Because, really, it is about time!
Okay, here is what happened. India decided that it no longer liked Weebly (this website platform that I use to publish blog posts). I could no longer access my blog while here, per some sort of governmental regulation, which I didn’t quite understand. I still don’t quite understand, but the ban on Weebly has been lifted in India and therefore, I can write to you all again!
So, it is with great urgency that I finally share with you my student, Chloe. September 27th, 2017 marked three years at SCH for Chloe. Three years of immeasurable growth, laughter, joy, and absolute love. For this kiddo especially I am eager to see what unfolds before her, I am eager to see what beautiful blessings life brings here in the years to come. I am eager to see what beautiful blessings she brings others—again, I know with certainty it will all be too wonderful and too immeasurable.
Chloe is the energy found between the pendulum bounce of two swinging pigtails. She is pure smiles and a holy, endless laugh that bubbles up into the air and runs through your brain and sticks with you a bit longer than all the rest. Her laugh is strung together by the Creator of the Heavens.
The way Chloe puzzle pieces words and thoughts together daily reminds me that this girl is earthshattering. Her brilliance is truly inconceivable. Her experience and interaction with the world is a dialogue I feel so privileged to observe. She is brave. Bold to try and to learn and to grow and to understand and to play part in all that unfolds around her. Her exuberance reminds me to fall in love with learning and exploring and discovering and living everyday.
Chloe has pluck; she has kindness; she has imagination; she has incredible growth behind her and in front of her.
Chloe is an expanding universe.
About Her Vision
As you all know, all of my students have visual impairments. Chloe is totally blind. She has bilateral congenital anophthalmia. She is a braille reader, and relies on tactile information to participate in activities and interact with her environment. Chloe very efficiently uses all of her available senses to process and synthesize the information she gathers into clearer concepts and new understanding about the world she lives in.
About her Academic Skills
Chloe is working on so much right now! It is marvelous to see.
About her ECC Skills
To quote an old blog post... The ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum) is something I will mention over and over again in my blogs, so here is a simple definition: The ECC embodies the skills individuals with visual impairments need to live independent lives, to successfully interact with the world around them, and to engage with the appropriate learning materials. Depending on the individual's level of vision, their ability to learn through observation is limited to hands-on, interactive instruction. For this reason, specialized educators, provide instruction in the following categories and their respective subsets of skills: (1) assistive technology, (2) compensatory skills, (3) career education, (4) recreation and leisure, (5) orientation and mobility, (6) sensory efficiency, (7) social skills, (8) self-determination, and (9) independent living skills.
There is so much to say about Chloe's developing skills in each of these areas, but for today, I will focus on two: Orientation and Mobility and Social Skills.
About her Academic Journey
In a long ago blog about my student Jeanette, I wrote a bit about her academic journey. Here, I will reiterate the sentiment that I fully believe that my students’ unique histories should be told at their own discretion. However, I think Jeanette’s story and Chloe’s story are both so similar to so many children around the globe who go without equality in their education because of a misunderstanding of their disability.
Like Jeanette, Chloe is not currently attending a local school here in India. Chloe was registered to begin school in June. She would have been attending a mainstream school, two days a week, with the support of our incredible teacher, Nimitha. Because of changes in staff and management, the school originally delayed her admittance until July before finally and ultimately denying her entry. The school created every excuse to deny her. In their rejection, they have demeaned and belittled her because of their ignorance and fear.
Chloe is more than they could ever possibly conceive, ever possibly imagine. She is more than the predetermined limitations they have wrongfully assigned her.
Without school, Chloe is still getting a wonderful variety of services. She goes to LV Prasad for braille instruction on Monday through Thursday. She also goes to voice and music lessons Wednesday afternoons. Also, on Wednesdays, she also goes to dance class!
At home, Chloe receives instruction in small group or one-on-one settings with four instructors: Nimitha, Elizabeth, Nikki, and myself. In these classes she works on a variety of developmental, conceptual, and academic skills. I am confident that we can provide her with valuable instruction. I am confident that we can build an enriching environment for her to thrive in, but there are so many lessons that a structured school setting would be able to provide that is difficult for us to replicate.
My Dreams for Her Future
This is the last and probably the must important piece of my blog. This is the stuff I keep closest to my heart. This is the stuff that churns in my mind in every, every, every spare moment. This is what I dream, pray, yearn for Chloe's--and every child's--life. There is not much I can say besides these three points: Family, Education, Independence.
I say these things over and over about my students, but I hope that their absolute significance is not lost in their repetition. I hope that these dreams will not become commonplace or overlooked no matter how often I utter them. I hope, rather, that our desire to see them fulfilled will become more resolute, more absolute, bigger, fierier, all-consuming.
This girl is a world-changer, hope-breather; she is a lionheart.
Thank you for reading!
I ask that you join me in prayer for these things, these wonderful wonderful things in her life. I also ask that you consider how you can be part of her life. Check out the links below to support Chloe!
Written August 2017.
September is nigh, which means that it is about time for another one of my updates. Like always, I find myself incredulous to believe that August is already wrapping up. It has been completely full and totally too fast; it has been exceptionally draining and magnificently generous in the sheer number of blessings I’ve received.
Considering all the things that have happened, I think I might just focus on the most significant. Because from it, so many beautiful blessings have poured into my life.
August 13, 2017
My dear sweet Grandma passed away at 92 years old. Words cannot express who this woman has been to me. Words cannot convey the depth of my love and the depth of my grief to be so far away from her during her final few days of life.
Allow me to steal words from my cousin, Matthew, who recently posted about her life:
Alice Pagan, 92, of Melbourne, Florida passed away on Sunday, August 13, 2017 peacefully in her home. Originally from Puerto Rico, she moved to Brooklyn, NY at age 20 and became a factory worker, where she eventually met her husband Arturo. They both decided to go to beauty school, which led them to open multiple beauty salons throughout the Bronx and Yonkers in the 1950's. Alice and Arturo started a family and finally purchased their dream home in New Rochelle, NY. There, they raised 5 children of their own, had 1 adopted son and fostered 8 children. Having at one time 11 children in there home. A home that always had its door open, a warm meal on the table and the security and comfort that so many kids needed. After raising her family my grandmother eventually went on to help establish the Westchester Hispanic Coalition. There she volunteered as a translator and assisted migrant workers and their families to attain basic needs to survive. She was paying it forward, for the help her family received some 40 years before.
Her life as my grandmother I can’t yet seem to sum up into words.
She is life and warmth and gentle, giving hands. She is the green ivy wallpaper in a clamoring kitchen. She is the memory of otherworldly high-pitched giggles as this little pig cried, “wee, wee, wee, all the way home.” She is both denture and dentureless smiles. She is so much more and I don’t have the words yet.
I keep getting stuck, when I think about her. When I think of her, I get stuck on her perfect arms and a small phrase. Her arms are a memory so engrained in me. I identify myself by her arms, by my knowing them. I am most grieved to know that I cannot hug her arms, I cannot rest my cheek against them, I cannot find myself inside her embrace.
Dios te bendiga. Among all the memories of her voice and laugh that flash into my mind, this one stands as the most significant. The one she lovingly spoke and insistently repeated the most. The one that I have come to cherish and depend on most.
I have hated the moments of anxiety that remind me that I also am incapable of predicting the future moments of my loved ones’ lives. These moments not only remind me that we are not promised our subsequent breath, but also that I am presently missing out on my family's everyday lives and journeys. I am missing out on their growing up and growing old and simple growing; I am missing out on the small and subtle changes that go into making who they are daily becoming.
Since her passing, there have truly been moments of such perfect goodness, I cannot help but be absolutely grateful for them. These moments are hope giving and life sustaining. These moments of friendship and kindness are so undeservedly saturated in divine sweetness and Holy Spirit comfort.
I am undeservedly blessed in moments with friends who’ve let me scroll through hundreds of photos of my Grandma. Of friends who have made themselves available to comfort me when I’ve asked. Of friends who have prayed for me, hugged me, made me laugh, noticed when tears were welling up and offered simple words.
