India PDW

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On Thursday the 7th of September, I travelled with the India PDW team for Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India. The India PDW is the newest 12th grade trip at ISZL, with this year’s trip being the third time ISZL goes to India. The India team works with an organisation called Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) which supports marginalised children in the Orissa state of India. While there, we focus mainly on 3 schools in Bhubaneswar: 2 slum schools and 1 “local” school called Blossoms, where the parents are able to afford a uniform for their children which allows them to attend the school.  

On the first day, we went to the Blossoms school in the morning for a cultural exchange session and had peace workshops. We practised yoga with all of the students which proved to be quite the challenge. Over lunch, we sat with all of the students and discussed our lives and how different they are. In the afternoon we went and visited the first slum school, where we were greeted with candles and dances. It was shocking to see how the children had so little but were so welcoming and giving towards us. We played with them and danced with them for hours, getting to know each other. Despite all of the joyous times we had, we were more aware than ever that we were in the slums, and that these children lived in awful conditions that we saw first-hand. Despite the fact there were smiles everywhere, the children at the first slum school played in a tiny open area right next to a heap of rubbish. They also have one classroom with two teachers teaching a group of children from 4 to 12 years old. 

The morning of the second day was spent at the second slum school, which was smaller and located in a newer slum. Once again we received the warmest welcome and played an introductory game and the children danced for us. Once again we played and with them for ages. The girls of the slum were doing henna and festival paints on all of the ISZL girls. Unfortunately the same goes for this school as the one on the previous day: the school is a tiny room with two teachers teaching a group of kids of a wide age range. The room is so small that they have managed to form a small outdoor structure that can act as an extra “room”, but the roof is just a tarp tied onto it. Together with JRP, the ISZL team is trying to raise money to fund a roof for these children. 

A highlight of the trip was taking groups of kids from both of the slum schools to the zoo. Nothing could wipe the constant smiles off their faces- not even the rain that came pouring down at the end of the day. The day was spent being dragged along by overexcited kids keen to see every single animal in the zoo. Despite it being hectic, it was worth every second. 

Of course, the trip was also a complete cultural experience. We visited tribal communities that JRP supports and visited countless temples, as well as playing a friendly volleyball match at the YMCA that JRP works with. We also had a group of tribal boys perform Gotipua dance for us at a nature camp. We also went to the beach and visited a craft village where they make incredibly impressive art out of recycled materials. 

What breaks my heart the most is how the India PDW is often seen as a “bad” PDW. The experience was incredibly humbling, joyous and at times completely heartbreaking. Seeing that children who have absolutely nothing and live in some of the worst conditions can constantly smile, dance and have an incredible amount of energy and trust for people they hardly know was touching. The India trip is by far the most underrated trip ISZL offers and I can’t wait to return one day and see the smiles on the faces of all the children I met there. 

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