Thursday, December 15, 2011

Til the End

Today is my last full day in India, and I'm just bursting inside with all the love and sadness I'm feeling right now. This has been a truly amazing experience. Last night, Anne and I had a final dance party with our LifeDance kids and in addition to all the yummy treats, we also had a dance performance entirely run by the kids themselves. After performing their brand new group pieces (which they have learned in 2 weeks and they are looking amazing), the kids showed us their very own pieces that they put together themselves. There was an extraordinary dance number put together by the girls, and "Circus" piece set with tricks and stunts by the boys. But the best part was the astounding creativity shown by Deepen and Ashok. These boys put together THREE pieces complete with costumes, lighting, music (specially edited just the way they wanted it) makeup (facepaint) and props! None of these kids had never done their own choreography before, and it blew me away to see their confidence and enthusiasm really shine through.

Anyway, so when the boys walked out in their first costume, we ALL squealed like little 13 year old girls at a Bieber concert. They were serious studs. I've never seen Deepen dance bigger or better than he did last night.

After that they did an awesome thriller piece, and let me just say I was speechless watching this piece. They had thought of everything for this piece down to audience interaction. Check out their outfits

I'm going to miss these kids so much!

Looking back at my time in India, I realize I've received so much from this experience. I've been changed by the patients I've worked with at Medical each week. Their joy and kindess blows me away. They look for opportunities to give from the little that they have despite being cast aside by their people. Additionally, the medical teams dedication to the work that they do is inspiring to me. Each week they made me feel like a member of the team, and I am so grateful to all of them for their example to me. I'm going to miss going out with them every week.

At this school, I've fallen in love with all of these children. When I first arrived, I was told that my 5th standard English class was one of the hardest group of kids to teach. They said good luck, and let me loose in the classroom. Needless to say, I was a bit terrified, but as it turns out, I loved teaching those kids, and they worked hard for me! I'm so proud of them and all they have accomplished. Nagalakshmi was so dedicated, she asked that i work on extra English worksheets with her in the evening. Even though she struggles with reading, G. Devi would volunteer to read over and over again, and she loved to hear me tell stories every night. Gracy is the sweetest girl I know, and she is such an example to the other kids, and Ashwin: even though he is new to the school, he dove right in and never gives up. On our last day of class, the kids presented me with a beautiful big barrette, and many love notes and christmas cards. Receiving an actual gift from these kids blew me away, because they have nothing, but from the little that they have they gave something to me.
I don't know how I'm going to manage to say goodbye to this place. I've learned so much about gratitude and generosity and love and joy, and I walk away having received so much more than I could even try to give.

Even though I am leaving India, I will continue to post about the experience I had, because there are many things I have not yet written about, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Secret Santa

The other day I was persuaded by Anne, my fellow dance master, that it would be fun to dye some of our hair with henna. This was the first time I was dying my hair with anything, so I was a bit nervous, but we were in the trustworthy hands of Venilla (one of the housemothers), and i knew that it wouldn't be permanent, so I thought why not.... lets do this thing! So we trucked over to Venilla's house one night and got our hair all slathered with henna. While were doing this some of Venilla's boys came in and started talking with. We were all talking about Christmas, and it turns out here in India they have their own version of Secret Santa known as Christma Chris or something like that. We decided that we would do a secret santa with each other for the next night and we would all make gifts for one another.

So the next night we all gathered back in Venilla's room, and put our gifts on her bed. It was so fun to swap gifts, and it worked out perfectly because Venilla, Anne, Kenady and I all drew the boys names and the boys all drew ours. When we showed up the next night, they were still working on our presents so we had to wait in the next room and they were very insistent that we not look.

Nagaraj drew my name, and he made me an awesome Christmas card with some pretty sweet drawings inside. The picture was a pig holding an apple. Sadly, this poor pig had missed his but, but fortunately he had his apple. Not sure what inspired the picture, but it was still super cute.
I drew Anbarasu, and I made this star from him. He loved it so much, that he requested I come back the next night and teach him how to make it. Well, all the other boys wanted to learn too, and now its become quite a thing among Venilla's boys. I'm so glad my star was such a big hit.
I also made Anbarasu a picture of Smile Island. If you don't know what that is, its only the coolest picture ever.... :)
Here's the whole group with our secret santa gifts.

