by Eduardo Guadarrama, Waukegan High School, Class of 2014
As soon as I stepped outside of the airport, I was greeted by overwhelming heat, pungent smells, and car horns galore. “Welcome to New Delhi,” said the group leader.
When we arrived at home base, we learned that for the next three weeks we would be running local anganwadis (government sponsored preschools) and a sports camp for the local children. As we began our community service, I learned just how challenging overcoming a language barrier could be. The locals knew English, but their children only spoke Hindi until they learned English in middle school. This meant that we would have to learn some Hindi and use whatever skills we could to communicate what we were trying to teach. Over time we grew accustomed to the situation and found ways to teach them simply. They learned the alphabet, painted, and were able to spell their names in English, among other things, so by the time we left we felt confident we had accomplished our goal.
Another part of the trip involved cultural learning and exposure to world issues. I saw the golden temple at Amritsar and learned about the Sihk religion. I went to the temple of the Dalai Lama and Norbulingka, where I learned about Tibetan culture, and I even trekked through the Himalayas and camped near a remote village to learn about what Indian life away from the cities. Back at home base, we spoke to important activists involved in world issues such as over farming in India, the subjugation of the Tibetan people by the Chinese government, and sweatshops in many third world countries that are run by companies in the US.
I had heard about these issues back home, but they never seemed like something relevant because they seemed like they were a whole world away; however, while in India, I was actually able to see firsthand how real of an impact these issues had. Furthermore, I was also able to talk about them with the others who went on the trip. Every night, I was sure to find at least three other people to sit in a circle with and discuss anything from current events to human values for hours on end. Or, if we didn't, one of our group leaders was sure to have an interesting documentary on hand that we could watch.
By the time the final day came, I was dreading the eventual departure. To leave everything that had happened in that month seemed like a crime, but at the same time, there was a lot at home I had to come back to. So on that last night, as we drove to the airport, we all made a promise that one day, whether it be the next year or in forty years, each of us would come back to India and the home we had created in our month there. And even now, looking back on it, I am sure that day will come and I'll be able to see my Dharamsala* once again.
*Dharamsala, India – Name derived from the word dharamshala, meaning “resting home for travelers”