Thousands of Smiles…

…We squeezed in more meetings, seminars, and smiles in the morning of my first full day back than most people do in a week. I was up at 4 to start working. We had chai and breakfast at 6:30 and saw Allison off to work at 7. Then we set out to Carmel Convent School to meet with Sister Sweta (Superior), Sister Daphne (KG Principal), Sister Namreta (Admin), Sister Tracilda (1st-10th Principal), and Sister Vigenti (Teacher). We also met with Jacintha Ma’am (Teacher), Miss Mabel, Miss Lysa, and a parade of the teachers and staff. It was a school holiday at Carmel because of exams on Tuesday. However, our students were still there studying hard in their own tutoring session with Jacintha Ma’am, perhaps the most inspiring and dedicated teacher I have ever met. As always, we couldn’t wait to get to the classroom to see the students in action. They’ve achieved so much and have continued to surpass everyone’s expectations of them. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of them. JCS_4821 JCS_4717 JCS_4737 JCS_4958 I sat and talked with each student. Their English has improved so much that they can understand and answer just about every question I ask. I can’t imagine anything more fun than this.       JCS_5026IMG_0076IMG_0070 JCS_5019 JCS_4905 JCS_4822 JCS_5094 After a couple of hours at Carmel, we headed to KL Mehta school to meet with Principal Kiran and the faculty as well as many of the parents and students who had gathered for a big town-hall style conference to give updates, discuss new policies and plans, sign permission slips, voice any concerns, etc.       JCS_5081 JCS_5320JCS_5243 JCS_5233 JCS_5240 Lauren has about the best word to describe these kids, “Smushy.” Are they not adorable? Their excitement and enthusiasm is off the charts.   JCS_5279 JCS_5411   JCS_5453 JCS_5110   JCS_5065 JCS_5538 Lauren and Mamta deserve more gratitude and praise than I can possibly convey here. Mamta can take an entire room of people and have them engaged and laughing while covering incredibly important and sometimes difficult subjects. She works tirelessly every day without taking a single rupee for herself. People in need come to her home at all hours of the day when they have nowhere else to turn for help. She is truly a saint for doing what she does.

Although Lauren has only been here for two months, she knows nearly every student, has piles of paperwork impeccably organized, and accomplishes mountains of work every day with inspiring ease and patience. She’s also very popular here with tons of requests to have photos taken with her.

I wish I could say more but time is limited. I have to go rinse the sweat off, eat breakfast, and get to Carmel in the next 20 minutes. More than 2,000 photos and videos yet to upload. Stay tuned.

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Returning to India with Mom…

…Over the weekend, Mom and I embarked on the longest flight of our lives, a 12,000 km 15-hour trip aboard an Air India 777 direct from Chicago to New Delhi. Surprisingly, we both felt that the flight seemed much shorter than we thought it would. We cleared customs and met Shri just outside the only international arrival door. Mom agreed that the flight itself was nothing compared to the two-hour drive from the airport to Faridabad that, even on Sunday afternoon, felt like riding a roller coaster through a cloud of exhaust and dust.

At the first stop in traffic, a haggard beggar pressed her young face and hands against my window. Her ring and fingernails scraped against the glass. Mom could hardly watch.

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Mamta, Naysa, and Naima were waiting with open arms when we arrived just after sunset. Mamta was already preparing rajma rice and malai paneer, two of my favorite dishes. I then went over to the convent to say hi to the sisters, who had also been looking forward to our arrival. We talked and laughed and were excited to be reunited. Exhausted by the 28 hour journey door-to-door, Mom and I were in bed by 9.

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We were up again by 3:30 a.m. and, after everyone else woke up, walked Naima around the corner to school. Naima also attends the Carmel Convent School now, where 76 of our students across 4 grade levels and 11 classes attend. We were outside the entrance for the youngest children when some of our oldest students, Priyanka, Ankit, Neha, and Kajal, spotted us from around the corner. They waved and jumped up and down yelling, “John bhaiya, John bhaiya!,” then sprinted toward us with smiles from ear to ear.

After giving me huge hugs and an outpouring of optimism, they turned to Mom and did the same. They had certainly been looking forward to the moment as much as we had. Mom needed no introductions.

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We went home to wash up and eat breakfast before making the complete rounds of Carmel Convent School, KL Mehta School, and the slum. Mom met Sisters Pushpa, Asha, Sweta, and Namrata for the first time. In every classroom and office, we were greeted with songs and poems and even dances that all the children had learned. It was incredible to see their progress over just a few short months.

