Ambika had called me her sister and I was brimming with joy. It was not until we walked down the street and she was calling complete strangers ‘Uncle’, and ‘Cousin’, and ‘Grandmother’, that I realised it may not have had the significance I once thought. That being said, I had never dreamed I would feel so much like a member of family that wasn’t my own. Ambika is the daughter of Smriti, the founder of the orphanage, and we were on our way to meet the children.
The Orphanage is spacious, open, airy. There are pictures on the wall, of Young children with smiling faces, art work with bright splashes of colour and bold shapes. There are print outs of inspirational quotes and phrases, (though it is hard to feel even more uplifted surrounded by the children who live here). I walk into the office where the admin work takes place. There is a printer and a broken chair, more glittery pictures painting the walls.
I see the children. They see me. Their attention is on me for a moment, until it is back to where it is meant to be within seconds. There are raised hands, and shifting eyes but not because a stranger is in the room… it is lunch time and they have a great appetite. A lady with a sparkling mustard yellow Sari is darting to different sides of the room lifting gulps of Dahl into scraped plates. Her face blooms into a smile as she catches my glance and is persistent to say the least when it comes to keeping my plate full when it is my time to eat.
I observe for the moment. I had thought that mischief was in the nature of children, I had thought that It was normal for children to squabble and fight, to moan and to yelp, to want and to fuss. But there they sat, dainty, quiet, graceful, content. The children had the presence of the kinds of people I had read about in books. Wise people, enlightened people, spiritual people. They were the happiest little people I had ever met, despite the debilitating set of cards they had been dealt in life.
Volunteering is of course about giving. I was under the impression I would give much more that I would receive. Eventually I gave up my struggle of imagining I could give these kids even an inch of all they had given me, in terms of inspiration, happiness, generosity and kindness.
It doesn’t take much to build a relationship. A gesture, a glance… a story, a word.
I sat on the floor and we looked at sentence structures. We learnt new words and practiced them, we practiced dance routines and played squares. We made crossword puzzles and played Simon Says. We scooped rice with our fingers and drank chai. I tucked them in and wiped their tears, tickled their feet and squeezed their cheeks. I ran with them, laughed with them, hid from them, hugged them.
No one can tell you what difference you will make. No one will know, but they will find out, and you will never forget.
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