“Who will do it? I will do it.” That is the chant of one of the NGOs we visited today named the Waste Warriors. Although these organizations apply the “war cry” to the work they do creating waste management systems in rural communities, it applies to the other NGO we visited called the Aasraa trust.
This morning we woke bright and early and headed on a bumpy one hour bus ride to Dehradun. Outside my window, vibrant colors flitted in the forms of flags and mural installations. Temple spires rise above the town and below lie the slums. It’s a truly heart dropping moment to see young children play amongst trash during the school hour. Aasraa Trust, an NGO founded by Shaila Brijnath was founded to create opportunities for the young and impoverished children of Dehradun. Her trust focuses on the “whole child” method which gives children a strong foundation for succeeding in life. In order to better understand Aasraa’s education process, we visited all three steps of their program.
We began in a large empty lot surrounded by houses. A coordinator at the NGO, informed us about their approach to the students who, due to many circumstances, are often unable to reach school locations. To tackle this problem, they’ve created mobile classrooms by using school buses. I was able to observe the equivalent of PreK and help the kids learn their numbers in English through an interactive video and song. As I watched the children learn, I glanced out the window and saw a few children outside the classroom who were playing on a nearby fairground ride instead of joining class. The juxtaposition of the two scenes playing out before me was eye opening. I realized that despite the efforts of organizations such as Aasraa there will always be those who fall through the cracks.
The next step of the journey was at one of the government schools that Aasraa helps run. What once was a school with only a few teachers and without proper necessities such as working lights was now a flourishing place of learning. We were given a tour of the classrooms and eventually ended up in the tinker lab. We gathered around and watched as the students showed us their inventions. I was awe struck by their innovative thinking and particularly inspired by how each student had chosen a project that focused on real-world issues. I could tell through the investment and excitement of the tinker lab teacher that Aasraa ensures that its educators are passionate about their students.
Our final step was at the career training center. There, we met Shaila for tea and were able to converse with her. Shaila was well spoken and in all honesty a riot. Her humor and ability to connect with each individual student was so inviting I didn’t want our conversation to end. I enjoyed how with each question, she turned it back on the student. Her conversation method exemplified the attitude she brings to Aasraa trust in that she cares immensely about every individual.
During my time at the Mansa Devi temple, street children would pull at my clothes, grab my shoulder, point to a deformity they had on their body, then hold out their hand signaling for me to give them money. As a child, I was taught to show empathy and compassion to individuals who were struggling, even if I did not know them. As much as I wanted to give them something, I was specifically instructed not to do so by my teachers. This situation became extremely difficult for me because not only was I dismayed by my morals, but I was also neglecting impoverished 7-year-olds.
It was explained by a local Dehradun teacher this morning that even if you gave one child money, they would give half of the amount they earned to their parents, while the other half they would keep and spend on items that wouldn’t benefit them, typically drugs. Most of these children are around the ages of 5-10 years old. Therefore, by giving them money, you are essentially feeding into their addiction, continuing the cycle of poverty in India.
Although it seems as if there is no solution to ending the juxtaposition in this situation, there is extreme progress being made. Aasraa Trust is an NGO created by Shaila Brijnath that is dedicated to leveling the playing field in the education system, allowing street children to have the opportunity to have a future within the world. Today, Shaila and the Aasraa Team educate over 8000 children spread over 60+ projects and in partnership with the Education Department of Uttarakhand in 13 Government Schools across Uttarakhand.
We were able to visit one of the schools in Dehradun. The schools were on a mobile bus that seated a little over 20 children. My classmates and I had the opportunity to sit in on their lesson. All the kids seemed to be around 5-6 years old. They were learning how to count in English and in Hindi. I sat next to a girl named Vishnu. She sat up straight, while her hands rested in her lap, participating in the lesson, with a focused demeanor on her face. Not only was Vishnu dedicated to her education, but so were her peers. They all seemed so happy to be there and eager to learn more.
Next, we visited an elementary through high school that was half government-funded and partnered with Aasraa. Because this school is partnered with Aasraa, they are able to offer resources that will help the kids once they graduate to become successful within the industry they are specializing in. We were able to visit one of the classrooms where students engineered different innovative technological devices. One of the students created a multipurpose farming cane, designed for those who struggle with walking. I was impressed not only with the design but also with the intention to serve the disabled community, who are often overlooked in society.
