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–

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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.

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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!

600 Miles to a Smile…

…In the late afternoon of April 9, I walked into the slums expecting to teach our students English and Math for a couple of hours before dinner. However, when I arrived at the school, a young girl and her father whom I had never met before were waiting to speak to me.

They stood just outside the door of the barren, dusty slum school looking directly at me as if they had been studying my daily routine. The bright orange shirt of the little girl drew my attention to her already striking face. Obviously in need of healthcare, I knew exactly why she was waiting for me.

I knelt down and introduced myself to the little girl in Hindi. Most Indians laughed when they heard my assuredly terrible accent for the first time, but she never even hinted at a smile. She didn’t speak to me either. She diverted her eyes and seemed all too accustomed to curious stares. With Mithlesh translating, I met the father and began to ask him questions. His name was Rajesh and his daughter, I discovered, was Prianka.

Her father told us that Prianka was 7 years old and that the right side of her face began to grow unusually large when she was only 6 months of age. For the past 6 and a half years, Prianka’s cheek had continued to grow at an increasingly alarming rate.

I knelt down again and got out my camera to take pictures of Prianka for the surgeons. She turned and modeled her deformity without expression or a peep.

I felt sad for Prianka. When I asked her father why she had not been treated earlier, he pulled out two opaque plastic sheets from a plastic bag he was holding. They were small x-ray films that looked like they had been produced in 1965. I could hardly even tell that they were x-rays of Prianka’s head. They were essentially useless; so, I naturally wanted to know where they had been taken.

That’s when my life changed.

All this time talking to Prianka and Rajesh, I had assumed they lived in the slum. After all, I had just met Santosh for the first time less that one week prior and he had been born in the slum while I was there. However, I was wrong to assume that about Prianka; I wasn’t even close.

Prianka and her father had actually just arrived in Faridabad that afternoon. For the previous 22 hours, they had traveled from rural Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. They had just traversed 600 miles of deserts and rivers aboard trains and buses because someone from their family had called and told them that there were westerners taking deformed children to hospitals and that they should come immediately to the Patel Nagar slum.

Without delay, without ever trying to contact me first, without ever even verifying that we would still be in Faridabad, Prianka and Rajesh left their rural and destitute homeland in the largest leap of faith and hope I had ever encountered.

I was speechless. I stood thinking just how committed, courageous, and, well, crazy their plan was. But their mission was over now and it was the beginning of ours.

Just two days later, we were getting Prianka’s CT scans, blood tests, and consultations. Having made inroads with many physicians while caring for Manish, Santosh, Moni, and Chandni, we were now treated like VIPs in the hospital. The plastic surgeon, whom I admire greatly, stopped his normal workflow and committed an entire morning of his time to the care of Prianka. He personally escorted us directly to the offices of the pediatrician, ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist, pathologist, and other surgeons for consultations about Prianka’s unique condition. We could not have received more exquisite service even if we had been royalty.

Then, as suspected, news came back that a biopsy was necessary and a surgery would likely follow. The cost was going to be more than $3,000 but the plastic surgeon knew we didn’t have that much to give. I talked to the Chief Executive Officer of the hospital, but he could only offer a 10% discount for charity. We returned to the slum with some big decisions to make over the coming weekend.

On Sunday evening, I received an unexpected call from the plastic surgeon. He gave me the best news imaginable. He had contacted a classmate of his from medical school who now worked at a government hospital in New Delhi and was able to treat Prianka for pennies on the dollar.

To Delhi we went. It was an hour long taxi ride to the hospital–$25 round trip. But it was a blessing compared to the $3,000 alternative. We took Manish, too, in case he would end up needing surgery as well. The doctors at the new hospital saw us immediately and we began to make valuable lasting relationships.

More tests were ordered and, while we waited for the results to come back, I wanted to treat everyone to lunch. At this point, I didn’t have much time left in India. I wanted to make the most of it. We had passed by a fancy mall on the way to the hospital so I had the driver take us there. Then, I invited him to park the car and come with us too.

When we entered the massive air-conditioned building, it became obvious that this was a novel environment for the children and their families. As we came to an escalator, Prianka and her father stopped.

They stared at the moving pieces of metal wondering how to proceed. Then, they both took another step of faith as they fought for their balance.

Here we were, one deformed boy and his Hindu family from the slum, one deformed girl and her Hindu father from a rural village in Bihar, a Muslim taxi diver, Jordan (a volunteer from Northern Ireland), and me, now shopping for a restaurant in a chic mall. Since the event was already a melting pot of beliefs, backgrounds, and lifestyles, I decided that Chinese food would be the suitable choice.

As one might expect, most of the people in our party had never had Chinese food before. It was a day of “firsts” for everyone, including the staff and patrons of the restaurant. I had no idea what to order and neither did they; so, we just ate what was brought to us.

