Three-quarters of the way up the hill, another group welcomed us with more marigold leis. They held a banner that declared themselves as the “self-help women’s group” – those benefiting from the economic development program made possible through WV sponsorship.
When we rounded the last corner, we saw the rest of the village waiting for us. They’d planned a welcoming reception for us to say thank-you for the impact that WV has had on their community. Every child (about 35) in the village is sponsored by a Canadian, and WV has supplied each household (7) with a concrete tank that collects 8,000 litres of water during the rainy season to provide the valued resource for six months of the year. Although this doesn’t solve the water supply problem year-round, it has provided immense relief to these precious villagers.
They ushered us into a makeshift outdoor meeting area, shaded from the searing sun by a tarp. They gave us seats of honor and again presented us with marigold leis and floral bouquets. A pre-teen girl sang a song she’d written about the value of education, and a toothless grandma stole the show with a song and dance. We were able to say a few words of thanks and encouragement, and then they served us chia and crackers. I estimate that 70 people were present. Some had walked a long distance from surrounding villages for the event. Doing so in this scorching heat was no small effort on their behalf.
The people’s warmth overwhelmed me. They lack the material possessions that North Americans enjoy, but they’re rich in hospitality and gratitude. They were eager to communicate despite the language barrier, and I enjoyed a good chat with a WV volunteer who helps coordinate the women’s self-help group. She told me that they’ve benefited through the purchase of cows and the subsequent ability to sell the milk for income.
This village’s size and remote location reminded me of our experience in Nepal. It felt like I’d come home to long-lost friends. Again, when departure time came, I found it difficult to say goodbye. In Nepalese I told them the women that they were my “sottees” (friends); the word was close enough to Hindi that they understood. They nodded and smiled and lined up for goodbye hugs. While most stayed on the edge of the village and waved farewell, those from surrounding villages walked the path with us. One by one they eventually veered onto other paths enroute to their own villages, and again we exchanged hugs.
As women, our lives are a universe apart. These gals climb trees to cut leaves as fodder for their livestock. They walk kilometers to collect one or two containers of water for household use. They live miles from the nearest clinic or bazaar where they can buy the simplest staples such as bar soap. They’ll never have a driver’s license, let alone own a car. Despite the differences, we all understand the meaning of friendship. Smiles and hugs transcend language barriers.
A part of my heart remains in rural India.