Welcome to the Next Level…

…Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first stage of the next level! I am incredibly excited to announce the debut of www.squalortoscholar.org

If you haven’t yet heard through the grapevine, I’m building infrastructure that can help take us into the unknown. Our work in Faridabad has proven what we are capable of; but we cannot stop here. In only five months, we have changed the dynamics of an entire slum community and revolutionized the lives of 21 children and more than 100 of their family members. Within the year, we plan to have 56 students. We will support and follow these children and their families until they graduate from college. This is a combined commitment of 970 individual years of tuition, uniforms, books, supplies, shoes, care, and love.

This first class of students has all been made possible by the generosity of the family and friends of selfless volunteers and readers of this blog. I cannot tell you how proud and grateful I am to have your support. Together, we have shown what a powerful impact can be made when the right people join forces and take altruistic action. What we have done in the Patel Nagar slum of Faridabad is truly inspiring people around the globe–in more than 85 countries.

We enrolled this entire first class of 21 students, solicited donations from around the world, purchased everything they need to succeed, and even hired a private teacher to teach them after school for the next year with donations just from friends and family and over the course of a few busy weeks! Wow! Imagine what we could do if we had $1 million and years to implement change around the world!

Readers, friends, and family, please put on your thinking caps. Start spreading the word about www.squalortoscholar.org and let’s see where we can take this!

Do you know someone in the press? Do you know an organization or church looking for a partnership? Do you know people with money burning a hole in their pockets? Please let them know about us! When the right people team up, we can accomplish anything.

We have big dreams! For these children’s sake, I hope they come true.

Exponential Education…

…You might remember a picture I took on February 6, 2012. It was of a little boy alone in a hallway of the Carmel Convent School on his way to the restroom. He was silhouetted against the daylight behind him:

When I took this picture, I had just walked into the Carmel Convent School for the first time. To this day, that was the only time I have ever seen a gate of the school unguarded. I was standing in the hallway with this student at the other end thinking how lucky he was to go there.

Two months later, on April 5th, I was walking down the same hallway when a student came out of the restroom and started walking quickly back to her class. Pride swelled in my heart as I looked at the little girl and thought about how lucky she is. This time, I wasn’t a stranger to the little student in front of me. She isn’t just another face in the crowd. She’s Pooja. I could recognize her silhouette from a mile away and her voice just by listening to a single “Hello, John Bhaiya.” I know her father, mother, brother and her as if they were my own family. The volunteers and I have battled for Pooja. We have fought bureaucracy and corruption in order to help obtain her birth certificate. We have found a sponsor, my loving cousin Teresa Murphy, to pay for her entire education. We have even inspired Pooja’s parents to send their 13-year-old son to school for the first time.


–Ajeet getting dressed for school. This is his entire home for four people–

Every day while we go to sleep in the Western Hemisphere, our students wake up before dawn on the floors of their tiny dwellings. They put on the finest uniforms and shoes that exist in Faridabad.

They stand tall, proud, and excited for the massive amount of work in front of them.

They set out for school not as individuals, but as a team. Not all of the students comprehend the scope and magnitude of this opportunity. However, I think that many of them do understand. What we are doing here is unprecedented. Our students are already more educated than the vast majority of the 25,000 people who live around them. They assimilate into the upper echelons of society every morning and return to the lowest echelon every night. As they grow older and wiser, I have no doubt that they will become leaders and unifiers. They will become advocates for change and equality in a society that still refuses to acknowledge such notions.

–Some of their peers have nowhere else to turn for help–

People look up to them already. No one where they live has worn these uniforms before. When our children put on their uniforms, they do not just become students, they become ambassadors to an entirely overlooked world.

–Madhu smiling because she can now read a passage from her English book!–

–The sweat on Roshan’s face should give you a hint about the rising heat–

–But neither the heat nor Roshan’s disadvantaged background is stopping him from scoring a 10/10 on his homework–

Have you ever seen so many beautiful smiles? In addition to learning subjects like Math, English, Hindi, Ethics, and Science, our students also have a private dance class every day taught by an older student who volunteers her time to teach them.

