Chief Holi Guest…

…The second day of school was just as magical as the first. The students could not be prouder. Neither could I. They are taking to school like ducks to water.

–The ending scene of our movie–

–Manisha hard at work on her Hindi–

–Pritesh (aka Golu) and Ajeet working on their handwriting–

–Komal (closest) and Anita (looking at us) with Sister Prasanna in back–

–Pooja and Sonu (aka Abishek) with multiple teachers and sisters to teach them–

Today, we took a break from class to use the playground. You can only imagine the excitement!

The kids’ favorite device is definitely the merry-go-round. Ok, it’s my favorite too. If you haven’t noticed, I’m really just a big kid at heart. You might also be wondering what is on my face.

Although I had been invited to a Holi (pronounced “holy”) party by our neighbor last week, I hadn’t given in much more thought. Only this morning did I find out I was the chief guest! To make a long story short, our neighbor, Meenakshi, owns and runs a women’s polytechnic institute here in Faridabad. A few weeks ago, the other volunteers and I were discussing sending some women from the slum to her school for vocational training. Meenakshi has become one of our biggest local supporters. Through me, she met my host mother and the two are rapidly becoming close friends.

I found out that I was the chief guest about 30 minutes before the event was about to start. I jumped in our family car and rode with Shri, Mumta, and Naisa to the polytechnic school. We were given an honorary Indian welcome. I received a fresh rose, a tilak on my forehead, and a plethora of traditional sweets and soda. We sat down on a couch facing about 50 female students. I received gracious praise for my work here and then was asked to make yet another impromptu speech. Luckily, I have a lot of things to talk about.

Next, we witnessed a full fashion show and a few excellent dancers. Then, as I had feared, I was asked to display my own dancing in front of everyone. By now, awkward moments and expectations no longer surprise me. I looked around to verify what was expected of me and happily gave the crowd what they wanted.

Much to everyone’s amusement, I pulled up many of the ladies to dance with me. One thing Indians love to do is dance. Dancing can seemingly break out whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason.

In traditional celebration, we “played Holi.” Playing Holi consists of placing colored powder (simply called ‘color’) on another person and having them color you back. The celebration ends up turning into a massive cloud of brightly colored talcom powder as everyone throws handfuls of color at one another. It’s a janitor’s worst nightmare.

Holi itself isn’t until Thursday, but Indians love to celebrate, even if it means having to jump the gun a little bit. After my dancing exhibition, we rushed back to the school to meet the students as they arrived. After recess, Sister Pushpa sent me home to shower before I could go back to class.

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Madhu and the Carters…

…Sometimes, a thank you is insufficient. This is one of those times. Two weeks ago, my Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry Carter of Little Rock, Arkansas reached around the world and extended their hands to provide a caring and generous young girl with a lifetime of opportunity. In honor of the first day of school, I would like to give one very special thank you to the Carters on behalf of their new adopted scholar, Madhu.

The Carters’ donation of 1000 USD is far more generous than I or anyone here ever anticipated. In India, the average annual income in 2010 was about $875. One thousand dollars will revolutionize Madhu’s life and those of her family. At minimum, it will support Madhu for 4 to 5 years at the Carmel Convent School! Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry, I am humbled by your selfless and surprise display of magnanimity. Madhu and her family do not yet know just how much love they are receiving. I have not decided how to approach that process. However, I know they are incredibly grateful already.

–December 19, 2011–

When I took this picture of Madhu just before Christmas, I never thought that she would be getting the present of a lifetime from my very own aunt and uncle.

–January 2, 2012–

–February 8, 2012–

–Madhu with her four siblings and parents at their home on Feb. 12, 2012–

At only 10 years of age, Madhu has more maturity and responsibility than most 30 year-old adults I know. Shyamlal, her father, is an industrious day worker at any construction site that will employ him. He is often away from home working or searching for work. Rita, her mother, is a maid in multiple nearby homes. Both Shyamlal and Rita are illiterate and did not plan on ever sending Madhu to school.

With Shyamlal and Rita both working, Madhu was the head of the house. At first, this posed a problem. Shyamlal and Rita refused our support because Madhu had to take care of her four younger siblings. However, the surrounding community seems to have educated the parents that this is an opportunity that must not be missed. Once our most uninterested parents, Shyamlal and Rita are now unwaveringly committed to Madhu’s education.

–Madhu helping me clean up and organize the slum school on February 14, 2012–

–At the tailor on February 25, 2012–

–Madhu showing off her new shoes on February 25, 2012–

–Parent orientation on March 3, 2012–

–A thousand dollar smile–

Madhu is already excelling at the Carmel Convent School and shows remarkable discipline. Furthermore, with years of motherly experience, she acts like a caregiver for the entire class. She always walks at the back of the line, picks up dropped items, and fixes any untidy uniforms. Literally and figuratively, all of the students look up to Madhu. I look up to her. She is inspirational. If she makes it to graduation, I will be standing and clapping with a towel full of tears as she crosses the stage.

On behalf of Madhu and her family, thank you Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry for the shirts, the skirts, the shoes, the socks, the belt, the backpack, the books, and, most importantly, the ability to study at the Carmel Convent School for many years to come! What a way to spend $1000. I love you.

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