By: Errin Alexander
As I was preparing for my trip to India, I decided to clear my phone of some pictures in order to make room for pictures and videos I was planning to take while in-country. During our long van ride from Agra to Chandigarh, I saw my teammate doing the exact same thing. We were both making room in our phones for what was important to us at that time…India.
While traveling through the different cities and states of India and diving into the culture at every stop along the journey, I realized that as a culture, they were continuously making room for what’s important. What stood out to me the most was their strong sense of community and family. My mother always said, “One hand washes the other, but both wash the face.” India was filled with all hands working together to wash the face or in other words, to build the community.
During my time working at SOREM, I noticed that although they may have needed assistance with learning how to take data or how to implement functional communication lessons, they were already remarkable at building peer relationships amongst the students and enhancing the professional relationships amongst staff. Students at SOREM had friends which not seen much with special learners. They tied each other’s shoes, they made jokes with each other and laughed, they held hands and pushed wheelchairs to help their friends who had difficulty walking, they had real friendships. The teachers and staff sat together each day for 30 minutes to have tea, eat, and socialize (“Tiffin Time”). This was their break time from the hustle and bustle of the day. In my past jobs, we were happy if we got a chance to eat anything throughout the day and to be able to eat with a coworker was a long stretch.
I saw this not only in the school but in the community as well. We had the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple and explore the ins and outs of the grounds. I learned that they have the largest community kitchen in the world. They feed over 100,000 people each and every day, 24/7-365. People are able to go there and eat as much as they need for free. But was amazed me was that the entire operation is mostly ran by volunteers. Volunteers are cooking, cleaning, and serving at all hours of the day/night. There’s no signing up for a day or a time or a particular job; they just arrive as they wish and help where ever they choose. To have such a huge operation that primarily depends on volunteers that you don’t have scheduled to keep it running smoothly is a foreign concept in America.
India definitely values family and community in a way that I have never experienced until visiting. I plan on keeping this at the forefront of everything I do from this point forward. I will continually take inventory on what really matters and what won’t matter tomorrow. I will put friends, family, and community first. I will be sure that, when working in the field, I encourage my clients, their families, providers, and care givers to do the same. I am excited to see the magic that begins to happens when we all make room for what’s important!