Spring Break Service Trip 2018: India

by Atheer Al Hinai, Grade 12

During the first two weeks of Spring Break I was in India with a group of nine other SMUS students and three chaperones. It was an amazing opportunity for me to see a new part of the world and to step outside my comfort zone. One of my main reasons for going on the trip was exactly that: to step out of my comfort zone and throw myself into a situation in which the community I was entering was completely different from what I was used to at home in Oman or at SMUS. My trip was definitely educational. We spent 10 days in a town, in Rajasthan, where we stayed at the terrific Me To We camp and we worked at a school in a small village called Kalthana.

If there is one thing I would remember from the two weeks I spent in India it would be the first time we met the kids in the school, Kalthana, and got to play with them. They were in class when we arrived at the school and they were so distracted by us. They waved at us and had wide smiles on their faces. It was our second day in Rajasthan and it was our first visit to the school where we’d be working for the next 10 days or so. The school was on a little hill and it was made up of one classroom crammed with about 40 students ages 6 to 12, a kitchen, a computer lab (that wasn’t ready yet) and a water pump.

The headmaster was there to give us a quick tour of the school. I remember thinking about all the accidents that could happen; the school didn’t seem like a safe place for the kids. There was building equipment everywhere.

It was our first visit so we weren’t there to build, just to meet the kids and get a quick tour and orientation of the school. The kids had a 10-minute break which is when we got to meet and play with them. They were jumping around with so much joy and excitement!

We had a quick Hindi lesson before getting to the school, so we communicated with the very limited Hindi words we knew and the limited English words they knew. I asked almost all of them their names and repeated it after them. They did the same when I told them my name. I don’t think they remembered my name, because less than five minutes later some of them asked me again, “Aap ka naam hai?” (which means “what is your name?”).

We brought them bouncy balls, bubbles, frisbees and colouring sheets. The bubbles were the most popular items. They all clustered around the person blowing them. Their giggles were unbelievably genuine and pure when they were running after the small bubbles. I could not believe the joy on their faces when they played with us. Their ability to find so much joy in something so little, like bubbles, made a life-changing impression on me. Maybe I’ll never remember their names but I’ll definitely remember their beautiful laughs, hugs and high-fives.

Another highlight of the trip for me was that we did not spend every day building. We did other activities that helped us learn about the colourful Indian culture. We spent “A Day In Life” where we went to the village and helped a woman with all the chores she had to do on a daily basis, like making the roti and bringing water from the well to her house. It was surprising to see the habits that the family adopted after partnering with We, such as boiling the water before drinking it. Some other great activities we did include a cooking class where we made samosas and chai tea, a tie-dye class and block printing class. We also had an artist, who had done some art in the Udaipur City Palace, come to the camp for an art class. We got to paint a camel, which is a symbol of love in India, or an elephant, which is a symbol of good luck. One of my favourite activities was the Bollywood dancing. It was so nice to see everyone in our group get really excited about it and put all their energy towards it. We also did yoga almost every morning, which really helped energize and centre us for the day ahead.

After the 10 days we spent in Rajasthan, we went to Delhi where we got to see a more populated part of India. I enjoyed getting to see two vastly different communities in India. We went to Old and New Delhi. We toured Old Delhi in a rickshaw and it was interesting to see the narrow streets where there were markets, restaurants and shelters for store owners. We went to a market in New Delhi and we took the tuk-tuk back to the hotel. We got to know more about Mahatma Ghandi by visiting the house where he spent his last days. It was moving to learn his story, and learn about his assassination and see where it happened.

I really enjoyed our visit to the incredible Taj Mahal. It was fascinating for me to see the Arabic words around the entrances of the Taj and to be the only one in our group who understood them. It is unbelievable that Shah Jahan built a beautiful building like that in memory of his wife.

After all the excitement of meeting so many new people and visiting so many new places it was hard to believe on the last day it was time to go home and return to our normal lives.

I had grown so close to this group of amazing people in such a short time. Every moment with them in India was a special one whether it be in front of the Taj Mahal or listening to Beyonce in the vans. It was even harder for me because I wasn’t travelling back with the group; I was going back home, to Oman by myself.

One quote that will forever stick with me was Mr. Cook’s reminder throughout the trip: “95% of the service you do on a service trip is for yourself.” I feel like that couldn’t be more true.

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Atheer Al Hinai is a Senior School student at St. Michaels University School.

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