Mama LoLo is in the HOUSE!! -- Loree Hagen

...... and spiders, flies, beetles, roaches, and whatever other things that may or may not bite are asked to kindly LEAVE the house. 

Red Team (Ashley M., Brooklyn, Chloe P., Grace, Josh, Keller, and Payton) have finished teaching at the beautiful Shaneri village School, and stimulating the local economy of Shimla with ALL of our rupees, and we are all excited to return home.  But we have had a marvelous time.  

On Tuesday, our last full day of teaching, the students’ morning routine - prayers, chants, the national anthem, and a school-wide daily quiz - concluded with a surprise rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Payton.  The beginning of the song sounded familiar, but it quickly became different.  EVERYTHING here is different.  And different is good.  

We were asked on Monday if we would join the students and staff for lunch on Tuesday, and everyone on our team was willing and excited to accept. (Go team!!). The entire school staff (director/teacher, second teacher, peon -his actual title!, and cook) all joined in preparing a very special lunch. The director repeatedly emphasized that the dish of fresh local peas and fresh local handmade paneer was a very special delicacy, prepared only at important celebrations such as weddings and retirements (by which I’m pretty sure he meant funerals).  We were their honored guests, and they made very clear that this gesture was being offered in gratitude for what YMAD had done for their students and their school.  The depth of their gratitude and respect became even clearer on Wednesday (Good-bye Day) when we were honored in a ceremony attended by all of the villagers and the district school committee.  We were all moved to tears by the words of the director and the beautiful gifts we were presented.  But the gushers really opened as the team said good-bye to the children they had loved and taught for the last week.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the Red Team in action:

Ashley was already very seasoned at international travel, including to India on a medical service trip.  But even with her vast and pertinent experience, her eyes have been wide with wonder here on the sides of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh.  — One of my favorite scenes of the trip is Ashley dancing with Mahek, one of the children at Shaneri school, twirling her in her beautiful traditional dress.  And she provided one of the miracles of the trip when she got Manpreet, the cutest and most energetic little boy, to pay attention and participate in her lesson.  Before that, he had barely ever even stayed in his class, let alone sit still.

 

Brooklyn came into this just hoping not to let anyone down, but she has been over the top amazing….from day one at our meetings in the US, and every day and in every way here in India.  She was focused and effective as a teacher, and I wish everyone could have seen the love and joy shared between her and the children.  Her affection for them helped her keep their attention as she taught, and it has inspired us all to open our hearts completely as we have served here.   Brooklyn has taken the initiative to help again and again, and she has been a fabulous leader on our team.  She has been perfectly reliable and responsible, and she has helped keep me on track.  Thank you, Brooklyn.  

Chloe has responded to every crazy thing here (and crazy is pretty much a constant) with a beautiful laugh, a sweet smile, and a twinkle in her eye.  I have shared so many “can you believe this?!!” glances with Chloe, and I am grateful to her for helping me keep my cool.  She has been completely unflappable, and she has kept her charm and grace through everything.  She has also been an amazing teacher, helping to reinforce all of the important words and concepts the team has tried to teach.  Chloe has done a great job helping the children to learn the games and songs that are such important and lasting things we leave with the school.  

Grace seemed so nervous at the airport in Salt Lake.  But nervous or unsure here in India?  Not even!  She has been completely calm, strong, and absolutely happy the whole time.  She has loved this experience - and especially the children.  Grace’s emergency lesson (the one she created herself) was one of the best and most effective lessons of the entire week, and I loved watching her laugh with delight as the children responded to all of her efforts all week.  Grace has also been a huge help to me.  Thank you Grace, for volunteering for the hard tasks, and for completing them in rapid and excellent fashion.  You are amazing!  Everyone loves you, and you have been such a great influence and example for the entire Operation Vishvaas.  AND you were the brave first rider on the elephant!!!  We were all so proud and grateful!

Josh.  Oh my gosh!  I can guarantee you that no one has EVER heard a more engaging, entertaining, or interactive reading of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Josh read it about two words at a time, demonstrating the meaning of the words, then pausing while the children echoed the words back at top volume.  It was a blast!!!  That happened on day 1 in the village, and the same method ensued every time Josh read any book. (Chicka-Chika BOOM BOOM!!)  Josh was also involved in another miracle in Shaneri school.  Mayank, a student in 1st class (5 years old), was an uncooperative and rambunctious boy.  When we asked for help from the teacher, she only responded with “He is very naughty.” (Pronounced “Werry Not-Tea”)  But Josh bonded with Mayank (both literally and figuratively!) as Mayank spent the last few days on Josh’s shoulder, with a firm squeeze around his forehead and sometimes eyes, staying much more focused and even learning some English words.  Josh was a fabulous teacher, and he did critical work to familiarize the students with the books we donated.  He has also been a calm, steady leader, doing everything with perfect diligence.  Thanks, Josh.

Keller is upbeat and witty at all times.  He has the kept the mood of our whole team uplifted this entire trip.  Keller was our team lead on the first day in the village, and it was really hard for him to have to wait to teach his lessons.  Since he got started on Day 2 in the village, he has been a very engaging teacher, making every activity fun and suspenseful and keeping the children enthused.  And he has danced and sung his way through many of the drives here, making the bus a relaxed and happy experience for all of us.  Thanks, also, Keller, for stepping up and packing our education bags.  It was a real help to be able to rely on you. 

Payton came to Rampur with YMAD last year and taught in Shaneri, so he has been a great resource for all of us.  It was inspiring to see the teacher and the kids lights up when he walked in on Day 1.  They remembered him by name - and he remembered their names as well, even the older boys that came from the village every day to watch from outside the school gates.   Payton is a gifted teacher, and the children love him so much that they make an extra effort to learn and speak the English he came to share.   — Payton turned 18 on Tuesday, and it’s a safe bet that this was his most memorable birthday ever.  Between the children surprising him with a song (“Dear Payton, we love you.  Happy Birthday to you”), the school staff giving him special honors at the lunch they prepared and served, and Raj arranging for an Indian cake with a singing, opening lotus flower candle, this was surely a birthday like no other.  He is an adult now (at least on paper), and he behaved like one here on this trip.  Thanks, Payton, for letting us lean on your experience.

We are all back in Chandigarh now, ready to head toward home tomorrow.  And we have had a fabulous time.  We’ve taught, we’ve learned, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve served and loved as best we could.  We have also had many memorable experiences, culminating today in an ELEPHANT RIDE!!!!!  We are excited to get home and share what we have seen and done.  And we are all inspired to continue to Make a Difference.