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Nearly all of the students are making rapid progress. Many are even excelling with almost perfect grades and evaluations. Many of the youngest students have learned to read and write both English and Hindi since April. Some of the kindergarten students are even multiplying already!

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We made it to the slum by late afternoon. Children and adults came out from every building to say hello and shake our hands. Many of the men made a point to shake my hand, look in my eyes, and say, “Thank you.” I’d never had that happen before. Some of the children who had never seen Mom before even came up and said, “Hello Mary ma’am!”

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Please take a second to blow up the previous three photos and try to digest the emotions of these sisters and our students Anita and Sindu. They live the hardest lives of any healthy children I know. I’ll discuss their situation and circumstances later as they are complex and we have some work to do to get to the bottom of it all.

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We also passed by an intellectually disabled boy in the slum who was being held in a woman’s lap while healing from a burn sustained from an open fire.

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Despite the difficulties of living in a slum and occasional pockets of extreme despair, life is largely vibrant and enthusiastic. At one point, my shoulder was grabbed by some of the fathers and local men. Despite my demonstrative objections, Mom and I were all but forced to sit down on a bed in the street and enjoy a cold orange soda. A crowd of 30 people of all ages gathered around to watch us sip. I enjoyed mine, as I knew our hosts would be disappointed if I did not. However, I think Mom was a bit overwhelmed by the situation. It’s tough to receive a gift here, especially when you know that person worked for a few hours to be able to afford that soda.

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Although the first 24 hours here were as much of a roller coaster as the ride in, excitement was the overarching feeling of the day. In the photo above, Ankit runs to greet us as fast as his little legs will carry him.

This Week in Photos…

_Boy with Saw Blade–An extremely poor child from a hard-working family takes a break for chapatti–

_Pigs in Street

_Brick Women–Women transferring a load of bricks en route to a construction site–

_Brick Woman

_Working Men–Men taking a work break from their labor in a poorly-ventilated automobile part factory–

_Indian Sunset–A sunset is hardly visible on the horizon through the pollution–

_Dirty Park–A man comes out of a landfill/restroom/playground–

_Eye Reflection–My reflection in the eyes of a little girl–

_Slum Boy–A father asks for a picture to be taken of his son–

IMG_1897–Daulati suffering in a rickshaw on her way to find me–

_Daulati–Daulati after a trip to the hospital and modifying her medications–

_Daulati 2–Daulati after some new medication and better eating regimen–

_Daulati Dusk

_Daulati Dusk 2–Daulati and her family cook dinner as we bring them a week’s worth of fresh vegetables–

_Looking Over Daulati–Daulati’s neighbors look over–

_Himansu–Himansu and his mother attend a meeting about how we intend to help–

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_John at Mother's Meeting

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_Rajpath Delhi Balloons–A balloon salesman crosses Rajpath in New Delhi…with the President of India’s home in the background–

_Motorcycle Salesman–A motorcycle salesman tries to sell his goods in the slum–

_Kajal in Store–Kajal, our student, stands in her family’s small store they made in the slum–

_Sadna in Bucket–Sadna, one of our newest students, bathes in a bucket–

_Near Eco School–Visiting Khushboo’s home–

_Raj Nandani and Sonal–Visiting Sonal’s home–

Sponsors, Meet Your Students…

…Attention Sponsors! You should have received an email in the past 24 hours with instructions on how to schedule a video conference with your student. If you have not received this email, please let us know as soon as possible at squalortoscholar@gmail.com.

I will be offering this unique opportunity as a token of our gratitude through March 31st. If you are not able to schedule a time, don’t worry. I’m hard at work compiling all sorts of media to upload for you when I get home.

None of this would be possible without you. Thank you so much for your generosity and love.

_Facetime in an Alley–Video conferencing in January (Thanks for the photos Caitlin Rulien!)–

_Facetime with Mithlesh and Friends

Fighting Destiny…

…The realities of life in India have hit me like a freight train. Today, I walked to a distant part of the slum to see Santosh for the first time since his operation that we organized for him last year.

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This is a picture from my first encounter with Santosh on April 3, 2012, when his mother brought him to us because she had heard there were foreigners taking children to receive medical care.

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–Santosh smiling en route to the hospital on April 9, 2012–

Over the next month, I spent many days with Santosh and his mother, Sugo Devi. We made multiple trips to hospitals in Delhi to see pediatricians and surgeons for consultations, lab work, and surgical preparation.

Most children with cleft lips and cleft palates can have their first surgeries when they are as young as three months old here. However, due to his malnutrition, Santosh had to grow much longer before he could safely undergo an operation.

