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To India and Back Again This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

From the assault rifle-wielding security personnel who observed our every step in the airport, to the journey through scorching-hot plains and forested mountains to my new home in the south of Tamil Nadu, I was immediately struck by how India differed from my home in Maine. As I was to learn, the difference extended much further than the architecture, the weather, and the culture; it is also – and most importantly – the condition in which so many Indian people live. The lack of proper nutrition, clean water, and accessible health care all starkly contrast with my situation at home. Violence and poverty, though certainly not absent in my country, seem more blatant here. From the begging widowed women cast from their homes, to the lepers suffering from a disease long since cured in our country, to the street children forced to beg by their guardians – I felt that no amount of effort could begin to relieve these terrible conditions.

This feeling began to change, though, with my arrival at Kodaikanal International School, where my parents were volunteering as teachers and I would be spending six months as a high school sophomore. Along with challenging science, language, and music programs, the school offered a variety of volunteer opportunities, including waste removal, tree planting, delivering food to the poor and elderly, and playing with the children at several orphanages. After seeing some of the problems firsthand and being offered a chance to get involved, I immediately realized that while the problems that India (and much of the third world) face are daunting, there is hope for change once people become aware and start working ­together to look for solutions.

One day, while delivering the school's surplus food to various organizations, we stopped at the Shenbaganur Orphanage, a Catholic-run facility on the side of the mountain below Kodaikanal. The children here made an immediate impression on me and for this reason I continued to visit every weekend and after school for the rest of my stay. This orphanage was unlike the others in that many of the children were not actually orphans but had been given away due to their parents' poverty – a poverty so severe they could not support their children. With the younger children, the youngest of whom was three, I would read picture books. For the older children, I taught basic math skills and more extensive English.

For many of these kids, language is a major barrier to a better future. Their families were often from a low caste in the rigid Indian social structure, and their language was not even Tamil but one of a hundred tribal dialects. In India, learning dominant languages, especially English, is often the key to finding a job that's better than the dollar-a-day laboring work many of their parents are forced to do. Teaching them English was the most worthwhile work I could do for them.

As I taught them my language, they taught me theirs, describing the pictures in their books and the scenery on our afternoon walks in basic Tamil, often laughing at my ­sincere (albeit futile) attempts to ­pronounce and memorize words in this different tongue. In addition to academics, the students enjoyed ­playing sports, including cricket – a complicated game for a novice like me, made all the more confusing by the language barrier. This, and getting to know them, brought many issues into perspective for me and helped immerse me in the culture of India. I've never felt more proud than when the school van would arrive at the orphanage and the boys and girls would run out to greet me with cries of “Thambi!” – the native word for brother.

Returning to the United States was a culture shock even more severe than my arrival in India. To go from working with intelligent, creative young people living on the brink of starvation, to working as a dishwasher eight hours a day, disposing of the excess food of wealthy tourists, was a truly eye-opening change.

Knowing what those kids would give for the opportunities I once took for granted – namely, the availability of education – has spurned me to apply myself in school, at work, and in life in general. I hope to return to India one day. I've seen firsthand some of the problems the world faces and am all the more motivated to help solve them. I now have many friends who will bear the consequence if these issues are not addressed.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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Dreamer41This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Nov. 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm
Wow! This is great. There are so many places in the world that don't have what we have. You're right, it's insanee what we take for granted. I'm sure this piece will inspire other's to see that too.
 
thatunknownthingThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Sept. 17, 2012 at 5:47 am
hey thambi, i totally agree with your piece and i must add that it sounded very heartfelt and you have definately voiced something that i have also felt many a time, and originating from tamil nadu myself, i must thank-you for making efforts to help. i'm glad there are other people too, who share my views, and my thoughts on this place that has so much potential. well voiced!
 
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