Lastly, we visited Aasraa’s workforce integration program. This program allows a bridge between education and skills to learn for different types of jobs. My class was honored to speak with Shaila Brijnath. The three words I would use to describe her are expressive, empathetic, and attentive. Shaila talked about how she went to college for education, then once she graduated she traveled across the world for banking. She then realized that her true passions lay in providing education for others, so she started Aasraa Trust. Shaila said that she learned that you should follow your passions, even if everyone else is going down a different path than you are.
I felt full of life after this trip today because I was able to see the wonderful learning environments Aasraa Trust has cultivated in order to end the cycle of poverty in India. In the future, I hope to work with children in impoverished communities by giving them a space to share their stories through art. Aasraa Trust showed me the possibilities of my passions and the beauty that they could bring to the world.
Today was a long day during which we did a lot. We visited a city in the foothills of the Himalayas and learned many things about education in rural Indian communities. The city we visited was called Dehradun, and it was a very pretty town. The air quality was significantly better than it has been, which was nice and the mountains resembled Dr. Seuss drawings.
We started out the day at an organization that provides schooling for street children. This school holds their classes in school buses that come to the children directly and stay parked in their village. Witnessing the children smiling and singing songs was heartwarming. The organization responsible for this noble work was called Aasraa, and they were doing God’s work. They have a comprehensive program that educates children and equips them with practical skills such as driving and communication to break the cycle of poverty and lead fulfilling lives. The school we toured was highly advanced, with a robotics lab where they created drone detectors, RC cars, and transmitted Wi-Fi signals through LED lights.
Another organization we visited today was Waste Warriors, stationed in a more remote part of India. Their mission was to establish a system for collecting and sorting trash. The employees at this organization were optimistic about India’s future. We have seen a lot of litter along our travels, it was reassuring to see people actively working to address these environmental problems. They sorted the trash into different categories to recycle and had a lot of knowledge about the causes of the trash problem. They also talked about why no one was doing anything about it, because one, there is a spiritual component about it, and two, historically it was the lowest castes job to clean up the trash. That’s why another part of their mission was to make it more of a cool thing to clean up the streets. I think it’s a very noble thing to be doing. There also isn’t any money in the trash business, so they need to rely completely on donations from big companies to stay operating.
Yesterday, we visited the Sri Ram Vidya Mandir school, the school associated with the Sri Ram Ashram. To get to speak with and interact with kids from kindergarten to our age was such a pure experience. You don’t think you can possibly relate to a person seemingly so different from you, yet when you get the opportunity to compare, it’s hard to find anything that isn’t the same in some way. They are kids just like us, humans just like us, with thoughts and dreams and hobbies just like us. I felt my eyes opened by the experience.
Today, we visited a series of other school establishments. The first was a bus. That may seem odd at first, but it’s actually one of the most impactful inventions I think I’ve heard of. School buses, instead of taking kids to school, take the school to the kids. These buses are fully equipped classrooms to provide for children that are not given the resources to attend a regular school. It serves the children who collect money on the street for a living, and provides them with the opportunity for an education with no cost and no need to get there. In addition, they also feed the kids when they go to school on the bus, which for many is a highly effective motivator. We got to get on the bus for a class. The children were all so happy to be there, it made me realize how much I take school for granted.
We next visited the junior school, and played games with the kids after touring around their facilities and receiving a wonderful presentation from their Tinkering class (similar to an STEM class in the US).
Finally, we got to do an informal interview with Shaila Brijnath. She was awe inspiring. Simply the story of her life was inspiring, not even considering what she has done with her life. She began her career in banking, realized she was not satisfied, and spontaneously moved back to India where she was born after spending the majority of her life in London. She began the Aasraa Trust, a nonprofit organization that provides classes from computer basics to factory safety to sewing, to provide people young and old with skills they need to make money or keep a house. In addition, she has helped start over 60 more programs to support children in all ways, through education, healthcare, and counseling. It was truly an amazing experience to witness all that people can accomplish when they are passionate about giving back to their community.
