Experience of a lifetime – “Feeding fodder to your soul”

As a human being, everyone has certain aspirations and dreams in their lives. We build our life goals based on our daily experiences and thoughts that come out of it. One of the thoughts that has always inspired me is the “willingness to help fellow human beings”. There is no better experience in seeing a person happy after his or her problem is solved by you. If you put things in perspective, we are all doing it either consciously or subconsciously. This strong urge made me want to help young children not only financially, but also emotionally, while standing beside them as their friend. One of the various options that I explored was to associate myself with an organization named “World Vision”. It is an NGO, which has programs and projects spread all over the world.  

My association with world vision – Beginning of a journey

Back in 2015, I was in India for my yearly visit and one of the things in my “to do” list was to visit World Vision office in Chennai (city in South India). Since I was attending my friend’s wedding in a nearby town, it seemed possible. However, when I reached their office, it was officially closed. It was a Saturday and there was hardly any staff on that day. I went back to my hometown in Chandigarh with an unfulfilled wish. The remaining holidays went by catching up with friends and family and I was nearing the end of my holidays. But, just on the last day of my holidays (7th September, 2015), I had an experience which led to my journey with World Vision. I went to get my scooter repaired at a neighborhood petrol station. I had a punctured tyre and some other small repairs. It took the mechanic around 2 hours to fix it all and make the 2 wheeler as good it can get. What surprised me was that he charged me just Rs.30. In Netherlands (where I live currently), it would have easily costed me at least 50 times more. That encounter made my head buzz with too many questions related to poverty in general, inequality of wages in India, existence of two India’s - one for the rich and the other for the poor, etc. I became so emotional that I just went back home, locked my room and called “World Vision” immediately. I knew that my trip would be incomplete if I didn’t call them and inquire about the sponsorship of children. I was able to reach their Chennai office number and the lady on phone explained about the complete procedure with great detail and patience. I did the formalities of choosing two 10-12 year old girls immediately and applied being a sponsor to them. The best part in this arrangement was that I could meet my sponsored child, know about her well-being, and also track her education progress. Eventually, I came back to Netherlands with a fulfilment of doing what I had promised myself. It was a small start, butI was just happy that I did something that I was envisioning for almost an year.

Meeting with “Kavita” at World Vision, New Delhi – Guiding me in the right direction

With my next trip to India planned in a year’s time (August, 2016), I had another wish and thatwas to visit one of my sponsored child (“Kavita”) in New Delhi. I approached the world vision head office again with a request to make arrangements for my visit. The request was warmly welcomed and due arrangements were made for me to see her on 11th August on the 1st day of my India trip itself. 

I was staying at my sister’s place in Gurgaon and my cousin (Nikhil) joined me as well. The excitement was very obvious as I woke up at 7.00 a.m. despite my long flight from Netherlands. We travelled through Delhi Metro, standing throughout the 1 hour journey. It was pretty taxing, but the excitement of meeting Kavita eclipsed everything. We reached World Vision India office in New Delhi. I saw 2 women and a girl who looked similar to Kavita also standing outside the main gate, but was not too sure whether to approach them or not. I just thought to let the introduction happen in a formal way. We met our contact person Ms. Pushpalata, whose contact I had received from the Chennai head office. Following an Indian customary, we were offered tea and snacks.

Eventually, Pushpa ma’am introduced Kavita, her mother and her teacher who had also accompanied her. She (Kavita) was wearing a pretty orange frock and was carrying a “Thank You” and “I Love You” card with her. She gave me the lovely hand-made cards and quietly sat in there, without much emotions. She was shy and a bit restraint in her expression. A little later, Ms.Tanuja D. Karmarkar, the Program Manager of two of Delhi’s world vision programs came in. She shared the vision of the program and all the activities that she had initiated in the last few years for over 3000 children under her 2 programs. It was inspirational to say the least. She insisted that I come again to New Delhi for more number of days and visit the field where the actual work was going on. I considered her offer, but was not sure about my role and impact that I could make. Meanwhile, we shared the gifts that we had brought for Kavita and she slowly got more open with me expressing her gratification. Tanuja ma’am asked Kavita to share more about her education, her favourite subjects, her experiences in school, her hobbies (badminton, cycling and Ludo – similar to my interests as well), etc. Upon being asked about the support that she gets from her parents and the rest of her family, she explained how many times she feels her education is completely irrelevant because her parents don’t even ask about it. As she got deeper while expressing, she broke down. Those tears were hard to digest for me. It was difficult for me to understand the right reasons of her problems, but I knew the only way to understand them was to be with them, live some days with them. I found a way ahead in that break down of Kavita. I knew that I had to come back again and not only for Kavita, but for more children who are out there trying to sort out their daily problems in a survival mode.

