Volunteers for Peace, SMILE organization
I financed my own trip and paid the local fee for food and accommodations.
My primary duties were to work with homeless children at the congested railroad station in Kolkata, India. I spent time helping them with basic hygiene, teaching basic math and English skills and serving them a simple meal. When I arrived at the train station at 6 am, the children were just getting up from their makeshift sleeping quarters at the station.
Did I do anything that was sustainable for these children?
I taught a 12 year old girl to make a star using the crayons I brought and gave to her. Suddenly she was teaching 20 kids how to draw a star. Her enthusiasm and smile were contagious. The next day she wanted to do math and, for each correct answer, she drew herself a star. Suddenly all the students were doing their math and creating stars. A year later, she is probably still drawing colorful stars and empowering herself to excel in school. I continued to send books, crayons, hygiene items and supplies as well as money to help build a vocational school for these street children.
The most rewarding aspect was to see the children feel a sense of pride, hopefulness and happiness. I spent hours with children in the water troughs at the railroad station. The small bar of soap and dab of toothpaste meant cleanliness for that moment as well as spontaneous water play. Balancing the youngest gently on the troughs meant someone to hold and love them unconditionally. Playing math and singing games meant I believed they could go to school, and they could see a day beyond the chaos and filth of the railroad station.
These children grabbed, hit, pushed and screamed to get their basic needs met. I taught them to to say please and thank you. They smiled and we both understood. When that 12 year old girl, carrying her baby sister, grabbed for the last piece of bread in the plastic bag, I finally understood its importance. The bag would hold her treasures: the rupee she begged for, the banana that was donated, the stickers and crayons I gave her. She would draw more stars!
Volunteers for Peace is an international service organization that has short and long term volunteer opportunities worldwide. Please check them out at: www.vfp.org