July 06, 2013  •  1 Comment

Our trip to India earlier this year was the experience of a lifetime.

Kevin had been asked to lead his instructional design course for teachers at Jhamtse Gatsal, a children's community in Arunachal Pradesh, and to share a one-day seminar with teachers in surrounding government schools. We knew it would take five days to navigate our way to this remote northeast mountain region. We've both traveled internationally a few times, but the preparation for this one involved much more: I needed a new passport, we needed visas, vaccinations, and a special permit. We needed to anticipate 100 degrees when we landed, and 60 degrees at our destination. The water would not be safe to drink, protein might be scarce, electricity could be fickle, and internet connection should be available, at times.

We tried to prepare for everything. But we are limited by our experience; it's not possible to prepare for everything. The trip there lived up to its anticipated challenges, but it also led us through breathtaking NatGeo vistas. I played the ridiculous first-time tourist, embracing a shutter-priority setting and hoping for the best from that Jeep's front-seat vantage point. 

But the visual wonders of those final two days paled in comparison to the warm welcome we received. A sweeping line of children dressed in school uniforms, each holding a white scarf stood antsy with expectation. This was their routine for every visitor, but somehow they made it special for us. We got to greet each child, receiving their scarves and hand-picked flowers. It was one of the most humbling experiences I have had. I wonder if this is what biblical foot-washing felt like. 

Almost 85 children live at Jhamtse Gatsal; many have no parents, some have a parent or guardian in a surrounding village that cannot offer a healthy quality of life. Their stories are heart-rending — some are survival stories. But these are some of the happiest children I have seen. We arrived during a school break, so their schedule allowed for a little free time. The community was like a beehive and I admit, I expected chaos. But instead, there was a harmonious rhythm. Children formed small circles around the edges of open space; they wielded pens and pencils...and schoolwork. Others kicked a soccer ball back and forth across the field. Some students assisted a construction crew by digging a footing — with rebar. When one tired, another began. The sense of belonging, usefulness, and responsibility was palpable among these children. 

From my Western perspective, they have so little. But all they have is what they know. And they are content. The vision of the community is to train these children with excellence in education, in life skills, and in living a life of hope and compassion. We witnessed no bickering, no boredom, and no need for adult intervention. Instead, this beehive was active, learning, sharing, working, playing, laughing, and practicing personal care and life skills we take for granted. Someday many will return to their villages better-equipped to meet desperate needs. 

These children showed me that limited experiences may not prepare us for everything, but when embraced with contentment, determination, and even celebration, creative opportunities for new learning, growth, and community blossom. 

India Photo Gallery 1


Kevin D. Washburn(non-registered)
Beautiful post and photos!
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