While hot, humid summer weather can be a challenge and a bother to most people, for me it brings back a flood of wonderful memories of my time in India. Last summer, I was lucky enough to spend three months in India as a Student Intern at Save A Family Plan’s office near Kochi, Kerala. I remember stepping off the plane into the warm, damp air for the first time, filled with excitement as I began a wonderful and humbling adventure.
The hot, humid climate in many parts of India, particularly Kerala, makes the land among the most fertile in the world. The vegetation cannot be held back; at times it seems to spill out into every available space, including the road! As a visitor to the country, I felt just like one of these plants as I soaked up many powerful experiences and felt my understanding of the world growing and expanding in so many directions.
One particular experience that continues to have a profound impact on my life is the time I spent with Soundari and her children, Priyadharshini and Moorthy, the family I have been supporting through the Family Development Program since I first started working with SAFP as a volunteer. To reach the village where they lived, I first made the 12 hour overnight train ride to the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. Then on the day of the visit, I set out with the staff from the local partner organization for a long and bumpy jeep ride out of the city to a remote part of the state. Our journey was slowed by stretches of road left in terrible disrepair and also by a large political rally that had brought traffic in one town to a halt. Nursing a very upset stomach from the previous day (a key part of the India experience), it was a difficult journey that was well worth it in the end.
When at last we reached the village, it seemed that the whole community was there waiting for me to arrive! I received a warm greeting from Soundari, who wrapped me in a shawl and performed a ritual with a dish of coloured water, following local tradition. I’m still not sure which one of us was more excited to meet the other, as we shared our joy with a field staff translating for us. Then Priyadharshini offered me a flower and an apple and sang a beautiful song for me that brought tears to my eyes.
Soundari is illiterate, a mother of two, and a widow at the early age of 30, only a few years older than me. Her husband passed away due to a heart attack just a couple of years ago and she faced many setbacks. After partnering with her family for only a year and a half, I was truly amazed to see the progress that she had already made! Soundari had bought a large wooden frame and the tools needed to start a sari embroidery project at her home. Her talent and skill was clear in the beautiful, intricate designs that she created. Her most recent piece of work was an elaborately beaded wedding sari, which she had hired four other women in the community for five days to help complete. Not only was she earning income for her family, but she was also able to provide work opportunities for other women in the village!
Soundari shared with me her plans for the future. She hoped to expand her business so that she could do her embroidery work all year round, instead of returning to farm work when business was slow. This would mean that she would be at home and available to care for her children all the time. She was working hard and had almost finished paying off a loan that she had taken to pay for surgery for her daughter, Priyadharshini, when she had broken her arm some months ago. She was also saving up to send her children to a better school where they would have more opportunities and resources needed to succeed. I was amazed that the support that she receives each month, which is such a small amount for me to contribute, could make such an incredible impact and give her the opportunity to plan a future for her family that she could feel proud of.
Back in Canada a year later, Soundari and her family are in my thoughts every day. Her courage and hard work continue to inspire me and remind me that the poor are capable of accomplishing wonderful things with a bit of support. They have many gifts and talents to share if they are only given the chance. SAFP’s Family Development Program offers people like me in the developed world a way to provide poor families in India with this chance. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to see first-hand the difference I can making and to meet such a beautiful family who live so far away, but are always close to my heart.
By Cassandra Griffin
SAFP Canada Staff