Finding the Class of 2027…

…Although I initially thought we would have more than one month to select children for this year’s admission to the Carmel Convent School, our timeline has been shortened dramatically. Over the next few days, we will search for, gather, examine, select, register, enroll, and begin preparing fifteen 3.5 to 4.5-year-old girls for the first day of school in their family’s histories.

_Canal Looking Down the Slum
–The Patel Nagar slum, home to 25,000 people–

JCS_4155

Last year, we scoured this slum of 25,000 residents for the most talented and deserving children we could find without much regard for their age. Although our first class of students is thriving in and out of the classroom, it has taken a tremendous amount of work on their part and ours to get them caught up with their classmates. When our students began first standard classes 10 months ago, they were already nearly 3 years behind other students. The wide age range of our students has also turned out to be an issue with accreditation and overseeing agencies, thus necessitating a new approach this year.

_Rani Portrait
–Rani, who has been studying at the Carmel Convent School for the past 10 months–

_Cover Photo of Child
–A young girl waiting in the slums for help–

This year, the sisters have generously decided to provide us with 15 seats in Lower Kindergarten (LKG), the youngest class. This way, our students will receive the same education as other students from day one. As I have mentioned numerous times in previous posts, female infanticide and male favoritism are still realized as substantial problems in Indian culture. This year’s theme of the Carmel Convent School is “Save the Girl Child.” To balance the ratio of males to females in their school and make a poignant statement about the importance of saving and educating female children, the sisters have decided that this class of 15 will be comprised solely of females. These girls must be of impoverished backgrounds and have birth certificates, caste certificates, and government-issued ration cards, among many other forms of documentation. They must also be between the ages of 3.5 and 4.5, thus narrowing our selection criteria dramatically.

_Amy Walking Hand-in-Hand
–Volunteer Amy Bergam walking with current students Poornima, Pooja, and Neha–

JCS_3163
–Volunteers Amy Bergam and Caitlin Rulien with Neha and Gudiya, respectively–

Every day, generous and caring volunteers from around the world join me on my journey into the slums in support of our current students and search for new ones. The process is incredibly emotional, especially to the volunteers who have not been involved in such life-changing work before. However, I can certainly sense my own maturation over the past year. I feel very much at home in the slums now. Nearly everyone knows me or at least has an idea who I am. Although I will never be comfortable with the poverty and squalor, I am now accustomed to it and am rarely surprised by the powerful sights or pungent odors.

_Dirty Park

_Madhu Hugging Mom
–Madhu hugging her mother after school–

Last year, I had to convince families in the slum why they should send their kids to one of the best schools in town. Madhu, shown above, would never have attended a day of school in her life had we not spent many hours with her family discussing why Madhu should take advantage of our unique offer. Her mother originally denied our support but changed her mind at the very last moment. Their expressions in this photo are indicative of their opinions now.

_Lata
–Lata’s family refused our support–

_Rahul
–Rahul’s parents also denied us the ability to help him–

Both Lata and Rahul were selected to join Squalor to Scholar last year. They are both highly intelligent and driven. Although I tried many times to convey the importance of education to their families, both families turned down these opportunities of a lifetime. This week, I went back to the place I had met Lata and Rahul last year. They were still there, trudging through life in the slums. These two wonderfully talented and handsome individuals will never attend a formal day of school. They will likely live in slums and in poverty for the rest of their lives.

This is a prime example of the types of challenges we must overcome here. Nearly all of this slum’s residents have migrated here from Bihar, a state generally believed to be the poorest, most corrupt, and most educationally backward state in India. They are also members of the lowest castes and are used to people treating them as such. Therefore, the adults here have developed a rather strong distrust of others.

However, the success of Squalor to Scholar and our continued presence here over the past year has earned the trust and respect of many families. Everyone in the slum knows about our students and sees them walking to and from school every day. With their bright, immaculate uniforms, they are still beacons of hope and opportunity to everyone around them. I am still stunned, however, by the lack of jealousy toward our students.

After the selection and enrollment of these new students, I will return to the families of Lata and Rahul to offer them one more chance.

