BC Students Go to India

Lucy Capello, Staff Writer

I definitely did not know what I had gotten myself into when I walked into the India Spring Intensive on the first day. Yes, I had been counting down the days for months, but it all seemed very distant until we got on the plane from Newark to Mumbai. Before embarking on our journey, we had researched different aspects of India and had read through an entire book in only five days. Halfway into the first day, I understood why the Spring Intensives are called Intensives.

The week before we left for India went by quickly and soon it was Friday morning and I was walking through snowy Park Slope, carrying a giant backpack with everything I needed for ten days in Mumbai and Chinchoti, the villages we would soon call home. Before nightfall, we were in the air, where we would spend the next fifteen hours. Two-and-a-half movies, three bags of Happy Cola, and a nap later, the pilot was telling us to put our seats forward and tray-tables in their upright and locked positions. Walking through the airport, I couldn’t believe we were finally in India. After some get-to-know-you activities with World Leadership School Instructors Rey, Krishna, and Tom, we slept as much as we could—a difficult task, due to our excitement and jet lag.

Over the next two days, Krishna showed us around Mumbai—a great way to begin our adventure. We saw a lot of beautiful sights, including Gandhi’s house and several temples. “I loved the first day in Mumbai,” says sophomore Ana Inciardi. “I adored the Hindu temples and seeing spring on the Ganges.” On the second day, we went to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. During our Spring Intensive, we read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a true story about a slum in Mumbai called Annawadi. I was glad we had the chance to compare the book to what we saw. I was also happy that we were able to volunteer at a youth center in Dharavi—an opportunity that most of us never could have imagined.

After our time in Mumbai, we traveled by boat, bus, and auto-rickshaw to Chinchoti, a small village where we stayed with local families and worked on a community-service project. My favorite part of being in Chinchoti was seeing how the people there live their everyday lives. I have never been so immersed in a different culture and it’s something that I will remember for the rest of my life. The sense of community in the village was very apparent. I stayed in the “main house,” so neighbors and friends were always coming over and hanging out with us on the porch. “I really enjoyed talking and interacting with the children in India,” says sophomore Briyana Martin. “They were all so enthusiastic to see us.” I especially remember the first night and how we connected with many people without exchanging more than a few words.

The service project—helping build steps down to the lake where women wash their laundry—was one that we had raised money for back in Brooklyn. A new set of stairs allowed women to accomplish the washing quicker so they would be free to return to their busy schedules. “I really enjoyed building the steps,” explains Michelle Madlansacay, a freshman. “During that time, I think all of us in the group bonded. We got to know each other better.” The work was sometimes repetitive and the weather got pretty hot, but working as a team was extremely effective and we got a lot done in only three days. On the last day, we painted a library, which was a lot of fun. The next day, our host mothers helped the girls put on their saris and the village had a ceremony for us. It felt good to express our gratitude to our hosts and to hear their appreciation for the work we did for them. When we finally left Chinchoti, it felt as though we had been there longer than just a few days. I was surprised when people to whom I had only said “Namaskar” (hello in Marathi) said they would miss me.

After Chinchoti, we spent a night at Kashid Beach. I really enjoyed having time to reflect on my experiences. The next day, we headed back to Mumbai for lunch and some last minute shopping before going to the airport. Soon enough, I was back in Brooklyn, missing India. I think that everyone who went on the program would agree that it was a unique experience that will continue to be relevant to us. “We had access to experiences we wouldn’t be able to have if we had gone alone or with family,” sophomore Felix Pilkington says, “like staying in a village with a host family or working in a youth community center in Dharavi.” The job for us now is to take all the lessons we learned in India into our daily lives back home.