Video from the first couple days of the trip: arrival in India and Delhi.
Sri Ram Ashram, the orphanage Mount Madonna School goes to each year, greets us with open arms, overflowing love, and enthusiasm. Anticipation filled me as our teachers, familiar with the ashram, had told us that the children hold so much excitement each year at the senior class’s arrival. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the love radiating from each child upon our arrival. Their joy was so big that I felt like I was in an aura of pure happiness and connection.
Since we had arrived late at night, our time was short however we were able to greet each other with big hugs and smiles. The following morning, my classmates and I shared breakfast with the children, an experience unlike any other I had known. We sat in rows on the floor, facing one another, where we were served food while the kids eagerly chatted and laughed with us.
During our stay, I had the privilege of getting to know Seema, the woman who takes care of the girls in the ashram, whose boundless love for the children was evident. Observing her care and compassion filled me with gratitude and joy. Seema took us to the Mansa Devi temple, where I truly felt the depth of her empathetic spirit. She has such a comforting presence while I share conversations with her. It was a true honor to connect with someone so genuinely kind-hearted.
That night at the ashram, we were invited to participate in the tradition of Aarti, a ritual of prayer chants performed at sunrise and sunset. Surrounded by the children, I was welcomed with open arms, handed a book of songs, and guided through the chants with warmth and patience. Seema’s spirited leadership infused the ceremony with even more energy and love
These experiences at the ashram deepened my understanding of human connection and compassion, reminding me of the profound importance of empathy in our lives. I am so grateful to get to know everyone at the ashram.
Today we had the opportunity to visit the school and students at the Sri Ram Vidya Mandir school that is associated with the Sri Ram Ashram. Our day started off with us walking over to the school and witnessing how the students’ school day starts. The 700 students were all very neatly lined up, almost militaristically, as they recited prayers, sang their national anthem and said their morning announcements. We were also introduced to the school as Mount Madonna students and we sang a song from the Ramayana. After the morning assembly, my classmates and I followed our teacher Shannon into one of the classrooms where we were separated into small groups of our classmates mixed with their students. It was really fun to spend time with kids our age and get to hangout and talk with them and learn about their lives and talk about the differences and similarities in our lives. It was also cool to learn about their curriculum and how it varies from ours. From what I understood, the students have to choose their study paths after 10th grade. In India, there are three different options: Science, Arts, or Commerce. Each one of the options will set you up with many job opportunities, but science gives you the most opportunities. After our group discussions, we broke off into small groups led by the students and were given a tour of their school.
After we said our goodbyes, we gathered our things and walked to a part of the Ganga River. The walk took about 20 minutes, but the scenery on the way made it go by quickly. There were lots of colorful houses, different plants to look at, and the monkeys were running around everywhere. When we arrived at the river, a few of my friends and I started skipping rocks to see who could get the most skips. The river itself was pretty amazing. I’ve been told it is polluted, but to my surprise the water looked clean and I did not see any debris or chunks of trash floating. There were some beautiful birds across the river, and there were so many little pinch clay pots along the riverbank that had been used as offerings at the river. Before we left the river, we were asked to practice singing some songs from The Ramayana, but I didn’t want to sing so I asked our photographer Shmuel if I could take some photos on his professional camera. Shmuel handed over his camera and I got to learn how to take cool photos of the Indian landscape. All and all it was a great day and I am excited to play another game of ultimate Frisbee with the ashram kids tonight.
The Sri Ram Ashram is a home away from home, filled with big smiles, non-stop fun, and joy-spirited children. From the moment we arrived, both the adults and children welcomed us with nothing but love. Equally welcoming and joyful was the prestigious Sri Ram Vidya Mandir, the neighboring school of the Sri Ram Ashram. The word “vidya” means knowledge, and “mandir” means temple. Today, we visited the school in the morning, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them all in uniform, forming single-file lines by age and focusing so diligently. Then, they completely blew me away when they sang prayer songs and the Indian national anthem.
After sitting down with students our age from the school, introducing ourselves, answering questions, and cracking jokes, a group of four students gave my classmates Bea, Emma, and me a tour of the school. They made sure not to miss a single detail about any classroom or poster on the wall. These students were so proud and joyful when talking about their school, studies, and teachers. Specifically, the oldest boy in our group, who was very passionate about economics and business, reminded me of how much I should truly appreciate the education and opportunities I receive at Mount Madonna School.
