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Published: January 24th 2013
Today a group of German executives visited the school. They are some of the primary donors and came to meet the children and see the facilities.
These executives are from the same companies that sponsored the football (soccer) tournament to raise money for the school this past weekend. I am so glad that I went. It was wonderfully fun to support the students as they played and to ride on the bus home celebrating their victory. But the tournament had a strange feeling. I often felt like the students were asked there to perform. I sometimes felt like they were put on display. I suppose that this was helpful in raising money, but the objectification of it got to me. I don’t think the kids noticed, thankfully, but the volunteers spent much of the day glancing uncomfortably at each other. I don’t know where the school would be without cooperate sponsorships, but I wish it didn’t come at such a cost. I wish people could do good, without parading their beneficiaries around.
Before the executives visited today, I was asked to coach the students that would be talking to the visitors. I felt uncomfortable agreeing to do this, as
I think that they should not be told what to say. Nevertheless, I said yes, knowing that I could direct them as little or as much as I felt comfortable. I am so glad that I agreed. It was fun to talk with the children, to practice introductions, and to practice asking questions to the guests. They laughed at my fake German accent (which I didn’t do for the guests) and I laughed at their riddles and jokes.
Then the visitors arrived, there was a special assembly. The children sang. The adults spoke. And the flash of cameras lit the backs of heads. When one of the guests introduced himself, he said that every time he returns to Shanti Bhavan he feels like he is returning to paradise.
He is not the first to say this. Some of the volunteers have said similar things: This is like a tropical paradise. This heaven. If I filmed a movie of the book of Genesis, this would be the Garden of Eden. When dance students visited a few weeks ago, some of them said that Shanti Bhavan is better than the school they attended or that they wish they could have
While I understand this—it is so beautiful here, and the school is good and full of good feelings—something about these statements make me feel uncomfortable. When I see the running water, the electricity, the well-roofed buildings, the tasty food… When I see all this, I can’t help but think of what is absent: the dung and palm shacks, the garbage, the crowded streets, the children in the puddles. If this is heaven, hell is certainly outside the gates.
I am so grateful for this school, and I don’t mean to demean the work being done here. It is a beautiful place is so many ways, not just because there are blooming flowers in January. But I feel that to call it heaven or to wish that you attended is to deny the achievement of the school and the humanity of the people responsible for its existence. Perhaps more important to me, I feel it denies these children their histories. These children have experienced more than I will in my lifetime. They have experienced more than a tropical paradise.
I have been harsh tonight. A few nights ago, my roommate asked me if I find it
hard to be around people. When I ask her what she meant, she said that I have such high morals and such high expectations of people that if she were me, she would hate everyone. I had never thought about this. I certainly don’t hate everyone. If any one. While I was disturbed by things at the soccer tournament and things today, I do trust that everyone present have the best intentions (perhaps with the exception of the commentator at the game, but that’s another story). I hope that this trust is not replaced completely by these criticisms. Thankful for...
Buses full of happy children
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