What a Week! - Troy Lunt
For the past week, I have had the opportunity of spending my day with five remarkable teens, Grace, Megan, Savannah, Adam, and Nathan, as they serve 37 of the cutest kids you can imagine at the Sunda Primary School.
First, the nuts and bolts. Our school is perched at the point of a ridgeline offering views up and down the Sutlej River valley as well as to the snow-capped peaks of the awe-inspiring Himalayas. The setting is spectacular. Our days began with a 20-minute ride up an almost unbelievably winding road. We then walked for about 20 minutes to our beautiful Sunda. Our final turn led to a stairway flanked by eager children straining for one of our teens’ hands—3 or 4 children per hand is a typical ratio. The school day starts at 10:00 AM with prayer, singing of the national anthem, and reciting the pledge of allegiance. I found watching the straight lines and columns of kids reciting and singing in unison surprisingly moving.
Next, we jumped into the first of five lessons our teens taught during the day. The kids were divided into five classes ranging from 3 to 9 kids and were rotated during the day to each of our five teens. After our 3rd rotation, we would take a break to play some games with the kids. Favorites included Jellyfish, Hokie Pokie, and Iggle Wiggle (shout out to Megan’s sister Taylor for introducing Iggle Wiggle to YMAD 4 years ago). One more class rotation and then we had lunch from 1:00 to 2:00. The first half of lunch was much-needed rest while we ate lunches of fried rice or noodles, partially green oranges that are surprisingly sweet, chips, and cookies. After 30 minutes to recharge their batteries, the teens would head out to play and dance with our kids as well as the 17 students at the adjoining middle school. In addition to our regular games, we also introduced Sunda to the Macarena and Cupid Shuffle. Both were HUGE hits. Back to class we would then go for our final class rotation followed by end of day games. We would depart Sunda under a shower of “Goodbye, Sir” and “Goodbye, Mam,” already tired and facing a 20-minute uphill hike back to our car. Watching the teens maintain a great attitude as they battled through long, hot, tiring days has been really cool. They have been amazing.
Now, on to the stars of the show. It has been really fun to watch Adam’s progression at the school. At first, he seemed a bit nervous with the kids and with teaching. However, it was not long before he developed a really fun groove with the kids and they totally loved him. He emerged as a confident teacher who could hold the kids’ attention and did a great job of balancing work and fun for them. Adam is a really talented kid.
Nathan was the team Sherpa, taking a disproportionate number of terms schlepping our team bag. He does not have much pretense and the kids loved his genuineness. He is super conscientious and helpful which made him a great part of the team. Nathan was very patient with the kids and they loved him.
Grace is the picture of calmness. She just never seems to get ruffled. Whether it was a lesson going longer or shorter than planned or the seemingly constant fight by our kids to hold her hand, she was just unflappable. Our girls adored Grace and watching her interact with them it was clear the feeling was mutual.
Savannah is an absolute ray of sunshine and I can’t think of a time that I have seen her without a smile on her face. She is a magnet for people where ever she goes in India whether it is BB (Sunda’ headmistress) who seemed particularly fond of Savannah or an older lady we met walking through the village who immediately hugged Savannah and seemed determined to not let her go. Of course, it is our children for whom Savannah saves her biggest smiles and the kids could not help but reciprocate.
Megan is kindness personified. She just seems to know the right thing to say or do and the right way to say or do it. Everyone loves to be around Megan and she better than anyone on the team seemed to be able to connect with both the boys and girls. Her warmth is infectious, allowing her to make each child feel like he or she was Megan’s favorite. Megan seems to really understand people, an awfully rare trait, and it was really fun to watch faces light up whenever people interacted with Megan.
The final member of our team is Priya, our dear translator. Priya is such a kind soul and was so attentive to the needs and wants of our team. We love Priya and are so grateful for the opportunity to spend a week with this great lady.
Today marked the end of our time in Sunda and I was so glad to be able to share it not only with our awesome team, but with my amazing wife, Amy, who has worked so hard to make this expedition happen. The entire village came to celebrate with us. We were honored with traditional gifts from the teachers, the school board, the parents' committee and many of the parents of our beloved children. We each ended the day with more than a dozen malas (Indian equivalent of a Hawaiian Lei), including many hand-strung using nuts and dried fruit, a particularly high honor in this area, as well as traditional scares, hats, and big blue ribbon. Next, the DJ started the music and we danced hand in hand with our beloved students and their parents. It was a ton of fun learning some traditional Indian dances and meeting so many nice, gracious people. The day ended with the dreaded goodbyes and they were just as gut-wrenching as we feared. Tears flowed freely from the eyes of our team, our beautiful children and the many parents that stayed to see us off.
The last hot, dusty walk from Sunda was a somber one, and the last drive down the mountain passed with few words. I can unquestionably say that these five amazing teens positively impacted Sunda and with equal certainty say that Sunda changed each of us. Certainly, a piece of my heart will always reside in Sunda and I’ll always cherish the relationships forged and memories made during the past seven days with these remarkable teens. What a week!