Today’s post comes from Sophy James, currently teaching at the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project through our partner organization Omprakash. Sophy recently graduated from the elementary education program at Florida State University and deeply believes that education holds the power to completely change the world. Shanti Bhavan has given her the chance to put her passion for providing equal education for all individuals, regardless of economic means, into action. Her self-growth through the service of others is repayable to all.
The announcement to my family that I wanted to travel to rural India three weeks after my college graduation was met with many reactions, including surprise, skepticism, and contempt. My middle class, suburban family could not seem to comprehend why I would not continue on my current path of the “American dream.” Why push against the social norm, when I had a perfectly comfortable life laid out for me? According to my family, the next logical step would be to get a good job that has decent health insurance and a 401K plan in a safe, suburban school in the heartland of America. For them, spending an extended period of time volunteering at a nonprofit in a developing nation was unfathomable.
My family’s reactions immediately made me second guess my intentions to volunteer. More than anyone else they only wanted the best for me, only wanted me to be happy. If they thought it was such a radically terrible idea, maybe I was missing the bigger picture of what I should be aiming for in my life. They had given me every chance to succeed; I wanted my post-college endeavors to continue to make them proud. However, the more I sat and thought about it, the more I came to realize that my parents had given me every opportunity in order to ensure that I was successful. The fact that I had never created an opportunity for myself, but instead had always waited for others to present them to me, made my decision. I would be traveling to rural India without my parents support—emotionally or financially.
I journeyed to South India feeling very alone. I arrived at Shanti Bhavan Childrens Project located in rural Tamil Nadu, India with a lot to prove not only to myself, but also to everyone who was against my from plan from the beginning. Shanti Bhavan is both an English medium school and home for children from India’s dalit, or “untouchable” caste. The school provides seventeen years of intense intervention for its students. Shanti Bhavan hopes that its students will graduate from university and become successful professionals within their chosen fields—and eventually help to transform the communities into which they were born.
Currently, my day begins at 6:30 am helping the 9th and 11th grade students understand the daily world news that they will then present to the entire school. I spend most of my day in the second grade classroom where I have gained a tremendous amount of valuable teaching experience.
“Show me your ASDF monster claws on the keyboard.”
“Quiet hands raised if you know which number is the tens place.”
“Who can tell me a sentence in which we use an exclamation point?!”
Throughout the day, so much time is spent doing not as- signed, but rather assumed tasks. I treasure the moments helping an 11th grade girl prep for her public speaking performance because she is outrageously nervous and reading to the kindergartners in their dorm as they rapidly fall asleep after a long day of work and play.
The students at Shanti Bhavan have taught me so much more than I will ever be able to teach them. I have learned how to speak more eloquently, work with extremely limited resources, and dedicate myself completely to one single task at a time. I have learned to become a harsh critic of myself, because that is the only way to improve. Put simply, this experience has helped transform me into a more well-rounded individual and educator. Dr. Abraham George, the founder of Shanti Bhavan, believes that “compassion without action is nothing, while compassion with action is everything.” I would like to think that I have always held compassion, but Shanti Bhavan has given me an outlet to turn this compassion into action.
My parents are finally coming around. This past week, my father said to me, “You are going through such a metaphysical metamorphosis, and we could not be more proud of you.” Before India, I seriously doubted that I could do anything completely independently without help from my family. Now, I have found my independence, and I realize that the only person who knows what is best for you is you. Going against social norms and into the unknown is difficult, but this experience has given me more insight into myself and the world around me then a lifetime of work in the United States could have ever done.
If you’re interested in volunteer teaching at Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project,
you can find more information here.
“Wednesday Wisdom” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador partnerships director Meg VanDeusen. Every Wednesday, we will feature updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.