In February, I traveled.

Comment

In February, I traveled.

I've been meaning to post meaning to post meaning to post. I've tried to keep up with Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and email and have been neglecting what I assumed would be simplest: writing down the full experiences—the sites and sounds of the distinct, clashing place that feels like a home away from home.

I’ve been home, in Jacksonville, for a month now and am surely slipping back into the swing of things. Of work that is not S2S, of attending school again, of home-keeping, self-keeping, of networking and friendships and relationships. It’s 2:30 am and I’m sitting in my window; the night is warm and it’s nearly noon in Faridabad. 

In Faridabad, daily, I heard ever-steady, repetitive pounding in the distance. I walked. Pulsing with the beginnings of the heat and the beat of the factory. The smells, the sounds, are assaulting there; life is assaulting there. I don't think I could ever live full-time in Faridabad, but I did feel a strange sense of comfort, as I scooted from place to uncomfortable place, in attempt to conquer a fraction of my multiple-paged to do list in just over two weeks. 

I went back to India taking, for the first time in my third-world travels, people from my “real life.” Nervously, I anticipated how they would capture the place I lost my heart to, unexpectedly, two years ago. I never thought I’d go to India. I hoped to see the audacious Taj Mahal before I was dead, to walk under the ornate arches that were hand ticked so many centuries ago—it’s interesting to think I’ve seen it twice now and, really, for as grandiose as it is, it’s nothing. What drove an anxious heart through my searching eyes to repeatedly check was, “Do they see why I emptied my soul (and my bank account!) for this place?” I wanted Mom and Brenton to really see why I loved the most polluted city in the world. Why I didn’t mind sleeping on a cot, bathing from a bucket. Why I felt so a part of a family that wasn’t mine by birth. To see why I fell in love with the dirt, the dung, the flies of a slum in India.

 

We arrived in the afternoon and I checked over my shoulders to see how they would watch the traffic on our two hour drive the 28 miles to Mamta and Shri’s home in Faridabad's Sector 7. The honking settled in on me as though it hadn’t been two years since I’d been part of the swerving dance of terrifying traffic. Driving on the left side of the road felt natural, though I’ve always blamed that much more on being left-handed than anything else. Step One of their encapsulation was complete. We were in India. 

Mamta and Shri’s was just as I remembered it. Full of bustle and transients from around the world. We landed and melded into a host of rain. The sectors flooded and we leapt puddles. The cattle that normally roamed everywhere disappeared into secret nooks of which I’m still unaware. I pointed out landmarks and kept looking: “This is not what I wanted them to understand.”

 

My SIM card didn’t work—a first-world problem that derailed my hopes of doing a first week of my business connecting sponsors with scholars in their homes. I was aloof, being there without my previous boss, John [Sir], who guided me in the ways of Squalor to Scholar those months in 2013. I look back sheepishly; I’m often so pompous to think there is nothing left to learn about myself.

 


We arrived Saturday. Wednesday we went to Patel Nagar and crossing the “big road” made all the difference...again. Hand clutched by my Guidya, we walked and those to do lists dropped away. Floods of looks and love and flithy fingers grabbed at me and I was exactly where I needed, wanted, to be again. I stopped watching and ended up, later, hearing what Mom and Brenton saw instead.

 

"Hopefully the rain will quiet the dust which coats everything with a heavy layer. Moving through the streets yesterday was fascinating, but dirty. Meeting some of the children who were at school for a special tutoring session was a sweaty, wonderful time for me to share photos of my life away from them and connect our worlds as much as possible."

 

"On one side of the street you see homes that one would find in the USA. They are nice, clean, relatively modern, and overall beautiful from the outside. However, across the street there are thousands of people living in tents or slum houses. People living in destitute conditions and wallowing in despair, sharing the neighborhood with farm animals and rats. People living in a home that is smaller than my bathroom yet seven people sleep there..."

I’ve been “working" full-time with S2S for a long time, but this trip I became a partner. I did almost none of the communication I intended on but, in the constant beauty of randomness, became a woman who, without fear, does things like debate a gruff retired Captain of the Indian Army for hours and, then, left his office with handshakes and laughs coming from both our lips. I flew home more deeply connected with and in astounding admiration of my second mother, my Director of Operations, my Mamta.


I came home stained with colors from the Holi festival and with henna ink, drawn by one of my student’s sisters, trailing up my arm. I left with a renewed force and fire, but a more rational one. I left with four schools and 164 scholars and a horizon filled with an undeterminable amount more.

See you soon, Faridabad.


Comment

The Quintessential Role Model

Comment

The Quintessential Role Model

Last week, Dr. Radhika Dhamija, a Carmel Convent School graduate herself who went on to attend All India Institute of Medical Sciences (one of India's most prestigious and selective medical schools) and is now a Mayo Clinic trained Pediatric Neurologist and Medical Geneticist, recently had the chance to visit our students. Here's what she had to say:

I first met John as a Mayo Medical Student when I was teaching a genetics class. He asked me where I was from and when I told him India, he got excited! At that point, I had no clue that he knew so much about India…and was helping so many people. I got to know about his work and ‘Squalor to Scholar’ and feel so proud that I know him in person. His work truly touched me and I decided to be a sponsor. What is more incredible is that I went to a Carmel Convent School [Chandigarh, India] too and so I know what great education he and his team are providing to these children.

