Thousands of Smiles…

…We squeezed in more meetings, seminars, and smiles in the morning of my first full day back than most people do in a week. I was up at 4 to start working. We had chai and breakfast at 6:30 and saw Allison off to work at 7. Then we set out to Carmel Convent School to meet with Sister Sweta (Superior), Sister Daphne (KG Principal), Sister Namreta (Admin), Sister Tracilda (1st-10th Principal), and Sister Vigenti (Teacher). We also met with Jacintha Ma’am (Teacher), Miss Mabel, Miss Lysa, and a parade of the teachers and staff. It was a school holiday at Carmel because of exams on Tuesday. However, our students were still there studying hard in their own tutoring session with Jacintha Ma’am, perhaps the most inspiring and dedicated teacher I have ever met. As always, we couldn’t wait to get to the classroom to see the students in action. They’ve achieved so much and have continued to surpass everyone’s expectations of them. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of them. JCS_4821 JCS_4717 JCS_4737 JCS_4958 I sat and talked with each student. Their English has improved so much that they can understand and answer just about every question I ask. I can’t imagine anything more fun than this.       JCS_5026IMG_0076IMG_0070 JCS_5019 JCS_4905 JCS_4822 JCS_5094 After a couple of hours at Carmel, we headed to KL Mehta school to meet with Principal Kiran and the faculty as well as many of the parents and students who had gathered for a big town-hall style conference to give updates, discuss new policies and plans, sign permission slips, voice any concerns, etc.       JCS_5081 JCS_5320JCS_5243 JCS_5233 JCS_5240 Lauren has about the best word to describe these kids, “Smushy.” Are they not adorable? Their excitement and enthusiasm is off the charts.   JCS_5279 JCS_5411   JCS_5453 JCS_5110   JCS_5065 JCS_5538 Lauren and Mamta deserve more gratitude and praise than I can possibly convey here. Mamta can take an entire room of people and have them engaged and laughing while covering incredibly important and sometimes difficult subjects. She works tirelessly every day without taking a single rupee for herself. People in need come to her home at all hours of the day when they have nowhere else to turn for help. She is truly a saint for doing what she does.

Although Lauren has only been here for two months, she knows nearly every student, has piles of paperwork impeccably organized, and accomplishes mountains of work every day with inspiring ease and patience. She’s also very popular here with tons of requests to have photos taken with her.

I wish I could say more but time is limited. I have to go rinse the sweat off, eat breakfast, and get to Carmel in the next 20 minutes. More than 2,000 photos and videos yet to upload. Stay tuned.

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Rolling Out the Red Carpet…

…What a weekend! On Friday afternoon, I finished my Pulmonology final exam at Mayo Medical School, ate dinner with my parents who had come to visit from Arizona, and went to bed at midnight after scrambling to pack some last minute items.

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At 4:15am, I got up to start the 8,500 mile journey to Faridabad. It started with a light 5 hour drive to Chicago. Next was an 8,000 mile, 15 hour flight on Air India direct to New Delhi. Having squeezed in a total of 6 hours of sleep in the previous 48 hours, I slept from Quebec to Afghanistan.

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Shri surprised me with open arms at the airport by picking me up himself (I was expecting a driver) and we set out for the Formula 1 inspired 90 minute land adventure to the opposite side of the city. At one point, we were going the wrong way down the center of a road that would have been about 7 lanes wide if it had had lanes.

At another point, some locals trying to make a point about something had barricaded a busy intersection. I just laughed the entire time as utter chaos ensued with hundreds of cars honking at one another and trying to turn around at the same time even as traffic backed up as far as I could see. It took us 20 minutes just to move 100 feet. Ahhh…I missed you India.

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The welcoming party in Faridabad was waiting in full force. My friend Lauren (who has her own blog going at laurennippoldt.com, definitely check it out) was waiting at home. She is currently 2 months into a 6 month stay here and doing indispensable and tireless work for our students and their families. She, Mamta, and the schools have set up an entire week of events, surprises, conferences, talent shows, and meetings.

