From white water rafting in the Ganges River, to visiting the Taj Mahal in 115-degree weather, to leaping onto moving trains while carrying at least 30 pounds of luggage, the experiences I had in India this past summer are impossible to forget. But even with all the action-packed memories, the most meaningful experience I had in India involved visiting a slum and having a picnic for the people who lived there.
The slum we visited was located in a dry river bed. There was no permanent housing. Other than a few structures made of sticks and thick black plastic, most of the families I saw slept and socialized out in the open. The residents themselves wore dirty and worn clothing, many of them looked unhealthy, especially the young children. Going into the slum, I was expecting people to be sad or even angry about living in poverty, especially at the sight of a group of “wealthy” Americans. On the contrary, they made us feel very welcomed, and it made me question how my attitude would be if I was in their situation.
As the food for the picnic was being prepared, we spent the afternoon playing with the kids in a beautiful grassy area outside the slum. We painted each other’s fingernails, played soccer, flew kites, and took lots of pictures. Because of the picnic and the meal being prepared for them, the children didn't have to go out on the streets that day to beg as they normally did. It was a sad realization about the daily struggles of the seemingly care-free children we were playing with.
When the food was ready, all the residents sat together under a large shady tent and were served first. For a group of people who are so accustomed to being mistreated, ignored, and abused, it was a major change for them to actually be treated as guests. Our efforts would have never been as successful without the help of Tong-Len, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring education and health services to areas similar to the one we visited that day. I feel so blessed for having the opportunity to meet these people and give a little back to such a poverty-stricken community. Not only did it help me learn more about those in need, but it also helped me understand more about myself and what I take for granted.