One of the great things about my job as a tour leader is that you get to meet special people doing special things. They are often the quiet ones – starting small, doing everything on the smell of an oily rag (as we say) and hovering in the background. However these quiet achievers make a quantum leap for those whose lives they touch.
Charity begins at home and after spending quite a lot of their time in India a group of friends decided that compassion starts at home. In this case it was their adopted home, India. Through their various connections they managed to start a small charity with some rented rooms. They took in a few kids from a very poor area of India (Sarnath) and provided them with after school activities. Activities are not part of the government school curriculum as learning in India is mostly rote based so there is only time for memorising lessons for the all important exams.
I was lucky enough to visit the centre earlier this year on a visit to Sarnath. We were acutely aware as we drove through the maze of outer Sarnath that this was a very poor area, even by Indian standards. The area has basic housing and the people live with minimal possessions, cooking food on open fires. The kids have little to play with except their wits.
It was a surprise when we finally reached our destination. The building that housed the centre was standing proudly, freshly painted. Our group of 8 women from various parts of the world entered the building and were very warmly welcomed by our hosts with chai (Indian tea), samosas and sweets and the traditional Buddhist welcome khata (a white scarf hung around our necks). We later discovered that a local family had converted their house for the charity.
After our refreshments we were ushered upstairs. There were about 50 children, of various ages; all dressed up in their finery, proud as proud can be with their beautiful big smiles to welcome us. For the next hour they sang and danced both their traditional dances as well as some more uptempo Bollywood numbers. Their teacher (the daughter of the house) was in the background quietly guiding the smaller ones who didn’t have their routines perfected. This bought a few tears to our eyes (including mine) as the members of our group watched her dedication and care to make sure they had it just so.
We were offered more tea, juice and snacks whilst the children whipped out their other activities (such as board games and drawings), proudly showing us what they could do. The time went all too fast and due to our busy schedule and before long we had to say goodbye, but not before taking some group photos.
We all agreed it was a very humbling visit, to see such poverty on the outside and then to see the richness on the inside. We were very privileged indeed to see how love, care, attention and a little bit of money has made and will continue to make an everlasting difference to these children’s lives. A little bit of all of it it will shape these kids forever.