I set down my bags and Lauren and I set off on foot to the slums. Kids riding by on bikes and from the rooftops yelled, “Hi John Bhaiya!” as if I had never left.

Within about 60 seconds of seeing our first students in the slum, a chain reaction commenced and dozens of kids started running toward and away from us in every direction. Ajeet pointed out that some kids were being dispatched to alert the others, even those who had moved to more distant parts of the slum. I was so busy saying hi and hugging everyone that I couldn’t take pictures. Thank you Lauren for capturing all of these!

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Neha and Gudiya’s father, covered in water and wearing only his underwear because he was bathing along the canal as we approached, directed me into their home. Gudiya disappeared and returned minutes later with a huge bottle of orange soda for Lauren and me. Their mother dusted off the only small stool in their home.

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With hardly 4 hours on the ground, we’d already visited with hundreds of the kids and their families. As dusk set in, we returned home to Mamta waiting for me with a beautiful smile and one of my favorite paneer dishes for dinner. My friend Allison (who works here in New Delhi and has helped us with lots of great work over the past two years) also surprised me by coming to visit for the evening.

I feel like a prince coming home for some long-awaited royal event. It is truly surreal to travel all that distance to a remote corner of the world and have so many loving, inspiring, wonderful people here waiting to welcome me back. My bucket shower before bed was the best bucket shower ever!

It’s great to be back! #‎squalortoscholar‬

In the Mayo Clinic Spotlight…

…It was an incredible honor today to have Squalor to Scholar featured front and center in the Mayo Clinic newsletter. For those readers unfamiliar with me personally, I joined the M.D. Class of 2017 here at Mayo Medical School in July 2013. Since then, I have overseen Squalor to Scholar from Rochester, Minnesota, and feel blessed to have tremendously supportive and compassionate people supporting me at Mayo Clinic, back home, around the world, and especially in India. Read the full article here: http://intheloop.mayoclinic.org/discussion/from-squalor-to-scholar.

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Returning to India with Mom…

…Over the weekend, Mom and I embarked on the longest flight of our lives, a 12,000 km 15-hour trip aboard an Air India 777 direct from Chicago to New Delhi. Surprisingly, we both felt that the flight seemed much shorter than we thought it would. We cleared customs and met Shri just outside the only international arrival door. Mom agreed that the flight itself was nothing compared to the two-hour drive from the airport to Faridabad that, even on Sunday afternoon, felt like riding a roller coaster through a cloud of exhaust and dust.

At the first stop in traffic, a haggard beggar pressed her young face and hands against my window. Her ring and fingernails scraped against the glass. Mom could hardly watch.

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Mamta, Naysa, and Naima were waiting with open arms when we arrived just after sunset. Mamta was already preparing rajma rice and malai paneer, two of my favorite dishes. I then went over to the convent to say hi to the sisters, who had also been looking forward to our arrival. We talked and laughed and were excited to be reunited. Exhausted by the 28 hour journey door-to-door, Mom and I were in bed by 9.

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We were up again by 3:30 a.m. and, after everyone else woke up, walked Naima around the corner to school. Naima also attends the Carmel Convent School now, where 76 of our students across 4 grade levels and 11 classes attend. We were outside the entrance for the youngest children when some of our oldest students, Priyanka, Ankit, Neha, and Kajal, spotted us from around the corner. They waved and jumped up and down yelling, “John bhaiya, John bhaiya!,” then sprinted toward us with smiles from ear to ear.

After giving me huge hugs and an outpouring of optimism, they turned to Mom and did the same. They had certainly been looking forward to the moment as much as we had. Mom needed no introductions.

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We went home to wash up and eat breakfast before making the complete rounds of Carmel Convent School, KL Mehta School, and the slum. Mom met Sisters Pushpa, Asha, Sweta, and Namrata for the first time. In every classroom and office, we were greeted with songs and poems and even dances that all the children had learned. It was incredible to see their progress over just a few short months.