Oh and by the way, the henna turned out just fine. On my hair the henna looks like a copper color, and blends nicely with the rest of my hair. I think it should still be showing when I get back to the states, so ask me and I'll show you :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Meet the Kids! (or at least a very small handful of them)

So probably the best thing about Rising Star are the kids that I get to work with everyday. These kids are not your average ordinary everyday kids. These kids are so full of love and kindness, and seem so innocent, yet they have seen more in their little life times than you or I will see in all of ours. Practically all of them are perpetually smiling despite the fact that they have seen death and suffering so much in their life. They are so giving and caring and grateful in so many ways, and I just can't blog about my time in India without devoting some time strictly to the kids.

First off there's Gracy and Theresa (and Shalini in back). Gracy and Theresa are sisters and they are both in LifeDance. I had no idea that these girls were sisters until I'd been here for about 6 weeks. There are so many kids here that are siblings, and its so fun to discover who's related to who. Gracy is the president of LifeDance and she is amazing. She is so nurturing and caring to the girls in her house, and she is so conscientious about everything that she does. She works so hard at her studies (even though she struggles) but also dedicates herself 100% to LifeDance as well. Theresa is also a rock star, and I can already tell that she is going to be as amazing as her sister as she grows.

Now meet Reshma. She's the littlest girl on the entire campus. She's like a pint sized Indian child. She hardly speaks any english, but she loves to come up and give big hugs. The big danger of picking up Reshma is that she had a tendency to wet her pants. Cute girl, but always a hazard to hold her. Gotta love her!

Here's V. Devi. Instead of having a last name the children have an Initial before their first name that represents their Father's name. This is V. Devi, because there's also G. Devi who I will introduce in a moment. V. Devi is a spunky girl in 6th Standard who is full of fire and spice. She's got a strong personality and knows what she wants, but also she is very loving as you can see from this picture.

Spunky V. Devi! All the walls in the hostels are painted with different images, and whenever we take pictures in the hostel they always love to pose in front of the murals.

Now meet Bujji. Here's she's studiously working on her homework, but that's not how you will usually find her.
She is full of life and joy. I affectionally call her bujji baby, because she loves to run and jump into my arms and wrap her legs around my waist. Then, she will pat my cheeks and call me Diana mummy. I love this picture of her. I think she looks beautiful here. She's such a little girly girl. She is also on LifeDance and my first week leading LifeDance with Anne, Bujji would stand directly across from me at wink at me over and over again throughout class. She giggles constantly and loves to make others laugh to.
Bujji really loves to hug and smile and be photographed and its hard for me to say no to any of that!
In LifeDance we've really been working on splits, helping the kids improve their flexibility, so Theresa, bujji and I thought we'd get a photo of us practicing!
Now for some of the boys. First up, Ranjith. He's in 2nd standard, and we became fast friends. All that it took was me sitting next to him in class one day. Every since then Ranjith decided we were buds. He's hilarious. Sometimes when he says me he'll ask to hold my bag, and then he starts calling me Ranjith and says that I should call him Diana. Also the first day I played with him, he taught me a cute little hand game that has some Tamil words to it (kinda like patty cake and other hand games that children play). I tried to learn the Tamil words but he kept saying them so fast, I was a lost cause.
Ranjith just wants so much love, and I'm so willing to give it. He's a really cute kid, and on some days once he's seen me, he won't leave my side :)
Here's Vishva. Boy is he wild. He is a bit of a punk, but he is absolutely hilarious. He is in 3rd standard, and I help the 3rd standard kids with their homework everyday. Well sometimes, Vishva will get a problem wrong, and when he does he'll smush his face up into the craziest expressions. He has the most expressive face I've ever seen.
Sometimes he just makes crazy faces for fun, like this one. He's just a goofball, and even though he's a bit of a punk, he really loves life. Gotta love crazy Vishva.
So like I said, I help with math homework. Meet Vijayabilagi (that's as close as I can get to spelling his name). He's in 4th standard, and when he comes in for math homework, he usually plops down somewhere close by, so he can help from me. He's a great kids, he really loves to learn, and I've enjoyed helping him improve on his math. Its amazing to see how much progress these children have made in the 9 weeks that I've been here. I can really tell that hes going to go far because he's dedicated to his work and willing to learn. So proud of him.