I promised Tanuja ma’am that I will contact the main office again and will visit New Delhi again in December, 2016 with a 3-4 days program for some children associated with World Vision. 

Pre-event preparations – Good intention without expectations

Somewhere in October, 2016, I contacted the World Vision head office in Chennai again. This time, to seek permission to perform a 3 days personality development course for children under the umbrella of World Vision in Delhi. I was referred to the Relationship Manager - Mr. Sukant Panda who was in-charge of communications at the Delhi branch of World Vision. We had few calls and emails exchanged where we both tried to understand what I was trying to achieve by doing a small 3 days program and what World Vision could provide in terms of facilities (both staff and infrastructure). Communication from Netherlands was always going to be difficult. To add to that, there was pressure to finish official work before my holidays. The preparation for World Vision took a back seat somehow or the other. Moreover, to say the truth, I was not too sure about the program itself. I just had an overall concept in head, some topics to discuss, but it was all in my mind and nothing in writing. I even took ideas from my friends through emails. But somewhere, all I wanted was to just test myself and live the ground reality. I just wanted to be with the children, trying to understand their perspective and approach towards life. However, at least the dates of 19th-21st December, 2016 for the program were finalised. I was confident that the rest of the things will eventually work out.

The preparations of visiting India was in full flow. Whenever I visit India, I try to meet up with as many friends and family as I can. Catching up with one of my “intellectual buddy” - Shubhra Mohanti on phone, I shared the travel plan of my India trip and the program itself.  Remarkably, she showed the interest to join the program just few days before she was scheduled to fly back to Germany for work.  And to say the least, I was more confident and happy to have a friend who shares the same sentiments and objectives behind joining the program. 

The date of heading to India was approaching, with too many plans to make it happen. However, there was ample positive energy in there and a sense of no expectations (plans getting materialised). 

Sessions at Sonia Vihar – Encountering the reality

There is nothing better than staying at “home” and being taken care of like a small child by your mother and father. The holidays started with a great reunion of the entire family (including aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). This got better in the coming days with me reorganising 2000 hard copy pictures of my childhood to my teenage. After few days at home, I headed to New Delhi on 16th December, 2016. On the weekend, I caught up with school friends whom I met after 12 years, met my lovely Lakshmi Aunty, caught up with my dear cousins and my sister. 

DAY 1: 

Monday (19th December, 2016) was going to be the first day of the course and all I did was to plan the travel with Shubhra to report at the World Vision - Delhi branch. We were not even aware of the exact location where we were going to meet the children and do the “courses”. As agreed with Mr. Sukant, we reached at the World Vision office (Model Town, New Delhi) at 9.00 A.M. There, we met both Sukant sir and Tanuja Ma’am. Tanuja maám shared details of the recent programs that were either organised by World Vision or were planned for future. After some time, Prem Sir (field in-charge) also came in the office. We were informed that we would go to the location (Sonia Vihar) where the course will be scheduled with the World Vision jeep. We left a bit late than scheduled, but still thought to catch up during the session.

Reaching Sonia Vihar was a hard task than we thought. We were stuck in the traffic for almost 1.5 hours and eventually had to walk for almost 1 km to pass the traffic mess. Although there was a sense of uncertainty and insecurity walking through that road, having Prem Sir with us definitely gave us confidence. Moreover, the purpose of reaching Sonia Vihar was bigger than the path leading to it. We eventually reached Sonia Vihar - World vision branch office at 11.30 a.m. (we were supposed to be there at 9.30 a.m.). Once we reached, we saw around 6-7 teenage boys sitting on a rug. What was challenging now was that the original plan of what we wanted to do went haywire. Neither we were sure of what to discuss in 1 hour that these guys were left with, nor we were prepared for the infrastructure that was available there. However, we improvised. We got a white board and a marker which was enough to draw/explain something. 

