23 April 2015
← The Lessons We Can All Take from India
The Lessons We Can All Take from India
If I wanted to describe my India experience I could tell you all about the sights, sounds and smells, but I would rather tell you about one experience that truly affected me.
During our stay in Kolkata we visited a small primary school called St. George's which took children from between 6 and 12 years old, half of which were non-fee paying students. On the first day at the school we tutored and played with a class of students around 10 or 11 years old. All of the children were really happy to be at school and spend time with us and were always keen to try out their English skills on us. There wasn't one child who didn't have a sparkling smile on their face. Just knowing that they loved my company made me feel overjoyed and really valued by the whole experience. The love and appreciation they showed me was priceless.
These kids just absolutely LOVED school! I thought it fantastic that these children were enjoying themselves so much. It was only on the next day that I really understood why they loved school so much.
We met the same students again and in small groups they walked us to where they lived. One of the boys, Armaan, whom I had spent most of my time with the day before was really keen to take me back to his home. Without any hesitation he came over and gave me a huge hug as he greeted me. Along with three other students from the school (all of whom I understood were related to Armaan), we headed through the chaotic, frantic and busy streets of Kolkata to their homes. The streets were bustling with constant beeping from tuk tuks and taxis, people walking in every single direction, and the occasional street dog searching for scraps of food, sometimes with a puppy. This was a short 10 minute walk from the school.
Armaan and Fourteen, another cheerful young boy from St George's, pointed out Armaan's home as we were approaching it. To be honest when I looked in the direction that he had pointed I struggled to figure out exactly where he lived. I wasn't prepared for what I saw next. Armaan's home was a small little space, covering no more than a three metres radius, on the side of a quiet backstreet joining a busy road. All that covered the sleeping space was a simple tarpaulin, held up by a couple of poles. His family's cooking area was practically on top of the street and they had a couple of pots and pans to cook on. Armaan was quite literally living on the street. There was no running water, no electricity and no furniture. He introduced me to his grandmother, who was the only one home at the time. I attempted to introduce myself with the little Hindi I had learnt from the students who were the only family members who knew English.
I then discovered that all four students lived on this small backstreet within 20 metres of each other. Fourteen showed me where he slept. It was a small 'room' covering no more than a five by five metre space with a few mats to sleep on. He told me that twelve people slept in this tiny space. I could not even begin to imagine how that was even possible, let alone think how over-crowded it would be.
The one thing that stood out to me after this experience was the pride and honour the students took in showing me their home. They seemed to be so happy and privileged to be able to show me what they had – which was not a lot. Yet that didn't concern them the slightest bit. I realised that children kids had taught me much more than I will ever be able to teach them about the value of material possessions.
It made me wonder what they would have thought had I been the one showing them my home. Growing up in a first world country you don't realise how lucky you are until you see the masses of people who live at the other end of the spectrum – in third world poverty. After walking through the streets of Kolkata I was overwhelmed by the large numbers of marginalised families living below the poverty line. It's phenomenal how much better off we are in Australia. Words cannot describe it.
I would never have thought that the boy whom I had met the day before in the classroom would be the same boy who was living in poverty on the streets of Kolkata. Education really is a powerful opportunity EVERY child should have. It makes so much of a difference to the lives of kids like Armaan. It really inspired me to realise how influential the work of the Christian Brothers is.
When listening to Father Liam share his stories and experiences I never thought that they would have such a profound effect on me. I really appreciate the valuable opportunity so much more after spending time and developing my own experiences. I cannot thank Father Liam enough for this wonderful opportunity. His hard work and countless time spent in India to help improve the quality of life for every person he could is truly inspirational and admirable.
If these children had not been given a chance to go to school, most of them would spend all their time working to provide an income for their family. The St George's children I met really taught me a lot about how valuable a home and an education are. I think when you have so little you truly appreciate the wonderful opportunities of life so much more.