Meet Vimalkanth, affectionately known as V. V is in LifeDance, but he is also a wild child, he's middle name is trouble. He's in 6th standard, so he's your typical middle school boy, but for some reason you just cant help but love his wild antics. Really he's a charmer, and he uses that charm to get anyone and everyone off topic. For example, in the middle of LifeDance, he might randomly ask the question, "Where do babies come from?" or some other random question, and without realizing it you'll actually try to come up with a response even though its completely off topic and he interrupted the flow of your class. He's a passionate kid, and is a rock star when it comes to dancing. When he wants to, he can really tear up the dance floor.

Next up is my buddy Deepenraj. He's the one in the middle with a smile that reaches for miles. That smile is the embodiment of all that is Deepen. He's one of the older boys in LifeDance, and he's a total goof, but also just as sweet as sugar. One night the boys were in study hall, and as they were walking home they found 3 deserted kittens. They brought them over to the volunteer housing, and Deepen just grinned from ear to ear about these kittens. He just loved holding them and have them cling to his shirt. This kid loves to laugh, and is full of crazy ideas of one kind or another. Right now its fun to see him channel his ideas into choreography as he and one of his teammates are working on a couple of dances that they want to perform for us before we leave.
Finally, Ashwin. Ashwin is the newest kid at Rising Star. His mother was hired in late october as the newest house mother. It was amazing to see how quickly he adjusted to life at Rising Star. It's hard to come into a new school in the middle of the year. He's a charming boy. He's in 5th standard, and I teach his English class every day, and I also teach his dance class with Anne. Even though he struggles with English sometimes, he works so hard at everything. He's willing to try even if the other kids are goofing off and not working hard. He's very eager to learn. Here he is at the zoo, and let me tell you, even though he's been to the zoo several times, this kids loved it at the zoo! We spent pretty much the whole day together and he wanted to point out every animal and showed me everything there was to see at the zoo. He also shared his little bag of chocolates with me that his mom bought for him.

Ashwin's birthday was recently, and his mother requested that the volunteers come take some photos with him on his special day. Having your birthday at Rising Star is a very special occassion. You get to dress up in your best clothes, and at the start of the day you stand at the front of assembly and everyone sings to you. After that you go around all day, giving treats to everyone (instead of receiving gifts). It's very important that you have treats to give away on your own birthday. Well, I didn't see Ashwin on his birthday until later in the day, and he was devastated because he'd already given away all his treats, and I hadn't gotten one yet. Even though I told him not to worry about it, he made a special effort to find treats so I could get a special treat from him on his birthday.

Ashwin is awesome. Whenever he says me he'll come up and shake my hand. He really loves to shake hands. He is a great kid with a lot of potential, and can't wait to see what he makes of himself as he grows.

Ashwin has a special place in my heart as do the many of the kids here at Rising Star. I'm so glad I've had a chance to work with these kids while I've been here. I will miss them dearly. I only have a week left, and I'm already starting to feel emotional about saying goodbye to these kids. It kills me that these kids meet volunteers over and over again that they give so much love to and then they have to leave. Almost the first question the kids ask is when do you leave, cause they want to know how long they get to love you. Once you tell them when you're leaving the next question they ask is when are you coming back. I wish I could tell them I'm coming back right away, but who knows if I'll ever make it back. I love these kids, and I'm so glad I've had a chance to work with them, serve them and love them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Medical Team

Fridays are my favorite day of the week here, because I get to go out to the colonies with the medical team. First of all, the medical team consists of some of the coolest people at rising star. It's great to get off campus, see more of India, get to know the staff better, and go on little adventures. Plus, working with the patients is always so wonderful. So let me introduce you to everyone..... Here's the most of the team. The nurses rotate from week to week because one or two of them need to stay at the school and tend to the school infirmary, but we have Dr. Segunya, Navmani, Aberna, Anne, Vel and me.

Also there's Poongadi and Sharmila. Most of the medical team doesn't have the best english, which always make communication on medical days entertaining. Poongadi is one of those people who doesn't know alot of english. She's only been working with Rising Star for a couple of months, and she hardly new any english when she first started. Despite the language barrier though, I've learned that Poongadi and I have very similar temperaments, and I love spending time with both of these ladies.
Her we have Nithiya, Navmani and Poongadi. Navmani is awesome. She's always pointing out things about India as we're driving around. She'll buy us little indian treats so we can try new food, and loves to joke with us even if she doesn't know the right english words for the joke. She dresses the wounds for the patients as well, so she's pretty hard core. I love spending time with this woman.
And here's Vel. He's one of the many drivers at Rising Star, but he usually is the Friday driver for the medical team. He's got a great smile, and he love chatting with all the volunteers. I feel like I've really gotten to know Vel, and he's a great guy with big dreams.

