Kirsten Montague

So this trip for me was as much a personal and sociological experiment as it was a humanitarian adventure. I signed up to take 16 American teenagers to a third world country for 2.5 weeks, make them pay their way, and watch them immerse there, all while thinking of where else their thousands could have gone. Shopping sprees, exotic spring breaks and electronics come to mind – things they could have chosen to spend this money on.


I watched them re-set a footbridge all day in the blazing sun, digging and hefting rocks to pile as its new foundation – to serve a man who uses his own resources to support the Chamba community and direct YMAD to the deepest corners of its need.


I watch as they eat scary food, meet sad people, go to places that are very very dirty, get themselves very very dirty…


I watch how they treat each other and their elders. I watch how dependent they aren’t on us. Watch them correct any behavior that was off, without being asked to. Watch them take initiative on every front.


I see impoverished children getting school uniforms, running water in their schools, medical attention, any attention, at the hands (financial and literal) of these young people.


They are the first generation not to know a world without Facebook, email and texting. Yet they have quietly lived without it.


Nobody has complained. They have to brush their teeth from canteens, take antibiotics that fry their skin, squat over holes for the restroom and carry their own toilet paper, eat curry for breakfast, and be on a constant schedule. They have never whined. Not even when they probably should have. They are appropriate with each other. They are not jaded by the world, but they’re not naïve within it either. Eight teenage girls, and no cattiness. Amazing.


They missed their Spring Break and prom to come here and do this. They got their schoolwork caught up in order to miss this much school. They played tirelessly with little schoolchildren and orphans in that hot Indian sun until their hands fried and tingled from Doxycyclene. They left their education toolboxes behind for the teachers, even if it meant them getting in trouble with YMAD (sorry, Eden).

I can write about India itself on my own blog – that’s just a side note. The other half of this wonder is the youth. This has been one eye-opening experience for me: these remarkable, bar-raising young people whose caliber far exceeds their peers’. They’ve been as much of a perspective-adjustment as India itself.


McKell’s sweet, patient mature demeanor buoyed my spirits and cheered me on when I felt uneasy or burnt out. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? When she smiles, it makes me wonder if someone just said something funny that I missed, but it turns out, that’s just the look on her face. What a jewel.


Erin charmed the locals and made everything a PARTAY! Little boys fell in love with her and she even got our stoic drivers to laugh.


Michelle deadpanned common sense into everything in her hilarious, good-natured way. I always looked for a chance to hear what was on her mind.


Kaya silently pushed forward and never got mad, even when my computer messed up her SD card (I would be devastated). She rocked her new Indian clothes and never made one negative remark.


Jenn danced with the kids and choreographed on the spot for the school kids at IRA. They adored her and she never tired of leading them in dances. I had to force her to take a break and get into the shade, and make her drink water, or she’d have melted.


Caitlin showed interest in everything and everyone around her, and criticized nothing. Even frustrations simply made her giggle. Her good attitude was an example to me.


Jordan did a rain dance when we were all overheated. It worked the next day, and that was good enough for us! She tried EVERYTHING that was offered, hikes, adventures, etc, and never got tired of it. I wished I could keep up with that energy.


Sara packed everything anyone could have needed, somehow fitting it into her carryon! She wins the preparedeness award – and saved the day for many of her companions. She may seem shy, but there was nothing she was willing to shy away from. She danced, sang, hiked, and led.


Tommy tried new foods everywhere he went. I’m his cousin , and I know personally how he has his preferences with food! He tried new stuff that was weird and scary. I was so proud of him. He had so many one-liners in Jenn’s quote book, he kept us laughing the whole trip. My personal favorite was when someone was reading out loud from the ridiculous side effects of some horrible medicine. He said “OK, maybe don’t list headaches, when one of your side effects is death.”


Nate was a good sport and led me out of the crazy Chokhi Danhi festival area when I was totally lost. Seems like he always got crammed in the back of the jeeps with his long legs, and I don’t know how he did it!


Corbin was the kid-magnet. I’ll never forget the children running up to him and mauling him with their creations, thoughts, and affection – almost knocking him over. They adored him every day of school. He was so good with the kids and their lessons. He carried my bag for me without being asked and saved the day with his extra teacher-gifts (we were running short).


Cody faced his fear of spiders in the biggest way, and he laid down the most impressive raps from the back seat of the jeep. Who thinks that stuff up off the top of their head?


Mike McQueen (I mean “Lightning”) is Cody’s rapping competitor. I could listen to the two of them and just shake my head the whole ride home. I loved how when we took goodbye pictures upon leaving the NHPC hostel, everyone stood on their toes next to him in pictures to avoid looking like little gnomes.


Cobabe is SLC’s youngest import (I’m the oldest) to the YMAD Utah County chapter. He chugged and puked the most Limca of the group. I believe his peers were impressed. What impressed ME, though, was his ability to scare off the most persistent street merchants and beggars, by sidling up to them and spazzing out in his “third gender” antics. It rescued several of us from the pestering, cuz those street people disappeared once he turned it on. When groups of people go years without bathing and wander the city with their toddlers wearing no diaper or shoes…it takes something really special to freak them out. Michale Cobabe is that something.


Lorin hadn’t been on a plane since he was little, and survived 24 hours of flying crammed into about a day and a half. We all think he’s ready for his wings.


Chase – so mellow, so easy, so funny. If you listen closely, his little comments he makes so quietly when others are bellowing, are the funniest things. And if you’re not listening, you miss them. And his super cute smile stands out in all our group pictures.


The parents of these young people should be proud and satisfied. All I would want as a parent would be to see hard work pay off in this way - with contributing, conscious, sensitive, progressive, intelligent, flexible, honorable, sweet young adults coming from all those years of parenting. Congrats, folks, and thanks for sharing your kids with us.