I am undeservedly blessed in moments with my students—the loudest reminders that I am where God wants me to be.
I can't emphasize this enough, so perhaps I will just repeat it over and over. I am undeservedly blessed in moments with my students. I am undeservedly blessed in moments with my students.
I am undeservedly blessed.
I am anticipating that the full weight of losing her won't really sink in until I go back home and she isn't there.
And, again, August has been incredibly, incredibly full. Very full of Grandma in the most beautiful ways possible, because anything of her is always the most beautiful. The hardness of losing her comes forever and inseparably linked to and entwined with the goodness of memory and an abundance of comfort beyond measure. Memory and Comfort that I can sink into. The soft place to land and remain and sink deeply when I get stuck.
So I cannot begrudge my stuckness or the hardness of my grief, because of her arms and her words and my knowing them. My formation through them. I have come to understand the depth of pain of losing her as a good and generous symptom of her living and loving and being my Grandma. A good and generous symptom of having been built and grown up by those arms and those words.
I am undeservedly blessed.
All this to say, I expect that fluctuating between stuckness and forward momentum might continue for some time.
All this to say, my beautiful and perfect life is capsized and overtaken by the perpetual downpour of blessings that I receive: the moment to moment miracles of knowing and partaking in the lives of my students here.
All this to say, I love her.
Thank you for reading.
Dios Te Bengida,
Reflection on the hardest week in India.
I have typed and retyped this, trying to get the words right. Feeling a little stupid for wanting to share. I am not the best at emotional vulnerability in a public forum, so please be patient and forgiving when reading this.
This past week was hollowing.
Was knee-scrapping and gut-punching and heart-wrenching. This week wave after wave after wave of pain and fear and loss and hurt and distress collapsed and collided and crashed against and over and around my friends and my organization.
My dear friend Brittany has been sick for some time, and it came to a head a few nights ago when we had to make an emergency trip to the hospital. Though she is better now, she had to have surgery in India. Any amount of time in an India hospital (even the best hospital) is degrading and dehumanizing. Also, having surgery halfway across the world from your family is simply and completely terrifying, at best.
We also lost a young woman in our care. A child of God I did not know well, but I have held her hand and looked into the sweetness of her eyes. A more-than friend, more-than student, more-than sister to my good friend Danielle and so many others who have and continue to serve here in India. There is no way to convey the inexpressible grief of losing a child. And I am so desperately sorry that my good friends have to know this pain.
Much more, too, has happened this week.
This week, small, daily and seemingly insignificant interactions have fallen heavy with callousness or complication. Everything has felt like a miscommunication, everything has sunk like a rock into these ragged, inclement, tempestuous, somewhat hateful waters, adding to their unceasing ebbing and rocking and knocking down. Nothing easy. Everything compounding and adding to the weight of what’s coming against us.
Yet, I have been nothing if not shielded from the sorrow and pain of this week. These hardships are not my own, but I have watched my friends take blow after blow of everything that is coming. And I am shielded. Each time they encounter the mess of it all, I have watched them stand back up. No matter the intensity of the blow, I look around and I marvel at their strength, at the incredible beauty of them in their responses. At their grace in their resurgence through the plum-dumb, too-hard crap they’re faced with.
Despite being shielded by it all, despite watching them in their strength and grace stand back up, I have felt nothing but weak and anxious and graceless.
I feel weak in my ability to help them.
I don’t know how to find the right words or what actions best lift them up, best give them support through grief and strife and fear.
I feel weak in my ability to serve my students.
I feel guilt and shame for every minute I miss with my girls. I feel guilt and shame for every minute when I don’t make the most of instruction. I feel guilt and shame when lessons fall flat. I feel guilt and shame when regression happens. I feel guilt and shame when I cannot provide enough for them, which is always. I am always not providing enough, a reality of orphan care—there is never enough.
I feel weak in my ability to hear God.
I am self-centered. I am funneling each occurrence through a system of how-do-I-feels and what-do-I-thinks, instead of turning in prayer to hear His voice, seek His comfort, emulate His heart. I feel static noise in my ears. Stupid things take precedence. Small things become priorities as they distract me to lethargic apathy in the face of stark radio silence. I am unmoved by the quietness in our communication.
I share all this to say: I have no answers for current trouble, for the trouble ahead.
All I have is a hope for victory in Jesus. A cliché phrase that is thrown around but rarely depended on. The flippant frequency and with which we toss around this phrase contradicts our faithlessness and despondence which both work to devoid it of its present-working power. Victory is eternal and now, not just a fairy-dust maybe-someday.
The urgency to seek His Kingdom, His righteousness feels alive in the midst of all that has happened.
I say all this because the beat-ups come. The shit days come. A clearer picture of injustice these kids face comes.
Despite it all, Jesus. That’s all I can say. Jesus and more than what I can imagine.
So what else can I conclude but Psalm 18 and Romans 8?
He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So, with all the residual strength I feel I have left, my heart and words are firm in the assurance of the truth that Jesus Christ is fierce and His love has restored my soul, even if all I can produce right now is a trembling whisper.
Thank you for reading, dear, sweet people.
This one is for you, Jeanette.
This will probably be a short and sweet read for you, though I would like to one day possess enough talent in writing to serve this angel justice in my description. But for now, let me say my hope for this post is to help you fall in love with this wonderful little lady the way I totally have.
First, Jeanette is obviously not her real name. I know I have mentioned it before, but we have designated pseudonyms for each child at SCH to protect their privacy. (Side note: That is also why you will never see me post a picture of a child’s entire face publicly online unless they have been fully adopted or only attend ASB as a day student--like Deepa and Manasa, respectively.) I digress, so Jeanette is not her real name, and to me the name Jeanette absolutely does not match her, whatsoever, though it is a wonderful name in its own right. I can’t explain what I really think of when I think of Jeanette, but that girl is nothing like this sunflower twelve-year-old I am about to attempt to describe below.
Her voice is sandpaper. Her words bounce and reverberate over rocks and pebbles. The sound of her voice is thick with wind and rushing water. Her voice echoes her windness, her aliveness. Jeanette is always moving, fidgeting, dancing, running, exploring, climbing. Her moments are strung together with forceful energy and unrestrained joy. So much of Jeanette is what I think when I think of freedom.
Racing through the streets with Jeannette after class, headed home, have become some of the most cherished moments that I have collected in my life. Her unbounded intensity is breathtaking, sometimes—her intensity in all good and beautiful and heavenly things. Her urgency to laugh, to learn, to care for others, to assert her independence, to be kind, to be loving is something I pray to duplicate in my own life. Her fullness of personhood is unlike anyone I’ve ever met before—she is the most alive, wired, and overflowing human I’ve ever known.
I hope to live with the same fervency to be alive as she does.
About her vision:
As you all know, all of my students have visual impairments. Jeannette is functionally blind. She has anophthalmia of her left eye and opacity of her cornea in her right eye. Jeanette is a braille reader, and relies on tactile information to participate in activities and interact with her environment. Jeanette is very curious and eager to learn. She is a bit wild, excited, and enthusiastic, which is a gentler way of saying sometimes you can’t convince Jeannette to keep her hands to herself and her own materials. Her tactual sense is her primary sense for gaining new understanding about the world she lives in. And, boy, does she learn fast.
About her academic skills:
Jeanette and I are working on a few different skills, currently. First, we are working to apply phonetic understanding to reading. (From my observances of schools and tutoring in India, memorization is the primary way children are taught to read. So, when I gave my student Victoria the word “class” to read, she read the individual letters aloud and said… “school.” This example is just one of many which remind me of the importance to impart the sound-it-out mentality to all of my students, especially the braille readers who understand words through a part-to-whole processing, unlike print reading, which is typically whole-to-part processing. Bottom line, you have to know your letter sounds and how to string them together.) We are also working on mastering grade two braille contractions…, which I will hopefully describe later on. Finally, we are working on math, specifically addition and subtraction using the abacus. The abacus is nothing like a calculator, but can more easily be understood as the equivalent to using scratch paper and pencil for solving math problems in print.
