...For Prianka, Ankit, Abishek, Kashak, and their families, today was a big day. It was one that I have been looking forward to tremendously and will remember for a lifetime. This morning, these four students met us in front of the slum school so that we could take them to get measured for their custom-made uniforms and purchase their spiffy new shoes. As desired, each family sent one parent to come with us. Prianka, Ankit, and Kashak were joined by their mothers and Abishek by his father. The children were all perfectly groomed and in their best clothing. It was the first time I had seen some of them wear shoes.
We chose to start with these four students because they are the only ones who posses birth certificates, which are necessary for entering an accredited institution like the Carmel Convent School. I wanted them to get their uniforms and shoes now to provide a visual incentive for the parents of other selected children to obtain their birth certificates as quickly as possible.
Mitlesh called an auto rickshaw driver, who happens to be a parent of one of our other students. Ten minutes later, four kids, three volunteers, three mothers, Abishek's father, Mitlesh, the driver, a curious local boy, and I piled into the three-wheeled tuk-tuk. Just to be in a vehicle made the children especially excited. The fact that we were crammed so closely made everyone even more energetic. As the 15 of us slowly made our way out of the slum, the kids lovingly waved to all of their friends, neighbors, and relatives.
On our way to the tailor, we passed right by the main gate of the Carmel Convent School. The children and their parents ooed and awed in eager anticipation.
After a few kilometers, we arrived at the inconspicuous tailor specified by Sister Pushpa. Its many dimly-lit rooms were stuffed with hundreds of tiny Carmel Convent School uniforms. Since the power was out, a large diesel generator hummed out front to electrify the operation. One-by-one, the kids made their way into a back room to get measured.
Next, we made some calls to arrange a bulk order of first standard books and supplies. We then set out for the shoe store.
Even our driver was hands on. Everyone was so excited by what was happening. The kids gawked at the extraordinary amount of shoes in the store while the parents watched with complete trust and gratitude. I could feel the excitement building as the kids tried on their first pairs of shoes. We showed them how to walk around for a minute to see if they felt right. It probably feels good for them to wear shoes at all. We showed them how to check where their toes were and how to tie their shoes. None of the kids have socks yet, but they will soon. We made sure they had a little room to grow.
Buying brand new black dress shoes for these adorable kids was an experience of a lifetime. At under $5 a pair, they were one of the best purchases I have ever been a part of. The kids were so grateful and excited. They ran out of the store holding their shoe boxes like they were bricks of gold.
By now, we were well into the afternoon. The kids were hungry, so we took everyone to get fresh hot samosas. Prianka's mother, Seema, had stayed across the street sitting on the floor of the tuk-tuk. I signaled for her to come join us just as I realized what she was doing. She was guarding the four boxes of shoes right next to her.
Today, I felt ALIVE! Here we were, two sets of individuals with entirely different backgrounds from opposite sides of the planet. Fate brought us together. Faith will keep us together. Slowly, we are becoming like family. Tears will be shed when I board the plane.
For those who have and continue to donate, thank you so much. Your money is changing lives, even those who are just observing the power of your benevolence. What sometimes seems like an insignificant amount of money to us can be a powerful gift to these individuals. For the price of a Starbucks Coffee, you can give a boy or girl a pair of shoes that they will wear as they walk into new lives.