It’s worth a flight around the world just to see how cute our students are when they dance. They have no shame and can break out dancing anywhere, anytime. Some of them are phenomenal while others have no coordination at all. But when they laugh about it, they laugh from their very cores.

On the day these photos were taken (April 5th), Merril and Win brought cookies and soda for all of the kids since they would be leaving Faridabad the next day.

April 5th was also special because Daniel Radcliffe, the Founder and Executive Director of International Volunteer Headquarters (the program through which I was placed in Mamta and Shri’s home), arrived for a visit from New Zealand.

We met and discussed the Squalor to Scholar Program for nearly an hour as we accompanied the students to their afternoon classes at the Carmel Convent School. He was very impressed by the initiatives we have taken and impact we have made. He will be helping us spread word about the Squalor to Scholar Program as we will likely be featured on his website and newsletters in the near future.

–Manisha excelling in school–

While Daniel and others spread word to the global community about the Squalor to Scholar Program, our students are spreading the word throughout their local community. Between regular school in the morning and our special class in the afternoon, I stopped by Manisha’s home to see what she was doing. What I saw made me incredibly excited. Not only was she doing her homework, but she was also explaining what she was doing to two of her brothers who have never been to school. This was the plan and intention that I had envisioned months earlier but had not expected to see for years. Our children do not have distractions like TV or video games. Reading a book or doing homework is the most exciting thing they can imagine. When our students come home after a long day of learning, they begin teaching. As the highest-educated people in their society, they are naturally assuming their roles as leaders and educators. It’s fascinating to see!

–Manisha teaching her brothers–

If you haven’t done so yet, please put your arm around one of these deserving young children. By sponsoring one child, you are not just educating that individual. You are educating his or her siblings, parents, neighbors, and community. It is hard for us here in the first world to comprehend what it is like to be uneducated and poor when everyone who governs you is educated and financially comfortable. It must be such a hopeless feeling. However, this is our chance to make a difference. By educating these 21 children, we are actually educating about 200 people at this very moment. As these students grow older and we add more students behind them, this number will rise exponentially into the thousands. This is what life is all about. We educate 21 children…then they each educate 21 others…and then those people each educate 21 more. All of a sudden, together, we’ve educated 9,261 lives. We’ve made all of this possible, by the way, for only $6,000 for the first year. In the long run, that’s 65 cents per life changed. That’s not too shabby of a cause to support if you ask me…but I am a bit biased. I love these kids and am inspired by them every day!

–Kajal getting ready for school while her family watches–

Donate with WePay

Healing the Hidden: Santosh…

…April 3, 2012: This morning, a mother named Sugo Devi brought her deformed infant boy to the slum school for help. This is the first time someone needing medical attention has actively come to us for assistance and marks a radical shift in our ability to provide care to this community. Parents of deformed children here have traditionally not sought help from others partially because of the negative stigma involved with having disfigured or handicapped children. Manish’s mother, for instance, turned away from me shamefully the first time I saw her holding him. Moni, even by age 5, had never been to a doctor to have her cleft lip and palate examined. Even the young “normal” children, the least likely to judge others based on appearance, originally refused to play with handicapped or mentally challenged children.

The fact that Sugo Devi showed up this morning proves that the purpose of our work is being noticed and understood far beyond our direct area of impact. The slum residents are beginning to trust us enough to overlook social barriers, which is a huge step in the right direction. I wasn’t in the slum when Sugo Devi showed up this morning, so the volunteers who were there told her to come back to the slum school at 5pm.

When class ended at the Carmel Convent School at 5pm, Heather, Natalie, Merril, Win, and I ventured into the slum. Sugo Devi was waiting for us in the shade of a slum home with her infant shielded from the judgmental eyes of others. We greeted her and introduced ourselves. Then Sugo Devi unwrapped her little boy from the excess fabric of her Sari.