Jeannette is so incredibly intelligent. Though her academic journey itself is has not always provided her with the necessary tools or experiences to achieve, it is evident that her mind is hard-wired for critical thinking, creativity, and exploration. Jeanette learns and adapts new concepts to novel problems adeptly, and it is a pleasure to be one of her educators. It is a pleasure to watch her steadily push on in every activity, with the overall goal to catch up to her grade-level peers.
About her academic journey:
This is a lengthy aside about Jeanette’s journey to appropriate education and services. I am always hesitant to comment on aspects of my students’ pasts because I hope to never sell their experiences as my own story. I fully believe that their unique histories should be told at their own discretion. However, I think her story is so similar to so many children around the globe who go without equality in their education because of their disability.
Jeanette is not attending a local school here in India. Before I came to India, approximately 9 months ago, she and my other two older students were pulled from a local school for the blind because they were so far behind. Not only did I find that the school was ineffective in their teaching style for those with visual impairments as a whole population, but I also found that this school was degrading and cold toward my students specifically. Early on in my time in India, we visited this school to see what could be done to catch the girls up. I vividly remember several faculty members commenting on my girls (while they were standing right there!) in such pessimistic tones.
My students were demeaned as uncontrollable and unteachable. This school deferred responsibility for the education of these students to the girls themselves. This experience of biting my lip and holding back choice words, reminds me that I most vehemently believe in the limitless potential of a child and that their success is reflective of effective teaching. When a child is not succeeding, I believe that the teaching methods, not the child herself, need to be reevaluated, reconsidered, and ultimately, changed.
Overall, her experiences remind me of a few important things. First, we need to remember that equality in education and treatment is not yet realized for so many people with visual impairments around the globe, and very arguably, even in the Western world. I hope that Jeanette’s experiences can help me communicate the need for us to get behind students, to support their education, to support changes in perception and to become passionate about equality for all.
Additionally, her experiences show me the importance of family. SCH is a great and loving family for Jeanette, but ultimately, family cultivates enriching environments in ways we are not able to duplicate because of the number of children we care for and their unique needs. I always think with thanksgiving on my early years of school, how intrinsic motivation and self-value was instilled by my parents who sat with me around the kitchen table as I learned my spelling words or fractions, read a book, or brainstormed over writing assignments. We have wonderful staff and wonderful teachers at SCH, but nothing quite competes with what parents and families are able to provide. We love her so deeply and so wonderfully and as best as we can, but there is no better place for a child to thrive than with a permanent family of their own.
The last thing I will mention is that, globally, we need to develop societies that nurture children simply by expressing their value to them. I am hopeful that we can become inclusive--not only for inclusivity’s sake, but for the simple truth that each child has unfathomable and overflowing value. We need to make sure that our actions and words demonstrate that children are not defined by circumstance (whether they are with their forever families or not) or by their uniformity to what we consider typical. It is a simple truth—but something we forget to practically apply to over day-to-day interactions with children, too easily—that they are important, smart, special, individual, loved, heard, and capable. When words and actions arise from frustrations, they can affect a child’s self-concept and become the construct by which she measures and ultimately views her value.
Since the girls are no longer going to that school, they attend one-on-one lessons at a local eye institute. The girls receive training in different areas that are chosen specifically for their needs. Here, Jeannette is getting orientation and mobility instruction, braille instruction, and assistive technology instruction.
After time at this eye institute, the girls come to Courage Home and Anjali School for the Blind with their primary teacher, Rajini. This is when I work with the, each day on further developing skills they need for when they eventually reenter school. Once school is finished, they return home for lunch, and in the afternoon have time with Rajini during which they continue skill development.
My dreams for her future:
My dreams for Jeanette are the same for all my girls. Family. Education. Independence.
Sometimes this is hard to further elaborate on these points. I think I have made it pretty clear that the most important opportunities in a child’s life are to be loved by their own permanent family, to be given equal access to appropriate education, and to have a life of their own choosing, which they can use to build into this world all the beauty that their heart uniquely possesses. I am hopeful and prayerful for these wonderful things in Jeanette’s life, knowing how she is more than deserving of each one and every beautiful experience that comes through them.
Well blog readers, this was longer than expected. Please pray for and love this girl with me. She is incredible. I know my writing was choppy and my thoughts not always complete or at times they can be nonsensical, but I hope to have provided a small glimpse into the blessing it is to know Jeanette.
Goodbye, goodbye. I know I promised this to be short, so please accept my apology: I am no good at gauging how much I have to say before I sit down and say it.
Blogblablablablog. (I hope everyone understands that I am singing this to the tune of The Thong Song by Sisqo. I hope that everyone remembers that, indeed, that song exists.)
Good afternoon, blog readers.
Call it predictable, I am sitting in a coffee shop on my Sunday off, trying to generate another mess to publish and share with the world. However, unlike most of my attempts a blog-writing, today I know exactly what I want to share with you all. But first, some house-cleaning.
So much has happened since I last wrote a blog, I see it as exceptionally necessary to first do a quick life recap:
1) I completed my first 6 months of life in India.
2) I signed up for another 6 more months, at least.
3) I came home for my visa break.
4) I have returned to India from my visa break!
I hoped that I would spend my little vacation as time to write down my reflections of my first six months. This did not happen, but I am hoping that I can do so a little now and a lot more later.
So, here is a small reflection for now, and I will have to share more in later posts. Time at home, time with friends and family, time away from India showed me how good God is to have blessed me with so many places in this world that have a hold on my heart so completely. It was so good, so sweet and so lovely to be reunited with so many people I love back home. At the same time it was so challenging to be away from my students, from life here. The intensity of my joy to be home as well as the intensity of my desire to come back to India often felt conflicting and bittersweet, but the tug and pull of these feelings left my heart so full of gratitude and love. I am immeasurably blessed to be given home, to be shown beauty, to be invited into the work of His Kingdom, to be given a purpose that keeps my heart so full where He has guided my path.
Also over my time home, I received an overwhelming amount of support, through prayer, love, and the generosity of friends and family. Thanks to the kindness of so many people back home, I have been able to fundraise most of the costs of serving abroad. This means that for the next six months, I have a bed, food, clean drinking water, and wifi. Most importantly, the generosity of so many of you has allowed me to continue on in the most fulfilling work of my life. I am so happy to be home in India, so happy to be working with my students again, and so thankful for the ability to return through your kindness.
So, now that I’ve caught you up, for the most part, on my life these past few months, allow me to shift focus to the purpose of this blog: Mae.
Very appropriately, I’ve decided to name this post the Month of Mae, because (1) this golden flower deserves an entire month of celebration and (2) let’s be honest, the likelihood that I write another blog post by the end of this month is dismally slim.
Mae is one of the preschoolers I teach at ASB. Mae is a five-year old, pocket-sized firecracker. Simply hearing her laugh and seeing her smile leaves an indelible mark on the heart of anyone who is so privileged to meet her. She is Little Miss Sunshine; she is a Supermega Nutball. She is headstrong, silly, sweet. Most of all, she is boundless joy. She is life overflowing.
Mae has been at SCH just a month longer than I have. Over these past 8 months (approximately) she has grown so much, in all arenas, surpassing every expectation. Remembering my first few days with her in the light of all she’s become, in the light of all of her never-ending growth, fills me with such pride in who she is and such inexpressible gratitude that I get to know and love her. She has transformed from a child too weak to stand or walk into a jumping, dancing machine. She came with no exposure to English, and is now fluent in both English and Telugu. I could go on and on about her transformation (I will in sections below), but for now, here in this section of my blog, I must say that, most notably, I have observed growth in her security in her environment, which I see as foundational to the boundless progress she continues to make in all areas.
