The green banana tree out my back door and the palm branch touching my barred window told me I was in India and out of place, but India became only a name on a map and Shanti Bhavan became my home where I felt belonging. The cows on the road, the women dressed in saris littering the fields like bright candy wrappers, even the local butcher with no more than a granite slab and meat hooks in a tin roof shack are just interesting memories now. The best part of India is the kids.

Sweat poured down my back as I lectured on perspective and foreshortening, but I loved every minute. Never have I met students who give their undivided attention with so much enthusiasm for anything I had prepared. I taught art because it’s my major and geography because I am interested in it and I took a few related courses at university. I was nervous to teach geography because the kids already knew so much about it, but with all the excellent resources and freedom to teach what I thought to be most important, teaching was not difficult.

After a warm breakfast, usually dosas, was Saturday morning nature walk. Holding sweaty little hands and walking through the banana farm or to the lake (at least what’s left of a lake after three months with no rain) listening to or telling stories with the younger kids was a better way to spend a Saturday than going into town where it is hot and smells foul. Any time I felt sorry for myself or missed home, I just had to do some extra curricular activity with the kids and they made me feel I would never want to leave. They have a way of melting you with their big eyes and perfect smiles. Walking towards the rumble in the dining hall on a moonlit night was somehow daunting at first. But meal after meal of good food and great company, playing games, and asking questions with the kids made me excited for mealtime. Bringing The Sword and the Stone, James and the Giant Peach, and the Magic School Bus to life before bed was so much fun. No matter how much I thought “I just can’t go tonight” I was always happy and bubbly after story time. When the kids rush to gather ‘round, teeth brushed, in their pajamas, anything you say or do for them is like watching Armstrong land on the moon.

Keeping busy from sunrise, 6:30, to sunset, 6:30, and even until 8:45 was a very fulfilling feeling. There was always so much that could be done and so little time. Any time I sat and watched the geckos on my walls, took a walk through the banana farm, or stopped to smell the numerous flowers (of the Dr. Seuss variety) I was at peace, but I knew I could do more. Mrs. Law was an inspiring school leader. The administration gave me plenty of time to myself, but I very much enjoyed sharing it with the lovely hard working women who washed my clothes and dishes, cleaned my room, and kept the fruit trees and plants groomed and beautiful. Unfortunately, we could not speak to each other because I speak no Telagu, but they were very friendly and smiling none the less. Pretty much everybody Smiles at Shanti Bhavan. It is a beautiful sanctuary where any child-or volunteer-would be privileged to live, how appropriate that it goes to the children who need it the most. And they make the most of it.

A lot of hard work, sacrifice, and-yes-money goes into lifting these- the students of Shanti Bhavan, the villagers in surrounding areas, and so many more - victims of harsh environments and a backward system. I have heard the stories of unbelievable conditions at home, and I have seen the homes were the stories originated. The George Foundation has found an appropriate way to step in and uplift the community and lives of more than 190 children. I am just glad that I got to be a part of it if only for a short while.

Halee Rogers

January-April 2006

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