Today, I sat with Puja, a young girl who lives at the Sri Ram Ashram, and asked her, “Are you excited for school today?” Cross-legged on the floor, eating our breakfast on shiny silver trays, she looked up at me and smiled. I know kids back home who would say school is horrible and boring. For those children, it is possible they are imagining hours inside a classroom or the infinite anxieties that come from going to school in America. Here the situation is much different, and Puja’s eyes grew wide, and her smile beamed; “Yes!”
Through the blue metal gates, a second’s walk from the Ashram, emerges Sri Ram Vidya Mandir. A school three stories high, built with smooth stones of red and white. I walk in a single file line with my class through the corridor and into the courtyard. Instantly, I was surprised to see, as the sunlight hit my eyes and uncovered the rows and rows of uniform school children. Each row contained a different age and gender. The students were dressed neatly in red coats and collared shirts. Their faces were all awake, strong, and beautiful. I stood in awe.
The next few hours flew by quickly. A typical morning at Vidya Mandir includes prayer and songs. Their voices ring up through the walls of the school. Brilliant and fierce Hindi flows from the crowd and into our English minds. I was struck, I was present, and I had never experienced anything like it. On the loudspeaker, they rolled through the morning announcements, and the word of the day: Linguistics. The study of languages. Language tells a story of culture and the history of a people. Language is a bridge as much as it can be a barrier. So often we are prone to thinking language divides us, but it connects us to our roots and to something much bigger than ourselves.
I understand why Puja loves going to school now. She sings prayers to show gratitude to the gods and her country. She learns languages like English to expand her mind. Then she studies hard for exams to make her loved ones proud. The joy of the school radiates. It touches my heart to see so many people excited to learn. Being among this community gives me pure happiness. There is truly nothing like it back at my home.
Drive to Sri Ram Ashram
The first thing I noticed about India I saw even before we landed on Indian soil. Through the airplane window, as we were descending from the air into Delhi, I saw many buildings painted in beautiful reds, greens, and yellows. Immediately, I knew what a bright and beautiful country India is. Throughout the city of Delhi, there were walls full of paintings, bright colorful cars, and beautiful flowers embellishing the sides of the roads. From the green and yellow tuk-tuks, to the tulips, to the orange sun, these were but a few of many pops of color against the grey sky.
We soon embarked on a five-hour drive from Delhi to Haridwar, where the Sri Ram Ashram is located. As we drove farther from Delhi, the scenery changed. The big colorful buildings turned to agriculture fields growing sugar cane and wheat. On the sides of the road, little shops were buzzing with business, their roofs consisting of tarps of various colors. Statues of gods like Shiva and Vishnu were scattered around Haridwar, a holy city where many people do pilgramages. Women wearing beautiful Kurtas with colorful patterns walk up and down the bustling streets. My eyes, although stinging from the smoke, could not be kept from looking through the bus window. As the orange sun set, changing the sky to a dark grey, the bus lights flickered on. The bigger store’s neon lights did so too, illuminating the street with bright vibrant colors.
Our arrival at the Sri Ram Ashram did not come fast enough. Pulling up through the red and blue metal gate, a large group of children awaited our arrival to welcome us into their home. As soon as I saw them, I couldn’t stop my smile from forming. Off of the bus, the children immediately came to hug me with big smiles. I look around and see everyone together, their cheeks rosy from smiling. It was a beautiful start to our trip and I cannot wait to spend time with the children of Sri Ram Ashram this week.