The little boy, named Santosh, was shocking. No one present had ever seen such a severe cleft lip and palate.

–A clear view of Santosh’s cleft palate–

As I gathered information for the surgeons, I was stunned to learn that Santosh was born on December 23, 2011 right here in the slum. I was likely within just a few hundred meters while she was in labor! For three months of age, Santosh is small. However, I told Sugo Devi that we will take her and Santosh to see the plastic surgeon in Delhi on Monday when we take Moni for her appointment. Sugo Devi looked grateful, wobbled her head, wrapped Santosh back up in her sari, and carried him back toward their home upstream.

Sugo Devi’s arrival is inspiring. Within the past few weeks, I have coincidentally stumbled upon three children in desperate need of medical attention. We have taken all of them to hospitals and found surgeons who are so inspired by our efforts that they volunteer their time to help us. Now, other ailing families are starting to seek our help. It was evident this afternoon that we needed to upgrade our plan of attack. Win, Mithlesh, and I immediately set out on a search and rescue style hunt through Patel Nagar for more children we could help. We decided to follow Sugo Devi’s route. With eyes peeled for deformed and handicapped children, we set out upstream.

In just over 90 minutes, we passed within 50 meters of the homes of more than 25,000 people. We stopped every 50 meters or so and asked the residents if they had seen any children who need medical attention, especially for anyone with cleft lips or palates. We found several children with uncorrectable birth defects, retardation, down syndrome, and/or polio. However, there were few children that we could drastically improve through medicine.

We searched in nooks and crannies, through the rubble of slum homes destroyed by the government, and past enough livestock to start a farm.

We were eventually led by a vigilant resident straight to Santosh and his mother. Santosh was attempting to sip milk from a bottle in his mothers arms outside of their home. Santosh cannot create suction, so his mother had unique ways to manipulate the milk into his mouth. What I saw next, however, is what made my jaw hit the floor.

With permission, I walked into Sugo Devi’s home. As I did, I learned that six people live in this tiny room about the size of my bathroom at home. Six people socialize, cook, eat, clean, and sleep in this tiny dwelling.

But even more amazing is the fact that Santosh was born in this room on December 23, 2011! I was here, walking through this slum several hundred meters away while Sugo Devi gave birth to Santosh right here on this bed. Yet again, shivers shot down my spine as I stood in the dark doorway trying to picture that scene. I imagined the cringing chaos, noises, and blood that must have filled that room on December 23.

I could hardly believe anyone would give birth in a place like this, especially with doctors and dozens of hospitals within 10 km. The Indian government would have even paid Sugo Devi to deliver her child in a hospital. However, almost all of the slum residents still opt to deliver their children at home.

–Sugo Devi’s biggest luxury: a kerosene stove–

We said thank you for the hospitality and carried on. Although we didn’t find any more children we could help immediately, we made our presence and mission known to the entire community.

I still wonder how many more children are out there? This is just one slum with 25,000 people and we have already found multiple overlooked children with severe and treatable conditions. There are more than 65 slums in Faridabad alone! We don’t know who’s out there, but we will never know if we don’t look.

–Mithlesh leading our search into the unknown–

It is my honor to introduce to you now our newest campaign, Healing the Hidden. Separate from the Squalor to Scholar Program, Healing the Hidden is attacking the lack of medical care and negative stigma about disfigured children head on. The purpose of Healing the Hidden is to provide medical treatment to overlooked slum children who might otherwise never receive the treatments they need and deserve. Your donations will help us seek, discover, and treat ailing children as well as educate their communities about healthcare options.

