Growing up in an indian family, traveling the almost 20 hour journey to India, was always sought out as a long and tiring one. As a child, my sister and I would dread the journey to the motherland because of the pungent smells, the lack of cleanness and luxury, as well as the heat. I never thought I would make the journey alone to India on my own will, but in the summer of 2016, I did just that.
Volunteering abroad has always been something that has always intrigued me. I decided to go to a very impoverished part of South India called Tirunelveli. My job was to teach children English at a local school. I I was lucky enough to have my grandmother walking distance from the school, so in the month I was there, I resided with her. Though I did have the luxury of having running water and an air conditioner, unlike many other children, it was still a struggle for me to adapt to the environment.
Since this is town is where my grandparents lived, I had been here before. I never really observed my surroundings because I was always had the company of my family. Since the majority of the time I was alone, I started to notice the lack of color represented in the streets. The road was dry dirt, there were not many trees or greenery due to the heat, there were old tattered posters on broken brick walls, and children stayed in their school uniforms long after school because most of the time it was the only clothing they owned. Despite this, every single child had a smile on their face, even if they didn’t have shoes and the soles of their feet burned from the hot, sandy ground, even when their homes were slums, and even when their only meal was provided to them by the school in the middle of the day.
My perspective of the entire world changed after this trip. The life I am living, I do not deserve. I was given it by complete luck, and credit it to all the hard work my parents have given into their education. Every child at my school was excited to learn, they wanted to learn. They asked me questions about everything they could imagine. I could see the thrill and excitement in their eyes from learning something simple, like a new color, or a new word. This exact moment, is something we lack in our American school system, the joy of learning. As a high school student, about to enter college, I have seen it all. From students skipping class, cheating, to taking hour long naps, education is something that has definitely been taken granted.
Not only did I notice this, but later on in my volunteering voyage, a group of students from London, England joined me on my tasks of teaching the children. As their first time in India, they were able to give me a more clean and clear outlook on the life the town held. Since the town was incredibly small, they still followed olden traditions such as arranged marriages, a man held the power in the household, and it was very common for women to stop their education after a certain grade. They also noticed that women were literally perceived as more beautiful if they had a lighter skin complexion, which had never noticed before.
After coming home, I have become less materialistic and more thankful for what I already have. I have become more cautious about the wastage of food, how I am spending my money, and most importantly, been eternally grateful for all of my teachers and the tools we have for learning. As the memories of India are still fresh in my mind, I continue to make people aware of all the fourtunes we have been given in life.
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