...When my fellow volunteer Crystal Graham arrived in India in February, I guarantee that she never dreamed of leaving like she did tonight. Her surprise farewell this evening was the most special I have ever been a part of. As revealed in previous posts, Crystal's mother and sister have committed to supporting Anita and Ankit for their entire educations. The community here cherishes Crystal and her family's generosity and this fact showed brilliantly tonight. --Indu serving as Anita's mother--
As we left class with all of the students at 5:00pm today, our children and their guardians escorted us to the slum. Underlining how the influence of our efforts has impacted these families is Anita's sister Indu (age 12). Indu takes Anita to and from school nearly every day. While Anita studies, Indu goes to work by herself cleaning homes in nearby neighborhoods to make $22 per month. Anita and Indu's mother, Rani, works incredibly hard but is still unable to support her five-person fatherless family by herself. As always, Indu was there today with a smile on her face, and without a hint of jealousy, to watch her sister obtain the most valuable gift their family will ever receive, a single seat at the Carmel Convent School.
We arrived in the slum thinking we were just going to play with the kids for a while and say goodbye. We were wrong. As we sat in the slum school, the kids and their families started to pour in.
Not knowing what was in store, Crystal hugged all of the mothers goodbye as some of them wiped tears from their eyes.
Ankit arrived looking better than ever. Thanks to Crystal and her family, his life has also been revolutionized over the past eight weeks.
In a move that even I did not anticipate, we were soon seated for a more formal ceremony. As a big shiny gift sat in the corner, everyone was given tasty bread pakora and refreshing soda.
Then, the party gathered around as I pointed out on a map and globe where Crystal would be flying over the next 24 hours. I pointed to Faridabad, India on one side of the globe and Guatemala City, Guatemala on almost the exact opposite side. I told them that when we go to bed tomorrow night, Crystal will be waking up there, on the other side of the planet. None of our children or their parents has ever been on or even around an airplane. For them, going such a distance is as unfathomable as going to Mars.
The power went out momentarily so we all went outside where we could see. All 18 students gathered for a photo and to present, in unison, their gift to Crystal.
All 18 kids reached out and up to get at least one hand on the gift as they passed it to Crystal. Although it doesn't seem possible, I think these students love us as much as we love them. Mithlesh joked that Crystal's gift, a giant laughing Buddha, wasn't supposed to make her cry.
As Crystal broke into tears, our kids and families realized just how meaningful these experiences have been for us as well. We have given them knowledge but they have taught us lessons about life and happiness that we would likely never have learned without meeting them.
As dusk faded into night, 47 people walked us out of the slum. While talking with some of the kids, I found Madhu crying alone as we walked along. She is truly an angel. I ran her up to Crystal who was leading the parade. As we reached the busy road that divides the slum and our neighborhood, Crystal stopped to say her final farewell. To pay their respects and ask for blessings, the children ran up to Crystal, bowed to touch her feet, and touched their foreheads and chins. We crossed the street and walked into the distance as the crowd of nearly 50 students, mothers, fathers, and community members stood waving goodbye.
Ever since Crystal departed, our kids point to every plane in the sky and shout, "Crystal Didi!!" Best wishes in Guatemala, Crystal and in the remainder of your back-to-back circumnavigations of the globe. You have a new home here with dozens of people who will always welcome you with open arms if you ever feel lonely anywhere else. Safe travels from all of us here in Faridabad. Thanks for the memories.