Hindu Temple of Mansa Devi
Due to an unexpected turn of events, we got to visit the Sri Ram Ashram earlier than expected. It was a very welcome surprise, given that it was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. Today, we visited the Hindu temple called Mansa Devi, which overlooked the city of Haridwar. The temple is known to be a place of worship for the goddess Mansa Devi. The term “Mansa” means wish, and it is believed that this goddess fulfills wishes, if you are a sincere devotee. To get to the temple, we had to take a short but steep walk up a windy path. In the temple, Shmuel, one of our chaperones, explained to us that through the temple, we’d be able to fulfill our mind’s desires. I found this very odd at first because I was wondering how it was possible to have our mind’s desires fulfilled by just walking through the temple. However, that’s when the self-reflection began. It’s not often you sit and wonder what your mind’s desire is. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the temple actually could fulfill my mind’s desire. The mind does not desire materialistic things, because it will never fulfill us, so the only thing that’s left is the epiphany that you can fulfill your mind’s desire by recognizing your thoughts and changing your mindset. The whole temple experience was contemplating what your desire is, and how easily you can achieve it through acceptance or taking internal action. After our voyage through the temple, I asked some classmates what their mind’s greatest desire was, and I was happy to know my hypothesis was correct. They had not wished for materialistic things, but instead for self-improvement or connections with others. I am very grateful for this experience. It made me realize how powerful the mind is because it is not a physical thing, but very abstract, so it is capable of anything we decide to believe.
Haridwar’s Moti Bazaar
Today we took the bus from Sri Ram Ashram. We got to drive through a lot of the city of Haridwar, see the river Ganges, and go to a Hindu temple up in the mountains with some very enthusiastic priests.
My most favorite part of the day was getting to shop in the street bizarre by the river Ganges in Haridwar. As we walked down from the Hindu temple, Devin, one of our chaperones, led us across the street down a set of stairs into a completely different world: streets lined with shops selling shiny knockoff Lamborghini jackets to intricate and colorful depictions of the god Shiva.
As we walked down the streets, bicycles, rickshaws, and tiny motorbikes with their horns would weave through the packed street. First, we walked down through the crowded bazaar to the river Ganges. At the Ganges, we were encouraged to dip our hands and feet in the water, but I was the only one who took that opportunity. As I walked down the steps to the edge of the river, I dipped my hand in and put the water on top of my head. Writing that, I feel I should take a shower now.
Then began our grand shopping adventure, walking through the street bazaar back the way we came. We were told to shop in groups no smaller than two, and I initially wanted to shop with one of our chaperones, Chelsea, who has shown herself in our previous shopping experiences to be a master haggler. But in the massive sensory overload that was the bazaar, I lost her and her group. Luckily, I used my 6 foot 5-inch height to find my classmates Ethan, Wyatt, Anya, and Peter in front of me. I worked with that group for a little bit until Ethan and I doubled back to take a closer look at brass shops. I hadn’t found anything in my walk in the bazaar that really caught my eye until I saw one of the most gaudy but fabulous pieces of clothing I’ve ever seen: a shiny iridescent silver puffer jacket embroidered with a sequin Lamborghini bull on the back. I immediately tried it on, and as Ethan and I laughed at the absurdity of this garment, we laughed even heartier after finding that it fit me and looked quite good! Sadly, with a price of 1250 rupees, I decided not to get it, a decision I now realize I will regret for the rest of this trip. But I did not leave the bazaar empty-handed! Towards the end of the bazaar, I found a tiny hat shop where I bought a small square cap to keep my head warm for the following adventure to Dharamsala. Then, at the very end of our adventure into the bazaar while waiting for classmates to catch up to the meeting point, I did some light shopping at a shawl shop where I bought a patterned cotton shawl for my bed back at home. But I have yet to tell you the funniest part.
The funniest tidbit of the day was people being in shock at my height walking around Haridwar. As I walked through the bazaar, my friends walking with me would say everyone was looking at me, and that they could tell because they would look way up and then way down. Throughout the street, shopkeepers would shout “Model! Model!” as I walked past. Overall, it was an incredibly fun day spent experiencing Haridwar and being at the Sri Ram Ashram.
