vignettes from india

charity's journal: 9 march 2010, china air flight 005 taipei --> lax -
"and here we are, dear reader, on the last page of the journal. i feel a great need to sum up this experience but also a great inability. nothing could compare me for india and nothing can adequately describe it. the rich, colorful, crazy intensity of it all plus a truly life-changing experience that was surprising in many wonderful ways have combined to leave me stunned and enchanted and new in some aspects. i see the world differently now. my perspective has been expanded and enlivened and ennobled and excited and enthralled. i hope i can retain the zeal i've developed for diversity, the strength of conviction that has come, the appreciation i feel for blessings, the new or reinforced ideas i've conjured up, the stunning and strangely gorgeous sights i've seen, the way all my senses have been pricked, and most of all, the increased size and brighter glow of my beating heart."

last year now, i was in india. there is no place like india. india changed me.

those six weeks were so intense. so much happened. i learned so much. i lived a dream.

for four of the weeks i spent on the subcontinent, i volunteered with an incredible organization called rising star outreach. i am super passionate about the way rising star is changing the world. anyone who has asked me about it knows that's true because i rave.

like india itself, my experience there was completely saturated, jammed chock-full, crowded - with sensory stings, color, emotion, and peculiar adventure. i feel like any expression of it would just be overflowing. all i have right now is three snapshots, three golden moments, to share as i look back on a time of life that was lush and wild and resonant.

we helped the children at the rising star school with their english language and pronunciation skills. one thing my two friends and i really drilled with the kids was saying the names of the letters in the alphabet correctly. dani offered a simple handmade bracelet to any student who could recite from a-z without any mistakes, and before we knew it we all had lines of bobbling-headed children behind us eagerly punching out the alphabet for a prize. through this activity, these beautiful kids, who before rising star came along were destined to be beggars, learned the value of earning in some small but meaningful way.
i remember sitting on the concrete steps outside the children's hostel and listening to the children one by one yell the letters with all their hearts. i sent them to the back of the line when their pronunciation wasn't perfect. they begged, but alas, i sent them to the back of the line. with their loud, accented letters bouncing around in my head, i peered at them and in a flash realized that i needed to relish this time with these fantastic children.
as each child approached me, i held them close and looked deep into their brown, brown eyes. i could see my reflection in their pupils. my smile gleamed in that glossy mirror. a little window into their spirits opened up. and i felt that, even though we lived 100% different lives, we were knit, we were connected as members of the human family, and when it came down to it, we were the same.
the triumph that ensued, in some cases after many, many attempts, was delicious and glorious.

early in our time with rising star, we visited a leprosy colony, and saw where the children we were to teach came from. before i left for india, i watched a documentary about the organization and learned a lot about the disease, and as i did i felt a bit sick and honestly wondered how i would deal with seeing this kind of deformity and suffering. the second i met the sweet, sweet patients, all of that immediately melted away. yes, i thought i might be repulsed and upset, but the absolute opposite happened, and i found myself incredibly endeared and delighted. i felt thrilled and connected.
one man came into the clinic who had absolutely no toes, no fingers, and no nose. the doctor explained to us that the disease had developed so far with this man that the roof of his mouth was gone and it was exceptionally hard for him to eat. he wore big dark glasses and we were told he could see almost nothing. he looked so sad. he filed through and then went and sat on the ground with his face toward a cement wall.
we realized and discussed in a hush that this man had only one sense left - only one out of the five senses that bring us so much joy in this life. and then we had an idea. dani grabbed her ukulele and we went and sat on the dusty ground behind the man's back. she started to play, and we sang "i am a child of god." slowly, slowly, our new friend turned around, following the sound of the music, until he faced us. and there we offered him a gift of sensory delight.
he didn't understand the words, but i'm pretty sure he got the message. we are all children of god.

my very most favourite memory of the kids at rising star is the nights we spent singing them to sleep. after a long, hot day, we would go into their rooms and lullabye as a parting gift for the day.
i remember sitting on the hard, cold floor in the boys' bright blue room and the sound of my voice filling up the corners and the cracks. they all laid in a row on that hard, cold floor, side by side and gazed up at me droopy, weary, oh so sweetly.
"yes tonight belongs to you and i, when i say in the india way, i love you too..."
many of them drifted off before i left, and the remainder caught my eye as i walked away and said dreamily, "good night, auntie," "thank you auntie." my heart melted every time - i really always felt like i needed to mop it up as i walked home under the palm trees amidst all the hopping frogs.

last week my brother showed me his pictures from his recent trip to see those kids, and my spirit glowed with a familiar love and affection. i can't wait to go back.
if you are interested in volunteering this summer with rising star, please click here. doing so will change you and change the world.


  1. It's so good to read this and keep the memory alive! The RSO fund raiser with the Jazz last night was so terrific. Becky reminded us of why we love these people and their unending need for our help. No matter how much we help though, we are the ones who are really helped! What an experience!

  2. how do you sign up to get involved with rising star? is there a website (i clicked but your link didn't seem to work!) just wanted to check it out... i think you are doing amazing things Charity! xoxo

  3. So beautiful Char. What a beautiful way to capture it all. You are amazing. Love you so much.