_John and Ankit
–Ankit is, like Ajeet, now one of the top students in his class–

_John on Rani's Roof
–Enjoying being reunited–

_John on Rooftop
–Checking on our students/families and searching for new ones–

_John with Rani
–Maintaining the Squalor to Scholar “family”–

JCS_2836
–Verifying documentation and eligibility of candidates with Mithlesh–

_John at Selections
–Meeting and teaching potential students–

JCS_2879
–Tracking students and organizing further evaluation–

_Working in the Slums
–Discussing expansion with local officials and social workers–

_Picture of a Picture PS
–Working to bring you with us–

I have certainly hit the ground sprinting here in India. In only two weeks, we will have accomplished what took nearly two months last year. As I continue to learn from our mistakes and challenges, my goal is to streamline our work so that it is scalable and replicable far beyond the borders of New Delhi or even India.

_Chandani Looking Out Window

There is tremendous potential ahead. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I have a good feeling about our rapid progress. What an amazing year this has been. This time last year, I had still not even met the sisters or known anything about their renowned Carmel Convent School.

Advertisements

Top Shots of Week One…

…I have never been anywhere else in the world where the people are so universally photogenic and surroundings so bright, colorful, and unique. The striking residents here do not beg for money or possessions, but just that I take their photos. It is as if they want me to see them again and remember them forever. Over the past week, I have taken 1,661 photographs, mostly of people. Although I wish I could, there is no way for me to blog about or explain all of them. Therefore, I am occasionally going to upload a “Top Shots” post like this to give you a taste of general life as a foreigner working in the slums of India. Here is my small selection from week one:

JCS_2626

_Rani's Sister and Friend
–Rani’s sister Rupa and her friend Dolly–

_Cow and Cow Pies
–A cow and cow pies–

_Roshan Mother and Sister
–Roshan’s Mother and Sister–

JCS_2367
–Hitching a ride home on a tractor–

Lonely Child

JCS_2273
–The shutters are often firing in both directions–

Well Worn and Happy Man

Manisha's Brothers
–Manisha’s brother, Akash, with a local toddler–

_Gambling in the Slum
–Gambling on the edge of the slum–

_Grazing Cattle
–Grazing cattle…perhaps there are alternative reasons why nobody eats beef here–

JCS_2053
–Gudiya running home from school–

_Torn Up Alley

_Auto from the Back Seat
–Riding in an auto-rickshaw–

_Burning Door

Female Portrait

_Slum Goat

JCS_2270

JCS_2259

Leading Two Lives…

…The day after I arrived, our students suited up in their new winter uniforms and set out for their special class while regular school is still out of session for winter break. For the winter season, we purchase our students new uniforms, including sweaters, sweater vests, blazers, and long pants or skirts to stay warm. They look terrifically handsome and beautiful yet striking against the background of their foggy homes and surroundings.

Sonu and Pritest in Uniforms 2
–Sonu and Pritesh–

Our students rarely go anywhere alone. As I expected, they have become best friends over the past few months. Hand-holding even among men is common in India and our students walk everywhere hand-in-hand.

Poornima and Anita Walking to School 2
–Poornima and Anita–

Roshan and Mother
–Roshan and his mother–

First View of All in Winter Uniforms

For those of you just joining us, these students you are looking at live in a slum and are members of the lowest castes in Indian society. No one has believed in them enough before to give them the opportunity of a world-class education, or any education for that matter. Even now, many people here are skeptical about their abilities to succeed.

We, however, do believe in them. Over the next few months, I’m going to prove to you why. These students first started school 10 months ago. At that time, they knew only the English alphabet and how to count from 1-100. They could not read, write, or speak to any greater extent. Even in Hindi, their native language, the could only recite the alphabet.

For the past 10 months, they have been studying 7.5 hours a day (2.5 hours longer than regular students) and six days per week at the Carmel Convent School, a well-renowned English-medium private school near their slum. Before I left, our students and I could hardly communicate at all beyond body language. Now, they understand much of what I am saying and can even translate for me when people approach us on the street to ask me questions.

When we walk places, they call out and spell the names of everything they see. They will point at, for instance, a picture of a elephant and yell, “Elephant…e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t!!!!” or see a rickshaw passing by and yell, “Rickshaw…r-i-c-k-s-h-a-w!!!”

