In my blog last week, I briefly discussed my trip to India. Over Winter Break, I had the opportunity to travel to Rajasthan, India with the USC Volunteer Center. This week, I want to delve into further detail about the trip that changed my life.
After going on the Alternative Winter Break trip to Thailand with the USC Volunteer Center last year, I knew that I wanted to dedicate another winter to service. Both trips provided the incredible opportunity to travel, to meet other USC students, and to make a difference on a global scale. The focus of the India trip was education – we would be working with children in a slum, Banjara Basti, to teach them English and personal hygiene.
The trip started off with a lot of travel – it took nearly 36 hours to reach Sikar, the town in which we stayed, which is about an 8 hour bus ride from New Delhi. We were living on a volunteer farm with a local host family. Each day, they prepared meals for us, and also prepared hot water for us to shower. The farm had bucket showers (hot water that we poured over our bodies out of a bucket), and Western toilets, as well as internet accommodations.
We had a day to explore the city of Sikar before our first working day in Banjara Basti. In the morning of our first working day, we took Tuk-Tuks through the city to reach the slum, and when we arrived we were immediately greeted by the smiling faces of the children there. It was incredible to meet them; without knowing anything about us, they immediately showered us with love. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, and it was pure and beautiful.
As the trip progressed, we spent more and more time working in Banjara Basti, and the connections we formed with the kids became stronger. I was working with children in Kindergarten, whose understanding of English was very limited. Despite the economic and educational status of the kids, they came to school every morning with a smile on their faces, ready to learn. I helped teach them the English alphabet and basic math, sang songs with them, and gave them all of the love and attention that I possibly could. I formed a special bond with a young girl named Suman, who would run towards me each morning, asking me to “Goti” – or “lift me up”.
Suman and the rest of the children were happier than I could ever have imagined. These children, who have less than nothing, are so full of life and energy, and it was incredibly contagious. I felt completely alive from the moment I entered Banjara Basti until the moment we left it each day, and it was overwhelming in a very positive way.
The trip also included lighter elements, like day trips into Jaipur where we shopped and visited the Amber Fort, weekend drives to Pushkar where we rode camels into the desert to go camping, and even a bus trip to the Taj Mahal. Beyond these excursions, we had incredible meals prepared for us on the farm where we stayed. Also on the farm, we participated in cultural activities like yoga, henna tattooing, Hindi lessons, and dressing in traditional Indian clothing.
This trip was the best possible way I could imagine spending my winter break. It taught me so much about myself by going completely out of my comfort zone on the opposite side of the world. It also taught me a lot about the way I want to live my life: enriching myself through enriching the lives of others.