Our 2016 field trip to India: Fresh impressions from a member of CAF

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We all know, the only constant in life is change. Nothing is immutable and all persons, objects and places – even sentiments – evolve over time, sometimes imperceptibly sometimes with big leaps.

We can love change, even admire it, but most of the times we are afraid of it. I think because it puts us in front of the evidence of our mortality. And we hate thinking that nothing remains unchanged before we depart this world: a person we love, a place that captures our imagination, a feeling that made us feel alive. We would like to keep all this alive and unchanged, while life has the tendency of putting things through a sort of whirlpool.

It is with these feelings that I came for the second time to India together with my friends from Children are the Future (CAF). Would the children we met last year remember us? Would their smile, joy and vitality have changed? Would there be sorrow in their eyes? Would they do well at school? Would our local partners  continue to perceive our support with friendship and not as a sort of interference? [NdT: CAF channels the funds it manages to collect in Europe through reliable local partners, who work in direct contact with the kids whose education, directly or indirectly, CAF supports]

I forgot all these questions in a glimpse at every step of my trip.

When I landed in Chennai and I could see the bustling of life in the streets of the town: people continued to live, work, love and die in this city of almost 8 million inhabitants. The building of the new subway line connecting the airport to the town was of course still unfinished, as the several road infrastructures aimed at easing the horrific traffic that is tipical of big cities as Chennai. No, the city had not changed, but certainly this was the case for the life of each of its inhabitants.

When I met the child I am sponsoring: he grew at least 10 cm and, even though he kept the innocent smile of his childhood, he is now an adolescent 16 year old. Ganesh [Ndt: his real name has been changed for privacy reasons] smiled at us immediately when he saw us, and gave a perfect handshake and started to articulate some words in English, showing that he had kept the promise he made when we left last year: to study harder and also improve his English. My joy was immediate, not because he could communicate in English but because he had not changed. He grew, he was entering the maze of life, but Ganesh was still Ganesh, a bit dreamy and confused, but still himself.

Ganesh is one of the many children of India having lost both his parents because of AIDS and bearing himself the terrible burden of this virus: not only the medical aspects of it (he has to go to the hospital every month for check-ups and get the medicines that fortunately the India medical system provide for free – as long as you are registered), but also the social stigma that comes with it, and that obliges him and his family to hide his situation and lie when a sudden opportunistic illness appear when he attends classes.

At the death of first his father and then his mother, Ganesh had the chance (that many children in India do not have) to be taken care of by his grandmother, who lives together with her old husband and a granddaughter in a slum in the centre of Chennai. CAF monthly sponsorhip to support Ganesh’ studies and livelihood alleviate the burden of this grandmother, who would otherwise be obliged to send Ganesh to work.

Ganesh struggles a bit in his studies: his marks reach just the passing point but on two subjects they are below the threshold. With a lot of naivety he states that he hates mathematics and sciences because these are too difficult. We try to explain to him the importance of these subjects for life, even if he will not continue studying after having reached the end of the compulsory standards (10th standard, after which India kids can go to a vocational or technical training, and 12th standard to go to college). He waives his thick black hair and adds that he likes playing cricket, every Sunday afternoon! But he does not leave me going without making another promise: to study harder and improve at least slightly his marks.

But above all, all my feelings connected with life changes vanished instantanely when I met the multitude of joyous smiles of the kids in the orphanage 250 km south of Chennai partly supported through CAF sponsorhips – they all remembered our names and run towards us. They all grew, were taller and smarter than ever  – some speaking a better English, some showing his or her drawings, others having entered adolescence with the doubts and troubles coming with it, and some others simply dancing around us. They represented the joy of life, and the troubles that comes with it and with which they have to learn to cope with.

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Yes, nothing is immutable in life. Things change and we grow older. But the most important aspect is to get the tools to master these changes so that we can understand them and possibly steer them towards a harmonious development. As CAF member, I hope that through our direct interaction with these kids and through the funds we collect via the sponsorhips in order to support the education of so many children in India in vulnerable situations, we can at least help these kids to take bit by bit their life in their hands. What you get in exchange, through their joy and smile, is certainly incommensurable compared to what you give.