By Carlie Mix, Junior, Seattle Pacific University
“Are you ready to meet India? Because I promise — India will change you.” These words, spoken by our SPRINT team’s host, could not be truer. During our five weeks in India, my team and I worked with Dalit schoolchildren in the city of Hyderabad. One student in particular changed my life. She was in second grade and at the top of her class. Her name is Sravanthi.
I remember when I first met her, and every time I met her after that. The children at these schools would introduce themselves to us multiple times per day, desperately hoping to be recognized and remembered. Sravanthi would introduce herself to me what felt like hundreds of times per day, but her strategy worked! By the second day at her school, I remembered her — and I haven’t forgotten her since.
From Sravanthi, I learned the importance of hope. I don’t know a lot about Sravanthi’s life, but I can imagine it is beyond difficult. Most likely, everyone around her has taught her that she is worthless and too dirty to even touch. Yet she had the confidence and hope to reach out and shake my hand dozens of times per day. In doing so, she took hold of her own future in a way that is against her entire culture. Later, I would realize that she was seizing the moment in a manner that I could barely appreciate at the time.
Not “untouchable” here
The Dalits are the lowest people group in India and are generally treated as less important than animals. They are called “untouchables” because people literally refuse to touch them, and “outcasts” because they are outside of the caste system (or social hierarchy). Although caste discrimination has been illegal in India for more than 50 years, Dalits are still denied education, jobs, and health care.
To end this injustice, organizations like Operation Mobilization (OM) have set up hundreds of English-medium schools for the Dalit children. OM’s goal is to educate Dalits in order to end the cruelty that has existed for centuries. Sponsors pay for children to attend the Good Shepherd Schools, which provide phenomenal educations at little cost to students’ families.
By simply looking and speaking with the children who attend these schools, you could easily assume they come from families of a high caste. Dressed in blue and white uniforms (complete with ties!), they approach you with a firm handshake, asking, “Hello teacher, what is your name?” Don’t let this trick you. These children live in a level of poverty and endure more discrimination than is conceivable. Yet their spirits of joy and love made me think I was the one being taught there.
Madhu: educating a future educator
Since the age of 10, I have wanted to be an elementary school teacher. While my motivations and thoughts surrounding teaching have changed over the years, my desire remains the same.
During my experience in India, I was confirmed in my calling to be a teacher, not only for a career, but also as my vocation as well. More importantly, my team and I met a teacher named Madhu, who completely changed my perspective on teaching.
Madhu has eyes that shine with a love that can only be traced back to Christ. She was once in the same situation as the Dalit children she teaches, and now she is giving back to the community that gave her a new life. As a mentor, she left a deep impression on my own thinking about education and educators.
In Madhu’s teaching philosophy, education is not what one does solely for income. She considers teaching to be a ministry. She sees each child, and each day, as an opportunity to love and encourage the future generation.
This simple idea changed how I think about my future. Now I want to be a teacher who does not simply teach, but one who inspires students and shines Christ’s love as Madhu does. I firmly believe that a teacher has the potential to influence a child’s entire life — Madhu’s influence on the children she teaches, and on me, is tangible evidence. In many instances, a teacher can make a difference by believing and loving a child, and that confidence and love can make all the difference in the world. Now, when I think of my future, I see teaching as a ministry. I hope when I become a teacher here in United States, I can have the same perspective as Madhu does.
A full circle
A few months after returning home (and missing India like crazy), I began to browse through the children in need of a sponsor on the Dalit Freedom Network’s website. One day, I came across a small picture of Sravanthi. She was in need of a sponsor, and if she did not get one soon, she would be forced to drop out of school. Something lurched inside of me, and I knew what I had to do. I talked to my parents about this special girl, and shared the impact that she had made on me. We agreed that it was important to help her, and now we are the proud sponsor of Sravanthi. I don’t share this story as a boast about what my family is doing. Instead, I want to share how this child changed my life and gave more meaning to my life.
I met India in the form of a 7-year-old, bright-eyed girl unafraid of the future. I went to India ready to teach and serve those around me, but I ended up learning and growing more than I was prepared for. And now, I am sure that India is not done teaching and changing me.
Carlie Mix is a junior at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in integrated studies (i.e., elementary education) with an emphasis in natural science. Raised in multicultural Cupertino, California, Carlie says her experience in India has confirmed her desire to teach as both a profession and vocation.
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