be so bad. Kirna, Kirna, Kirna. She’s the second youngest and I could feel her enthusiasm, her false enthusiasm actually. After the prick, Raj and I heard laughing! Laughing! So we started to laugh, we couldn’t believe that Kirna was actually having a good time. But then we looked closer and saw tears…she wasn’t laughing, she was hard core crying! Kirna’s laugh is identical to her cry! The poor girl was crying and crying while Raj and I were laughing and laughing! Mind you that I told the girls to stop laughing at Kirna because she gets too embarrassed, what a great role model I am. Poonam was also a champ, that is after I had to pry her out of the car again. Lata surprised me, she’s 14 and I thought this would be a synch for her but I was wrong. This girls would not give her nose up! Her arms were stapled to her face and it took both me and Raj to hold her down. Pooja was last and by golly does this girl hate to be touched! I felt like I was working in a mental institute trying to hold down a patient to take his meds, but it was actually Pooja I was holding down. I told her (and all the girls) if they really don’t want it then get back in the car and we don’t have to do it, they knew that! Once the poking began Pooja started screaming (while smiling, by the way) “Mera nak! Mera nak! Choro! Choro! (My nose, my nose. Let go, let go!)”
Now here’s the kicker, ready for it? Are you sure you’re ready? Well, after hearing and seeing all this and even having been pricked herself, Miss Anju, Miss Bonefied Superwoman stood up and asked the jeweler to prick her ears to have them pierced. Both of mine and Raj’s jaws dropped to the floor, we were stunned that this little girl wanted to go through it not again but three times! I hope this taught the other girls a lesson!
The girls are happy now, they enjoy their new noses and are begging me to get them a nice gold ring with a diamond; I think I’ve created little monsters! They were all excited to go to school this morning to show off their new look too, I even caught two of them showing off in the mirror!
Besides that, I can tell you the truth that I have not spent a single minute writing any of my personal statements for my applications (I use the excuse: “I’m still looking for inspiration”) and Mother and I had our first official fight. I don’t mean those little petty arguments, I mean the one when the tall broad shouldered Hungarian woman stands two inches away from my face so I can smell her spaghetti dinner kind of fight. She was nasty to me but I held my ground and I was cutthroat back at her. I’m ready for the next one, bring it on!
Spiders, on the other hand, them I can’t take………
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Some of you may wonder what Robert has been doing while your kids have been working in the schools. I like to imagine that he is swinging in a hammock some where drinking coconut milk, but if you know my father you know that would last for about 2 seconds. We recently came across this Micro Industry online http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqI63IEg3MM
If you don't have time to watch it, I will summarize:
Wood is typically used to burn inside the homes, however it is very dangerous because the ventilation is inadequate. Charcoal is the preferred method for in door burning because it burns cleaner and is there for safer. The youtube clip shows how to create charcoal from natural products found around say...the jungle.
Roberts day job is that he owns a foundry, so in about 3 hours he had these handy dandy charcoal presses made that were then sent to India.
In India, he and "the boys" have been working on creating their own charcoal manufacturing plant, West Bengal style.
Step #1 Find a berral. If I understand the story correctly; my dad, a translator and a manually operated (bicycle) richsaw, drove around Calcutta with a barrel until they found some one to cut a hole in the top.
Step #2 Burn stuff. Using the bamboo, trees and what ever they could find they made a big fire! Don't worry, Captain Fire (Greg Stewart) was there to supervise.
Step #3 Let Contents cool.
Step #4 Crush Charcoal
Step #5 Make binder. I have no idea what they ended up using for a binder, but it looks like glue.
Step #6 Mix the binder and Charcoal.
Step #7 Press Charcoal. Using the custom built Charcoal Presses provided by Historical Arts and Casting, Inc. (Do you like my plug) They were able to make lots of little charcoal briquettes.
Step #8 Let it dry.
As you can see there is never a dull moment for my dad. His project was a success and I am excited to hear about from him! Hopefully you have learned a little...and please don't try it at home.
Today was full of emotions unbelievable. I’m not sure if what I say will serve today any justice. It was our last day in the Day Boarding School. We showed up early to spend time with the girls. We played games, took pictures, sang and danced, and just laughed together. We had a cultural exchange, all the girls performed for us then we performed for them. As we sang our last song, “I’m yours” by Jason Marz mixed with “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, there was not one dry eye of the youth from YMAD. We tried to hold it together but it was impossible. I looked up into the eyes of one of my favorite girls, Priya and watched her eyes swell with tears. It might have been the best feelings I’ve ever felt but also the worst feeling I’ve ever felt because I knew that this was the last day I was able to spend with the girls. It was absolutely heart breaking. But knowing that I had this affect on the girls was an accomplishing feeling. After we finished our song we stood up and the girls rushed to us. Leaning down into the tear stained faces of almost 20 girls with all their arms around me, listening to their sobs was the most touching experience I could have ever asked for. I would have never guessed that I could love those girls as much as I do in such a short amount of time. Leaving the girls was quiet the ordeal, everyone was crying. I pulled Priya aside and kneeled down to her and looked her in the eyes, all she said was “I love you Eden. I’ll miss you” She wrapped her arms around my neck and started crying. I wish I was able to express my emotions better, but it’s not possible.
There is a traffic strike in the city of Calcutta scheduled for Tuesday, the day the kids were to originally drive to the Jungle. So the decision was made to move the Jungle adventure up one day, they will leave early Monday Morning, to avoid traffic issues. They said good by to the girls at the day boarding school Sunday, so that when they return from the Jungle on Wednesday they can spend that last day with their village children disbursing supplies and saying good bye to them.
Also, just so you know, they will most likely not have internet for the next forty eight hours, so don't get frustrated if our updates are non existent for a few days, they will be busy hunting tigers!
Today has been such an eventful day and a draining one also. We had to say goodbye today to the girls at the day boarding school. I didn’t think I would get that emotional but I was a wreck. The thing that touch my heart was seeing the girls that I had spent the last week teaching and playing with, cry while we were singing to them. Also after we all sung and got to get into the crowd with them the girls came up to me and grabbed me by the waist and arms and cried. One girl named Abuna reached over the other girls and whipped my tear from my cheek. It was such a special moment and one that will stay with me forever. All the girls are so strong and smart. I am so happy that I have gotten to see them and have fun with them.
Today they decided that they would teach me some Bangali, before we left. They would point at a picture of my mom and say ma, then point at my dad and say baba. It was so cute. Tome comon acho? That’s means how are you. It was so funny. They loved it teaching me. I feel like I got to be so close to them today.
This trip has been the most amazing thing that has happened to me. I know that I was able to change these girls’ lives and they have changed mine in the process. Thank you to all that have written on my other blogs. I love you all and miss you but I will see you faster than you know. I am so excited to share my stories with you and I love you again!!
Love, Courtnie Larkin