“We are like a candle–a candle has the ability to give light and it can glow, but it [needs] some match box light. That’s sort of like Avasar,” Pavani told Maddie and I after we asked her, Swathi, and Shivu how Avasar has made a difference in their lives.
We were all huddled in a circle, sitting in the classroom they’ve spent the last three years learning how to speak English and use a computer in, already laughing and talking like we’re best friends. Or “instant best friends,” according to Pavani. In three years, they went from only speaking Kannada and not even knowing how to turn a computer on to well-spoken, confident, and brilliant young women who were so happy to learn how to “copy paste.” To Shivu, Avasar has been “like a staircase to climb a mountain,” to Swathi, “a second family.”
For those who are unfamiliar with Avasar, it’s a foundation that aims to help underprivileged Indian girls get out of the cycle of poverty and keep them from discontinuing school early (an issue that’s far too common in India for impoverished girls ages 15 and up). To reach this objective, they provide them with the support, skills, and tools needed to pursue their academic and occupational goals. It’s a five year program that seeks to build knowledge, instill confidence, and develop an overall positive well-being and improved quality of life. For more information on how they do so, what they stand for, and how you can help click here!
I was so nervous to meet the girls I had butterflies in my stomach. It turns out they were feeling the same way. But, luckily enough, they told us we surpassed their expectations. They were surprised at how easy it was to talk to us and that we didn’t act like how they imagined us to–like we were better than them. And I was surprised at how much we had in common and so glad they liked me.
After an hour of talking, taking photos and videos, teaching each other the popular dance moves of our hometowns (the only one Maddie and I could think of was dabbing…ugh), and discussing our favorite animals, movies, and things to do, we all noticed that our cheeks were sore from smiling so much. The girls kept giggling, massaging their happy faces, and thanking Avasar for giving them the chance to meet us. Seeing the joy radiate in their eyes and the excitement build with every story they told us made me tear up. Just like how they felt grateful to sit in front of me and Maddie, I felt blessed to sit in front of them. Their ability to see beauty in life despite all their hardships is something I, and many others, can learn from. Swathi, Pavani, and Shivu taught me something important that day: to find happiness in simplicity and search for positivity even when it feels miles away.
The girls were sad to see us go, but excited because we’d be meeting the next day for our trip to the zoo. Pavani told us we would be in her dreams until then. On Sunday, we all packed ourselves into Ravi’s car at nine o’clock in the morning and were off to the Bannerghatta National Park.
The first thing we did when we got to the park was go on a safari. I only managed to get one decent picture (a.k.a that quality photo of the tiger sleeping…all right, I’m actually pretty proud of it). The bus ride was too bumpy to get any others *sigh*. Afterwards, we walked around the zoo, the girls wanting to take selfies at every turn. What made this zoo differ from those in America was the fact that there were monkeys in cages and monkeys running around freely. The juxtaposition both shocked me and made me laugh. The wild monkeys were so bold, too. One even snatched a man’s bag of fruit out of his hands. The girls and I stood there amazed, trying not to break out in laughter.
Next we went peddle boating, then headed to an amusement park where Maddie and I experienced our five minutes of fame. People don’t lie when they say that, as a foreigner, you will often feel like a c-grade celebrity in India. Many will stare at you, trying to secretly take your picture, then there will be the few (or many) that will courageously ask to take a picture of or with you. We met one family that even posted the pictures of us on Facebook. We were flattered, nonetheless, but it’s still strange to go from being a no-one to suddenly having people wanting to take your photograph.
Aside from the photoshoots, we got to watch the girls’ eyes light up and hear their booming laughs as they rode the rides. Swathi looked at me after riding the ferris wheel for the third time and said, clasping her hands together, “I’m happy. I’m just so happy.” I was pretty happy, too.
As evening approached, we headed to Ravi’s sister-in-law’s house where we drank coffee and ate the most delicious biscuits I’ve ever had. Ravi’s niece showed us their crops and cows. The neighborhood kids, staring at us from their balcony, were amazed to see Maddie and I. Many of the other neighbors tried to peek through the front doorway to get a look at us as we sat on the couch. I’ve never felt so interesting in my entire life. And I don’t think my anxious self will ever get used to it.
When rain clouds started to fill the sky, we had to head out to avoid flooding streets. We crammed into Ravi’s car again–Swathi sitting on Shivu’s lap, Ravi’s daughter sitting on Pavani’s, and Maddie and I huddled close together. Our eyelids were heavy and our cheeks still sore as we drove with the sunset behind us, all anxious to lay our heads on our pillows and excited for the time we’ll see each other next.