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Service Learning Field Program Report #3

Service Report #3

SOS Children's Center, India


            I focused on the ceiling beams as my world shifted in and out of focus.  I was sprawled on the floor of the SOS Children Center's greeting room trying to collect the scattered edges of my oxygen-deprived mind into a coherent thought.  It finally came: this was not at all how I had pictured my role in this service visit.  We have debated a lot in class whether various experiences were service or not and I was fairly confident that lying on the ground would unanimously be considered outside the realm of service.  I was inclined to think that I had failed.  I thought back to our course readings and chuckled to myself that dealing with a dysautonomia flare up had definitely not been covered.  With more thought on this subject, and further reading once I got back to the ship, I realized that while my exact situation wasn't covered, the readings did give me some strategies and framing to think about my "failure."  Perhaps, the service visit wasn't even a failure at all.

            The first step in reflecting on the SOS Children's Center service visit is putting together the scattered pieces I remember of the day.  I remember the long bus ride when our air conditioning broke and that the ceiling of the building was made of wood and painted a deep maroon.  I remember a girl helping me up the stairs and the little boy who stayed behind as his peers left to give tours to the visitors.  Yes, I think that little boy is what I remember most.  He hung back and watched this strange girl lying on the ground.  He had an armful of water bottles that he had collected instead of the toys the visitors were handing out.  His eccentricity marked him as "different" as my reclined status had marked me.  When I finally sat up, we explored our uniqueness with me crawling after him and helping him take pictures of his water bottles in different arrangements.  We didn't talk and even eye contact was a rare occurrence from him.  I'm sure he could have a diagnosis, as I had mine, but it didn't matter because both of us were having fun doing things our own way.  During that time, the world that may think this or that of us was far away.  We had water bottles to play with.    Here my memory skips around.  I again only can recall fragments:  Jackie leading the kids in a beatboxing performance, a game of tag – boys vs. girls, and a beautiful girl holding up her little sister to wave goodbye as our bus pulled away.  I remember how beautiful the center was and how I wish I felt better so I could explore and ask questions.  I remember somehow feeling happy on the long, unairconditioned bus ride back. 

            Once I had these bits and pieces better organized in my mind, I could start working on what it meant.  Early on in this reflection process, I came to realize that the trip had not been a failure at all.  Just because I had trouble fully interacting, that did not mean that the whole thing, or even my part in the experience, wasn't worthwhile.   Our goal as a group had been to make a donation to the center, learn about the alternative set-up of the orphanage, and play with the kids.  As a group I believe we achieved this.  The service project was not how I had envisioned it, but it was a success all the same.  This shift in thought reflects a strategy that our text calls "redefining success." 

            Days and even weeks after the service trip, this shift in how I framed the experience has led me to have a better and better view of what I had personally achieved.  Perhaps playing with that boy, having the opportunity to connect because of, not in spite of, our uniqueness was more meaningful than if I had toured the facility and played with dozens of the other kids.   I felt like we both were thinking, "yes, you are different, but so am I."  It was a confirmation that we were not alone despite our peers having left us to go be "normal."  Maybe someday when our friends wander off again, we will remember how we played, an adult girl crawling on the ground and a young boy passionate about water bottles.  I know in my case, when I think of this I will remember that the things that make me different also give me unique opportunities.  If I feel like I am missing out or failing, perhaps that means I am not looking hard enough in the right direction.  




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