Friday, June 27, 2008

Our last day at Rising Star


It is hard to put into words the emotion that we felt yesterday. There is so much, too much almost to express in events, emotions and gratitude and love felt today to put it into words.

I woke up to having slept maybe 2 hours on the cement floor of our bunk room under the ceiling fan that was working, since our one luxury of AC was out in our room and it was about 90 degrees in our room though most of the night. The heat just does not let up and without some breeze, it is just too much. I was at least glad to see day come and was looking forward to the day.

Today we began on the roof, where we had a morning thought about taking home with us what we have felt here, that we can feel this same overwhelming love when we are serving at home.

We walked over to the school, just a 2 minute walk from the hostile, to see the kids coming in today. I went in looking for my new friends, Tiirhika- is how I now know to spell her name, and Divya- who had come from the village. They were anxiously looking for me too. They were excited to show me around to where their rooms were. They were then called to assembly out on the back area of the building and they did their calisthenics and morning prayer. After, the kids came looking for me again before they had to go to their classrooms. We were hugging and saying that we loved each other. Their beautiful and sweet faces filled my heart to overwhelming, knowing that I might not see them again, I hugged them and told them how good and smart they were and that I loved them and would send them photos from yesterday and that I would try to find them before they left for home today and give them cards.

They waved and went off. As I was walking back they were waving and saying. "Auntie" from their room. My heart just split open. I then came across the beautiful Vijaya, the house mom of my family and her deep kind eyes looked at mine and I nodded to her in respect and she smiled so kindly at me, a moment of respect for each other. I could not hold in my emotion and began to run back to the hostile. I saw the other little sweet girl, whose mom was a house mom too, and she waved and smiled at me as I was coming into the hostile, I just could not handle it. I went into the bathroom and stood and sobbed with an overwhelming heart of love and gratitude for the children and the women that had allowed me to love them and let me stay with them in their home.

I was especially touched by seeing Vijaya, who I had visited with each day and night as we had helped put her kids to bed each night. She had two daughters there with her at the school. Teresa had had her birthday the day before and to see her present her daughter with a birthday cake and her other daughter make flowers for her hair and see the good family they were- gave me great respect for them. I had learned more about her family yesterday when the Harrisons had come back to tell us about their day doing hygiene at the colonies. They had cleaned the feet of her mother. They had showed me a picture of the most unbelievably horrific thing I have ever seen. Her foot was yellow and grossly inflamed with a huge hole through the bottom of it and all the skin dead around it. Debbie, my cousin, had said that as they put hydrogen peroxide on it it had gone all the way into her foot and came out the other side, she had a hole on the other side. It was so terrible and she was wincing in pain. The Doctor there had to tell her that she was going to have to see the surgeon and have her for foot amputated. She cried deeply, as did everyone there. She didn't want to loose her foot primarily because then she would be a burden and as she told the doctor then she would not be able to take care of her husband who was bed bound. Debbie had described her as a beautiful woman, like her daughter, with a grace and dignity about her. To see her weep and to know her unselfish reasons for her emotion was such a disturbingly sad moment.

We went out to the Villadama (sp?) colony today to present the goats in a ceremony to the people of this colony. We arrived and the village was out around the newly constructed goat shed. I was so impressed with the lashings that the groups had done and the dried palm roof. The colonists were proud of it too. We had taken on the bus with us 3 children that I knew well from RSO, Devi, Mary and her brother. They were from this village, although I had not known that before. You forget that these children that are cleaned up and look healthy and are starting to speak English were just in this village, living on dirt floors exiled to this community, were just living here a few months or a year or so ago. When we got off the bus, we followed Devi to her home to see her mother and her little sister, who were waiting by their hut. Her little sister was about 5 and was dressed so pretty- it was clearly a special day. Her mother welcomed us into her hut. It was very clean, her dirt floor swept and tidy and her jugs all cleaned and lined up. We told her mother what a smart and good girl her daughter was. Devi smiled. It was strange though to see no hugging, which I had to be reminded that in their culture that it is not common to show affection. At RSO we are all hugging and they come to us and hug and kiss us, but at home they do not show the same kind of affection.

