By Yusra Syed, IV Form
The World Behind the Curtain
Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to travel to different parts of India and visit schools, universities, and orphanages for a ten-day service trip with three other girls from the United States. My favorite part of the trip was our first stop, Hyderabad, India, where we visited Challenger Girls Orphanage.
When one hears the word orphanage, many different adjectives immediately come to mind: gloomy, dreary, strict, hostile. Before walking into the tall white building, these words were swirling around my brain and I expected to find miserable young girls and a heartless warden in a room without sunlight. However, when we slid the front curtain out of the doorway and peeped inside to see if anyone was around, the orphanage (hostel) warden came to greet us, and we spoke with her about how the place was run. She was a middle-aged unmarried woman whose life was devoted to the girls at the hostel. Just as she began speaking about the meals at the orphanage, we heard footsteps outside the curtain, and the warden announced the girls were home from school. Thirty to forty girls burst inside and surrounded us, asking our names and telling us theirs. The room was a blur of red and beige school dresses and swinging braids. They grabbed our hands and pulled us all around the building showing us their rooms, clothes, and toys.
I was shocked to see that the girls were not timid about introducing themselves, though it took me around two hours to get everyone’s name down. Time whirred by, and I realized we had spent four hours playing games with them and running around the entire perimeter. I told stories and answered their questions about America, a place they dreamed of visiting. Ayesha dreamed of becoming a pilot, soaring the skies around the world. Nusrat had decided she wanted to become a police officer, after taking a school field trip to the local station. The response that shocked me most was Afiya’s, who hoped to become an orphanage warden just like her very own caretaker.
Even though these girls have endured such loss and hardships during such a small part of their lives, they treat each other as family. I asked a few girls if they had ever fought with each other, and the response was always a ‘no’ followed by a confused expression. Every girl took care of one other, no matter how old, young, popular, smart, or pretty the other was. This was when I began to reflect on how I interact with my family, especially my siblings. We hoped to teach all these girls about different subjects we take in school on our visit- Math, Science, History, and English. Only on the ride back to the hotel, did I realize that these girls had taught me more than I could have ever taught them.
When it came time to leave, the orphanage would not allow us to go before promising to come back tomorrow, which was not initially in our schedule. They packed us all Tupperware boxes of our favorite foods from lunch and concluded that we would now have to come back to return them. We returned the next day and kept the contact information of the hostel, promising to call. This was probably the best, most heartwarming, unexpected experience of my life, and I am so glad that I was able to see such happiness and contentment in girls who have so little, or so I thought.
Yusra Syed is a IV day student from Shrewsbury, MA. She is a student ambassador for various non-profit organizations and is involved in promoting social entrepreneurship to solve the problems of child education and hunger in developing countries.In her spare time, Yusra enjoys playing soccer and experimenting in the kitchen.