Environment is everything in education (Maslow's hierarchy of needs and so on). This is a belief that I have held for so much of my life, but, now, as a practicing teacher, I am able to see that its impact in full effect. Though my students' experiences in India are rather different from that which we consider typical for children across the globe, their basic needs are the same. They need care, support, love, hugs, encouragement, nutrition, consistency, safety. I am honored to be part of SCH and to be part of its efforts to provide these things for children who may not have families with the ability to advocate for these needs on their behalf.
So, here we go! Let me try to describe this nugget of happiness as best as I can. Allow me to first assure you that what I write here could never really add up to sufficiently express the magnitude of her incomprehensible beauty.
About her Vision:
Mae is functionally blind, as she has bilateral Microphthalmia. With her visual impairment, she is able to perceive some sources of light and incredibly large forms. Though the amount of vision she has is small, she uses it effectively, especially in her orientation within space and her mobility from place to place. Mae primarily relies on tactile information to participate in activities and interact with her environment. Her auditory sense is her secondary sense, and often uses it in conjunction with her sense of touch to learn from and explore her world.
About her Academic Skills:
Mae has made incredible strides academically, in the past 8 months. I remember in my first few weeks, focusing on small, simple goals I had for her language development and emergent literacy skills. One such goal was for her to more comfortably use her English vocabulary, which she was rather resistant to, initially. Another was for her to hold and open a book properly (she'd hold it upside-down, backwards, tilted, flipping pages from right to left, and so on). Now, as I said above, she is a fluent (and quite loquacious, I might add) English-speaker. She not only interacts with books and stories, but tirelessly creates her own stories about anyone and anything. She is quickly mastering her foundational preschool skills. Here is just a small list of some of her mastered concepts, skills, etc.:
About her ECC Skills:
So, here comes my TVI-ness. In the field of visual impairment education, we TVIs are equipped to instruct students in ECC skills. The ECC (Expanded Core Curriculum) is something I will mention over and over again in my blogs, so here is a simple definition: The ECC skills are the skills individuals with visual impairments need to live independent lives, to successfully interact with the world around them, and to engage with the appropriate learning materials. Depending on the individual's level of vision, their ability to learn through observation is limited to hands-on, interactive instruction. For this reason, specialized educators, provide instruction in the following categories and their respective subsets of skills: (1) assistive technology, (2) compensatory skills, (3) career education, (4) recreation and leisure, (5) orientation and mobility, (6) sensory efficiency, (7) social skills, (8) self-determination, and (9) independent living skills.
Mae has made strides in all of these areas, but in this post, I will focus on her compensatory skills, which is a nebulous area of the ECC that is difficult to succinctly define. The long and the short of this category of the ECC is that it includes skills and concept development that allow students to better engage in academic materials. So, for Mae, this includes her braille and precursory braille skills. In the beginning of my time with her, I worked on simple exposure to braille, then began engaging her in foundational braille skills (tracking braille lines, correct hand-positioning and tracking technique, and so on), all the while aiming to refine her tactual discrimination skills. For a very long time, I was having a difficult time refining these skills, but now, finally, over my visa break in the states, Mae has begun identifying a handful of braille characters! I watched the video of this breakthrough over and over and over again. Since then, Mae shows no sign of slowing down. She can identify a full braille cell (all six dots), the letter A, and the letter S! How amazing is that!
There is so much more I can say about her. So many stories I would love to share, but I think I will end this blog post, telling you about my dreams for Mae's future. Mae will be in India for the rest of her life, which means that she has some serious obstacles to overcome in pursuit of equal treatment, equal education, and equal opportunity. My dream for Mae is for a life of independence, handwork, meaningful relationships, and limitless opportunities. My dream for Mae is that her potential to grow is not stifled by a lack of resources, a lack of understanding, a lack of opportunity.
My dream for her begins with education. She has recently been accepted and registered to a local mainstream school. This school has a long history of successful inclusion of individuals with visual impairments. This school has a reputation for fostering a challenging and engaging educational environment for kiddos with visual impairments just as it does for their sighted peers. This school, unlike other schools in our area, has the experience and resources to better support her education, to continue to propel her forward.
The school Mae will be attending is rather expensive, but is well worth it. Her first term fees (including transportation to the school) costs $1,130. I am confident that through the continued support that we provide her at SCH, alongside the education she will receive her, Mae will flourish. If you are interested in contributing to provide for her education, you can do so by clicking on the button below. Any amount is appreciated!!
Though I am out of practice of blog-writing, it is good to know that I am still longwinded as ever. Thank you for reading this post about one of the most precious hearts I've ever had the honor of knowing. Please consider donating and sharing this with your friends, family, anyone. I hope this blog offered a small window into the blessing it is to know her!
Over & out, readers. Thank you again for reading.
Michelle yelled at me.
I haven’t blogged in a long time.
I apologize! So here comes a long one (hopefully) to make up for lost time, my dear, dear blog-readers.
To start things off, here is a fun little update, just to keep everyone up to speed: I am staying in India for at least an additional six months! Wowowowow—I am excited! (I need to generate a list of synonyms for excited. I use that word a lot. But truly, my time here has been such an incredible blessing (again, I need a list of synonyms for blessing, too), that I feel continually excited to be here. I feel continually blessed.)
If you would like to partner with me in this new chapter of my life, you can click on the link below! I am raising $1,930 to stay these additional six months, which will cover my housing, food, water and wifi.
Anyways. Here we go, back to the purpose of the blog.
India. The kiddos. Life.
Today, this blog is beginning on a very good day. It is hard to describe the love-hate relationship (ugh, that cliché pains me, but I can come up with no better descriptor for it) I have with India, Indian culture, my city. Today is a very good day and I am in love with it all. I am in love with the colors. I am in love with the sound of Telugu—the way the language runs over your ears, stringing together melodic pitches and lively intonation in a way that I’ve never before experienced. I am in love with the food. I am in love crossing the street. I am in love with lazily hanging on for dear life while riding through traffic in an overfilled auto.
Have I told you all that I have take up auto driving? I’m sure I’ve shared a picture of an auto before on my blog, but here is another one. My friend and usual auto driver, Ramu, has begun teaching me how to drive his auto. Driving on main thoroughfares at night in an auto is a very exhilarating and equally terrifying experience that I definitely recommend.
Today is a very beautiful day for me. I am feeling like I am emerging from some harder days. Days where I detested India almost entirely, apart from the kids, of course.
Yes, those days, those hard days, the colors are too much. I detest the culture. The food I love sends me into bouts of sickness for days (weeks) on end. I develop inexplicable allergic reactions that leave me feeling like a swarm of bees are living just beneath the surface of my skin. Those days, I am taken to the hospital as my throat is constricting from these allergies and, laughably, I’m told it is an upper respiratory infection. Those days, sexism leaves me feeling degraded and embarrassed. Those days I’m tired. I’m not enough. I’m a brat.
But today, I am reminded how very special my city is.
I talk about it all the time, but what I love most sometimes is the way the air (thick with pollution) catches sunlight and holds it there in a motionless outpouring of dusty gold twinkles. Sometimes this is my favorite part about India: just watching the sun pour into and illuminate the bad things, the pollution, the dirt, what sits heavy in your breathing, and—at the same time, without fail—changing it into something for beauty’s sake. Nothing causes me marvel quite like walking under these strings of sunlight, draping over and tumbling out of the leaves of a tree blooming overhead. Nothing quite like it.
So, in the spirit of the pollution and the sunshine, I want to unpack my gratitude for my life, something I feel I can lose too easily in the routine of everyday. Today, there are a few lovely lifebits* and ramblings I want to share, so let me first focus on an immeasurable blessing in my life: my dear Rachel (legally Rachael) Younce.
*(Lifebit (n): a self-concocted synonym to blessing. You’re welcome, Webster’s dictionary.)
I have been living in India for four months now. Rachel has been part of each single day. Rachel has become my Indian Love Marriage, my rock, the one who I ask to forcefully remind me that it has been too long since I’ve showered.
She is my best friend. She is constant encouragement.
She is the person I ask to sit by me for hours while I crouch over a bucket, feverish, waiting for the vomit to come. She is the person who doesn’t mind sitting next to me while all of this is happening, even as I whine.