Dr. Segunya is a bit of a mystery. She's very reserved and doesn't talk much, but she seems to have a sense of humor under all her quite and solitude. She sees all the patients and determines the prescriptions they need.
Many of these pictures are from Mogul Vadi. This colony is very small, but it has some of the best patients. They are so kind and loving. They are always so excited to see us when we come, and they help us set up and clean up despite their physical disabilities.
Here's saroja. She always breaks into a grin when she sees us. She is very hard of hearing and she only has one eye that works. In addition, one of her legs has been amputated, but she still smiles and offers food to us whenever we come.

Here's another man from the colony. I haven't learned his name yet, but he's one of the regular, and he seems to have a really strong spirit.
Then there's Jairaj and his wife Jaimary (who doesn't have leprosy, yet chose to stay with her husband which is fairly uncommon). Jairaj is the funny man of the colony. He knows a bit of english and loves to crack jokes all the time. He always says "comedy" and points to himself. He also loves to dance and sing. Brings alot of excitement to our visits.

All the residents at Mogul Vadi are wonderful, and I always look forward to our visits to this colony.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wedding Bells are ringing!

A couple of weeks ago, one of the male staff members at Rising Star stopped by our house early in the morning to drop off an envelope. That envelope is pictured below! We were invited to Ambu's wedding. I've never met Ambu prior to this event, but regardless he invited all of the volunteers. I was so excited for the opportunity to get dressed up in my new Sari and experience a traditional southern Indian wedding.

Often the women here wear beautiful jasmine flowers in their hair, so earlier in the day Anne and I bought some flowers for all of the volunteers to wear to the wedding.

Also, some of the volunteers did henna on their hands for an added touch of festivity for the big day. I didn't get around to it before the wedding, but I hope to before I leave.

Here's my final getup for the big event.
For the wedding there are two big events, the reception and the ceremony. Interestingly, the reception was first on saturday night, and the wedding ceremony was the next day, Sunday morning. The reception hall was all light up and had christmas lights hanging off the building. In the states, it would look tacky, but here it's the way to really light up the night. In addition, they had this interesting, mannequin that bowed its hands up in down.
Most of the reception was spent sitting around, taking pictures and waiting for the bride (she was at the Hindu temple around the corner). I love all the colors of the saris we all wore. It was really nice to see everyone dressed up in the beautiful saris.
Another interesting aspect of the decor for the reception were these plush chairs. We never actually saw the bride and groom sit in them, but the chairs were there nonetheless.

More beautiful saris! I love the colors that Lyndsey, Kala, Vanilla and I had on.
The band played loud indian music that no one danced to, but it created an energetic atmosphere for the event.
After awhile we were invited down to a dining area where we were fed a delicious dinner. It was so good, I could eat that food for dinner every night. I love that we ate on banana leaves for dinner.
After dinner, the groom took pictures with everyone (the bride still hadn't shown up).
Oh, I forgot to mention.... the way you know you're at the right place..... there's a huge billboard right outside the reception hall advertising the wedding. By the way, this was an arranged marriage, which is traditional here. Many of the children like to ask if I plan on having an arranged marriage or a love marriage. They say in love marriage the love is there to start but goes away, and in an arranged marriage there is no love to start and then it grows over time, so clearly the arranged marriage is preferable.
Finally, it was getting late and we decided it was time to go, but before we did (the bride still hadn't shown up). We walked with a crowd from the reception over to the temple where the bride was. She was dressed so beautifully, and we finally got pictures of the bride and groom together.

Her head piece was really amazing. I could believe how elaborate all of the flowers were.
Before we left, we got a picture with the bride and groom together. I thought it was a little strange that they wanted a picture with us, almost complete strangers, but the whole time they treated us like special guests. We ate first, we got the best seats. They were just so kind to us the entire night. I was so honored to be invited to Ambu's wedding.
The next day was the ceremony. I wasnt' able to go, but I borrowed a few pictures from the volunteers who did go. There was a lot of ritual to the ceremony and it lasted for about an hour and half. I love all of the flowers!
This is just one of the many amazing events I've experienced over the last couple of weeks, I'll try to post as much as I can in the coming days. I can't believe I only have 2 weeks more here in INdia. It's been an extraordinary experience and I'm so grateful for the opportunity.