Friday, February 1, 2013

"You come to make a change…and the change comes from within you"

I came with no expectations. That is always a good place to start, no expectations. What I came to experience during my month and half stay in Mumbai, volunteering with The Gabriel Project Mumbai, was something that I definitely did not expect.

The first day that I went into the slums, I was numb to my surroundings. I guess this was a subconscious reaction as I was not ready to take in the reality of the situation. I remember entering the slums and seeing the massive piles of garbage, consisting of old clothes, shoes, food waste and then seeing as the locals were walking around in sandals and sometimes barefoot, after a heavy downpour of the monsoon season. After returning to the slums several times afterwards, the numbness wore off and I became fully aware that this was the reality of people living in the slums. This is how they lived everyday, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and this is when the change within me began.

As I worked with the local women, helping them to prepare food for about 500 school children in the slums, I experienced their compassion for the children. I could see the love and care they put into preparing the children's lunches. I knew that the children would receive their (and our) love from eating such invested meals. When I came to the huts that serve as classrooms, bringing the hot food to the children and serving them their meals, I was so touched by the children’s humbleness. Each child stood patiently in line until it was their turn to receive a serving of food. No pushing, no shoving, they knew their time would come when they would receive their meal and when they did; a huge smile would appear on their faces. These children knew the value of this meal; they knew how to appreciate the simple, but important, things in life.

Afterwards, I began to teach the children. We usually started with introductions, where each child had to stand up and tell me their names and then their favorite color. Then we would play a numbers game where the children would sit in a circle and would count from one to one hundred, passing a ball around to the child who would say the next sequential number. I loved their enthusiasm when they knew how to say the number in English and then, in turn, received the ball.

Saying goodbye to the children at the end of our lesson was always the hardest part for me. They gave me so much in the little time I had with them that I did not want to part ways, though I knew I would see them the following day.

I came to Mumbai to volunteer, to give something of myself, to help those less fortunate than me, yet I felt that I received so much more than I gave. Maybe this is the paradox of volunteering, you come to make a change and while you do, the change comes from within you. For that, I thank Gabriel Project Mumbai and the wonderful people who I had the privilege to encounter during my volunteer work in the slums. I know now, more than ever, that life is a precious gift and we must appreciate all that we have in our lives.

All the best,


Peninah R. participated in the Gabriel Project Mumbai Fall 2012 session.

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