We started the session with introduction of each of the person. While giving their introduction, they also mentioned about their education. I got an idea from there - these boys are soon going to make important career decisions in their lives. What if we discuss about that? The session progressed in an organic way with topics being discussed based on what they were saying. After all, the whole objective was to understand their point of view about their lives. We discussed about everyone’s goals and aspirations and why they wanted to do what they wanted to do. One of the interesting topics which had an endless discussion was - Money or Happiness? What was truly exemplary to note during that 1 hour discussion was the clarity that these guys had about what they wanted to do in their lives. They understood their constraints but that was not detrimental to their dreams. I doubt that I can say the same about myself. I understood that they just needed proper guidance, financial support and a fair opportunity.

We had a lunch break and after the break, we were supposed to have our afternoon session with another set of kids also located in the vicinity. Although I had brought lunch with me, the World Vision had organised lunch for us at one of their volunteers’ home. The food was simple with Indian lentils, a green vegetable, rice and salad, but it was made with so much affection and warmth. After we enjoyed our lunch, we headed to the next session. There we met the person in-charge of that locality - Daniel Sir. There was a bit of confusion of where the session would be organised. However, we decided to have it at an empty plot of land where there were some children coming for their regular tuitions. Here, the group of 30-35 was a mix of boys and girls, although dominated by girls. The age of children varied from as small as 6 years to teenage girls of 20 years. As much as the morning session was intellectual and thought provoking, the afternoon session was just fun. We had a small introduction rounds of each child. Since we had started this session in time, we were able to follow one of the activity that we had planned. And this was “draw what you hear”. We paired people randomly. The activity required one of the child to come and draw an abstract drawing on the board while the other person faces opposite to the board and listens to the instructions from the first person, while making the same drawing in his/her notebook just based on the instructions of the first person. There was so much fun as the communication ranged from sometime excellent to completely out of place. Each child understood the importance of complete communication from both the ends and not taking anything for granted. 

We could only organise one activity with the group as it took some time to break the ice with children and make friends with them. We finished the session by 4.30 p.m. before the sunset and then, headed back home. 

DAY 2:

On the second day, the idea was to directly head to the Sonia Vihar location and report at 9.30 a.m. But, as it happened on the first day, we were again stuck in the traffic jam. Compared to the first day, we waited less in the car this time around and headed for our walk through the traffic jam. For this day, Tanuja ma’am also joined us. We managed to reach around 10.30 a.m. where the children were again waiting for us. But, we kick-started the session without any delay. Although the idea was to continue with the same set of children as the last day, there were a lot of additions and some deductions. Shubhra had really given very valuable input the earlier evening of the activities that we could do on the remaining two days. We started with “Draw what you hear” activity for this batch as well. We again had the same fun and instilled the message across among the children. The next exercise that we did was “Life Highlights”. The idea of this activity was to break the ice among the children present in the session, as all of them didn’t know each other. We asked everyone to close their eyes for a minute and think of the best memory of their life.  We went listening to each one of them and asked the other children to also listen to each story. Beautiful stories and memories were shared which were either funny, emotional, or a proud moment. During the process, each person got close to the other one as they could relate to many stories of other children. The lesson of communication was again touched upon for this activity as well. We asked one of the child to repeat the story of another child. It was clear that the children were either able to remember the story if it was a standout in itself or was relatable to them. The last exercise that we did with the morning batch was “Human Shapes”, where we grouped them into 3 teams. The objective of this exercise was teamwork, communication and leadership. For the activity, one of the team combined and made different shapes (e.g. car) with their body and the other team had to guess the shape. The activity was a real success as it led to some children participating actively and the other playing more passive role. We were keeping note of what each child was doing and what role they were playing in this activity. For any team, it was only about winning as there were 10 points for every correct answer. After we finished with 5-6 set for each of the three teams, we started analysing how each team performed. And the criterion of performance was not the marks, but the “process” while playing this activity. Important traits of a leader, a team person, a communicator was highlighted and the children were made to realise - why it is important to include every individual in a team activity.

