How is it that almost two weeks of this adventure has already flown by? They say time flies when you’re having fun. But time also flies when you sweat through your clothing every five minutes, when you’re biking over an hour everyday on the treacherous streets (or lack thereof) in Varanasi, and when you’re working for Guria. Although India has more than enough to offer as a country in itself, the NGO I chose to work for has given me more than I could have ever hoped for in the months of preparation for this trip in solely two weeks.
As people who know me well know, I despise fluff without intention. Therefore, I am not prone to handing out complements if I don’t believe credit is well deserved. However, Ajeet Ji (the founder of Guria), the teachers and other adults who work for Guria, the people Ajeet Ji attracts from all over the world to enhance particular facets within Guria, and the children who seek refuge at Guria’s center each day are EXTRAORDINARY. I only hope that in the weeks to come, I will properly give credit where credit is due. I will do so as authentically as I know how.
The first day I arrived at the center, I was so overwhelmed from my first real bike ride in India, the dehydration, and entering the red-light district of Varanasi, that I breathed a sigh of relief upon reaching the center. As I walked through the gates, I was suddenly swarmed by a throng of kids, all reaching for my hand, asking for my name, and urging me to come inside. For the next two hours, we played. We played games that the 7 French interns who have been here for the past two weeks had taught them, games that they made up, and even games that I began teaching them. I walked around, wide-eyed the entire day, ready to burst into tears and laughter simultaneously on many different occasions. The energy in the room was unmistakable, uninhibited, and pure. These kids were radiating joy. Throughout the day, I almost forgot the impetus to all of us being there in the first place.
A little background:
Most of the kids at Guria do not speak English. Hindi is their main language. All of the kids live in the red-light district. Many of their parents are sex workers, help run brothels, or are involved in the sex trafficking industry in one way or another. The children are at risk–risk of being pushed into the industry, the brutal violence, rape, and kidnappings that occur frequently in the area, and other unfathomable plights.
The center is located in the red light district for this very reason. The kids will not leave the area because they will be ostracized, tormented, and perhaps worse. They can barely attend school for this reason. Many arrive at the center on their own accord, and therefore, the exact same group is never there on the same day. There are both boys and girls, and they range in age from about 3-17. Many have remained in the same clothing since the day I arrived, over a week ago. They brush and braid each others’ hair, cut each others’ fingernails, hug, fight, hit, laugh, sleep, meditate, wash, eat, learn, paint, dance, sing, and scream each and every day (adults who work there included). They are one big happy family.
These kids, who in theory could trust no one or feel like they have absolutely nothing are the happiest group of people with whom I have connected. On the first day, I opened books and began teaching them English words, like grapes, litchi, and horse. When it was time for lunch, they taught me how to strategically use my hand to bunch rice up and push it into my mouth with my thumb in one fellow swoop. When the kids formed a single filed line, I joined, and began repeating the prayers, merely for the purpose of fitting in. Admittedly, I felt a little peculiar that they were Muslim prayers, since I am accustomed to Jewish practices. However, I later learned that what I was repeating was not centered around any religion. Rather, these prayers are a reflection of an inner journey with oneself. They express gratitude for what one has as well as fostering connections with the human condition.
After the prayers, the kids were instructed to break out in laughter and then scream at the top of their lungs in a succinct way. The purpose of these exercises is to possess the ability to look around oneself and to find something about which to laugh, no matter what hardships are plaguing that particular day or year. If these kids do this successfully, I felt that I should be able to do this 100% of the time.
Later in the day, when one of the kids was drawing intricate henna patterns on my forearm, I suddenly heard a loud beat coming from the main room. Shocked, since many of the activities at Guria have educational intentions behind the practices, I walked into the room. I first suspected a child had secretly done something rebellious and, vuela, loud music. However, a huge smile quickly emerged on my face as I watched 50 kids dance as if they were professionally trained in hip-hop around the room. And that it was–a huge dance party. I now studiously watch the kids’ wrist flicks and hip thrusts, hoping to pick up a move or two that will make me appear less awkward in comparison to their tight, creative moves.
Later in the week, the French interns, Emma, Kelly, and I all created a theatrical singing and dance performance for the kids. The French interns had performed a similar dance the year before, and all of the dance moves that they had taught the children had stuck for an entire year. It was extremely rewarding to work together to combine French and English songs and dances to perform for the kids, and they enjoyed our performance immensely.
Just a few days later, about 20 of the kids created a performance for us as well. Their miming performance was about human trafficking, and three different story lines occurred simultaneously throughout their piece. Not only was their depiction of kidnappings, brothels, and corruption within the police force shown well through miming, it was also depicted uncannily accurately for 9 and 10 year olds. I realized their depictions were not so poignant because they were skilled actors. Rather, this was real for them. Miming sex trafficking cases was not foreign in any way.
Just last night, I went back to the boat school to help out two incredible photographers from Canada, Angela and Daryl, who are here for a week to shoot many of Guria’s projects. While the boat school typically stays at the shore, last night we set sail to watch the Gaga Aarti with lights dangling from the posts on the roof, illuminating the entire boat school. The kids drew pictures and I kept them company while they were being photographed. They even hopped into smaller boats and released candle lit flowers, a common past time while on the Ganga in the moonlight. It was a truly magical experience to watch each kid.
While there is so much more to share, I am off to Agra for the weekend with the two other interns to see the Taj Mahal and experience a new city. This will be my first time on an overnight train in India and I certainly do not think Darjeeling Limited’s romanticized train ride will be comparable to my experience.
Wish me luck!
P.S. Pictures to be added later 🙂