Rachel is kindness exemplified.
My list of lifebits continues. (Please excuse this very rough transition.)
I feel gratitude for the jokes I have with my students. Small little laughs that feel like we have ownership over.
With Charlotte: “I. Want. Shmoop.” (Backstory: I dramatically count to three before spinning the preschoolers 180 degrees and plopping them in front of me with a loud “shhmooop!” as we get ready to work on braille.) Though the other preschoolers also enjoy this little pre-braille ritual, Charlotte loves it the most, asks for it the most, and is very expectant of it in nearly all of out interactions. S
Also with Charlotte: Charlotte is a parrot for all the embarrassing tactics I try to use to get her to engage in different materials. The silly voices. The silly sayings. Everything. She is a true and relentless and hilarious comedian.
With Brianna: Once we finish a storybook, there is a very specific way we sing “put the book away.” What’s even better is the way a smile erupts on her face while we sing it.
Also with Brianna: I am in love with the expectant way she flares her nostrils in order to elicit my uncontrolled laughter after I’ve asked her to name three body parts as we play categorization games. (The first body part she will always name is nose, hence the nostril-flaring.)
With Chloe: I will ask, “Class with…?” and she replies either:
(a) “Class with Babu (the Telugu word for boy),” or
(b) “Class with Sarabi (the family cat),” or
(c) ‘Class with papu (which is a food),” or
(d) anything and everything before she will finally say “Class with Lydia.”
Also, with Chloe: She requests the song “In the Jungle” by saying, “I want o-we-mo-wep, o-we-mo-wep.”
With Mae: “I want nose,” she will demand as she squeezes my nose shut so that I’ll talk nasally.
Also with Mae: I will say, “Naku nilu cavali.” (I want water.)
Mae replies, “Cavala?” (You want?)
I say, “Cavali.” (I want.)
Then, Mae squeals, covering her ears, laughing loudly and sweetly. I don't understand why she finds this interaction so funny, but I assume it is because my Telugu is remarkably poor.
Also with Mae: “I want upside down.” “I want stand on one foot.” “I want squeeeeeze the feet.”
With Dinah: Monkey kisses from her blue monkey toy. This is a little turn-taking game with play that is tough to explain. It is so fun, so simple, so sweet.
Also with Dinah: I will spin around her as she turns to use me as a leaning post (the girl is not a fan of standing up unsupported), then she will turn to do it again, and I will spin around her again. Over and over and over.
With Jeanette: The way we run together when I walk her home from school. Jeanette is freedom running.
With Stephanie: “I want high-fives,” as I sloppily splatter hundreds of high-fives on her precious little hands that shake with giggles.
With Victoria: The little whiny conversations we have when she thinks it is cold outside. (Because it is NEVER cold outside.)
All of these are so hard to describe—(1) in their general definition (even I can barely understand the scribblings above), (2) in their funniness (because they are actually really funny, really adorable little jokes), (3) in the weight they carry in my heart (these are so very, very dear and important to me). There are more, so many more funny things, but those are even more difficult to express.
The catalog of incredible lifebits goes on, though in the face of my exhaustion (it is currently 11:15 pm), I seem incapable of describing their brilliance sufficiently for you all, today. Please allow a simple list, with a promise that I will try to elaborate as best I can, succinctly, for now. And if I cannot elaborate now, I will try to in the future.
I have gratitude for my puppy.
I have gratitude for moments of unexpected progress with my students.
I have gratitude for my family. For Mom. For Dad. For Sister. For Brother. These are the best friends of my life. The people that take up the most room in my heart.
I feel gratitude for my parents’ constancy despite my ever-shifting emotions and personality.
I have gratitude for how my parents talk me out of coffee-induced anxiety and hysteria. (I regretfully confess that I can’t handle caffeine the way I once could.)
I feel gratitude for the countless other ways they daily demonstrate their love and support for me.
I feel gratitude for the recent conversation my sister and I had in which we were both using opposite definitions of the word sick. I meant sick in the literal sense. She took it as a synonym for cool, dope, excellent, etc., etc. We exchanged several messages to get on the same page.
I have gratitude for the playlist my brother has created to update me on all good music within a very specific genre (a genre I will label as “enjoyable rap that is created post-1999,” since I find very little rap since the golden 90s bearable. Thank you, Change the Rapper, for changing my mind.)
I have gratitude for the new music I’ve found (or returned to) these past four months. Holy cow, am I grateful. Here I include an incomplete list and a gallery of cover art.
I feel gratitude for the unexpected ways my friends check up on me.
I feel gratitude for the view from my window and how it is always changing in pollution and sunshine.
I feel gratitude for those who have generously supported my fundraising. Fundraising is something that stirs up a whirlwind of worry in me. Their kindness quiets these self-created storms. This kindness points me back to remembrance of the lovely ways God orchestrates all good things for those who work according to His Purpose through His body, His church, His hands and feet, the stewards of His Kingdom.
I have gratitude for The Screwtape Letters.
I feel gratitude for Psalm 18. John 15. 2 Samuel 22. Job 37. Philippians 2. For every time Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the Gospels.
I feel gratitude for sleep.
I have gratitude for prayer.
I have gratitude for the promise of incomplete lists, for time to rest and think. I have gratitude for rest and sleep and time to dream up more items to add to this ever-growing list of all the good in my life. For rest and fresh mornings with always the hope for new eyes. New eyes—awakened and squinting in the incomprehensible bright light of His daily-renewed Mercy—always to look out into this life and recognize the 10,000 reasons to brim with thanksgiving.
Thank you for reading.
Greetings, one and all blog readers,
Happy 2017! It has been some time since I posted…and I am fairly certain my last post is from 2016. So, again, Happy New Year! I pray that the starts and ends and middle bits of your 2017 are filled with joy, laughter, funny stories and lots of growth. I have never truly been one to take note of transitions from year to year, but the close of 2016 and the start of 2017 seems tangibly (though indescribably) different. 2016 was an incredible rollercoaster, personally, and so many beautiful and so many hard things came from it. The end of 2016 feels like the end of a significant chapter in my life and the beginning of something brand new.
I feel that 2017 is already showing us that it is a year soaked up with promises, potential, hardships, struggles, good things, bad things—both personally and globally. I am eager and anxious to watch it unfold. I am eager and anxious to actively participate with you all in this unfolding. Hopefully and prayerfully we can all transform into better instruments of hope and peace, each day becoming more and more committed to the cause of Love. I pray that our actions this year be bold, new, and radical for the betterment of ourselves, our communities, and the world at large.
Anywhoooo! I am ushering the new year with some big news, people! Notorious B.I.G. big news, people! I have decided to extend my stay in India at least an additional 6 months! (I have known this for some time, but today is the day I share it in a public forum.) I feel so fortunate to be able to continue working with my perfect students and I am eager to see what God has in store for my 2017 with them.
Please pray for this extension; pray for my students as always, always, always.
If you would like to partner with me in this new chapter of my life, you can click on the link below! I am raising $1,930 to stay these additional six months, which will cover my housing, food, water and wifi.
I have more exciting news! The dear sweet heart that is Taylor Cahoon is in India! I have served with Taylor in Jamaica for so many years, and I feel so truly blessed to serve with her again at Sarah's Covenant Homes. Her presence here is a reminder of so many wonderful things.
Enjoy these embarrassing pictures of me next to the beautiful Taylor in Jamaica!
Most significantly, her presence here is reminding me of a very simple truth: Jamaica forever, duh. Taylor's company in India has reminded me of my own personal journey to this place. Most of that journey—the life-transformative stuffs—came through my time in Jamaica. Jamaica is the precious, gentle, hard, loud way God called me into serving abroad, but much more than that, it is the way He called me into being His child.
So, again, I say, JAMAICA FOREVER.
I am unsure what else I should say in this post. Life here is always changing, always so full, that I think that a general life update would be far too much to process. It would be far too much to unpack currently.