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Nearly all of the students are making rapid progress. Many are even excelling with almost perfect grades and evaluations. Many of the youngest students have learned to read and write both English and Hindi since April. Some of the kindergarten students are even multiplying already!

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We made it to the slum by late afternoon. Children and adults came out from every building to say hello and shake our hands. Many of the men made a point to shake my hand, look in my eyes, and say, “Thank you.” I’d never had that happen before. Some of the children who had never seen Mom before even came up and said, “Hello Mary ma’am!”

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Please take a second to blow up the previous three photos and try to digest the emotions of these sisters and our students Anita and Sindu. They live the hardest lives of any healthy children I know. I’ll discuss their situation and circumstances later as they are complex and we have some work to do to get to the bottom of it all.

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We also passed by an intellectually disabled boy in the slum who was being held in a woman’s lap while healing from a burn sustained from an open fire.

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Despite the difficulties of living in a slum and occasional pockets of extreme despair, life is largely vibrant and enthusiastic. At one point, my shoulder was grabbed by some of the fathers and local men. Despite my demonstrative objections, Mom and I were all but forced to sit down on a bed in the street and enjoy a cold orange soda. A crowd of 30 people of all ages gathered around to watch us sip. I enjoyed mine, as I knew our hosts would be disappointed if I did not. However, I think Mom was a bit overwhelmed by the situation. It’s tough to receive a gift here, especially when you know that person worked for a few hours to be able to afford that soda.

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Although the first 24 hours here were as much of a roller coaster as the ride in, excitement was the overarching feeling of the day. In the photo above, Ankit runs to greet us as fast as his little legs will carry him.

This Week in Photos…

_Boy with Saw Blade–An extremely poor child from a hard-working family takes a break for chapatti–

_Pigs in Street

_Brick Women–Women transferring a load of bricks en route to a construction site–

_Brick Woman

_Working Men–Men taking a work break from their labor in a poorly-ventilated automobile part factory–

_Indian Sunset–A sunset is hardly visible on the horizon through the pollution–

_Dirty Park–A man comes out of a landfill/restroom/playground–

_Eye Reflection–My reflection in the eyes of a little girl–

_Slum Boy–A father asks for a picture to be taken of his son–

IMG_1897–Daulati suffering in a rickshaw on her way to find me–

_Daulati–Daulati after a trip to the hospital and modifying her medications–

_Daulati 2–Daulati after some new medication and better eating regimen–

_Daulati Dusk

_Daulati Dusk 2–Daulati and her family cook dinner as we bring them a week’s worth of fresh vegetables–

_Looking Over Daulati–Daulati’s neighbors look over–

_Himansu–Himansu and his mother attend a meeting about how we intend to help–

_Mother's Meeting 2

_John at Mother's Meeting

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_Rajpath Delhi Balloons–A balloon salesman crosses Rajpath in New Delhi…with the President of India’s home in the background–

_Motorcycle Salesman–A motorcycle salesman tries to sell his goods in the slum–

_Kajal in Store–Kajal, our student, stands in her family’s small store they made in the slum–

_Sadna in Bucket–Sadna, one of our newest students, bathes in a bucket–

_Near Eco School–Visiting Khushboo’s home–

_Raj Nandani and Sonal–Visiting Sonal’s home–

Sponsors, Meet Your Students…

…Attention Sponsors! You should have received an email in the past 24 hours with instructions on how to schedule a video conference with your student. If you have not received this email, please let us know as soon as possible at squalortoscholar@gmail.com.

I will be offering this unique opportunity as a token of our gratitude through March 31st. If you are not able to schedule a time, don’t worry. I’m hard at work compiling all sorts of media to upload for you when I get home.

None of this would be possible without you. Thank you so much for your generosity and love.

_Facetime in an Alley–Video conferencing in January (Thanks for the photos Caitlin Rulien!)–

_Facetime with Mithlesh and Friends