Burger King Lunch
Today, our class went to the Mansa Devi temple, which overlooks the city of Haridwar. After a medium-sized trek up a mountain we reached the temple, and I was immediately struck at how colorful it was, and all of the ambient sounds around me. After receiving blessings from quite a few people, we descended the mountain to shop in the Moti Bazaar, which lies in the heart of Haridwar and sprawls for almost a mile. Regrettably, I left my wallet at the ashram today and I sadly couldn’t purchase anything, but it was still a beautiful sight walking through the bazaar and smelling all of the different spices and perfumes coming from all of the different stands. After that, however, was arguably the highlight of the day. We decided to stop for lunch in a Burger King, I think just to give us a little taste of home. Although it was vegetarian, as everything in the city was, it still gave me the little security blanket I had hoped for. After sitting down and getting all of our orders, the workers must’ve realized that almost all of us (being as childish as we are) were wearing the crowns that they hand out with their meals. Right before we left, the manager and some workers asked us to take a photo together, and it was genuinely hilarious. They seemed so grateful to have such a big group in their restaurant, and they were more than courteous at every possible interval. I hope to one day see all of our faces on a billboard, advertising the best Burger King in all of Haridwar.
First day in India. It was surreal, and it took a bit of time and taking in the surroundings to process we were in a different country. What struck me most, and immediately, was how different the plants growing here are, and how different it makes the landscape feel. There are stray dogs almost everywhere, cows in the street, the occasional monkey, the crows are grey and black, there are parrots, and flocks of what look like hawks flying around. Cars are honking at all hours and it’s incredible how easily drivers navigate through the chaos. Our tour guide, Ravi, was so funny and we all enjoyed his manner of speaking. He cracked jokes, and told us so much information, answering questions we didn’t even know we had.
The first place we visited was a Sikh Temple. It was massive and colorful, and there was singing the whole time. We had to cover our heads and go barefoot. The removal of shoes made it feel like we were closer to the earth. In the temple, they serve free food to anybody who asks for it, regardless of religion, sex, and race. You can even go back for seconds or thirds or however many times, no questions asked. I think that is a beautiful part of how giving some religions are. In the temple, we were allowed to help prepare food. Cy, Logan, Chelsea, Irulan, and I got to roll out the dough. We sat side by side with complete strangers, touching elbows, as they gave us tips on how to work more efficiently. The man working next to me didn’t speak to me, but he would point, and demonstrate rolling strategies, and occasionally sprinkle flour on my dough when he deemed it necessary. Chelsea commented on how it was amazing that we didn’t have to sign any waivers to be able to do volunteer work, and how it may encourage people to help more if there weren’t so many steps you had to take. You can see that volunteering here is ubiquitous that leads to nobody questioning motives. That was the biggest takeaway from the day, that volunteer work does truly matter and you gain a sense of purpose from participating.
The sun sets in an orange glow. Despite the thickness, the blue sky peeks out from beneath the haze. Our teacher Shannon tells us that this is one of the few times she’s seen the sky this clear, in fact, in her seven trips she can count all the clear days on one hand. The air pollution was something I had expected coming onto this trip but everything else I have experienced on my first day here has been novel.
We began our day at the Sikh Temple, a gorgeous place made of intricate marble. Paths made of mats and turf zig-zag across the cool floor for its visitors to walk across. We follow our tour guide, barefooted, and with our heads covered. Before entering the temple, we step both feet in holy water. Inside, the smell of fragrant flowers wafts from garlands. Sunday is the temple’s busiest day with swarms of people visiting and receiving food, a place called Langar. From the middle of the temple’s plaza, lies a tall post covered in orange cloth that indicates the surrounding areas where one can receive food. Beside the temple stands a volunteer who distributes Kada Prasad, a pudding made of wheat flour and ghee shaped into a small ball. Our tour guide instructs us to rub our hands together after eating the pudding to rub the ghee into our skin like lotion. Our first of many times we found a reason to use our hand sanitizer.
At lunch, we talk with Radha, a Sri Ram Ashram alumni. Her humor is contagious and it’s hard not to laugh. As we scan the very western menu and I sip my coffee (yes, coffee), we pester her with questions that she thoughtfully answers. Radha tells us about her current job working with an NGO. At the NGO they cover a variety of subjects but at the table, we mainly discuss feminine hygiene. She shows us an animated video with a song that tells the story of the egg in a woman’s menstrual cycle that the NGO has created. In India, discussion around topics such as menstruation and sex is very taboo. Because of this, there are many misconceptions and myths that undermine safe and healthy practices. The NGO that Radha works for found that creating music was one of the best ways to inform people who do not want to have discussions about such topics.
