I depart Shanti Bhavan in three days and I have such mixed feelings about leaving. I’m excited to see my friends and family over the holidays, but I feel very sad to leave the kids and the volunteers I've become close to. Mary, one of my BFFs, asked me in an email if this experience was life changing, below was my answer. I think it sums it up for now…
It’s kinda hard to see how this experience is affecting me. It probably won’t really hit me until I leave and when I can reflect on it a bit more and let it steep a little longer. There are definitely moments in the day where I feel so touched by the openness and the kindness of a child’s innocence. We could all learn a little from their ability to love unconditionally, to forgive without a grudge, and to forget things that are really meaningless. Somehow their little souls have this process to filter out all the bad and keep in the good. I wish I could be a more like them.
M, I have fallen completely in love with this little 3rd grader, Sumathi. I don’t spend a lot of time with the third graders, usually just art class. But one afternoon, I was so freaking exhausted and frustrated, I sat down at a table with the girls to help them color. In the art room, there aren’t enough chairs for the entire class so I’m usually standing for the whole afternoon screaming over the kids to clean up, to share their art supplies, and to stop picking on each other. That afternoon, I randomly parked my tired butt on Sumathi’s chair taking up ¾ of the chair, she only ¼ (she’s a peanut). With my yellow crayon, I started coloring the sun on Sumathi’s picture. Her big brown eyes completely lit up, and she gave out this giggle that was the cutest, most infectious giggle I’ve ever heard. It was kismet – as if I was suppose to be so spent that I would finally notice her and get to know her. As we colored together, I’m not sure what came over me – might have been one of those times that you feel like giving up and God throws you a bone to keep you going. At the end of the art class, she gave me the picture we worked on together and asked me to keep it forever. I turned to mush… I HEART Sumathi!!!
So since then, Sumathi and I have this special bond and my love for her grows everyday. When she comes into the art room, she always looks for the chair next to me and gets supplies for the both of us to work on our art. I know we’re not supposed to have favorites as teachers, but I can’t help it…I’m so drawn to her! In assembly, I always check to see if she’s in line and closing her eyes during the prayer. At dinner, I make sure that she’s present. In her grammar class, Eva, another volunteer, told me that she signed a worksheet “Sumathi Vivian” as if we’ve become one person. I substituted for a 3rd grade science class for my roommate who wasn’t feeling well and read them a book on the planets and the solar system. I asked them to gather around me so they can see the pictures. Sumathi takes my hand and holds it in her lap – I almost melted and teared up right there. Afterwards, she asked, “Miss Vivian, what’s your favorite planet?” I told her Venus because it starts with a “V” and my first name starts with V and she responded, “Then that’s my favorite planet too!” Ashley, my roommate told her that if she lived on Venus that she’d be “Hot Sumathi Soup” because of the extreme temperatures on the planet. So that’s my temporary nickname for her...Hot Sumathi Soup.
I really wish you could meet her because I know that you’d love her too – she’s the kindest, sweetest, smartest, funniest, and cutest little girl and I just can’t get enough of her! She kinda looks like the little Indian version of my mom (maybe that’s why I’m so attached to her?) I want to pack her up in my suitcase and bring back to Casa Bklyn. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve her devotion and her love, but I treasure it and I feel so lucky to know her. I worry about her so much though. She has the tremendous burden of getting her entire family out of poverty and being born into a world that’s going to be unfair to her because she’s an untouchable. She’ll be judged on her dark skin, her last name, where she is from, what her parents do, and her gender. I wish I could be there to hold her hand when she goes through these tough times, just like she did mine. I am so curious to see how life will unfold for her. Whatever happens, Sumathi has a special place in my heart and when I think back on my time in India and Shanti Bhavan I know my fondest memories will be of her.
Ok, I will stop rambling about Hot Sumathi Soup now….obviously I could go on…