The month of February was the month of international volunteers. We had an influx of volunteers from the US and UK who came to serve for the month. These women each have so much to offer. I learned a lot from living with them all. Here’s an ode to these fabulous women.
It’s really hard to describe Lax because you don’t know where to start. She always has a smile on her face. No matter how many things she is doing, when she talking to you, she’s focused on you. She has taught me so much about dedication and the small things. She didn’t work on any large project, but did all the litte things that can get easily overlooked. Daily tutoring for Raghu and Yogesh in English, spending time with Herama and Kantima in the tekra, two elderly women who bloomed with her companionship and love, tutoring Sandeepbhai for exams, etc. Laxmi took time off between jobs in the UK to come to India for 3 months to volunteer, I love her dedication to this dream of hers and the perspectives and grounding that she offered me. It was when Laxmi came home with her guitar that I really got the kick that I should start pursuing my other goal of taking up tabla or Kathak while in India. I mean if she could follow up on her dream while her for 3 months, I had already let 6 months pass by. The push to start something came from that day.
So I met Krupa last year at Miles for Smiles, a CharityFocus event, where we stood at intersections holding up signs that asked people to smile. The eldest of the volunteer (not counting Laura), Krupa just came with a desire to serve as she waited to hear back from graduate programs. A philosopher at heart, she has a lot of knowledge and is a true seeker of knowledge. She kick started the solid waste management program in the slum, where she installed waste bins in the homes and taught about proper garbage disposal. She’s super meticulous in her work and really gives everything a lot of thought. Krupa’s avid interest in music has been a big force in music becoming a larger part of my life. I learned a lot from watching Krupa and seeing her open up over the course of the month. This is really is a place where you can learn to trust your heart because there is so much love and support.
We had quite the myriad of volunteers. Snehal is the first married volunteer that I have met. Her maturity and level-headedness are things that really stick out. It’s what made it so easy to talk to her. She worked primarily with the women’s cooperative teaching classes on mental health. She instantly connected with the women and it was so awesome to see her take such a sincere interest in their lives and well-being. Snehal’s love for animals cannot be forgotten. From the bhes (water buffalos) behind Safai, to the baby bakri (goat) and “jadu padu”, a puppy she nicknamed, at the tekra, her face lit up when talking about her animals. Snehal also came to India with a desire to take intensive Kathak classes. While most people say they want to something like that, they don’t follow up. Snehal did, which helped keep me going in tabla pursuit.
Hailing from New Jersey, Payal has been volunteering in India for 4-5 months, working at two very different organization on opposite sides of Ahmedabad (one called Sahyog in Jamalpur and MS), splitting the week between the two). Payal is a model of focus. As it is, it can be hard to focus while working just at MS, but Payal was able to find her focus at both orgs. She’s very focused and organized, continually working away to get whatever needs to be done done. After overcoming the initial hurdles of teaching tuitions, she found a her own of working within the system and left behind great documentation and suggestion for improvements. Despite her persistent cold and other hurdles, she persisted in her work and her own journey.
Taking a gap year between high school and college, at the age of 18, Binisha took the leap of faith and came to India on her own to serve for a month and travel, something that takes a lots of guts. You don’t find many high school graduates doing that. Binisha has a ridiculous amount of energy and often reminded me of me a few years ago (tho it seems like YEARS ago when I was 18). She did capacity building work at Utthan and UK marketing work with Gramshree and of course served religiously at Seva Café. She carried her enthusiasm and smile everywhere she went and soaked up everything that was through at her.
As with Binisha, coming to India at such a young age to serve is really inspirational. A friend of Binisha’s, hailing from Malawi, studying in the UK, Ekta thought the India trip would be interesting so came. Pretty cool. Ekta’s heart is what draws you to her. She’s full of compassion. She became good friends with the girls in the Young Doctors, youth who don’t get to interact with international volunteers. To hear her talk about the girls, her learnings was really powerful and she even got interested in toilets! Ekta loves to dance and she channeled this energy into teaching dance to girls at the local hostel girls, even if it was only for 2 weeks. The girls adore Ektadidi and I remember her last class. I nearby office and heard “disco” music. I looked and saw Ekta and all the girls were just jamming to music. You could find Ekta amidst all the girls who were all over her. Ekta also has a beautiful voice and really sings Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye from the heart, making it the theme song of Safai. (she also the one who taught me the words).
Laura, amongst other things, is an extremely loving, huggable mom, who is spreading seeds of love wherever she goes. Literally she is a mom to everyone. She is a mentor, a great listener and very wise from the heart. Truly working from heart, listening to the voice of the Divine and moving the music of the universe, Laura is an beautiful soul, infusing the universe and people with more love and positive energy.
A friend of Guri’s, Sandy was traveling through Asia for over 3 months, technically alone, but of course has found many companions. After Asia, she came into India and wanted to make way to Dharamshala, but didn’t have a travel buddy, when she met Linda (see below) and the two were traveling through India together until either got sick of each other. Sandy came to Asia with a desire to travel, no other set plans and a whole lot of courage and fearlessness. She simply has been following the winds of the universe, with a few places in mind that she wanted to visit. Over 3 months of traveling alone, leaving everything behind on a journey that inevitably teaches one about self. Sandy always had a smile on her face and really took everything in around her. She shared her art of tarot reading (which she just picked up and knew how to do), her wisdom and of course heart with all of us. Inspiring us all to take that journey into the unknown for ourselves. I def got inspired to backpack an unknown part of the world.
Another woman with a desire to explore the unknown, Linda also set to India to discover its beauty and found its love and depth. It’s takes so much to just pick up and leave without a set time frame of return and the fact that Linda was going to a place that she had no visible ties to is remarkable. Her enthusiasm and desire to do whatever she could in her short time was great to see.
Her class came to Ahmedabad to take a two week course at Darpana, Maria decided to spend those two weeks volunteering. Armed with experiences in orphanages all over the world, this Alaskan, has seen a lot of the non-so cold parts of the world. The amazing thing about Maria was her willingness to literally do anything that needed to be done. She wasn’t fussed about working in the field, she just wanted to do whatever would be of use to the organization.
Not really a “women at Safai”, but nonetheless needs to mentioned. Last year, Ankur did the Dandi March with zero rupees and two pairs of clothes he made. A world citizen with an Indian soul, Ankur is a powerful soul seeking out truth in the world. A fabulous cook, all about healthy, grounded food, I met Ankur last year two days before he headed back to Washington State where he has started the foundations of an ashram. Ankur is a great listener and has something in him that makes you want to share with him and he plays the flute with great heart. The stories that carries with him from his travels and interactions really reassure you that you are not alone in your journey and experiences.
Of course, a side perk of all these international volunteers is that when I do travel, I have potential travel buddies and of course couches to crash on all over the world ; )