Our last couple days in India had so much impact. We worked hard throughout our 6-week project so I was ready to fly back to the comfort of the United States. However, our students realized the end of our project had come upon us and they became glued to our sides.
After the Stakeholder’s meeting, some of the guy students did a dance for us and turned the stage into a dance party. Our camera-happy girls filmed us dancing which will be fantastic footage to laugh at ourselves and always remember that moment. Later that night, they showered us with gifts and threw a “little party” which, as Nessa described, is what they call a plate full of snacks, often placed into our mouths by our eager students who obsess over feeding us. Our students also gave speeches. It was heartwarming to hear how much of an impact we had to these students lives, and absolutely heartbreaking to see how upset they were by us leaving. We took so many pictures on that last day. One student told me he wanted us to have many pictures of him so we will always remember him. Many students in fact told us to not forget them. I don’t know how we could.
The day we were to leave, students had already arrived at Shanti Rani at 8 AM to say their final goodbyes. Even students who we felt like we didn’t connect with as well due to the language barrier were tear filled and longingly wanted us to stay or promise to come back again next year. In such a short time, it was amazing to see how many friends we made and how much our project meant to these students. Our classes had become apart of their daily lives, and they loved to plan excursions, dinners, and small parties for us. Now that we were leaving they seemed lost. Never have I been in a situation like this—where everyone realizes the parting has to come and genuinely doesn’t want it to happen. Thinking back to my high school graduation for instance, everyone was excited to end school and start college; regardless of the fact most of us would never see one another again. In this village, I doubt many students have had to say goodbye to a friend who they wouldn’t see again. During the last couple days, I didn’t feel a moment of sadness because every moment I was with them, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed. Our students were the most smart and determined people I have ever met and the sisters at Shanti Rani as well as the people of Venkatraipur and New Baxipalli were so welcoming and made us feel like we were apart of their family. It wasn’t until we were driving down the road waving to our students that I realized this was the last time we would wave at them and see them in person for quite a long time. Reality set in much sooner for our students then it did for me. For me, once I don’t have something anymore is when I most appreciate it and wish that I still had it. And believe me, I appreciate our students and wish we could still be there with them.
This trip has taught me more than any classroom could. It demonstrated the inequality brilliant students face due to the lack of money, the gender inequality due to cultural norms, the impact one can have by speaking out for what’s right, and how immensely happy people can be without the materialistic possessions like a fully furnished, enormous air conditioned house, or a constant flow of electricity and water, or even a shower head. The things we need most are each other. And when it came to higher education and education for girls, it was critical that our students received support from their community so they could fulfill their dreams. We tried our best to be a support system for their education, and that’s probably one of the reasons why they didn’t want to see us go.
On a personal level, this trip has done wonders to increase my motivation, get me far out of my comfort zone, boost my self-confidence, and realize that I can do anything I put my mind to. The three of us girls who came on this trip worked as role models for the girls in our classes to be strong, educated women and speak out for themselves. Being able to raise money and come all the way to India to be a teacher and speak at community events, as well as work collaboratively as a team with my fellow volunteers really helped me to fulfill this role model position as well as realize my full capabilities and strengths. Of course the goals of our project was to teach youth and motivate parents but it also worked the other way around by teaching the volunteers about themselves, what education they’d like to pursue next, and gave us motivation to be better students and better people. Overall, I’d say our project was quite the success, and all of the volunteers have already contacted our students since we’ve been home. This project has definitely turned into a long-term relationship for us all.
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