Tuesday, April 9, 2013


With William, Hannah and Ada
I felt a little out of place. I was neither a volunteer nor a Caucasian and I wore an orange necklace.

One of the first things the Guria children exclaimed on seeing me with the visiting group was, “You are Indian!” I may have imagined the tiniest drawing back, just a slight dip, a nanosecond of uncertainty but it was gone before I had the time to permit defensiveness into my smiling reply, “Yes, I am Indian and my name is Neerja.”

My association with Guria was through Hannah 
Ada ( https://www.princeton.edu/bridgeyear/meet-the-volunteers/ada/ ) both of whom are currently doing the service program that my daughter Asawari pursued at Serbia during the year 2010-2011 http://www.princeton.edu/bridgeyear/updates/archives/?id=5417)
(L to R) Nick, William, Allen, Mackenzie, Tyler

My trip to Varanasi was about the Bridge Year Program (BYP) community spirit. I felt a sense of connection with the students who were doing in India what my daughter had done for nine months in Novi Sad and Nis. Hannah and Ada had made me the generous offer of showing their service location and I was honoured to be at Guria on the afternoon of 6th April 2013.

I was impressed. From the start! I watched Ada deftly hail an autorickshaw, negotiate a price and effortlessly slip into the extension next to the driver’s seat on the ride up. We trundled past Hannah on the way, a determined and purposeful rider on her bicycle, negotiating the unforgiving city traffic with panache.

Tom Davis, currently volunteer at this “grassroots anti-trafficking NGO” had insights to share. We stood talking on the periphery of some high decibel excitement involving Kho-Kho and Kabbadi. Even on this flash visit, it was clear that there were huge challenges to be faced for any effective change to take place.

I wondered if Tom or the Guria team ever felt paralyzed at the enormity of the task. I mulled over any disillusion the apparent difficulties might have caused their young American volunteers. I felt concerned about the potential of false hopes being given the Guria children. Tom was reassuring in his even, thought through and open responses.

Guria’s positive role was evident in the orderly manner in which they conducted the meditation session I attended, far more disciplined than my own class in Delhi. The children were expressive, forthcoming and expectant of participation and friendship. Two little ones whispered amongst themselves, standing next to me, hazarding a guess at what my orange necklace might have been worth. Their estimate? Rs 100!

BYP India on the Vindhyachal 
There was hope there in a young voice that said, “My ambition is to become a reporter so that I can tell everyone of the injustices I see around me.” There was a sense of pride there when a small boy thumped his tiny chest and claimed, “I taught Tom to speak Hindi.” There was a sense of security there in the little ones who toppled over during meditation to fall asleep. There was resolve there in the gravity underlining the cheerful faces of the adults in charge.

I sat there trying to guess what lay behind the closed eyes of the older girls. Did I imagine a shade of sadness? Was there a fear of what the future might bring? The tall gates that were hastily closed every time struck me. This was difficult work Guria was doing. There were too many invested agencies crusading for the status quo outside of these four walls.

Of these, the most ludicrous and foolish was us, the Indians who have the luxury of being ordinary and middle class. Unaware of our power to effect massive changes around us, we bumble through our work schedules and weekends at the malls. We have no clue how badly help is needed outside of our self-constructed walls of order and security. We cannot begin to imagine why there has to be a pretense, at the least, to an inclusive world.

A sliver is all that is needed. A shift of our glance, a speck of our time, a fragment of our thought. A thousand more Gurias would be too little!

Guria and the people behind this NGO are to be highly commended.

Visit: www.facebook.com/guriafreedomnow

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