I think at some point I told him that next time I go to India I would like to visit his school and so I did :) Even though it was a brief visit and arranged really at the last minute (thanks to him and his team), it was extremely fruitful. It was so nice to see all the children in person. I had seen many of them through their website and FB posts. Their local support, Mamta, was the sweetest person to meet. What an incredible story...she told me all about how she got involved with helping children from slums. She walked me to the school, introduced me to the principal and we went to each class. It was heartwarming to see the kids from the slums sitting with the more fortunate kids in the same class and getting the highest quality education. The kids would light up and cheer when Mamta would tell them I worked with John and once taught John! They all had a message for John bhaiya.. Just shows what an incredible person he has been for them and how much all of them love him.
I would like to thank ‘Squalor to Scholar’ for giving me this opportunity to be a sponsor. Keep up the great work!!

Comment

Bahut Dhanyavad Lauren Didi!

Comment

Bahut Dhanyavad Lauren Didi!

For the past 6 months, Lauren Nippoldt has been in India helping Squalor to Scholar improve and foster opportunities for our current scholars while also admitting an entirely new class for the 2015-2016 school year. In a few hours, she will embark on the 7,400 mile journey home with a new family and home-away-from-home always awaiting her return to India.

I hear it's been a tearful goodbye on the other side of the planet. Have a safe and magically pensive flight home, Lauren! You'll be missed dearly by thousands of people who will never forget the difference you made in their lives.

On behalf of everyone at Squalor to Scholar and the tens of thousands of people you have impacted over the past 6 months, bahut bahut dhanyavad Lauren Didi!

laurendidi

Comment

Thousands of Smiles...

Comment

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. 

Gudiya

Komal

Madhu

Ankit and Poornima

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.       

Rani

Ajeet

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.         

Kriti

Mamta discussing and translating new programs, opportunities, and policies for the next year

A thumbs up from an illiterate mother who just signed her daughter up for another year of school. 

Karishma

Kushboo

Aniket

Kangna

Kriti

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.

Comment

Rolling Out the Red Carpet...

Comment

Rolling Out the Red Carpet...

...What a weekend! On Friday afternoon, I finished my Pulmonology final exam at Mayo Medical School, ate dinner with my parents who had come to visit from Arizona, and went to bed at midnight after scrambling to pack some last minute items.

At 4:15am, I got up to start the 8,500 mile journey to Faridabad. It started with a light 5 hour drive to Chicago. Next was an 8,000 mile, 15 hour flight on Air India direct to New Delhi. Having squeezed in a total of 6 hours of sleep in the previous 48 hours, I slept from Quebec to Afghanistan.

Shri surprised me with open arms at the airport by picking me up himself (I was expecting a driver) and we set out for the Formula 1 inspired 90 minute land adventure to the opposite side of the city. At one point, we were going the wrong way down the center of a road that would have been about 7 lanes wide if it had had lanes.

At another point, some locals trying to make a point about something had barricaded a busy intersection. I just laughed the entire time as utter chaos ensued with hundreds of cars honking at one another and trying to turn around at the same time even as traffic backed up as far as I could see. It took us 20 minutes just to move 100 feet. Ahhh...I missed you India.

The welcoming party in Faridabad was waiting in full force. My friend Lauren (who has her own blog going at laurennippoldt.com, definitely check it out) was waiting at home. She is currently 2 months into a 6 month stay here and doing indispensable and tireless work for our students and their families. She, Mamta, and the schools have set up an entire week of events, surprises, conferences, talent shows, and meetings.

I set down my bags and Lauren and I set off on foot to the slums. Kids riding by on bikes and from the rooftops yelled, "Hi John Bhaiya!" as if I had never left.

Within about 60 seconds of seeing our first students in the slum, a chain reaction commenced and dozens of kids started running toward and away from us in every direction. Ajeet pointed out that some kids were being dispatched to alert the others, even those who had moved to more distant parts of the slum. I was so busy saying hi and hugging everyone that I couldn't take pictures. Thank you Lauren for capturing all of these!

Neha and Gudiya's father, covered in water and wearing only his underwear because he was bathing along the canal as we approached, directed me into their home. Gudiya disappeared and returned minutes later with a huge bottle of orange soda for Lauren and me. Their mother dusted off the only small stool in their home.

With hardly 4 hours on the ground, we'd already visited with hundreds of the kids and their families. As dusk set in, we returned home to Mamta waiting for me with a beautiful smile and one of my favorite paneer dishes for dinner. My friend Allison (who works here in New Delhi and has helped us with lots of great work over the past two years) also surprised me by coming to visit for the evening.

I feel like a prince coming home for some long-awaited royal event. It is truly surreal to travel all that distance to a remote corner of the world and have so many loving, inspiring, wonderful people here waiting to welcome me back. My bucket shower before bed was perhaps the best bucket shower ever!

It's great to be back! #‎squalortoscholar‬

Comment

Comment

In the Mayo Clinic Spotlight...

...It was an incredible honor today to have Squalor to Scholar featured front and center in the Mayo Clinic newsletter. For those readers unfamiliar with me personally, I joined the M.D. Class of 2017 here at Mayo Medical School in July 2013. Since then, I have overseen Squalor to Scholar from Rochester, Minnesota, and feel blessed to have tremendously supportive and compassionate people supporting me at Mayo Clinic, back home, around the world, and especially in India. Read the full article here: http://intheloop.mayoclinic.org/discussion/from-squalor-to-scholar.

 

Comment