I don’t feel guilty. This is unusual for me. Typically after a trip out of the country there is a gnawing inside me, a restless uneasiness. I have such a full life. I have beautiful relationships, incredible opportunity, a lovely home, clean water and a freezer full of food. To come home feeling somewhat bad for the life I have is not uncommon.
India. My senses are immediately awakened and heightened as I take in all the vibrant colors, sounds and smells. The people. So many people. Where they are all going I have no idea, but the further away from the city we travel, the more curious I become.
We are no longer driving on the highway but have taken to a road that leads us through the countryside. Lush green fields of tobacco, rice and vegetable crops line our way. We turn off onto a dirt path and are met by a young man on a motorcycle. His smile is big and he waves excitedly for us to follow him. Out of nowhere it seems, we enter a village where everyone is gathered around a concrete dwelling. There is an incredible energy and excitement in the air as we approach the home.
The home has 30+ people packed inside, all there to learn. The faces. The broad smiles. The joy. They begin to sing and dance. Their joy is contagious. I am swept away in the love and hospitality of these beautiful people. Many stand and share their stories. I hear the hard realities of lives focused on survival. Men and women, 15-60 years old, overcoming incredible oppression and vulnerability. Three months prior to this they couldn’t read or write their own names. They are unable to count or do simple math. Most came without hope.
These are 40 of the 300 million illiterate in India who have been looked down upon all their lives. But these are courageous men and women seeking to improve their lives and those of their families and communities. One after another they approach the chalkboard. There is sheer wonder on the face of each student as they write and read their own name. It is as if a veil has been lifted and they can see. Their expressions say it all. I am alive. I am someone. I have a name. They are full of life, hope, and value. They are empowered to do more.
We ask how old the teacher is. He is 16. Love compelled him to come and offer this class to these people. Love compels him to give 2 hours every night for an entire year on the chance he can inspire hope, nurture people and help this community bloom. The class laughs as they recall being skeptical of how one so young could teach them anything. They do not question any longer because they now have a deep respect for him.
As I leave, I hug and hold the faces of the women in my hands. I tell them they are beautiful. I take hold of the men’s hands and look them in the eye. I tell them they have value and great worth. They smile and shake their heads in agreement. My heart aches. They have no idea of how my short time with them has impacted me.
I am stirred. Seeing the vulnerable and oppressed now empowered to live a blessed life is hard to ignore. I feel empowered. I feel responsibility, not guilt. A responsibility to use my talents and resources to build up, not to feel guilty about them. I don’t need to be less in order to elevate someone else. We don’t need to tear down in order to build another up. Literacy is a powerful tool that elevates. So, I advocate. I give of my talents, gifts, and resources, believing that one day those resources will no longer be needed.
I come to India to visit and see firsthand the programs we support. I come with an open heart, not knowing what to expect. I leave empowered.