They treated us like royalty, directing us to chairs at the front of the meeting area. They placed garlands of orange marigolds around our necks and gave us bouquets of flowers. The chairman made a speech, expressing gratitude for World Vision’s work in their community and thanking us, as sponsors, for coming to visit them. Then they invited us to speak. It was such a pleasure to tell them that the pleasure was ours, and to thank them for their partnership with WV in accomplishing meaningful goals among the poorest of the poor within their community. I truly felt humbled by their gratitude and hospitality. The time with them ended all too soon, but we had to press forward to reach Ankit at school before classes would be dismissed at noon.
Another five minutes’ drive found us at six-year-old Ankit’s school. Twenty-seven children, grades one through four, were sitting on skimpy blankets on a concrete floor in one room. Grades five through eight sat in an adjoining room.
Ankit knew we were coming, but he was obviously unsure of himself and these white-skinned strangers. When the teacher asked him to stand and we approached him, he responded by looking down and avoiding our eyes. We simply smiled and said “Namaste” to him. He then bent down and touched our toes to show respect. I wanted to pick him up and give him a big hug, but I had to restrain myself because that might have been his undoing!
I’d purchased enough foam shapes to do a craft with 30 children, so this class size was perfect. Within minutes we’d pulled out the supplies and shown the kids how to make a picture with the shapes. They eagerly set to work and completed their craft without further instruction. The kids from the adjoining class then filed in, and we gave the teachers some gummy worm candy to distribute to all.
Next on the agenda was a visit to Ankit’s home. We walked about a quarter-mile with him and two of his older brothers down a dusty road and through a wheat field to their two-room home made of mud and rock. Several cows rested in the courtyard near the house where family and friends had already gathered for the event.
World Vision staff introduced us to Ankit’s parents and nine siblings. At first I felt a little awkward – what are the perfect words to say in such a situation, anyway? With cameras clicking and a video camera recording the event, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. How must the family have felt? The entire moment seemed surreal. Thankfully we were able to disappear into the house with just the family. There I gave them the gifts we’d purchased for them – a baseball cap for Dad, a comb and mirror set for Mom, beaded necklaces for Mom and the girls, toy airplanes for the kids, and peanut butter to spread on their “roti” (bread).
When we exited, Ankit showed us a card we’d mailed to him a couple of months ago. I showed him the picture and thank-you note he’d sent to us in return, and gave him a picture of our family. I think something twigged in his mind when he saw the picture he’d drawn.
By now the courtyard had drawn a couple dozen curious villagers of all ages. They smiled and nodded as Gene and Eric, the Canadian WV rep, demonstrated playing with a Frisbee and with a Velcro ball and mitt set. Mothers and big sisters nudged the younger girls my direction when they saw that I’d brought a dozen wee hair ties. What fun!
With everyone now relaxed, Gene and I walked with Ankit and his parents through the back field. Using a translator, we asked questions about how much land they own, the crops they plant, and the challenges they face on a daily basis. One of their greatest challenges is the danger posed by wild elephants! Ankit’s father told us that an elephant had broken through the protective wire fence dividing their property from the jungle nearby only two days prior. He said that they run for safety if they see a beast coming their direction, but if it comes at night, there’s nothing they can do except remain as quiet as possible in their house.
We spent about an hour with the family. During that time, I bonded with Ankit’s mother. We’re from opposite sides of the earth and possess two very different belief systems, but we share the common desire for our kids’ well-being. There’s no way she can provide for her children’s material and physical needs as I can provide for mine, and my heart ached for her. When I offered her a farewell hug, she immediately responded and embraced me in return. I was finally able to give Ankit a hug, too. I’ll always treasure his shy smile and I make a commitment to correspond with him on a more regular basis.
“Dear God, Your Word contains more than 2,000 references to the poor and oppressed and You command Your children to help those who cannot help themselves. Please impress this day’s memories upon my heart and mind forever. Open my eyes, my heart, and my hands so that I might respond in a way that honors You and that makes a difference in the lives of the needy.”