Goofing Around in Winter Uniforms Cropped

They also happen to have spectacular senses of humor. They have always made me laugh with their actions but they do so now with their words as well. When passing a field where many people go to dispose of their human and material waste, the children point and yell, “Park…Dirty park!…Very dirty park!!” as they wiggle and rotate their hands back and forth to signify ‘do not enter.’

JCS_2378
–The “very dirty park”–

In the Classroom Winter Uniforms

The vast majority of our students can now read entire pages of books out loud and without any hesitation, even material they have never seen before. I brought “The Cat in the Hat” along and we were able to read it together for the first time.

Sky View of the Classroom

They also understand that they’re all in this together. They help one another when they are struggling and congratulate those who receive high marks on tests or homework. They are like a large 21-person family.

Roshan and Ahshansh in Winter Uniforms

Gudiya Ready for Prayer

Every class begins and ends with a prayer thanking God for the ability and opportunity to study. It is a precious sight to behold.

Walking Through the Slum
–Walking home from school–

Mansiha Showing Home
–Manisha returning home to begin cooking–

When school ends, the children return to their dwellings in the slums and change back into their tattered clothing. Many of them return to bare feet and quickly become indistinguishable from the other children in the slum. They begin their chores and often perform most of the work to maintain their homes. At about 8pm, most of the students begin their homework and study for 1-2 hours before going to bed.

These kids are among the most fascinating and inspiring I have ever met. They lead two completely different lifestyles now and yet fit into both of them remarkably well given their circumstances. I am proud of them and hope you are too.

JCS_2409
–Madhu cooking with her mother–

My Return to the Slum…

…It has been seven months since I departed India and yet I feel in many ways as though I never left. The constant din of automobile horns, pounding of factory machines, chants of salesmen in the streets, and clanking of billowing tuk-tuk engines create a unique atmosphere that cannot be forgotten. The air is thick with pollution and inhaling occasionally takes noticeable effort. It is very cold at night, to the point of needing fleece and a wool hat inside my sleeping bag.

I arrived in Delhi at 11:00am on January 10. After 28 hours of flights and airports, an hour of customs and immigration lines, and a 90 minute taxi ride from the Delhi airport, I finally arrived at Mamta and Shri’s home. Their daughters, Naysa and Nayma, were standing in the middle of the street with flowers in hand. I stepped out of the car to kneel down and hug them when they extended their flowers and harmoniously sang “Welcome to India, John Bhaiya!”

I unpacked and organized my belongings, set everything up as I had it before, and then joined two new volunteers, Amy and Bethany, for Mamta’s great cooking.

Back Home
–Amy (left) from California and Bethany (right) from Australia–

Then, off to the slum we went. I was immediately recognized by hundreds of children and adults in the slum. Many of the adults even came forward to shake my hand and welcome me back.

First Sight
–Greeting my old friends and making new ones–

I had wondered many times what the reaction would be to my return. However, I did not predict or even consider the reaction I actually received. Everyone I had interacted with before in the slum knew that I was coming and the day that I was supposed to arrive. No one, therefore, was surprised by my arrival.

Madhu and Manisha Surprise

Interestingly, many of our students seemed initially hesitant to approach me. They would peek their heads around a corner, see me notice them, and run away with big smiles on their faces. It was as if many of them were playing a game of hide-and-seek.

Manisha_Surprised
–Manisha hiding from me–

Madhu_Surprised
—Madhu waving hello–

Kajal_Manisha_Madhu

Only then would they come closer. They ran up to me and stopped just in front of my feet. They made no attempt to touch me but looked directly up into my eyes with massive smiles and said “Hello, John Bhaiya!”

IN131608
–Ankit, Ajeet, and Sonu–

Sindu First View
–Sindu at first glance–

Girls at Anita's Home
–However, they still do not smile for photos–

IN131606
–Neha holding my family’s photo in plastic–

Neha ran to get something to show me. Before I left last May, I had given a picture of my family and me to each of the students. Neha’s family framed the photo and keeps it in plastic covering on the wall of their tiny dwelling. She was so proud to show me she still had it.

Greeting

Manish and his mother Dolly were out in public prominently sitting along the main route through the slum. Manish has continued to receive treatment during my absence. His venous malformation does not appear to have grown, which is cause for celebration. I wish that we could do more but at this time surgery is still not an option here. I will take him to a physician soon for closer follow-up.