Instead I will share something that has become a bit louder in my life, in my thoughts, in my day-to-day observances. Lately, I am reminded of the immensity of a fight my students have before them for equality. Equality in all aspects of their lives, especially in their education and in their treatment. This is true of so many individuals with visual impairments, but this is especially true of this population living in India.
This has been on my mind as Nikki and Merissa (the foster moms of my students) have been on the hunt for schools that would be willing to enroll the pre-school age girls. (I wrote a blog about them a while back, you can check it out here.) The hours of research and the number of visits to schools have required so much energy, though it has resulted in rejection and uncertainty about their educational futures, alongside some strong, strong hope. Please pray that these girls will receive the quality education and equal treatment they deserve, which will rather be historic for our city.
I feel very honored to be a member of the brigade fighting for their education and equality, which is led by the fiercest, most dedicated and loving mamas in the world. I know I often go on and on about how much I admire Nikki and Merissa, but I cannot over-exaggerate how their love in action is truly transforming the possibilities their children have before them. These moms are working to push against stigma, misunderstanding, discrimination, and inequality in order to expand the horizon of opportunities children with visual impairments in have here.
If you would like to read their blogs, click on the links below. Also, if you would like to learn more about Anjali School for the Blind (ASB), an additional link is provided!
I would consider this a relatively short blog post, purposed to extend happy New Year wishes and to announce that I get to stay in India a full year! Next time I'll hit y'all with something longer, hopefully getting back on track to describe each of my wonderful students as well as my day-to-day life here in India.
Once again, I will ask for prayers! Especially for my students, their mamas, this organization, India. I ask for prayers for my extension and all the little things that come with it (often building up my anxiety): finances, travel, time spent away from family, etc.
As always, I would love to hear from you all! Let me know what you would like to read in my blog, questions I may be able to answer, how I can pray for you, etc. I am praying for you, for your 2017, and so much more.
Thank you for reading! I am so appreciative of all the support and encouragement I continue to receive.
Over & out, dear friends!
My, what a long post you have.
Hello, I have collected little scraps of thoughts and reflections on this Christmas season in India and have poorly packaged them in this post. I’ve done my best to compile them into a confusing, tangled-spaghetti stream of consciousness, though it still is incomplete and wildly disorganized. I considered scrapping these fragments and creating a new post entirely, but these are little ramblings that I’d like to hold onto for my own sake, my own memories. So, in attempt to make these little nuggets from the past few weeks a bit more presentable, I’ve included the dates from which they are written (or the date about which they are written). Enjoy trying to decipher.
Monday. December 19th.
Good morning! (I say good morning because I have begun this fragment in the morning. Since I suspect it will take me ages to write, I will give you a good afternoon and good evening as well.)
Today, I have taken the morning off in order to rest and recuperate from a very terrible yesterday. Yesterday, I woke up at 7:00 am and spent the rest of the day puking, nauseated and feverish, while ugly-crying my little heart away. (Yes, yesterday was terrible and I am a baby and all types and brands and versions of wimpy, because it wasn’t nearly as horrible as the sickness that I just witnessed my dear friend Brittany experience a few weeks ago. A sickness which she took on like a warrior, by the way.)
Again I say, yesterday was terrible and no fun.
It got worse, however, when my roommate, Delage, started getting sick in the afternoon. (Sorry, Deli!!) Though I am feeling better (still not 100%), I decided to take the morning off. Rest. Load up on Germ-Ex in order to (hopefully) prevent further contraction of whatever illness this is.
In the midst of my sickness, self-pity, and some very seriously ugly ugly-crying (I’m not proud, friends), I have been blessed with true kindness and patience and love by those around me. My roommates, my friends Priya and Prema (SCH nurse/angel and SCH office magic-worker, respectively), and the foster mamas who wished me well even though this is not the first time I’ve missed work due to illness.
I can’t express how very grateful I am for the abundant love extended to me while I was curled up on the floor, cuddling my puke-bucket, acting like a very intolerable whiner.
(See, I told you, good evening.)
This afternoon, I was able to make it to my sessions with Chloe, Charlotte, Brianna, Cedar, Jasmine, and Dinah. It is so funny how completely and totally the happiness of seeing those kiddos contrasts the frustrations of yesterday. The phrase is as true as it is cliché (and I do apologize for the use of such a cliché): it felt like a night and day difference. I may not have felt 100% past my sickness this afternoon, but I felt very, very aware of (and very, very, sincerely grateful for the awareness of) the magnitude of the joy they bring me.
To sum it up: The kids rock, sickness doesn’t. And, very simply, the brilliance of these kids immeasurably outweighs whatever rain-gutter experience I was feeling yesterday.
The day continued, and in preparation for the volunteer and foster-parent Christmas party that is happening on the night of the 20th, I have spent the evening cooking and wrapping up my White Elephant gift in scraps of old Amazon boxes and construction paper. Cooking again was a bit of a challenge: though the water was running this time while cooking my delicious banana concoction, the electricity was not as cooperative. The power has gone out a few times tonight, but in the spirit of Christmas, the current turned on long enough for me to finish making the dessert.
So, all in all, a rather rough weekend is turning into a very merry and bright time of anticipation, even for me—a self-diagnosed Grinch, Scrooge, and any fictional or non-fictional embodiment of those two ant-festivities characters. (Christmas just isn’t my holiday, y’all, but I surely, surely, surely do love Jesus.)
Tuesday. December 20th.
Today was Christmas Party day.
Too much was great about this day, but I will quickly focus on the last several hours of the day.
A list of the good things:
Food. T A C O S O U P. Just like my dear momma makes this time of year.
Fellowship. It never gets old. It never gets old being around these incredible people. Sweet and silly and cool and inspiring and all so different. My fellow volunteer babies, the fosters I look up to; those I work with closely, those I admire from afar. The kingdom of God is a miraculous thing, and it is quite brilliant when I’m able to feel the miracle of Christ dwelling between us, tethering us to His grand story, to each other.
I would be lost without communion with these saints.
The gift exchange, white elephant, dirty Santa, whatever you call it. I was able to get my hands on a set of foot cream. It is hard to describe how necessary this is, how perfect this gift is. Feet just get a little gross over here. I don’t think it’s necessary to elaborate, though I definitely could…also, sorry, I’m gross and am always talking about vomiting, not showering, and the current state of my feet. I could try and paint it as honesty, but really I have the humor of a 12-year-old boy and these are the topics of conversation that I gravitate towards.
Catch phrase. Total domination in competition. The true embarrassment at how my skills in this game have degraded so, so very much.
Late nights, walking home, feeling full of all things wonderful (but mostly food).
Dear, dear Hannah who has gone back home after six months of serving here, serving me and the fellow volunteers. I wouldn’t know how to cross the street in India without Hannah. I wouldn’t know any Telugu without Hannah. I would’ve never tried Pani Puri (the best street food, my humble opinion) without Hannah.
Wednesday. December 21st.
Tonight we picked up a few of our sari blouses from the tailor. I am so thankful for Priya and Prema who, not only endured the experience of taking me (the most indecisive human being in existence) shopping, but also taking me to get my blouse made, all while reassuring me that I won’t look like a total dingus at the Christmas performance tomorrow night.
Thursday. December 22nd.
Today rocked and began like most days: time with Mae and then preschool. In class we only had four preschoolers between Nikki and myself, since Ramana (another teacher) worked one-on-one with baby Eden. In preschool today we played train in order to work on concepts of left and right. Precious. The girls latched on to each other and spent the entire time giggling between sweet chugga-chugga’s and choo-choo’s.
After preschool finished, I had the honor (AND IT REALLY IS AN HONOR) of walking Eden home to Anchor home. This a note to myself that I need to write a post about her. It is impossible not to fall in love with this babe. In this season of life, I am trying to be more cognizant of the infinite beauty God paints into the passing moments of our lives. Example: nothing beats watching Eden lean her head back, smiling in response to the sunshine falling over her face through the shadows of the leaves overhead.
