Monday, May 27, 2019

Day 5: Performance day! Volunteering at Surya Bharti: An Enlightening Experience

Day 5: Performance day!

This day was a very important one for the students: one of two festivals they hold each year! Prior to this day, we learned that students would be performing modern dances, Christmas songs, and a Christmas play about Jesus’s birth. We didn’t know exactly what to expect but knew the students had been working very hard.

As we waited for the students’ arrival in the backstage dressing room, we saw a couple students trickle in, looking very excited to get dressed up and dolled up. The room then quickly filled as more and more children ran in, makeup and dresses in hand, showing the bows and glitters off to my sister and me.

We set off with our task for the morning, to help the young girls with their hair and makeup. Thankfully, we were dancers in our younger days and somewhat remembered how to do stage makeup. It was endearing to see the girls share their makeup boxes and look at one another with admiration as we applied some pink eyeshadow, red blush, and pink lipstick. They were very excited to get on stage – no hint of nerves at all!

After helping the girls with their makeup, my sister and I were pleasantly surprised to be offered to get a little dolled up ourselves: two teachers of the school brought us sarees to wear and helped us dress in them. As for makeup, the female students did us the favor in return and applied eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick for us!

Without stopping there, Yuki-san and Surya Bharti School welcomed us further. At the beginning of the performance, we were invited on stage to each light a candle, receive necklaces of vibrant marigolds still damp with freshness, and be decorated with bindis. Now we were set to watch the performance as a true part of the school.

The show began with female students from various classes performing dances to modern Indian pop songs. We were impressed with their courage on stage and their dancing skills; their hard work was very apparent. As the show progressed to the Christmas portion, it was charming to see young boys and girls sing Jingle Bells and Feliz Navidad with enthusiasm. The performance of the birth of Jesus Christ was acted out by older students with more advanced English skills and let me say, they did wonderfully. Mr. Michael, the longer-term volunteer teacher at Surya Bharti, did a great job preparing the students and having fun with them along the way.


What a treat it was to see the students’ continuous enthusiasm channeled through their performances, and to feel so much a part of the experience through the warmth of Yuki-san and the Surya Bharti staff. The students constantly impress me with their hard work, big dreams, and humility. With the support of people who were fortunate to be born into more favorable life circumstances, these students can achieve bright futures. They deserve every opportunity that comes their way, of which we hope there are many.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Day 4: Second day teaching Volunteering at Surya Bharti: An Enlightening Experience

Day 4: Second day teaching

Today, we visited Surya Bharti for the second time. We were very excited to once again see the students’ bright faces, sometimes shy smiles, and enthusiasm for learning, and to teach them English in a more hands-on manner than the first day.

We  believe that across cultures, there is at least one common passion: food. On that note, we brought printouts of American menus to share with the younger students and teach them common food / restaurant-related phrases, like “What would you like to eat?” and “My personal favorite is …”

The activity was a hit, especially as we went around asking each student what he / she wanted to order. It was fascinating to see differences in tastes across cultures, as the Surya students frequently ordered items such as buckwheat pancakes and multigrain bread, while in the U.S., youth would typically order maple-drenched French toast or sweet pancakes stacked high. The students comprehended the lesson well and were giggling throughout, appearing to enjoy using their imagination while learning English. Toward the end of one class, all the students began ordering dessert items such as chocolate cake and cookies! It was endearing, and also struck me as perhaps driven by the rarity of such treats in their everyday lives.


For the older students, we taught Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech. We again wanted to instill something beyond just a rote English lesson; we wanted to incite students to reflect on the ideas of equality, freedom, and justice that King touts so eloquently. We taught them the history behind the speech and read the first portion line by line, explaining the metaphors and deeper meanings behind some of the sentences. While doing so we saw the students’ faces become serious with concentration and, I hope, contemplation.

One of my greatest wishes for these students who filled me with continuous inspiration, is that they will live in “an oasis of freedom and justice” (King) in which they can strive for and achieve their many dreams. Surya Bharti School is setting them on the path to do so.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Day 3: Women’s healthcare project Volunteering at Surya Bharti: An Enlightening Experience

Day 3: Women’s healthcare project

On the third day, we were given the opportunity to experience something altogether different. We visited a village near one of the Surya Bharti alumnus’s homes, where gathered around the porch of a building were a crowd of women, young children, and babies. This was our first glimpse of the women’s healthcare project that Yuki-san leads in a few different rural villages. Maternal education lacks in these villages and mothers are often unaware of whether their babies are growing healthily.
This project seeks to both educate and provide resources for these mothers; it involves measuring babies’ weight and length over a series of months and keeping a close eye on whether they are losing weight. A loss of weight from one month to the next signals a deeper issue in the baby’s health, as it often results from a lack of proper nutrition, dysentery, or other causes.

Getting to take part in this critical process was both touching and eye-opening. It was clear the village community found it valuable; many locals even joined to help. Two older women from the village lifted each baby onto the scale –for the newly born, holding them carefully while the women themselves stepped onto the scale – and called out their weight, which was diligently recorded by the head nurse (a staff member at Surya Bharti). The babies were tranquil during this step of the process, either completely asleep or watching with interest. The women then hoisted the babies onto a wooden platform used to measure their length, holding the babies’ legs straight to get an accurate measurement. The babies didn’t like this less-than-comfortable step and often began to cry, but as a reward for all their hard work and undoubtedly very confusing moments, candy awaited them. Their cries subsided quickly.

A most poignant memory from this experience was seeing the young village children watch with curiosity the process taking place, a once-a-month spectacle that gave them something to look forward to. Many of them used to be in the place of today’s babies – crying after being placed on the wooden platform – but are now healthy and smiling young children. Dusty and bare-footed, but healthy and smiling.