Dolly and Manish
–Dolly and Manish–

Mithlesh and Parents
–Mithlesh (left) and his family–

Mithlesh and his family have had a very tough time since I left. His father Narayan (center) was diagnosed in September with Grade IV Glioblastoma Multiforme, a very aggressive malignant brain tumor. He has undergone surgery and many rounds of radiation treatment at government hospitals. He remembered who I was and thanked me extensively for coming back. However, he can no longer remember the names of even his own family. His family, consisting of about 40 individuals, has pooled their money to support the tremendous expense of his medical care. They have spent all of their meager savings fighting for his life.

Rani First View
–Rani says “Hi, Merril-didi!”–

All of the students ask me if my friends Heather, Natalie, Crystal, Rehan, Dina, Jess, Yeonui, Merril, Win, or others are coming too. They ask for each of you by name and still have many of the gifts you left them. I tell them that you will not be back this year but perhaps in the future. Then they wobble their heads, smile, and continue on.

Ajeet with Prizes and Certificate
–Ajeet with his awards–

Ajeet was very excited to see me and anxious to tell me about multiple awards he has received at school. I asked him more about them and he sprinted away. He returned a few minutes later with his “Certificate of Honor” for a listening skills test and two gift-wrapped pencil boxes as prizes, both of which he placed back in the wrapping paper after showing me.

Anita
–Anita–

Manisha at Anita's Home

IN131586
–Suman (not attending the Carmel Convent School) and Poornima (who is)–

School is still out for winter break and will resume on January 16. Our students do, however, have a special class every morning during the break. Their class had already ended on this day so our students had returned home and removed their uniforms. Without their school attire, they are largely indistinguishable from other children in the slum (other than the girls’ red headbands, which they seem to wear all of the time and help me spot them from hundreds of feet away). Somewhat to my amazement, our children are fitting in with their peers in the slum with hardly any problems.

In the next post, we will join our students in their winter uniforms to their special class. Our children have learned a truly incredible amount in the last year and I cannot wait to share their success with you.

Slum Looking East
–This is just the beginning; there is a lot of work ahead–

Now Selecting 15 New Scholars…

…There are few times in life when someone gives you the chance to change a life, or two…or thirty-six. However, that is exactly what the sisters at the Carmel Convent School have done for us.

I was not expecting any more seats to open up at the Carmel Convent School until next April. However, I was wrong! Very early on Sunday morning, Sister Pushpa called to inform me that applications for admission to a new class at the Carmel Convent School kindergarten are now open and that she and the other sisters have reserved 15 additional seats specifically for Squalor to Scholar.

Just like the admission season last spring, the sisters are leaving the decisions of whom to enroll entirely up to us. We have been given two weeks to make our selections.

As you can imagine, this is an enormous responsibility. From 8,000 miles away, I have been put in charge of finding 15 of the highest potential three-and-a-half-year-old-girls from the Patel Nagar slum to admit to the Carmel Convent School. These 15 students will join the 21 who began last spring, bringing the total to 36 by the end of October.

I have informed Mamta and a new volunteer named Brenna Masterton, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, of the tremendous opportunities and responsibilities that await us. They have enthusiastically agreed to be the boots on the ground leading this selection process for the next two weeks. This was my first time speaking with Brenna and, as I explained the situation, I could tell that she was beginning to cry. Brenna has spent considerable time in the slums with the children and understands their plight first-hand. She was crying tears of joy to be able to participate in this important and transformative selection process.

Like the 21 students who were selected before them, 15 young girls in the Patel Nagar slum will soon receive educational possibilities beyond their wildest dreams. We don’t yet know who they are, and neither do they. However, their lives and ours are about to change drastically over the coming weeks. The children we select will be taken from paths of poverty and illiteracy and placed on a path toward becoming doctors, engineers, or professionals in whatever fields they choose to pursue.

Numerous sponsors have been on the waiting list to sponsor a child for this class. Those individuals will receive notification about their new students soon and will have the opportunity to follow them for at least the next 14 years. If you are among this group, I thank you for your patience. Imagine having conversations with these students when they grow older and are fluent in English. What will they say? Where will they go? What will they do? I hope you’re as excited as I am to find out!

If you are interested in sponsoring a child within this new class, now is your chance! All it takes is a few clicks below to redirect an entire family’s future for generations to come.