I had the afternoon off. I ate lunch: Po-ta-toes. Mash’em, boil’em, stick’em in a stew. (Yes, I find it is always appropriate to quote Lord of the Rings.) Rachel and Delage and I walked to the tailor again to pick up their outfits for the Christmas celebration tonight.
I napped between our walk and getting into my sari.
Brief explanation of a sari from someone who has only experienced it once in life…aka me, a sari expert. You wear three pieces when you wear a sari. (1) Petticoat: a skirt thingy (see, expert). (2) A blouse: fabric, which is stitched to fit the individual very, very snuggly. (3) The sari itself: yards of fabric that has to be spun around like a beautiful cocoon in attempts to make you look like a butterfly (even though I am just a stinky little caterpillar who rarely showers and trips every few steps in this ensemble.)
My top two favorite moments of wearing a sari were:
(1) I was told that I look Indian. That is the best compliment, ever.
(2) Delage and I walked to the Christmas performance together. We passed two young boys on the street who gawked at her sheer beauty and elegance. “You are so beautiful,” one of the kids said to her. A pause and a half later, his friend said “uh, you, too,” to me. I will take all the pity compliments I can get.
Truly, saris are a feat. I felt very tough, carrying children up and down three flights of stairs in my sari, until it almost came undone. After that experience, I appreciate what the caregivers do everyday wearing saris so, so much more.
Now the best of the best of the day!! SCH’s annual Christmas Celebration. It was spectacular! It was heartwarming and sweet and beautiful to catch a glimpse of the talent and brilliance of some of the kiddos from each home tonight. Courage Purple stole the show, in my very unbiased opinion. I mean, how can anyone expect to outshine Mae, Chloe, and Charlotte singing O Holy Night (or, according to Mae, O Holy, Holy Night)?
People talk about Christmas being a magical time of year, producing feelings of joy and excitement that are difficult to express. I am not those Christmas-loving people, but tonight I am. I am proud of these students. I am maxed out with the fuzzies, feeling extreme gratitude to watch these kiddos. It felt like Christmas.
Friday. December 23rd.
We watched the Grinch for preschool today, the version with Jim Carrey, obviously.
I was able to skype with Melanie and Lydia Kline. I learned that 2:00 to 4:00 am is the time of night when the cats start doing very weird things up on the roof. I was reminded how much I miss these friends. Can’t explain how much.
Saturday. December 24th.
We were blessed to have the day off entirely! I slept in and, after some time, I forced my roommate Rachel to come with me to Heart Cup Coffee for a delicious beverage and nachos.
Nachos were fantastic, though, sadly, I couldn’t finish them the way I once was able to. In the face of this defeat, I am resolved, now more than ever, to conquer the mountainous serving once more. I will return to Heart Cup soon, I will rise to the challenge and emerge victorious.
After returning home, completing some chores, it was time for Rachel, Delage and I to head over to Courage Purple. We headed to a Christmas Eve service with the foster moms, their twelve kiddos, four ayahs, one teacher, and one Kumar (the son of one of the ayahs). The service was not what I was expecting or hoping for. The children looked incredibly cute and so very Christmas. And the adventure of squeezing 24 people (including the driver) into one car was hilarious.
We got back home late, late. I wrapped some presents and went to bed.
Processing that it was, indeed, the Eve of Christmas did not take place.
Sunday. December 25th.
I would like to take a moment and apologize for the slop that my writing has become. I apologize for the next tid bit and the laziness clearly expressed through my bad writing.
(1) Skyped with family while opening the presents they sent me (too, too sweet).
(2) Walked downstairs to see what was for breakfast…decided to make a grilled cheese instead.
(3) Hung out with my roommates.
(4) Ordered and consumed a very, very large amount of pizza.
(6) Practiced my henna designs. I am still no good.
(7) Walked with Delage to the sweets shop. Walked home. Gave Priya, Prema and the security guard sweets.
(8) Skyped my family on their Christmas morning.
(9) Fell asleep in front of our makeshift Christmas tree.
Monday. December 26th.
A very good and beautiful and hard day.
The hard part--being away from my brother and best friend on his birthday.
The beautiful part: walking through Golconda Fort. Too beautiful and fun for words, so here are pictures.
I will conclude this post, now, since it is so much longer than it should be. As always, prayers are appreciated. These incredible days are worthy of an outpouring of thanksgiving. I hope your holiday season has been just as sweet and complete and filled with the best things imaginable as mine has.
I ask that someone, anyone do me a favor: please watch every Christmas episode of The Office for me since I cannot.
As always, I offer an apology for a very untidy post and a very untidy ending.
Much, much, much love, friends. I miss and love you dearly.
Hello one and all,
Today I am writing my blog post from the hospital, as I sit with my dear friend Brittany who is currently very, very sick and quite incredibly tough. This is hospital visit number two for her in less than 12 hours, and the Indian health care system is no small beast to contend with, even on the healthiest of days.
So, as she sleeps, I figured now is as good a time as any to create a new blog post, since it has been quite some time since I updated you all on my life here in India.
A quick synopsis of my life since my last post: THANKSGIVING. That’s it. Really, that’s it. Thanksgiving was so incredible, though it has left me wondering: why have we not instituted monthly Thanksgivings so that I may be thankfully consuming that amount of delicious food year round?
Truthfully, there is no possible way for me to over-exaggerate my Thanksgiving experience in India. It was just too good.
It all started the night before Thanksgiving, when I prepared my now famous dessert concoction in the one community pan, all while we had no running water. Small aside: Currently, there are six volunteers living in my home. That is not including the 20 or so World Racers or the staff who live with us, too. That many people under one roof means two things: wifi is virtually nonexistent and the water runs out nearly everyday. (Shout out to the roommates who helped wash my hands with the drinking water from my water bottle as I cooked). My fried banana, caramel, cake crumble deliciousness was the stuff of Thanksgiving dreams, and I surely enjoyed every bite of it, friends.
The morning of Thanksgiving began with pancakes! Chocolate chip pancakes with syrup. Then, I followed that American breakfast with Indian Breakfast—Chapati (which I am assuming translates to “the best India breakfast to ever exist”) with potato curry. After going to my morning school session, two friends and I went walking around the city and ended up (illegally) entering a dinosaur park.
With the afternoon off, we continued our day of fun and bought a tennis ball, made fools of ourselves playing in the street, and then walked to another SCH home where the rest of the Thanksgiving feast was waiting. And I feasted. FEASTED. The food was incredible, the company was better, and the meat sweats and food coma were predictable consequences of such a perfect day.
I would say more has been happening, which is very, very true, but nothing surmounts the joy that Thanksgiving has brought me. It is, after all, my absolute favorite holiday.
Now that I have fully relived that precious night and have begun craving the excellence of Thanksgiving again (all while sitting in an Indian hospital at midnight), I think it is wise to shift gears and continue my blog posts about my students, as promised, lest I eat through my pillow, wishing it were pumpkin pie.
Right. My students.
Today, I am thinking about my three older students: Jeanette (11), Victoria (12), and Stephanie (15). They are precious to me. Background info/aside: SCH (Sarah’s Covenant Homes) is a foster care system that houses kiddos with special needs. In the Hyderabad campus there are 120 or so children that are spread out between four homes: Courage, Anchor, Jubilee, and Joy. Within these homes there are smaller houses—usually occupying one floor of the building—which may or may not have a foster mom. Regardless of the presence of a foster mom, each floor operates like a family. These students live in Joy Home. They used to go to school in the city, but it are very behind their grade level, so they are now coming to Courage Home for sessions at ASB (Anjali School for the Blind).
I am trying to remember when I first met and began working with these students…I want to say maybe 3 weeks ago…? Time sometimes is so fuzzy. Everyday feels like the beginning of our relationship, mostly because I am still unpacking and uncovering, learning and discovering what they can do and who they are. Each day, I am learning more and more about what little, beautiful boogers they are.
Let’s begin with Stephanie.
