Thanks to Tori Spearman of Beaufort for sharing the story of her experience in India.
Tori was born and raised in Beaufort, daughter of Dr. Billy and Starr Spearman. She is a graduate of Beaufort Academy and Elon University in North Carolina and plans to enroll in the Charleston School of Law this fall.
"A SMILE IS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE"
By Tori Spearman
Walking through the slums in Jamkhed, India, I had trouble imagining that anything happy could come from this place. I watched as a barefoot little girl stood on a pile of trash dumping cups of cold water over her head to shower before school. Nearby a little boy was brushing his teeth with tobacco.
I tried to communicate with the children through the little Marathi that I knew, but the children all responded best when I smiled. The whole scene confused me because, even though these were the worst living conditions I had ever seen, the children really were full of smiles.
I had arrived in India a week earlier with a group of Elon University students. We were volunteering with Comprehensive Rural Health Project for the month of January.
This organization empowers women to bring about change in their villages by providing safe water, teaching proper sanitation practices, supplying vital health care and working to solve social issues.
The organization's comprehensive model has been implemented in several other countries, including Venezuela, China, Africa and the United States.
One of my main roles in the project was to work with preschool children.
The children came from slums and were raised by beggars, thieves, nomads and snake charmers.
On a daily basis, we taught the children school lessons along with personal hygiene lessons that they had never been taught.
It was not until Mena, the preschool teacher, asked me to drive with her to pick up the children that I fully comprehended the environment from which these children came.
The few houses that stood in the slums were made of either mud or tarps.
Homeowners spread watered-down manure on the floor to keep the dust down. Flies swarmed everywhere I looked.
After parking the van, Mena and I walked through the village to pick up the preschoolers.
Children ran around smiling and laughing.
They grabbed my hand and shirt to hold onto as we walked back to the van. I was shocked by the scene around me but could not help but smile because of the children's infectious laughter and excitement about going to school.
Looking back on this experience, I will forever be thankful for this moment.
The Indian people were some of the most joyful and welcoming people I have ever met.
The children were incredibly grateful to be going to school and showed their thankfulness through smiles and kindness.
The parents always invited me to sit and have tea, no matter how poor they were.
The lesson I took away from this was to always be cheerful and content no matter what situation I might find myself in and to always share my cheerfulness with others.
I have come to believe that nothing in life can defeat a genuine smile -- it is the true universal love language.