Indians For Collective Action connected two young volunteers Saloni Shah (16), Samir Shah (12) and parents this summer to India. Samir is a youngest ICA Ambassador to return to US with so many bright observations. Listening to his dad, it seems that this trip had such a profound effect on young Samir since he returned. He has been continuously thinking about how to provide better tools empower kids of Samvedana, a nonprofit organization in the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. ICA’s hope is that other young volunteers would read this and will get inspired to do similar when they go to India. Parents are encouraged to print this story and give it to your young child. Please read his completely unedited version of essay here –
Samvedana is a nonprofit organization, actively operational in the city of Ahmedabad, striving for integrated development of slums with a focus on children’s education and health. ‘Samvedana’ is a Gujarati and Hindi word meaning “compassion.” The foundation strives to support social growth of the underprivileged in slums by providing educational opportunities while supplementing their growth and development through welfare programmes, outdoor activities and workshops. Samvedana is committed to value add children’s schooling through compassion and proactive interventions.
Last summer, I did something unexpected, volunteering in India. It all started with the passing away of my grandma and grandpa, which motivated me to do something to give back. My sister Saloni had to complete 65 hours of community service for her school and she felt that it would be nice to do it in India. On the first day of her service, I decided to tag along for a little while. As soon as I saw the kids, I knew that I would work for the rest of the trip. All the kids were so cute and so eager to learn. I saw the minimal resources they had to work with, and it inspired me to work. I realized that while I was begging my parents for a laptop, these kids were begging for food. You always hear “those poor kids in Africa who die by starvation”, but being there really makes a difference.
I spent most of my time working in the library, which was a hot, cramped place, especially for some of the bigger classes, where kids played games, made puzzles, and learned language. I met this one first grade girl who was very smart. She knew the whole English alphabet and small words, the whole Gujarati alphabet, and much more, while the rest of her classmates barely knew how to speak Gujarati, let alone speak English. She just loved to learn. I felt like she could be a very successful person if she just had the resources. That really made me realize how lucky I am to have the resources and opportunities I do.
Many of the kids at Samvedana, the municipal school I worked at, had some real talent. On Independence Day, they had an event where they all dressed up in nice clothes and performed dance. It was exceptional how well they danced. They also had a march where all the kids walked across busy Ahmedabad streets and performed. At all these events the kids were wearing nice clothes, but I soon realized it was the only clothing they had.
The day I went for a field visit was the day that I had a real breakthrough. We went to see all the houses of the kids. But they were not really houses at all. They were slums. I remember one of the kids having 24 people sleeping in 4 rooms. That is around 6 people per bedroom! And we complain about having to share a room. What I was really surprised at was how these kids took showers, and wore clean clothes at school when at home, everything was extremely dirty.
On our last day at Samvedana, we really wanted to have a going-away celebration. So we fed each and every kid ice cream. They were overjoyed with the delicious ice cream on the sweltering day. Next time I go to India, I will definitely work there.
By Samir Shah