Stephanie is the definition of gentle. She is quiet and loving; calm. She is excited when you hold her hand, greet her, or ask if she wants high-fives. Of these students, she is the most challenging to get to know because she often falls to the background behind the rambunctiousness of the other two. It is always so rewarding to see her progress, hear her respond unexpectedly, or see her join in activities with the other students. She is a quiet enthusiast, and moments spent with her begin and end with sweet smiles.
Currently, Stephanie is working on learning braille, specifically her alphabet. She is making progress in her understanding of braille characters, how to correctly move her fingers across a line of braille, and is also beginning to understand the phonics associated with letters. She is a world of limitless potential, and I am excited to better develop a plan that will foster her independence and access to the world around her.
Wow, oh, wow, Victoria. Victoria is, what we call in the biz, a low vision student. She is able to see color, identify people, identify large print letters within VERY close proximity, and relies most heavily on her sense of sight. Though she prefers her vision, reading print is exhausting and slow, which is why we are developing a braille and print program for her. She will read print functionally, and academically she will read braille.
She knows most of her braille alphabet and can write it rather proficiently with a slate and stylus. I am excited to see her progress from the alphabet, to words, to sentences, to stories. She is bright and I am very confident in her ability to make that progress, but please pray that I can create the right learning environment for her to develop those skills.
It is very difficult to describe Victoria. I am trying to find the words that will adequately explain what I’ve learned about her so far and all I can come up with is: She is happy, she is a force, she is fearless, and she is sassy. Sometimes too sassy. Though she has undeniable, sometimes overwhelming, spunk. I secretly enjoy listening and watching these little moments unfold. She’s quite funny and she knows it.
Finally, the youngest (and perhaps the most wild) of this bunch: Jeanette.
Luckily, she has the most exposure and has been taught the most braille, though she is still behind where she should be. Jeanette, I am learning is very quick to learn and very quick to become bored. She is fearless, constantly exploring, and always asserting her independence. Her enthusiasm is always endearing, heartwarming, and always a force to contend with.
Recently, while reviewing the phonics of the alphabet, she said to me, “Me picture taking,” so here is a picture of young Jeanette working away.
There is so much to say about Jeanette. I always love when I hear her raspy voice call my name from another room; I always love when she shows off new knowledge; I love when I ask how many high fives she wants and she says one hundred. Keeping up with her is always a challenge and always so much fun.
Well, that is it for this post. Sorry for the lack of conclusion!
Thank you so much for reading about my life here and my wonderful students!
Today, I have come to my favorite coffee shop in the city to do some planning, which has yet to happen. Instead of focusing on my work, I have sat here, sucked down two beverages—which were both more closely related to ice-cream than any self-respecting coffee—and I’ve caught up with my sweet-warm-funny-loving roommate Rachel, who was out of town for the week in the small town of Ongole, where Sarah Covenant Homes began. (Rachel cried. Haha, just kidding, I cried.)
So, three hours later, I have determined to use my unproductivity to be a bit more productive and write another post. Here it goes.
I guess the objective of today’s post will be to tell you all about my students—who they are and what they have taught me. Though I suspect that to fully encapsulate their individual brilliance, this blog post would need to be infinite, but I will do my best to give an overview.
I have a grand total of eleven students here. Their online names and ages are: Eden (2), Brianna (3), Charlotte (3), Mae (4), Chloe (5), Cedar (8), Dinah (8), Jasmine (9), Jeanette (11), Victoria (12), and Stephanie (15). Three of these students are brand new to me, as of last week: Jeanette, Victoria, and Stephanie, Two full weeks with them and I am already in love with their goofy spunk that they daily bring.
Two of my students (Dinah and Victoria) are low vision kiddos, and—from my experience with them—sight is their primary and preferred sense. The rest of my students are functionally blind, though I suspect some do have a minimal amount of light perception (mainly Mae and Cedar). I believe Mae can sometimes perceive shadows and forms of large objects/obstacles, and I believe Cedar only experiences light when engaging in eye-pressing behaviors. Eden is deafblind with a cochlear implant (we are all still trying to understand what she is and is not able to hear).
My schedule with them may change sometime in the future, but as of right now is as follows:
As I said previously, my conundrum is that to adequately describe each of my students would take more time than I have presently. It would also amount to more than you would probably enjoy reading through, so, I think I will dedicate the next several blogs to a handful of students at a time.
This week, I present to you… the preschoolers. (Well, some of them): Chloe, Mae, Charlotte and Brianna.
Let’s begin with the oldest. Chloe.
Chloe is a five-year old wild thing. She is constantly dancing, singing, laughing, learning, and listening to everything and everyone in her environment. At this point, imagining her future, I see her has an actress, a track-and-field Olympian, and any sort of musician. Chloe is constantly filled with absolute joy. In the class of preschoolers, I see her as a leader. Though she prefers bouncing and dancing, moving and singing to focusing, she is constantly listening. She retains and understands new concepts quickly. She is eager to explore and happy to receive praise when she has accomplished a new skill. I love to pray for and imagine her with her future adoptive family: hugging at the end of a dance recital, after school someday riding bikes, driving in the car while listening to all of her favorite music. She is quite perfect. So beautifully perfect, as they all are.
Charlotte is three, approaching four, approaching a career as a worship leader. This baby can belt it, and she constantly shows a strong preference for worship music over any nursery rhyme. Nikki, one of the foster moms I work with, has been on a long journey, trying to adopt this precious nugget, and their relationship is truly something to behold. (If you would like to find out more about their story, click here!) Charlotte, I am finding out more and more, is a little jokester. When asked what day it is, without fail she will answer “Friday,” usually after she has said the correct day or has heard another student say so. The flourish Charlotte places on names and certain words also demonstrates how much of an entertainer she is. (Examples, it is not “Thursday” it is “Fuuuursday”; it is not “smooth” it is smah-ooood).”
Next up, Mae, who is four. (Yes, I realize that I how quickly I abandoned writing their descriptions in age order. I make no apologies). Waking and knowing I will begin my mornings teaching Mae is always exciting. She is the newest edition to Nikki and Merissa’s home, and watching her personality unravel is always precious. She has very short hair, which I love, as she reminds me of Eleven from Stranger Things (sorry for the pop culture reference, watch the show). I constantly marvel at her enjoyment of life, especially the way she loves school. Each day I greet her, she says “book” and has now started asking for her cane. She then takes off, navigates to the reading room and sits down with a book. We read and she recites most stories with me. Everyday she responds to circle time with pure enthusiasm, clapping at the end of each song and trying to participate as much as possible. I am always so astonished with how much progress she has made. In language, she has adopted so many English phrases and understands even more (her first language is Telugu). In mobility, she was unable to walk before coming to SCH, and now she walks, uses her cane, and can navigate to most places in the home with limited verbal instruction. There are so many reasons I feel proud of Mae and I am unbelievably confident in her incredible future.
Finally, Brianna: the babiest baby of the baby bunch. She is full of surprise, and it is so enjoyable to watch these unexpected moments where she demonstrates how much she is constantly learning and all the skills she works so hard to develop. She loves those moments just as much as we do, too, and will be the first to give herself a few claps and a quiet “yaaayyy!” Brianna is a favorite among so many of her siblings, who constantly seek her out for hugs and kisses, no matter what else is going on. Though she is younger than the other preschoolers, she works hard and is constantly learning, proving how well she can keep up. Nothing is better than hearing her laugh, seeing her sparkly smile stretch across her face (pronouncing her sweet, baby double-chin), or listening to her ankle-chains as she bobbles from room to room.
I’m sure, if it is not already evident, that it will become absolutely apparent that concluding posts is extremely difficult for me and is a skill that I definitely do not yet possess. So, this is where I leave you. I ask for your prayers for all of my students, and I guess, today, these four in particular. I ask for your prayers for Nikki and Merissa’s home, for all of Sarah Covenant Homes, and for me. Pray, especially this November, as it is National Adoption Month, for these students and that they will find their adoptive families. I appreciate you taking time out to read about my life here, because being able to share it is a sincere blessing.
Message me if there is any way I can pray for you or if you have any questions for me!
With love and a lot of thank-you’s,
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