At the end of the day when we were going to go back on the bus, I went to find Devi to tell her it was time to go. She had not come to the ceremony, since her family wasn't receiving a goat, but had stayed with her mom and sister. As I came close I said it was time, she just gave a wave to her mom and nodded at her sister and walked away. Her little sister stood by the door and was watching Devi. I asked Devi to go back and give her sister a hug, she looked at me like, do I have to? I asked her to give her a hug, that I knew she missed her. She went back and gave her a hug and the little girl just beamed from ear to ear and hugged her back, they were both smiling and had a little laugh. Her little sister stood by the door and watched Devi with a big smile as Devi walked towards the bus. I think that everyone needs to be shown love, no matter the culture and to be touched and shown affection, it can change lives- you see this with the kids at Rising Star. They receive so much attention and affection and apparent love, that you know it is what is helping them grow and develop at such a rapid rate, it really is amazing.

After each of our families presented a goat to the families of the colonists that had taken out the micro loan for a goat, it was a proud moment for the villagers, they then tied their goat to the shed and we all gathered into the small church. It had been a social event with us visiting and having photos with them before the official "handing over of the goats" and then the ceremony of thanks that took place inside the church. All of us volunteers, Becky and Padma (co-founders of RSO) and Amy (who helps run the day to day of RSO and it's and volunteers in India) and the volunteer coordinators- Hunter and Brett, and then all the colonists that had help us build the shed and were receiving the goats all gathered and sat on the benches and floor of the church. Padma then spoke and said that the villagers had asked her to tell us that they appreciated their help, that we could work together on this and they were grateful for our hard work, our time and help and that we could work with them. Then the older man with the coke bottle glasses, who had help direct the work the final day telling everyone how it should be done, who seemed to me the elder in the group stood and spoke and Padma translated. He said that he was thankful that we could work together as families to build this. They were grateful for our hard work in the hot sun and for coming and finishing it and for being their friends.

Ron Harrison, my cousin Debbie's husband, then spoke for our group. He did such a wonderful job. Padma translated to the people. He said that we had appreciated working with you all and that together we could work to build this shed for you. We were grateful that they could teach us how to build a shed. We learned from them, we had not built a goat shed before. That our families could work together and learn from each other. The colonists all nodded and smiled. You could tell they felt proud of the work we had done together. They were grateful for the words of appreciation too and and being acknowledged for being teachers and valued for their work.

Just when we thought the ceremony was over, the oldest man in the colony stood, he had no fingers and toes and I didn't think but a couple of teeth and a shriveled up face. He stood spontaneously and gave an impassioned speech. With a loud voice, unexpected from a man that looked like he had suffered much. He spoke for several minutes and the villagers were all nodding and looking at Padma with great respect. We asked what he had said, Padma just said, "He was talking to me, telling me thanks, that's all." She sat down. Becky, the co founder of RSO said that she was being too modest and asked her daughter, Esther, whom she had adopted from India and was with us, to translate. Esther said, that this man had given such great respect and acknowledgment and thanks to Padma. He said, "That because of her, that we do not have to beg, we can live in our small colony and work and be with our families and that it had meant so much to them that she had given them a chance and respect and that she had their greatest respect and thanks." It had made sense, understanding his words, since he had spoken with so much passion and emotion. It was a very powerful moment, the tremendous gratitude and then acknowledgment of thanks from a humble man to a humble woman.

As we loaded up, Mary and her brother came back. She was an orphan and lived with her aunt. Her aunt had been the fiesty one the other day that had not been excited about the goat shed infront of her home. She came back on the bus with a new little bracelet and a bag of some clothes that her aunt had given her. It was a moment that showed to me that although some have little they will provide for their children.

We sat on the bus on the way back, trying to take in all that had happened at this special meeting of thanks inside the small church and our visit with the colonists. It was like there were no separations between us; people of this colony, who had been poor in many things now had goats and had pride in their work and the respect of new friends that had worked with them, and us, Americans that might be perceived as having everything but who found their greatest value today in being valued by their new friends.

I know this is going so long, but the day was just amazing. As we pulled into RSO, Kiirhika was waiting for me outside the bus, it was their lunch time. She had waited to see me and when I got off she grabbed my hand and just kept looking up at me and smiling. I don't think I have ever felt such joy and love towards another than my own. She had held my hand the whole walk to the village yesterday, almost afraid to let go of it. She walked me back towards the hostile where the rest of the kids were eating lunch, and where I saw Divya. I told them I would find them before I left and give them my cards. It was so hard to say goodbye again as they headed back to school for the rest of their day.

