One Happy Return: A First-Day Musing

Maybe it’s my intuitive nature; maybe it’s sheer luck; but I have always had a knack for sensing when I have made a mutual, impactful connection with others.

When I came to Calcutta last year, I felt that the service I had done made a profound impact on me. However, upon returning not only through this very same trip, but also to one of my prior service placements, I realized that my service had also made an impression on those I had served.

Along with one half of the group, I serve at Daya Dan in the afternoons. Daya Dan is a home for orphaned children that are mildly to severely physically and/or mentally handicapped. It had been my favorite place last year, so I was excited to return.

As soon as I walked through the doors, I was ecstatically greeted by two little girls, one of which I had taken a particular liking to last time around: Priyanka. I had tried tirelessly to connect with her, and finally, after a few smacks and tantrums, she wouldn’t let go of me. You can thus imagine my excitement when she leaped right into my arms again with gusto.

The next hour brought many laughs and surfaced experiences both old and new. What happened next, however, was even more profound.

One of the older girls, Puja, rolled up to me in her chair, and immediately exclaimed my name. “Ashley!”

I was in shock: thousands of volunteers come to Daya Dan throughout the year, and yet she remembers my name. This moment was when I realized that service truly has an impact.

One of the more challenging aspects of this specific trip is that we reside on a street that has many women that are a part of a human trafficking cartel ring. They are usually young to middle-aged, and either offer henna or have a “sleeping” infant strapped to them and beg passersby for formula. Their English is limited to “Hello!”,”Happy New Year!”, and “Sister, you want henna? Henna?” or “Feed baby?”

However, the henna can have very adverse reactions, and giving them money or formula never directly helps them. Rather, it continues to perpetuate a horrible cycle of trafficking.

It is thus the service we perform that reestablishes the sense of altruism we often feel like we lose because of our total inability to help these women. For me, personally, pouring my energy into engaging with the children of Daya Dan truly helped cope with these feelings of confusion and doubt.

This experience has proved to me that my service somehow made an impact on another individual, and nothing, to me, is more rewarding.

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