Greetings from Shanti Bhavan! My name is Meg VanDeusen, and I’m a volunteer at the Shanti Bhavan School in India, and I’m thrilled to keep you all updated on my experiences here through the Aspire blog! A little about me: I am from Baltimore, MD and am entering my second year at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Still undecided in my major, I am interested in anything that has to do with social justice. Although I have only been at Shanti Bhavan for 2 weeks, it already feels like another place I’ll be able to call “home.”
I hope that She’s the First’s readers will feel as included and as welcomed on this blog as I felt my first day here. I arrived at Shanti Bhavan at 3 in the morning, and just 3 hours later found myself cheering alongside half the school as we watched the graduating class play basketball. Coming from UNC, where basketball spirit boils through our blood, I could not have imagined a better way to kick off my 2 months in India. And I must say, the graduating girls dominated on the court!
The first few days I spent at Shanti Bhavan were during the graduation festivities (You can also read about STF Campus Coordinator Monica’s experience at SB’s graduation here!) The students got to show off their artistic skills with three evenings of performances.
One of my favorite performances was a Bhangra dance by the 6th and 7th grade girls. They were all dressed in beautiful, traditional clothing with colors you could not tear your eyes away from. And of course, they had the most contagious, sparkling smiles. Then, after days of celebration, the graduation ceremony finally arrived. The volunteers helped the graduating girls do their hair and makeup for the occasion. Then, the younger girls helped transform the volunteers by
dressing us in beautiful sarees, jewelry, and hairstyles.
None of this remarkable work, however, can compare to how beautiful the ceremony was. One student’s father spoke in Tamil about how proud he was to watch his son, Manikatan, grow into a strong adult. In rough translation, he said, “People use to say ‘There is Selvam’s son,’ and now they say, ‘There is Manikatan’s father.’” Then the founder of the school, Dr. George, spoke on the family that is Shanti Bhavan, and the commitment that each student and teacher has to one another.
Finally, the valedictorian spoke. Amrutha was chosen for her high academic achievements, her dedication to the arts, and her perseverance. She had just returned from campus after carrying her mother, who is dying of AIDS, to the hospital. Her father had intentionally infected her mother, and tried to harm Amrutha as well. However, none of this suffering came across in her speech. She spoke eloquently of how she and her classmates are able to overcome the pain they have had to endure. Her words inspired each one of us with hope for her class’s future.
I experience this humbleness and love on a daily basis. My students have a thirst for knowledge that can be seen everywhere from the classroom to the sports field to conversations at meals. I can’t wait to help you all get to know them through their creative writing, extracurricular activities, and individual interviews here on the blog. If there is anything specific you want to hear, please let me know in the comments and I will gladly update you about it!