We gathered on the roof and heard some incredible stories from Becky. She and Padma are truly like modern day Mother Theresas. They have given their lives to making the life of others better and healing and helping people through genuine love and service. It is so humbling to hear them speak. Padma is the past prime minister of India's daughter who could have a life of ease,but she spends every day of her life giving hope and value to those that are the most unwanted and "untouchable" in India and calls them friends. Becky has created a school for children that will help them change their lives, given them respect and be able to make a living and be healthy. The two of them along with Amy, a beautiful American woman in her early 30s who has given the last 4 years of her life living here and organizing volunteers and coordinating projects, along with the others who have been there serving, are really changing lives- not just those of the Indians, and the unwanted, but of the volunteers. It is amazing the life changing experience it has been for them and for those that they have served.

The afternoon was hard as we left. I took my letters and began to walk over to the school and saw that they kids had already been let out. I started running, so afraid that I would miss my village kids and not be able to say good bye. I couldn't' see them and couldn't see my 2 girls. I ran around the corner, they were just loading up their backpacks onto the motorcycle of one of the villagers parents that comes and takes all the backpacks so the kids don't have to carry them on their long walk home. When they saw me they ran up to me. I have Kiirhika her card, she was confused since I hadn't spelled her name right and she didn't' think the card was for her. I looked at her backpack, and saw how to spell her name and quickly took my pen out and scratched her name out and put the right spelling on it, she smiled so big knowing it was for her. I gave my card to Divya and the older girl in the group read the cards for the girls. They were happy. I handed them each a pack of gum and told them to share it with their friends, they both nodded. I gave them each a big hug and told them how much I loved them. I hugged all my friends, all those we had walked to their village with yesterday. They were wonderful. They then headed out, they were excited that I was going to see the Taj and going to Delhi. I told them I'd miss them so much and that I would be thinking of them at home and thank you so much for being my friends. It was so hard.

It was time to go, I went back to the hostile to gather Syd and Megan and Monica, the bus was ready to go. As I turned the corner I saw Syd and Megan and Monica surrounded by kids, maybe 40. They had kids in their arms and were sobbing, just sobbing, Priya was in Syd's arms and she was crying too. They were saying they loved them and would miss them and were trying to hug and kiss them all. I told the girls we had to go. I looked up and heard some one that said, "Karen". It was one of the girls I most respected at the school, Magala. She is about 12. She was always doing her studies, not caught up in the pictures and all the hugging and attention, but a girl that had great inner strength and dignity. She would without request nurture the ones that needed help and were crying in her family, help the older girls that weren't as good at their homework. I came into their room last night and she was reading her Bible in Tamil and translating to her friend in English. She would smile at me and give me a head tilt of hello. I would nestle her into my arm and tell her that she was smart and such a good person and would be a great woman and leader when she was older. I truly believe this. She was the girl that was teaching me to write the girls names in Tamil the first night. Magala waved to me from the balcony above, typical that she would not be part of the emotion below and I called up to her, "Thank you. I am proud of you. Thank you for having us in your home." I was then so full of emotion, she waved and said thank you and nodded.

I had to pull the girls away, they were distraught. Syd told me how could she go, she loved them. She didn't want to leave. Monica walked with me and told me that she felt like a mother who had to leave her children with the thought that she would never see them again. Our hearts were so full of love. I saw the head mother who I had talked with the night before I had left for a while out in the yard at night, she was a great woman. I told her thank you, she gave me a hug. My heart burned.

We came to serve and we were served. We showed love and were given such great love in return.

Kendall had come up to me this morning and said, "Mom, thank you so much for bringing me here and for this great experience. I am so glad we came. " Syd on the walk back said "this is the best trip we have ever taken. I want to come back, not to tour, but to just be here with the kids and do what we did". I am so proud. Kendall and Sydney didn't complain once this week. They worked so hard in the amazing heat, they cared so deeply for those around them and served so well and they learned so much from their experiences. Although we were only there for a few days, we feel changed. Tonight as we had checking into our fine hotel in Delhi, I said to the girls that I felt guilty being here. Syd responded, "I feel grateful."

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