In June, ten Celanese employees departed for Dharamsala, India to participate in the first of two Celanese International Impact Program (CIIP) service events in 2016. The first group’s assignment is to serve for two weeks at an Anganwadi – a daycare setting. A few of our employees reflected on their experience shortly after arriving in India to start their assignments.
Our first days have been very impressive, emotional and joyful for me. I’m impressed by the friendliness of the people – no matter if they work in developed areas or in the under-resourced education center where we volunteer. I’m equally impressed and emotionally touched by the kids. We teach them the alphabet, numbers, colors and rhymes each day. It’s sad to see how little they have. No daycares filled with toys, no rooms with chairs or tables, not much light in the rooms either. We sit with the kids on dirty carpets, on the concrete floor. They call me “Didi” (big sister) and seem to be full of happiness when we show up and play and sing with them. When we did the “monkey song” today (thank goodness I’m on a team with Cole (Florence, USA) who plays guitar), one little boy was finally singing the song on his own.
Sometimes I think our first world problems are nothing compared to what these people’s lives are over here. Do we really need bigger and fancier cars, big houses and all the fancy things around us to impress people we don’t even know or we don’t really care about? Sometimes I ask myself who is teaching whom? People and kids with so little, having no valuables and opportunities in their life, but are so rich in their hearts and can give us more than you can pay with money. I’ve already had so much fun with my colleagues from different locations in the U.S., Europe and Asia. We have such great and passionate people that it makes me very proud to work for Celanese. One of the best experiences I can think of.
I was really proud when I got the email confirming I was chosen for CIIP, not only because I could volunteer and do community service but also because it was in India. As our departure drew closer I got more and more excited wondering if I could really make the impact that I wanted. When June 12th came however, it came with a lot of anxiety. My early morning flight from Mumbai was delayed and I was on the verge of missing my connecting flight from New Delhi to Dharamsala. I barely made it to the boarding gate and to my surprise, I found my Celanese colleagues eagerly waiting for me. They were all glowing with excitement; having traveled over twenty hours, there was no sign of jet lag at all. After 90 minutes we were in Dharamsala, at an altitude of 1100 meters and situated in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Nothing specific was scheduled for the evening so we settled down and started learning more about one another. In spite of being from different backgrounds and regions, we easily connected.
There was an adrenalin rush when Laura (Dallas, USA) and I were dropped off at our workplace, a daycare center called an Anganwadi. The moment we entered the community, I was stunned. They have very little resources. Rural India is so different from urban India. We started settling in by initiating conversations with the assistant teacher and befriending kids arriving. Some children came alone, some with their moms, most of them crying as loud as they could – all just staring at us. It seems like a daunting task, but with Laura’s nice singing and my Hindi speaking we have already made progress.
This is my first trip to India and I have to say, it hasn’t been comfortable. I am with people 24 hours a day and not just any people, LOUD people! When I walk down the road, cars or motorbikes passing by honk loudly at me. The food is just a little spicier than I am used to, making my mouth burn after most meals. I haven’t had a hot shower since arriving to Dharamsala. The people I am working with don’t speak English, so it is a lot of work to try to make myself understood and also to understand. There isn’t safe drinking water from the faucets, so I need to carry bottled water with me. All these experiences have reinforced in my mind that physical comforts and conveniences do not equate to happiness.
I have been overwhelmed by the poverty I see in the children I am working with, and yet they are just like any other children; there are troublemakers, class clowns, grumpy toddlers, over achieving students, and caring little helpers within the group. They are full of laughter and excitement. I can see love in the faces of the mothers that drop them off and they have a teacher who really cares about them. There is so much I wish I could do for them, but can’t. I am not going to change the dirty concrete floor of their one room school building, or buy them the fun new toys that my nieces and nephews have. But I am hoping during my time here they will be able to feel that another person loves and cares for them and hopefully learn some new things. I can already tell that I will probably benefit more from this experience than they will. By leaving my comfort zone, I am learning a different culture and stretching to become a better human being. Despite not being comfortable, I am so happy to be here.
Laura Otto Silke Zimmerman and Sugam Kulkarni
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