Many thanks to Brenna and Mamta for your tireless work. I know you are both dedicating every waking moment to making sure these decisions are fair and justified. Having been in your shoes before, I know how hard it is to determine the fate of a human life with a single difficult decision. God bless you and keep your heads up high.

Donate with WePay

Bottom to Top in 4 Months…

…I would like to inform everyone that Ajeet Kumar, one of our children, is now the top student in his class at the Carmel Convent School. As you can see here, he wears his “Class Monitor IA” badge with a distinguished sense of pride, which he has undoubtedly earned through a work ethic that makes the rest of us look bad. In only four months, he has gone from living in the slum without ever attending a day of school to now being on track to become the Valedictorian of his 1,625 person prestigious school. Look out world, here he comes.

I have had multiple sponsors ask me recently if they can send letters or packages to their students. Of course you can! Your delivery will probably be the highlight of their month, maybe even their year. Imagine getting a surprise piece of mail from the other side of the world when you’ve never received anything in the mail before! All you need to do is address your package or letter to:

Attn: YOUR STUDENT’S NAME
John’s Children, Standard I
Carmel Convent School
Sector 7D, Faridabad
Haryana, India 121 006
Phone: 2243344

When sending packages, please be mindful of the many different perspectives on the receiving end. Your child and his or her family will be exhilarated just to hear from you. Even simple gifts like your favorite childhood books will be tremendously exciting for them. Lavish or expensive gifts are discouraged as they have the ability to cause jealousy. Simple signs that show you care and believe in them are the most special packages. If you have any questions, email me anytime squalortoscholar@gmail.com.

Congratulations Ajeet! We believe in you!

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.


–Pooja–


–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

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.

We Will Remember You…

…It is with great sadness that I inform you of the death of one of our best students. Kishan Kumar was a delightful, diligent, and bright young boy. At only five years old, he wasn’t given many opportunities to succeed in life. I did not give him one either. Kishan was a strong contender for a seat in the Carmel Convent School. He even made my final round of selections. However, I left him behind in the slum this year because he was the youngest boy on my final list and I thought that I would have more time to acquire resources for him. As it turns out, I didn’t have much time at all.

Kishan was healthy and happy the entire time that I knew him. I was unaware that Kishan was sick until I received the call from Mithlesh early this morning informing me that Kishan had “expired.” Over recent days, Kishan had developed a severe case of pneumonia. Last night, he was finally taken to B.K. Hospital, the main government hospital in Faridabad where I volunteered for a month. Unable to properly care for him, the B.K. Hospital transferred him to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, nearly an hour-long ambulance ride away. After arriving at AIIMS, Kishan was pronounced dead only four hours later.

Ankit (left), whom we selected for the Carmel Convent School and is generously sponsored by Bert Graham, was one of Kishan’s best friends. Ankit and the entire slum are grieving his loss today.


–Kishan with his friends who are still waiting for a second chance–

We live in a society where education is taken for granted and where great healthcare is not just available but expected. Education can help improve our lives, but it could have saved Kishan’s. His parents cannot read or write. They aren’t even educated enough to know that they should have taken Kishan to the hospital sooner, let alone to one that could give him adequate care.

It is difficult for us to comprehend in this materialistic and luxurious bubble we live in that parents wouldn’t take their dying son to a hospital until the last minute, but they simply do not know any better. Even if they had the desire to learn what to do, these people could not read a book or operate a computer even if they had access to such items. They do not lack intelligence, they just lack knowledge and opportunity.

Kishan is survived by his parents, two brothers, and a community of hundreds of children who still might get a second chance. With less money than you can earn in a day, you can give an endearing child a second chance that he or she would otherwise never receive.

You can ignore these children just like the society around them. They will never know. But you can also take a stand and revolutionize their lives and the lives of their parents, siblings, future children, and entire lineage thereafter. For the price of an iPod or fancy pair of shoes, you might even save their lives. Donations made through Tuesday, May 15 will be accepted in memory of Kishan.

Once again, Kishan has taught me more about life than any other 5-year-old I know. I wonder where he would have gone and where he could have gone with our support. We will never know. I will always remember him and hope that you will too. Kishan, your family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers. Rest in peace.

Donate with WePay