Tuesday, January 4, 2011

All soul and no shoes

So today was really amazing.. nothing Ii had expected and beyond unique. We headed out in the morning... all I knew was that we were going into some poor village, I should wear sturdy shoes and that some of hte village people would be receiving awards while we were there

My first surprise was to not only find out that the village we were visiting is supported by an NGO led by an outstanding and inspirational Indian woman but I got the opportunity to ride for an hour in the car with her next to me. Given my passion for women's rights, women's empowerment and self-sufficiency including financial freedom, I can't put into words

how amazing it felt to sit next to her.

This woman who is pretty old still has this intense presence - you don't get a sense of fragility but rather of strength. Very very inspiring.

When we got off the car (the bus with my classmates following us) we had arrived at this elementary & middle school in a small village in the outskirts of Bengalore. The village had a little over 1000 people and was very poor.

After arriving and being greeted by the teachers and students we were LITTERALLY showered with marygold flowers as a welcoming.This was a very poor school and area - less than half of the children had shoes and when we entered their classrooms many were sharing books. It was hard to notice much of those things however given every classroom we entered we were welcomed with the children singing in perfect unison different songs in Hindi or English. Of course we took many pictures and it was fun to take the pictures because the kids felt so special when we did.

Later we were told that most of these kids probably have never had a photograph of them in their hands. So we intend to print some of our pictures and send to them. At one particular classroom, one of the girls tugged at my dress to ask my name... "Pree" I said and she told me her name. I tried to pronounce it and was laughed at by her classmates. That didnt stop all of them from telling me their name, shaking my hand and wishing me happy new year.

I took many pictures but was swarmed by kids so also missed some of the happiest faces I have seen as far as I can remember. At the school the kids had different sports competitions which they held in front of us (all open air, courtyard). After a few games had passed I asked if me and my MBA classmates could also compete in the musical chair competition.

There will be video uploaded of this but suffices to say I was the top winner - after falling on my ass multiple multiple multiple times. The kids obviously loved that I didnt seem to know how to keep my ass on the chair but instead seemed to like to drag the chair and my ass to the ground. They also performed multiple cultural activities for us... several dances, some singing and even a coordinated march/song/dance. It was all very touching... their happiness and excitement to see us, how much effort they put into preparing for our visit, how genuine and heartfelt all of their actions were. Most impressive I think were the 5 or 6 teachers that ran this school - taught all classes, disciplined (in manners and in books) and clearly gave all of themselves for kids who otherwise wouldnt have much at all.

This was certainly my only experience today being this close to NGOs and poor children. I was definitely inspired and touched. These kids just seemed very resilent... and it is such a stark contrast to kids I've seen in other places who take education for granted. We walked through the village where these kids lived ( more on that in a minute) and I can tell you by US standards (or by most educated people's standards) these kids had nothing - barely even necessities and so I was happy to see their effort towards school. it seems they - or their parents - knew that an education is the only thing that is yours forever, no matter what or who it cannot be taken from you. It is the biggest weapon you can have, and these children just seemed thirsty for it. Thankfully actually because it will be them that ensure their village situation improves. These kids are the ones that really represent the future of India and many countries and our world. The highly educated, well fed and clothed children (like me) will certainly play a part but if we are to solve the worlds problems we need these children to help us do it. They know how to do everything with nearly nothing, their frugalness and resourcefulness are what our business world and research labs need; their optimism is what every community needs.

It was certainly very inspiring.

In stark contrast to their attitude however was the village we walked through. Their parents, siblings and grandparents lived very close the school. But in no way would we consider what they did "live". Their houses often didnt have doors, or floors. There was animal feces all over the streets, yards and even in some people's homes. The furniture was minimal - honestly I think it was a bed made with ropes. The kitchen had no food or refrigerator that I saw but did have a stove. The bedroom seemed like it slept 3 to a bed. But certainly in the main room there was a colorful wall with images of their Hindi Gods.

I have certainly never been this close to poverty. It is an experience I dont think I will ever forget, but it is also one that I know I will have to do again. I can't live my life sheltered from the reality that so many people in the world live in. I am excited about the opportunity to work in "developing" countries with P&G in the future. Let's keep our fingers crossed. But you can be certain that for my 3-month sabbatical I will try really hard to somehow include volunteering or visiting lower income areas.

I uploaded some pictures to give you a flavor of my day… these people are beautiful. The children have the biggest smiles, but most touching to me are everyone’s eyes… these Indians connect with you in their gaze…

Hope you enjoy...

Link to Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/107210338601390178868/20110104Village?feat=directlink

2011-01-04 Village


Anonymous said...

When I try to see the link, it says there's nothing there :( Sadness.

. said...

fixed it: http://picasaweb.google.com/107210338601390178868/20110104Village?feat=directlink