...You might remember a picture I took on February 6, 2012. It was of a little boy alone in a hallway of the Carmel Convent School on his way to the restroom. He was silhouetted against the daylight behind him:
When I took this picture, I had just walked into the Carmel Convent School for the first time. To this day, that was the only time I have ever seen a gate of the school unguarded. I was standing in the hallway with this student at the other end thinking how lucky he was to go there.
Two months later, on April 5th, I was walking down the same hallway when a student came out of the restroom and started walking quickly back to her class. Pride swelled in my heart as I looked at the little girl and thought about how lucky she is. This time, I wasn't a stranger to the little student in front of me. She isn't just another face in the crowd. She's Pooja. I could recognize her silhouette from a mile away and her voice just by listening to a single "Hello, John Bhaiya." I know her father, mother, brother and her as if they were my own family. The volunteers and I have battled for Pooja. We have fought bureaucracy and corruption in order to help obtain her birth certificate. We have found a sponsor, my loving cousin Teresa Murphy, to pay for her entire education. We have even inspired Pooja's parents to send their 13-year-old son to school for the first time.
Every day while we go to sleep in the Western Hemisphere, our students wake up before dawn on the floors of their tiny dwellings. They put on the finest uniforms and shoes that exist in Faridabad.
They stand tall, proud, and excited for the massive amount of work in front of them.
They set out for school not as individuals, but as a team. Not all of the students comprehend the scope and magnitude of this opportunity. However, I think that many of them do understand. What we are doing here is unprecedented. Our students are already more educated than the vast majority of the 25,000 people who live around them. They assimilate into the upper echelons of society every morning and return to the lowest echelon every night. As they grow older and wiser, I have no doubt that they will become leaders and unifiers. They will become advocates for change and equality in a society that still refuses to acknowledge such notions.
People look up to them already. No one where they live has worn these uniforms before. When our children put on their uniforms, they do not just become students, they become ambassadors to an entirely overlooked world.
Have you ever seen so many beautiful smiles? In addition to learning subjects like Math, English, Hindi, Ethics, and Science, our students also have a private dance class every day taught by an older student who volunteers her time to teach them.
It's worth a flight around the world just to see how cute our students are when they dance. They have no shame and can break out dancing anywhere, anytime. Some of them are phenomenal while others have no coordination at all. But when they laugh about it, they laugh from their very cores.
On the day these photos were taken (April 5th), Merril and Win brought cookies and soda for all of the kids since they would be leaving Faridabad the next day.
April 5th was also special because Daniel Radcliffe, the Founder and Executive Director of International Volunteer Headquarters (the program through which I was placed in Mamta and Shri's home), arrived for a visit from New Zealand.
We met and discussed the Squalor to Scholar Program for nearly an hour as we accompanied the students to their afternoon classes at the Carmel Convent School. He was very impressed by the initiatives we have taken and impact we have made. He will be helping us spread word about the Squalor to Scholar Program as we will likely be featured on his website and newsletters in the near future.
While Daniel and others spread word to the global community about the Squalor to Scholar Program, our students are spreading the word throughout their local community. Between regular school in the morning and our special class in the afternoon, I stopped by Manisha's home to see what she was doing. What I saw made me incredibly excited. Not only was she doing her homework, but she was also explaining what she was doing to two of her brothers who have never been to school. This was the plan and intention that I had envisioned months earlier but had not expected to see for years. Our children do not have distractions like TV or video games. Reading a book or doing homework is the most exciting thing they can imagine. When our students come home after a long day of learning, they begin teaching. As the highest-educated people in their society, they are naturally assuming their roles as leaders and educators. It's fascinating to see!
If you haven't done so yet, please put your arm around one of these deserving young children. By sponsoring one child, you are not just educating that individual. You are educating his or her siblings, parents, neighbors, and community. It is hard for us here in the first world to comprehend what it is like to be uneducated and poor when everyone who governs you is educated and financially comfortable. It must be such a hopeless feeling. However, this is our chance to make a difference. By educating these 21 children, we are actually educating about 200 people at this very moment. As these students grow older and we add more students behind them, this number will rise exponentially into the thousands. This is what life is all about. We educate 21 children...then they each educate 21 others...and then those people each educate 21 more. All of a sudden, together, we've educated 9,261 lives. We've made all of this possible, by the way, for only $6,000 for the first year. In the long run, that's 65 cents per life changed. That's not too shabby of a cause to support if you ask me...but I am a bit biased. I love these kids and am inspired by them every day!