I try to visit the children at Mukta Jeevan every year. I’ve been doing so for five years. Each time, as I prepare for my trip, I’m filled with a sense of anticipation that borders on giddy. I’m insanely eager to see those young faces. I’ve never been disappointed. My time with them is filled with joy and love.
Once the dates of my trip are determined, I start planning for my day with the children. I think about gifts to take. The gifts should be fun and something the kids couldn’t get easily. They do not necessarily have to be educational but if they are then all the better. They also had to be convenient to pack in the limited number of suitcases one is allowed these days. I actually enjoy the challenge of coming with ideas.
Early in the summer of 2012, I had an idea to give them musical instruments. Something simple and easy to master. Recorders were an obvious choice. And since I believe in “paying it forward”, I thought my daughter Mira could start them off with a couple of lessons. Mira’s passion is music and since age four she’s had the privilege to receive music lessons. First in recorder, soon after in piano and, finally at age nine, she added French horn lessons to her load. So it was time for her to pass on the blessing.
Mira, to her credit was more than willing to teach the children.
Then, I decided on tons of hair accessories for the girls, games like Boggle and Rumikub ( fun but educational) and, kites ( which I was pretty certain would be commandeered by the boys). To get all these items, I did what I always do. Reach out to a bunch of friends who unfailingly support me in all my projects. I am able to do what I do because of this ‘family’. One friend takes charge and orders up the items on my wish list and everybody contributes to the cost. They are so generous that I am able to have extra money to add to what I myself will be giving. This monetary donation is given to the Mother Superior – Sister Barbara, for whatever she deems is required for the children. What amount I have, is matched by my parents. So the final figure is a healthy donation and should go a long way. Keep in mind, this is India, where the equivalent of a dollar buys a great deal. This year, I had almost $400. Joy.
Since Mukta Jeevan Ashram is located well outside of Mumbai, we ( me, husband and daughter) set out early on the morning of the day. I’m not usually a morning person but on this occasion, I’m the first one up. I can’t wait to get there!
A two hour drive later, we arrive. And there is Sr. Barbara waiting with open arms, a huge smile and words that brim with love. In a sense, I am visiting family. A family I have discovered late in life but is no less loving and inclusive than the one I was born into. A blessing I hold dear.
Over tea and homemade cookies, we sit with Sr. B and catch up on our news. What’s new at Mukta Jeevan, what produce has been especially abundant this year and most importantly, what’s going on in the lives of the children.
Sister takes us on a tour to see the newest development in Mukta Jeevan. It is an impressive second home for the aged. To know more please click here.
Tapioca has just been harvested. I know we’ll be returning to my parents loaded with it. Last time, it was pure, brilliant yellow, freshly ground turmeric. I had enough to share with my parents and bring home to the US. We’re still using it.
Finally, we go to meet the children. By now, they know and remember us. Therefore, they are very comfortable greeting us with warmth and excitement. On my part, I recall names and pay attention to things like how well they look and how much each has grown. Unfortunately, being HIV positive stunts their growth. So it is hard to gauge ages. There are three new children. A pair of very young, very cute sisters and another girl who arrived with many problems. She told us she was sixteen but Sr. B believes she is a few years older. This poor girl was a mess but ever since Sr. got her evaluated by a psychiatrist and was put on medication, she is doing better. Who knows what her story is or what she has endured? I so wish the day when no more kids are born with HIV would come soon.
Fifteen girls are preparing for an event they are attending the following day. They are performing a dance to ‘Jai Ho’ the song made popular in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. So, after I’ve distributed the sweets we brought and given them a decent sugar rush, we all go to the assembly hall where they will practice/perform the dance. Are they good! I enjoy it so much that I ask for an encore. Sr.B beams at them like a proud mother.
Following this, we bring out the forty odd recorders. Mira gives them an introduction to the instrument.
The children are totally into learning. Their earnest faces warms my heart no end. As luck would have it, the new Sister in charge of them, is one who used to play the recorder before she took up nursing and her vows. Sr Supriya is young and energetic. She’s excited that now she and the kids will practice daily and she will give them a lesson once a week. The idea being that the children can then play their recorders at mass. I’m thrilled that my idea of giving recorders is a success. One never knows …
With Sr Supriya interpreting, Mira explains the finger positions and how to sound the notes. While Mira speaks in Engllish, Sr. S translates in Hindi and Marathi. Later, Mira plays her French horn for the children. After all, they had danced for us.
We finally break for lunch and, in the case of the children, also their medication. A somber reminder of their situation. Our lunch is with the Sisters. It is a meal made especially for us. I feel special. After a good tuck in, Mira is asked by Sr. B to play her horn for the other nuns. She does and her audience couldn’t be more complimentary. Hope it doesn’t go to her head.
It is time to get back to the children for another recorder lesson. The eagerness to learn is apparent. They really want to get it right. Mira is teaching them Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Sr Supriya picks it up easily and with her assistance, Mira gets the kids going. By the end of an hour, several of them have got the hang of it. Pretty cool. I tell them I’ll look forward to hearing them on our next visit. They in turn, with genuine sincerity, promise me they will practice and perform for us. I could not be more gratified.
It is time for us to say goodbye. We have a long trip back. I loathe saying farewell to the children but knowing I’ll be back gives me consolation. I leave feeling so content and fulfilled. This feeling will keep me going for another year.
I wonder, who here is really the Lucky One?
To see photos of this visit – click here.
Note: The other gifts were a hit too!