A vow to learning and the people who taught me
I was on the other side of the world, but it seems like it was a different world all together. I have been spending this last month trying to connect what I learned in India to what I know in America. It has been hard to sum up how I feel because some feelings were so indescribable.
During our visit to OLTL, I met children who some would say have suffered great tragedy, some of who currently live in poverty and some who are orphans and are cared for by Courtney and the housemothers. Yet from the moment I met them, all I felt was pure joy. Their resilience and ability to laugh and be happy despite their circumstances was almost unbearable to believe. The happiness in their eyes and the joy they brought us made me have no doubt that I was in the presence of God.
I always felt connected to Courtney and her mission. I understood why she wanted to make a difference and I commend her for being so courageous. Being a school counselor in Newark, NJ doesn’t sound as glamorous as saving orphans in India, but in many ways I’ve learned our jobs were very similar. Courtney talked about her struggles with getting support from the community and even her personal struggle of feeling as if she is not doing enough.
Often times, I feel like my day-to-day work is not enough to help my students succeed. I can speak to a student for 30 minutes or an hour but at the end of the day, many of my students face several other barriers and hardships that I cannot protect them from.
During my trip, Yogesh taught me that it is not my job to protect them from the world, but only to love them. I cannot control what happens to my students, the children of India, and even myself, but I can do my best to support them, love them and to help them when hardships do arise.
During our stay in Varanasi, we met with a professor at a university. He told our group a story about students who did not know much about the Chinese culture and had reservations and some stereotypical prejudices. Shortly after, a study abroad program began and students from China began attending the university. Soon the Indian students began opening their minds about the Chinese culture. The story reminded us about how interpersonal relationships can decrease judgmental thoughts and racism.
This lecture made me think about my students back in NJ. I envisioned seeing my students on a college campus one day meeting other students from different backgrounds, different socioeconomic statues, and befriending them. I thought about how if only someone would see them how I see them; this world would be a little less racist, less harsh and a little more understanding. It might be crazy to think that a few positive interactions with someone different than you can change the world, but I believe it to be true.
Well, I know it to be true. Every interaction I’ve had with a student, whether it’s been positive or negative, has shaped who I am as a counselor today. I believe there is an ideal notion that if you work in education, you are going to teach kids, help them be better people and help them succeed, but in actuality they help us. My students teach me everyday. They teach me how to have strength, how to be resilient and they also teach me patience.
My fellow travelers taught me how the people you surround yourself with affect your life. The people I surrounded myself with in India made me feel safe, happy, and they made me better. It will not always be easy to have people in your life that make you feel safe and unfortunately, sometimes we are not able to choose the people who are in our lives. No matter the circumstances, I hope you will always have someone to lean on, to talk to and to have the freedom to be yourself around.
India taught me to never stop learning about myself and to always continue to self-reflect and explore opportunities to improve. To remember who I was and where I want to be, to remind myself to forgive myself and to not let my past mistakes burden me and stop me from growing.
India taught me to be kind to myself. The children at OLTL taught me how to be brave. Courtney taught me to stand up for what I believe in and Yogesh taught me to never stop learning.
by Rania Sawaged, LAC
Dedicated to Courtney, Yogesh, the children at OLTL, the housemothers, my fellow travelers, and my students. Thank you for teaching me.