Donate to Healing the Hidden with - Donate with WePay

The new campaign is live and accessible via the blue link above. Your donations will help pay for these children’s consultations, diagnostic tests, treatments, transportation to and from hospitals, and medications. As with the Squalor to Scholar Program, every single penny of your donations to Healing the Hidden (except for small transaction fees) will go directly to children like Santosh, Manish, Moni, Prianka, and Chandni. Even Mithlesh, who lives in the slum, is working voluntarily out of his own goodwill because he knows what an incredible impact we are making.

Every dollar will make a difference. Where else can you so easily, directly, and rewardingly donate cures, smiles, and life to people who truly need your help? On behalf of the children and families receiving your care and generosity, thank you!

Breaking Radio Silence…

…Ladies and gentlemen, the radio silence is over. I have been home for 4 weeks now and have caught up with planning and preparing for my own future through medical school applications, a new job as an emergency department scribe, enrolling in post baccalaureate classes for this fall, and researching where I need to go from here to reach my goals. The so-called “reverse culture shock” has been significant and will be the subject of its own post in weeks to come. For now, however, I want to update you on what has been happening and take you back to where we left off.

Although you have not heard much from me recently, much has been happening in India. I am in daily contact with the sisters, doctors, Mithlesh, and/or Mamta and Shri about our students and patients. Nearly every morning at 7:15am, the sisters call me and enthusiastically recount their daily activities and the inspiring performance of our children. They are keeping a record of what I eat for breakfast and how I spend each of my days. Most importantly, however, they are praying for us and our children every day. They have grown very close to our students and are providing them with unsurpassed love and care. After my phone call with the sisters, I usually call Mithlesh or Mamta and Shri to see how things are going in the slum and with the other volunteers. The children have Skyped with me from the convent multiple times and have shown off their new English phrases and dancing. Although I am 8,000 miles away, I am so proud to still be a tremendous part of their lives.

–Kajal talking to my mother on April 1st–

Reports from the front lines are predominantly that it is hot…very hot…agonizingly hot in Faridabad. Last week, the temperature reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity. There is no air conditioning and only scarce water supply. Furthermore, due to high power demands this time of year, electricity is only available for a few hours every day–usually in the early morning and late at night. The mosquitoes and flies are out in full force and it sounds like even sleeping is difficult due to the incapacitating conditions.

It is so hot now that schools take a month-long holiday. Anyone with money and surplus resources flocks to the Himalayas or the Ganges in order to spend even a few hours below 100 degrees.

Our students, however, are as inspiring as ever. Even though their classmates are on vacation, they wake up every morning and head off to the Carmel Convent School for a special class held just for them. Last week, poor little Ajeet came down with Chickenpox. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have Chickenpox in a slum in 113 degrees with insects everywhere. However, what upset Ajeet the most was that his teacher wouldn’t let him go to class. Let me know when you find another 7-year-old so enthusiastic about going to school!

Even in these seemingly inhospitable conditions, our students are flourishing. Two weeks ago, the Carmel Convent School administered its end-of-term exams. Despite the fact that they had only been in school for 12 weeks, nearly all of our students passed. Of course, our students are far from where they need to be, but they are engaged, determined, and still exceeding expectations. Their biggest struggle at the moment is spelling. However, if you asked me to learn how to read and write Hindi in 12 weeks, my spelling still wouldn’t be very good either.

Thanks to the generosity of the sisters and our sponsors, we have added five more children to the Squalor to Scholar Program. A total of 21 children from the Patel Nagar slum now attend the Carmel Convent School! I anticipate that, by this time next year, we will be supporting a total of 56 students! I will be introducing the remaining students and their sponsors as time progresses. Some of their stories are going to stun you.

–Neha, Ajeet, Suman, and Saraswati with me on March 31st–

I don’t want to give everything away, especially out of context, so I’m going to take us back to where I left my regular blog posts on March 30th, when fellow volunteer Crystal Graham departed for Guatemala. From there, I will take you through my last month in India–including some of the most rewarding experiences I will likely ever live through–and my emotionally complex return to the first-world.