After the morning session got over, we headed for our lunch break. This time again, we were offered amazing food in one of the sponsored child’s home; and again, the hospitality was flooring. One of the many wonderful gestures was the arrangement of market packed curd only for Shubhra and me. They wanted to provide the best service to us, even though they didn’t have sufficient for themselves.

After the lunch break, we went for the afternoon session in the same locality as the first day. The children this time around were the same with each of them eagerly waiting for us. We started giving a recap of the first day of “Draw what you hear” activity. We continued with the same two activities that we did during the morning batch - “Life Highlights” and “Human Shapes”. The “Life Highlights” session had both hilarious and touching memories shared by each child. The children could remember each other’s moments more as they were more personal. The “Human Shapes” session for this batch of children was more contrasting as with morning batch of children. Besides all the common things which were discussed in the morning, this batch had one more topic - dealing conflicts or difference of opinions. One of the batch of the children had such personalities which were quite bossy. That specific team came last in total number of points and understood the reason of their ego clash.

As was the case on the first day, we winded everything by 4.30 p.m. and headed back home. Daniel Sir made sure we were dropped at the right metro stations.

DAY 3:

This was the last day of the program. One of the written promise that I had made with the morning batch on Day 2 was that I will reach on time (9.30 a.m.) and I almost made the promise making it at 9.45 a.m. Incidentally, we were not caught up in traffic unlike the last two days.  Again, with input from Shubhra, we started with an activity called “Bus Stop”. The objective of the exercise was to let people express their opinions by choosing one of the two options. None of the option was wrong. It was just mere perspective. E.g. one of the many options we gave was - “Day” or “Night”. They could also stay on the fictitious bus and not drop off to any of the sides if they were unsure. This activity led to some very interesting choices and made us realise the fact that every person is different and every one approaches a given situation in a different way. Moreover, there is not one single correct path and sometimes it is merely a matter of choices and perspectives. After the activity, we rounded up with some amazing group pictures. We distributed the chocolates that we had got for them and each of us said bye to each other.

After our wonderful lunch at the same place as Day 2, we headed for the afternoon session. Since the number of children were more in this batch, we opted for an alternate activity -“Team Role Play” (instead of Bus Stop). We took the same team as Day 2 as this batch experienced indifferent team dynamics. We wanted to see if there was improvement in teamwork and communication. Each team was given the following topics - Traffic safety, Cleanliness, and Women empowerment. What came out of the session was complete brilliance. The children shared ideas which were not even practised in the bigger societies of the world. Unlike Day 2, there was better coordination and cooperation by each team. After the completion of role play and analysing the same, we took memorable group pictures. 

The evening batch got more close to us and during the distribution of chocolates, they became quite emotional. Some of the children specifically wanted pictures with us even knowing that they might not get these pictures. The emotions shown by each child was so genuine. While we headed back to the metro station, Shubhra and me had a very different feeling. We realised that we will not come back tomorrow among these children. That feeling had still not sunk in completely. We headed back to our home/hotel thanking each other’s support during the 3-day session.  

Did we make a difference? – An afterthought

In the next few days, there were a lot of thoughts and questions that kept creeping in. Did we do something worthwhile? Can we keep doing it every year? How are the people associated to the World Vision Organisation able to devote their entire lives to this cause? Don’t these children have the same right to grow and live a life as we are living? The list of questions were endless. 

But, I got answers for some (I think!). What I realised was that more than the children learning from us during these 3 days, it was me who learnt more about life. I understood more about compassion, honesty, dreams, and the purpose of life. This journey was small, but it did have a certain impact and made me grow as a person in the process. The people associated with World Vision are doing a remarkable service to the society. I could easily see that the children under the umbrella of the program are being protected and nurtured for their better tomorrow. I could feel that they know that there is someone that they can trust or bank upon. Moreover, I also understood that doing this program once was not going to bring in results. The results shall be obtained with a dedicated approach towards the cause, without any excuses. 

I cannot say about the entire life, but I can pledge that I will visit Sonia Vihar again in 2017 and organise one week long sessions with the same set of 50 children. For now, I got enough fodder for my soul!!