Later, at the bazaar, Bella Sol and I wander about trying to find gifts for our family. At each stall we try out our bargaining skills. We find that the best strategy is asking for low prices and then walking away acting as if we’re not interested. Immediately they call after us with an even lower price. If a vendor got too aggressive we slipped into Spanish, which quickly became our secret language.
At the end of the day on the bus ride to the hotel, we played Where’s Waldo but the Modi version. A game which Radha laughs at because it’s the easiest game in the world since Modi is quite literally everywhere. On every street lies a billboard, poster, cutout, or flag of Modi. Radhas laughter at our game acts as a motif for our trip, since we still have so much to learn and experience in this country.
Today was the first day of our India adventure. We started the morning off with a bus ride with our incredible tour guide, Ravi to visit a Sikh temple. Ravi was such a nice man and truly embodied the warmth and hospitality intertwined in Indian culture. On our ride over to the Sikh temple he taught us about the Sikh religion and that Sunday was the busiest day and to be prepared for lots of people. One of the major parts of Sikhism is to give back to the community. The temple feeds thousands of people of all religions and backgrounds daily. Today we had the opportunity to help in the kitchen and feed the community. It was so beautiful to see people take a day of worship, listen to prayer, and share a meal together.
The entire city of New Delhi is so vibrant and full of life. The bus rides have been the perfect way to observe the city though admittedly, a bit scary. Here in the city, the rules of the road are merely “suggestions”. All different types of vehicles are on the roads trying to get to their destinations without any regard to pedestrians or other vehicles. The first thing you notice about being in the city are the constant beeps of the cars, buses, and motorcycles trying to communicate with each other.
When I first heard we were going to the most populated city in India, I expected myself to get overwhelmed easily. Instead, I have never been more curious in my life. My eyes are constantly scanning the roads and streets looking for any action to follow. Everything is so new and exciting. Vendors by their shops advertising their goods, pedestrians attempting to cross the street while coming alarmingly close to vehicles, and animals such as cows, monkeys, and dogs on the streets walking among the locals. It has been so interesting noticing the similarities and differences between the U.S and India. I can’t wait to see what else the next two weeks will bring.
The streets of Delhi are full, not only with cars, but with people, dogs, monkeys, and cows too. Despite the constant assurances that you just have to ignore the road, it’s hard to get used to how close you seem to car accidents every few seconds. The amount of people here is incredible. But despite the sheer amount of people and creatures, pockets throughout the city are almost hauntingly empty. It’s a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city. Squares and street corners will be full of people standing shoulder to shoulder, but the next block will have a little abandoned bungalow. The amount of people in need of shelter here makes me wonder what, about these little, seemingly empty pockets, wards them off. It’s interesting how we take for granted the amount of space we have in Santa Cruz, always complaining about how too many people are moving here, or how the traffic is terrible, when the streets of Delhi are gridlocked.
People here seem kind. Our tour guides, restaurant employees, and other pedestrians alike all felt very curious to meet you and also eager to help with whatever you need. When visiting the Sikh Temple, we volunteered in the kitchen. 90% of the workers are volunteers, cooking and serving food to anyone and everyone. There is no judgment . People sit on the floor, side by side, to eat the same meal no matter their caste, religion, gender, or wealth. I’ve never seen something so uniting. In the kitchen, I sat amongst women old and young and rolled out dough to be fried. The women were eager to show us the right way of doing things, and scooted over to let us take a seat while we worked. My class came out of the kitchen fulfilled despite the fact that we hadn’t eaten anything
We had a clear day here in Delhi with blue skies. There are colorful birds lining the trees and monkeys lining the gates. It’s a city rich with diversity, different religions, cultures, and so much more. To put it into words is difficult. I appreciate the lack of graffiti as beautiful artwork lines the streets instead. It’s so thoughtful. Even though it’s still shocking to see young children collecting garbage to sell and The air is hard to breathe, despite the clear sky today, efforts are being made to clean up and city buses are becoming electric. I wish we were staying another day, to visit the gardens or ruins or museums that we spot from the bus. I am excited to see Dharamshala as I’m curious how different Dharamshala will be from here, like here is from home.
Mount Madonna seniors have departed from California and arrived in India! Stay tuned for photos and writings from the students on their first experiences in India!