In the bustling city of Hyderabad, I found myself awoken at 6 AM as the cooks outside my door banged pots and pans in preparation for breakfast. The meal would feed roughly 50 people including caregivers, cleaning women, volunteers, and 32 children. This was day two of my summer trip to India where I volunteered at Sarah’s Covenant Homes. SCH is an organization dedicated to giving high quality care to abandoned children with special needs including medical/surgical care, education, physical/speech therapy, and even vocational training. The organization is split into six homes and each home is named for the quality it strives to represent. I lived in Rescue Home. The children in Rescue home have been taken in from the streets, hospitals, or government orphanages where they were in desperate need of medical care that no one else could provide. As a volunteer, medical care was not in my job description, but therapy, playing, and education were all part of my daily duties.
But let me start with the original story. I first went to SCH last summer after a friend, Jasmine, invited me to go with her for a month and live in a small town in Andhra Pradesh. Prior to this trip I had never intended to go abroad, in fact I feared it! But Jasmine was persuasive and I ended up in India. The experience was, to say the absolute least, incredible. I fell so in love with India and the children that I couldn’t think about much else until I returned in June. While the experiences were vastly different, the daily activities were similar. Here’s a snapshot of my most recent trip.
Each day started as late as possible, usually around 9:30 AM. Once I was up I walked to one of the other homes to help with special education classes. At different points I worked with different children, but most of my students had autism and several were blind. After two hours of class, I would return to Rescue Home to play with two of the older boys who suffer from a chronic illness as well as some emotional and behavioral issues. After about an hour we would break for lunch and a much needed nap. At 3 PM therapy time began, working with either the toddlers at Rescue with cerebral palsy or the boys at Courage Home with developmental delays. Evening brought me home for dinner with the boys and some late night shenanigans including Netflix, Uno, and sometimes a trip to the store or the closest Starbucks.
While these days could seem monotonous or plain after months of repetition, each day felt like an adventure. And, as with all great adventures, my time taught me some valuable lessons. The first is common amongst world-travelers: humility. Amidst such extreme poverty and brokenness, I obviously learned to appreciate what I had, but that wasn’t all. If anything, India taught me that I couldn’t do everything. There were children that I couldn’t help and jobs that I lacked the skills or time to accomplish. I wanted to travel to make a difference, but what I really did was learn that making a difference is hard. Next I learned that my culture is neither the only one nor the best. While Indian culture undoubtedly has its flaws, there is so much in it that I wish I saw more of in America. And finally I learned that there are people in real need. It’s easy to know this intellectually, but it took meeting them for me to actually understand it deep down. And while it was hard to accept what their need actually meant, I am a better person because of it.