Prianka dug into the noodles and chili fries with her hands, as is custom for her. She was much more at ease than her father, who seemed more worried about fitting in with the environment than she did. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal, but I could not help wondering what was going through their minds.

What were they thinking? Why was I giving them this meal that would likely be the most lavish of their entire lives? Why did I invite the driver to come with us? Why did I even pay attention to these overlooked children? What was going on? Who is this guy? What did they think that I was thinking? Did they think that I was thinking about what they were thinking?

We may not be able to talk to one another, but that does not mean we cannot communicate. The most powerful form of communication is a genuine smile; and there were plenty of those to go around.

To these children, going to a restaurant, riding an escalator, and sitting in a toy car were like a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland.

The fun was perhaps a bit overwhelming and certainly exhausting. With lab results and procedure schedules in hand, we made the hour-long drive back to the slum.

Only one week later, I had to leave India to return home. At my farewell party, Prianka and her father gave me a bouquet of flowers. I vowed that I would continue to care for her, even from afar. From the United States, I continue to stay in touch with Mithlesh, Mamta, and the Sisters in the Carmel Convent School nearly every day. Even though I am 8,000 miles away, I have not lost my attachment and commitment to our students, patients, and friends. We feel like family now, and that has powerful implications.

Mithlesh and Mamta have worked incredibly hard over the past few months. They promised to carry on what we started, and they have. We owe them tremendous thanks.

The first positive news came back in late May after Prianka’s tissue biopsy was found to be negative for cancer. For Prianka and her family, this was news worth celebrating. This meant that we would proceed toward an operation.

Mamta and Mithlesh spent many days going back and forth to the hospitals with Prianka and her father. Unlike in America, the patient has to do most of the work in India. You keep your own records, get your own tests (each in separate locations), and then even have to pick up your own test results in person and take them to separate doctors at specific times and specific locations. To further complicate matters, some hospitals do not recognize or use tests from other hospitals and so they must be performed again. There are no maps or phone numbers to call for assistance. Life is all about dead reckoning. Needless to say, the Indian healthcare system requires extraordinary patience and determination. Luckily for Prianka, she found people with those traits to help her.

On June 12, Prianka was taken into the operating room under the care of Dr. Anurag Jain, Plastic Surgeon. The complex operation took 5 surgeons more than 5 and a half hours to conduct. Dr. Anurag’s assistants took pictures for me throughout the procedure. I have contemplated posting them but, quite honestly, they are graphic beyond description. Some day, Prianka might read this blog post and I would not want her to be frightened by the pictures of herself with half of her face missing. Just know one thing: what Dr. Anurag and his team did was extraordinary.

Ten days later, Prianka was discharged from the hospital. She returned to the slum with perfect vision and healing face that was still decreasing in size as the swelling dissipated.

Prianka and Rajesh then thanked everyone profusely for their support. They said their goodbyes and departed for the train station to begin their 600 mile journey home.

To me, these pictures are among the most special that I own. They are of a girl who was beyond hope, who was facing almost certain blindness and perhaps worse, who displayed courage and took a chance.

Prianka returned to her village on June 22. However, she still calls to keep in touch. Last week, in late August, Mamta spoke to Prianka and her family. She says that Prianka was laughing and playing on the phone, that she had enrolled in school for the first time, and that she was looking and feeling much better. Rajesh and his wife also spoke to Mamta and they could not stop saying thank you to her, to the surgeons, and to us.

I would like to express my most heartfelt gratitude to the people who made Prianka’s life-changing story possible. First, I must thank Dr. Anurag Jain for his many years of training and work to make a surgery like Prianka’s even an option. Dr. Amitabh Singh, without your help and guidance, we would never have found Dr. Anurag or been able to receive such tremendous care at your hospital. Mamta and Mithlesh, thank you so much for taking Prianka to the hospital on those many long days, standing in queues for hours on end in scorching summer heat, and volunteering your time for this precious little girl whom we only met a few months ago.

Lastly, I would like to thank my parents, Joseph and Mary Schupbach. They funded Prianka’s entire medical care, from the tuk-tuk and taxi rides to the hospital to the expensive CT scans to her medications post-operation. Without funding, none of this would have been possible. Overall, the $550 you allocated to Prianka’s healthcare has changed her life forever and mine as well. Thank you! I love you.

Prianka’s was the first operation funded by Healing the Hidden. However, it is far from the last. Santosh received his bilateral cleft lip surgery on Tuesday of this week. He is recovering at the hospital in Delhi as I write. Please keep him in your prayers and, if you have been inspired by Prianka’s story, please take a moment and donate 5 DOLLARS to Healing the Hidden for Santosh. Let’s join hands and help Santosh with his precious smile. It’s a smile worth $5.

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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–

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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.

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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.

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.

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