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–Santosh just before surgery on August 30, 2012–

Santosh grew to the necessary size and on August 30, 2012, was admitted to a hospital in New Delhi to have his surgery.

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–Santosh in recovery–

Santosh’s operation went according to plan and the physicians who cared for him were very happy with the results of his bilateral cleft lip surgery. Due to Santosh’s high risk of infection living in the slums and our inability to ensure proper post-op care, Santosh was kept in the hospital for 12 days. His mother stayed by his side the entire time.

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–Santosh on September 11,2012–

Santosh was finally discharged on September 11, 2012. This is the last photo I have of Santosh, which was taken that very day.

As you can imagine, I was very excited to see Santosh today. I knew that his scars would have healed by now and that his smile would be even more beautiful than ever. I had a big camera in hand to capture his progress.

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Ajeet and Mithlesh led the way past thousands of slum residents, fields of trash and feces, and legions of children who will never attend a day of school in their lives. We arrived at Santosh’s home but neither he nor his family was present. We waited while neighbors searched for their whereabouts and crowds amassed to gawk at the foreigner.

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Santosh and his family were nowhere to be found and we walked back from where we had come. I carried on with my day and visited other patients, students, and families.

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–Ajeet leading the way back–

This evening, I received the tragic news. Mamta answered a call from Mithlesh after dark and, while still on the phone, turned to me and said, “John…Santosh is gone.” I asked, “Where did he go?” She was listening intently to the phone and simply pointed to the ceiling.

Earlier today, on the very day that I returned to see him, Santosh left our world. The cause of his death is still uncertain and I expect that it will never be known. His father reports that Santosh became noticeably ill about 4-5 days ago. That is all I know at this time.

This is obviously not the way I envisioned my journey beginning. However, this is the burden we have chosen to bear. Mamta, Mithlesh, numerous physicians, and I spent many days of our lives fighting to improve Santosh’s life. We thought that his biggest hurdle would be overcoming a deformity. The thought of him dying never crossed my mind.

Life here in the slums is grim. I do not always convey the extent of the suffering and poverty because you would probably stop reading. After a while, it is natural just to look away. We are fighting destiny, there is no doubt about it.

Although we will certainly cherish the many victories of our work, we must also be prepared for, understand, and learn from the failures. These are human lives at stake; no matter how difficult this work can seem we must never lose sight of its importance.

I predicted that my return to India would come with many challenges. Santosh’s death today has made this poignantly apparent. However, we also have much to celebrate and those posts will come at a more appropriate time. For now, let us remember Santosh and his smile. May we learn, through his death, to sustain and improve the lives of those still with us.

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Internet Coming Soon…

…After more than 9,500 miles and 31 hours of travel time door-to-door, I have arrived safely in Faridabad!

Of course, it wouldn’t be India without some initial setbacks right out of the gate! Due to new Indian national security laws, my previous mobile sim cards were cancelled and new ones take 48 hours to activate. Therefore, I haven’t been able to get a good enough internet connection to blog. I should have one soon. Sorry to keep you in suspense, but here are two photos of our precious kids that should put a smile on your face and give you a sense of how they’re doing:

Ajeet with Prizes and Certificate

Goofing Around in Winter Uniforms Cropped

Much more to come soon! I’ve already taken hundreds of photos.

5283 miles down…4,175 to go…

…I just arrived safely and comfortably in London after a 10-hour overnight flight from Phoenix. We were just served breakfast on the plane before we landed and yet the sun is already setting as I await my next overnight flight direct to Delhi. When the sun rises in the morning, I’ll be over Afghanistan.

My last supper before boarding the plane yesterday was a delicious, juicy hamburger with a side of Caesar salad from Houston’s. I will not see beef, salad, or ice water again for the next three months.

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Mom and Dad then took me to the airport to send me off, just like before. Their love is unwavering and I am so blessed to have them. As a 25-year-old man living at home, I should probably love saying goodbye. However, we are certainly not like most families and I will miss them dearly.

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This is the exact same route I took 422 days ago. However, this time, the emotions are quite different. When I boarded this flight before, I felt like I was travelling to the edge of the Earth. I was full of uncertainty, doubt, and questions. Today, I feel like I am headed to another home, to another family, and to hundreds of people who are almost as excited to see me as I am excited to see them.

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London to Delhi Halfway

I’m writing here watching the sun set. I’m about to have a glorious last latte from Starbucks as I watch the planes line up for landing in the distance while I listen to their pilots talk to air traffic control on my iPhone.

In 2012, people visited this blog from 106 countries! I’m glad to have you all along with me in 2013.

January 2013 Blog Map

Look out New Delhi, here we come!

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