What a Year!…

…It was 365 days ago today when I walked into the Carmel Convent School and met Sister Pushpa for the first time. She sat me down in her office and, for the next hour and a half, we had a conversation that I knew would change my life. We discussed such topics as the purpose of our existence, the plight of the poor, and the perseverance of the human spirit.

Little did I know, however, that I would walk into that same office one year later with more than three dozen slum children under our wings, that we would celebrate their outstanding academic and athletic achievements, or that I would be back here in India.

_Ajeet with Ice Cream
–Ajeet enjoying an afternoon at the local park with his much deserved ice cream–

As of this time last year, Ajeet had no plans of ever attending school. He is now the top student among his high-end class of 160 students. In only a year, he has learned how to read nearly anything in English or Hindi, have entire conversations in English, and multiply and divide in his head even faster than I can. He didn’t have any dreams for his future 365 days ago. Now, he wants to become an engineer. NASA, I think you should get ready for one of the best employees you’ll ever have.

_Daulati MRI
–MRI of Daulati’s Pott’s Spine–

Daulati had never been to a doctor before her condition became severe and her family brought her to us. She has now had full radiology and lab workups and is under Directly Observed Treatment (DOTS) for her disease: tuberculosis of the spine. DOTS officials will visit her every other day for the next 9 months to administer her medication. More about her recent hospital visits is coming soon.

_Priyanka Ladder on Roof
–Prianka was rescued again–

Marital and family disputes ended in violence for Prianka (our student) and her mother. Fearing for their lives, they fled together to a place no one could find them. After searching far and wide for over a month, we finally found Prianka and have returned her to the peace and love of our care. She is not only safe but happy and excited to return to her friends in the classroom. We have arranged temporary transportation to and from school for Prianka until her mother and she can find permanent and safe housing.

_New Slum School Group
–The first day of Mamta’s new school–

Inspired by our progress over the last year, Mamta started her own slum school this week. She found a bilingual teacher and is fundraising on her own to begin a new chapter for herself and many children in the slum. On the first day, 53 children and families showed up. Within the first three days, more than 100 children came for admission.

_Mamta in Car
–Mamta and Shri taking supplies to her new school–

_Looking Through the Gate
–Children waiting to enter the new slum school–

_Versha with Writing Competition Certificate Prize
–Versha holding her recent award–

This week, Versha (our student in Lower Kindergarten) won “First Place” in her English Writing Competition among 164 of her classmates. We always knew she was talented; now, everyone else does too.

_Roshan on Rickshaw

Many students have had impeccable attendance. However, Roshan’s has been nearly perfect with 222 days of attendance since we started recording last March. One must remember that our students attend school from early in the morning to late in the afternoon 6 days per week. This young man is dedicated, ambitious, and as photogenic as they come.

_John with Slum School Children

_Green Lighting with Kids
–Searching for talented, driven children in need of an opportunity–

As you know, we’ve been hard at work looking for more high-potential children to give the chances of a lifetime. There are thousands who deserve our help. Some, however, stand out immediately. It’s like they’ve been preparing for our arrival all year…or perhaps their entire lives.

_John with Chanda
–Taking down Chanda’s information–

_Caitlin Teaching Class
–Preparing our newest and youngest students for their first day of official school–

We’ve chosen our 15 young girls for the class of 2027 and have begun preparing them for the first day of school on April 1st, 2013. In coming days, I’ll be introducing them to you.

–Simran, age 4, showing off her ABC’s–

_Seeta and Geeta with Sister Sweta
–Nurturing our newest and youngest students–

We are not the only people nurturing and caring for this new class of students. Our older students have, as I expected, begun treating our newest students like their little sisters.

_Indu Carrying Gopika
–Gopika (age 3) being carried by Indu after being separated from mom for the first time–

This time last year, Indu was sweeping homes to support her family with an additional income of $20 per month. We took her and put her on an entirely different track. She is now one of the most hard-working students her teacher has ever seen. I wonder why!

–Santosh before his surgery–

Santosh died in January, shortly after his first birthday. His mother wailed and cried in my arms when I visited his home the day after he passed. Even though his death was caused by easily treatable diarrhea, his family has carried on. His 3-year-old sister is a student in Mamta’s slum school and his mother has already given birth to a new baby boy.

_Santosh's Little Brother
–Santosh’s mother and new little brother–

–My farewell sendoff last May–

In only a year, we have impacted directly and indirectly thousands of people’s lives. We have promoted the value of education, the importance of healthcare, and, perhaps most importantly, the ideals of equality that sometimes seem so absent here. We are small, so small; but our determination and long-term outlook certainly set us apart.

_John Reunited with Priyanka
–Welcoming Prianka back…I can only imagine what she has been through–

Although many lives have been transformed here, I feel that I am the one who has grown and learned most from this epic journey. Over the past year, I have learned more about public health, business, education, politics, poverty, corruption, illiteracy, religion, spirituality, web design, photography, charity work, and humanity than I could ever learn in a classroom. As a strikingly honest and insightful physician correctly concluded earlier this week during my visit to a government hospital, I’m slowly transitioning toward a much more macro level of thinking and problem solving.

To the hundreds of people who have volunteered their services and donated their money to Squalor to Scholar over the past year, I am and will be forever grateful for your vital and unwavering support. None of this would have been possible without you.

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