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Inspiration

PeaceJam Profile

1st October 2018

     I’m so thankful for my experience in India with the Loy Norrix branch of PeaceJam in the summer of 2018. There are truly no words to completely describe it, I can only try to convey it as best as possible. This was my first international trip as other opportunities had fallen through, but upon spending time in India I realized that I would choose this experience above all others. Its purpose and our immersion in the country and the culture were far above any other trip.

    This trip opened my eyes further to many issues. When I returned some people asked me what stood out to me the most. I told them the vibrant colors, the welcoming people, and the amazing sights. In addition, I also mentioned one specific sight that left an impression on me. In India we traversed many roads to get to our locations in the itinerary, and while looking out the window of our little bus, just soaking everything in, I noticed that on the very same street the disparity between rich and poor was so clearly juxtaposed. I saw a worn down shack in shambles with its inhabitants sitting on empty cartons beneath tin roofs right next to a gated lavish house with its green stretch of lawn, another shack surrounded by ground littered with trash flanking its other side. We don’t see that in the U.S., we have separate communities that share a common average of income, so we only see our own reflection in our immediate vicinity and don’t always think of other walks of life. We have a disparity too, but it’s never right in front of our faces. I also drew similarities between the village Bandhwari, right outside New Delhi, and my own country, the United States of America. Their school struggled with getting all the students to attend because many parents did not see the point in it, much like my own school system and other schoolchildren across America who are not motivated or pushed to pursue higher education if their family doesn’t value it. Interestingly enough, when I mentioned to others that I was going to India, I got some unpleasant reactions. It seems there’s a mentality that as a developing country they have completely different and separate problems from us, of which we’ve somehow graduated from or become elevated above. But as I saw, we face similar problems across humanity. They have issues to fix within their country and we have issues to fix, as well. One of Ms. May’s, our program leader, requirements to come on this trip was to make sure you are participating in your own community’s needs, and I’m grateful for that principle because while it is great to go to other countries to help, it’s also vital to invest your efforts in your area. We all have improvements to make in our society, from India to the United States of America.

    One aspect I loved about this trip was the immersion in the country and culture of India. I loved the direct communication and interaction with the people; we weren’t just tourists, instead I felt we were actually part of their communities for the time. I got to meet and interact with many different people, from talking to people at historical monuments to bargaining in the markets on busy streets to laughing with the schoolchildren and women of Bandwari. At Bandhwari, the village near Delhi where we worked with the school teaching basic English, games, and just having fun making friendships, I remember fondly of a third grade boy named Nitu who was my buddy and always gave me a turn throwing the frisbee. Another fond memory of mine was when we spent a day at Ladli, a local non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides a vocational training program for abused, orphaned and destitute children, in Jaipur. One girl asked me if I liked to dance and I answered with an energetic yes, and the next thing I know they pulled me excitedly into the building to have a dance party. They were amazing dancers and we had so much fun!

     We also had some even further looks into the lives of different citizens of India. One man in Bandhwari showed us his home, and Anup pointed out he was the first to install a modern toilet in the village, one of the many projects of improving the living standards of the village. Anup himself is the head of The Incentive Foundation, an organization that has invested in Bandhwari’s well-being, including helping the school and starting the Bandhwari’s Women Group set up at a center in the village providing a source of income and a set of skills for the women to develop some independency. Anup was a perfect example of a person doing great things for the community they care for, and he was extremely humble as if it was just the thing to do. He didn’t make himself out to be a saint, which reminded me of the 2018 PeaceJam Great Lakes Conference Laureate Leymah Gbowee and how she insisted that we remember she was not the only woman of the women’s peace movement that ended the Second Liberian Civil War. We need more role models like that in the world. We can all contribute; their stories inspire me to do even more with PeaceJam and to find similar activities after high school.

    One final, but certainly not the last, thing I want to share is how our wonderful tour guide, Ramesh Nambiar, contacted one of his colleagues, Annapoorna, to make an incredible experience possible. We were invited to her home for dinner–which was so, so beautiful and awing as we ate under the stars in the open courtyard in the middle of the house–and she taught us how to dress in a sari. I learned the technique of the folds before placing the length of material over my shoulder, and it was really fun having her and her friend show me. Before sitting down to dinner I talked with her for a bit and got to ask about her view on me buying and occasionally wearing a sari, if it would offend her concerning cultural appropriation, as I did not want to mistreat this culture I had grown to love. She was so open and kind, and I could not have asked for a better chance to improve upon my knowledge.

    Along with our working with children and the people of India, we also got to see briefly on our ride from Delhi to Agra an organization that works with animals. Wildlife SOS is a nonprofit organization that ended the 400 year old practice of “Dancing Bears” in India, and is currently tackling the issue of elephant mistreatment found in commercial use for rides and other forms of entertainment. We saw both locations of the separate facilities for elephants and for the remaining bears under their care. Sadly, we did not get to stay and help out, although we did learn a lot about the unspoken truths behind the facades of industries involving the use of animals for entertainment. Ella and Mia— my two best friends who were also on the trip—and I hope someday to go back to India and volunteer with wildlife SOS.

  I’m truly awestruck that I went to India. I fell in love and I’d go back tomorrow if I could.

-Tess, Grade 12

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