From Sunset to Sunrise: the 5 Most Magical Moments of the 2014 India Program

Maxwell Pisano
Indian students peek through the windows of their school

Sophie Hayssen, Edior-in-Chief

It only takes 15 hours to be transported into another world.  A world where slums sit in the shadows of palaces, and Coca Cola ads are some of the few reminders of the Western world. This is India. During spring intensives a group of students–myself included– participated in an annual trip to India hosted by the World Leadership School. Traveling first to Mumbai we then made our way by ferry to the small indian village of Chinchoti where we stayed with Indian families and did community service work with a nearby school. Below is a brief compilation of  the  five most formative moments of the trip.

1. Dharavi Slums

Just in case we weren’t feeling enough of a culture shock already, on our second full day in Mumbai we took a visit to the Dharavi Slum, one of the largest slums in the world. Visiting the Slum forced us to confront our preconceptions about what a slum was. For many of us the word slum conjured images of severe poverty and hardship, yet we were surprised to find that in fact Dharavi is essential to life in India, and provides a wealth of jobs for people in textile printing and recycling.

Nevertheless, our visit to Dharavi exposed us to the intense economic diversity in the Indian population. In their post for BC india blog juniors Lucy Shenk and Nicole Meza noted that “The most terrible thing was that the view from the slums is the richer area of Mumbai. It was saddening to see glass skyscrapers from the roofs of run down shacks.”

 2. Meeting Our Host Families

In Chinchoti we met our host families, the people who we would be living with and eating with for the next four days or so. This was probably the part of the trip where we felt the most integrated with the culture. We were completely stripped from everyday luxuries like toilets and showers which were replaced with buckets and holes in the ground.

In exchange for briefly giving up these things I  felt like I learned a greater lesson. One of my favorite moments on the trip was when one of my fellow group members was trying to communicate something to our host mom in charade style miming when all of the sudden our host mom burst our laughing, and soon the laughter spread from one person to another until we were all in utter hysterics. I don’t think our host mom ever really got the message we were trying to convey to her, nor did it matter, since our laughter brought us closer than any real conversation could.

3. Building the Stage

For our community service project we were given the job of building a stage for a local school. This involved many hours of laying bricks and painting a mural that would serve as the backdrop for the kids’ school plays. The work was hard, but entirely worth it. After the stage was completed a ceremony was held at the school and we were each given a single rose as a gesture of thanks.

Before going on the trip we thought a lot about why we were doing the community service. We weren’t professional builders, nor did any of us wanted to play into the stereotype of first-world people acting as “saviors” for developing countries. That being said it was important that we began our project with the right mindset.  As English teacher and India Chaperone Brian Chu  said, “The reward for me was that we were helping, and humbly so. We didn’t know how to build a stage and didn’t pretend to know. Instead, we chipped in as best as we could with what we were able to do: move dirt, stack bricks, paint, play with the kids.” In fact, the building the stage had benefits that stretched both ways, Mr. Chu adds, “ we didn’t expect any gratitude– as we saw in the closing ceremony, all thanks were mutual.”

4. Going to the Wedding

Attending an indian wedding is like walking into a rainbow. From the houses to the saris each color is more vibrant than the next. The girls on our trip each wore the saris that were made by the women of chinchoti from fabric we had chosen for ourselves on our trip to the market. As an offering of thanks for letting us attend their wedding the group sang  the song “Lean on Me” to the newlywed couple.

5. The Morning Hike

On the final day of our stay in Chinchoti we took an early morning hike up to a bluff on one of the mountain’s surrounding Chinchoti. From our perch we could see  the  whole village and watched as the sun came up over the mountains.. We took a moment on the top of this bluff to privately reflect on our journey as a whole, and what it meant to each of us individually.

Later on in the day, after we had arrived at the hotel where we would be spending our final night in India, we got another chance to reflect on our trip and then shared our discoveries with the group, later posting them on the blog that we kept each day. Sophomore Brandon Wu reflected how “Throughout this entire trip, I’ve changed physically and emotionally. I’ve gotten to know more about my peers, my teachers, and myself. From never leaving North America to having the opportunity to live with an Indian family for five days, I’ve been given time to reflect on how different families are on the other side of the world.”