Most of my earlier trips to India were to the biggest cities – Bangalore, Delhi etc. They were full of crowds, dust and traffic. It was my normal image of India: a poor, dirty, crowded, and very competitive place. A place where dogs and other animals roamed the streets starving, begging for food and where people sat in slums with rags on them. At least that’s what I first thought. This was my first journey into India’s villages and until now I had only seen photos and videos of what it was like. This time I was the one taking the pictures and videos as I experienced it myself, and I loved all of it!
The journey started when we flew into small city called Vishakhapatnam on the east coast. We bundled into a car and started the long bumpy ride to visit some preschools run by an organization called Sodhana. We reached a small town and at the edge of it we stopped at a small hut.
The kids at Sodhana were incredibly excited about learning. Their school building – I suppose you could call it that - was a tiny hut but they still seemed happy. They got a plate of rice for lunch and they all sat on the floor eating quietly. No one wasted – not like my school cafeteria where half of it gets thrown. I guess you do not value things when you have too much of it. It was a wonderful sight to see these kids jumping and laughing. During most of the activities they didn’t even realize they were learning because they were too busy having fun. I believe that great schools don’t need money and big buildings, all you need to make it a great school is enthusiasm!.
The next day we flew up the coast to a different state, Orissa, where we were going to visit primary schools and tribal hamlets. Again a large car showed up magically. We left the city and started going deeper into the rural area. The scenery turned to gorgeous mountains and green hills swallowed by fog that lingered around it. There couldn’t have been a more enchanting view.
We reached a set of pink buildings that was the primary school in the village. The kids were as curious of us as we were of them.
The kids never had seemed to have any shoes and the classrooms were tiny and cramped with out any lights or fans. Even though it was a poor village the whole school has beautiful drawings and sketches on the walls. They were all excited because the free lunch included one egg on Wednesdays - what a treat! The small kitchen was cooking up lunch using tools I had never seen. My brother can eat up three eggs everyday. Wonder whether he realizes what a treat his life is.
Our last stop was the best one! We were going to visit a tribal village in the hills. There was no road just a mud path. It was so pretty and so clean. My brother commented - it was because there was no plastic trash anywhere! The school was just a half open clean airy hut which has a small school and pre-school together. There was a small solar lamp - no electricity, no wifi, no cell phones. Just a simple life, poor but beautiful.
In many of the villages, the dogs, chicken, goats, cows and other animals were cared for and weren’t mistreated.They were not pets but people just shared their space with them. It had once been my dream to care for all these dogs on the streets of India by putting them in a pet shelter, but what I realized was that they shouldn’t be caged, instead they should be free, free to roam. We have to learn to share our space with them not keep them as a pets. That was the beauty of India.
It was an experience I will never forget - because I know I am going back again next year!