markdipika_1On our trip to the village near Kabirwad in early March, Mark befriended a girl named Dipika. We made priceless connections with lots of the kids there, but Dipika was the first kid to join in picking up trash. She showed a strong natural intelligence and had an unmistakable sparkle in her eyes.

There was a school across the river that she was able to go to, but we found out that she had stopped going because she had missed so much and was no longer at her grade level. She would have to be in classes with kids much younger than her and this was an embarrassment, so she stopped altogether.

Mark mentioned the possibility of her coming to Ahmedabad, living with and being educated by Manav Sadhna. Jayeshbhai and Anarbhen from Manav Sadhna both said that this was an option and much discussion took place. It was a scary thought for Dipika, leaving her family for greater opportunities, but she was ready. It was left that we would come back in June to pick her up, right before the new school year began.

fourinrickshaw_1And so Mark, Loveleen, our poor friend Rahul who was sick the whole time, and myself, got on a bus and headed back south to the village.

As we made our way to cross the river, we found several opportunities to help – unloading large bags of grain from trucks and unloading heavy, heavy bags of mangos from the boat and up a way too long stairway.

As we approached the village, we quickly came to find out that so much of the service efforts we had put into this community had unraveled as quickly as they came. For instance, on our first trip, there was a town drunkard. Jayesh-bhai had sat down with him, trying hard to reach him. As we drove up this time, he was one of the first people we saw – in full drunken force – trying to start a fight with someone.

Entering the village, we recognized some familiar faces, but much had changed. Mark and I looked for the tire swing we had lovingly installed and there was no trace. Apparently it had been cut down the day after we had left and the rope was untwined and used in the fields. We quickly got word that the frisbees and balls we had left at one house as a local lending library for the village were not being shared with the others in the village because they weren’t being returned. The trash we had picked up had gathered up again, and the pit we had dug as an alternative to burning the plastic was still there, but filled only with ashes.

As disappointing as this all was, none of it came as much of a surprise. Our mission now was to pick up Dipika, and so we made our way to her home. We were told that she was nearby at Kabirwad, working at a stall with her older sister, and so we made our way over there. We walked a ways through banana orchards to Kabirwad, filled with banyan trees, massive bats, and crazy monkeys going up and down playground slides like kids. And there she was, with a big smile on her face and bright, sparkly eyes.

Dipika said that she was ready to go and her sister was ready as well. No one would feel the loss as much as her sister, who got all kinds of help from Dipika raising her own children and with her business selling lemon water, but she expressed a loss at not being able to go to school herself and wanted better for her sister.

oldvillagecoupleWe helped a bunch of men grunt large concrete benches over a stretch and onto a truck and then caught a ride back to the village with Dipika and her sister.

The only catch left was that her parents hadn’t been told. They lived several hours away, and a phone call would have to be made. We were able to call them, and within less than a minute over the phone, we got a clear and definitive “yes.” It would be OK for Dipika to come study at Manav Sadhna. We would leave in the morning!

We ate dinner, fell asleep under the stars, and woke up to find that once again, everything had unraveled. Likely it was a combination of her sister’s husband not wanting to lose a worker and possibly the hope that greater opportunities for the family could be scammed off of this opportunity, but we all got the impression that her sister’s husband was sabotaging the whole affair.

After talking in private with him, Dipika’s parents quickly changed their minds, saying they didn’t believe girls should be educated past the fifth grade. Dipika herself told her parents through teary eyes that she did not want to go. Why people were being manipulated, we will never fully know, but with as much persuasion as we could offer, their answer had suddenly changed, and we were left with little choice but to go back empty handed.

Life in the village has its clear limitations but is not so bad. Whether the personal growth and opportunities she would have gained would outweigh her simple life in the village, no one really knows for sure. The choice was given to her and the choice was taken away from her. We all feel sad about it. The possibility of hiring and sending a teacher to the village is still an option on the plate.

johncalf_1For me, the highlight of the trip was getting to bond with a male calf and gaining his trust. Although his owners said they will keep him, I suppose it is likely that he too will be killed not long after we depart. I guess the greatest lesson that this all teaches is that things blossom where your attention is placed. As we look away, things often go as they may. Perhaps the best that we can ever really do is love what is in front of us as fully as we can and do our best to allow it take root.

In the end, the Serenity Prayer, used often by Mother Theresa, perhaps sums it up best:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Mark-Dipika pic taken by Guri.