Immersion experience in India hits close to home - KMSP-TV

Immersion experience in India hits close to home

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Some Minneapolis teenagers went on an emotional journey recently, traveling halfway around the world to help others -- but for one young woman, the trip hit very close to home.

Tune in to Fox 9 News @ 9 to watch the students reflect on their trip with Fox 9 Investigator Trish Van Pilsum.

What does it take to create a fully-formed human -- one who can touch and be touched by strangers? Sometimes, it takes a very long journey.

Kolkata, India, is one of the poorest places on the planet -- but it opened its arms to some extraordinary kids from Minnesota who aren't your average upper-crust do-gooders. They're utterly open to everything.

It was cold and rainy the day 16 DeLaSalle High School students loaded luggage for their trip overseas. Although it's a Catholic school, the voyage was not considered a mission trip as much as an immersion trip.

The group spent months preparing and learning some basic Bengali, and intended to spend most of their time with children there. So, they learned children's songs and spent four days at a school where the kids come from families for whom education was once only a dream.

There is a special program for children in special needs, but that's virtually unheard of in India.

"It's a really sweet and simple story," Dr. Zarin Dadina, founder of the Society of Indian Children's Welfare, said.

In fact, the program likely wouldn't exist if it weren't for the support of a small, Minneapolis-based non-profit called Pathways to Children.

"Helping human beings -- that's the main thing," Dadina said.

Pathways for Children supports an orphanage for babies and older children with special needs too.

"Really don’t' know why I started crying," Bella Noyes admitted. "I wasn't sad -- just a lot of love."

Each student brought his or her own gift. Samantha Harris brought her optimism -- a completely different lens through which to view India's poverty.

"I think I was able to be happy and cheerful because they were so happy even though they didn't have much," she explained. "I used to be in a point where I didn't have much either."

Yet, the students couldn't help but notice the family living on the street just outside the door of the mission home where they stayed.

"There were two little boys," Harris recalled. "They were naked every day when we came out. One would have a little shirt but no bottoms on."

For Harris, the trip was much more than a terribly sad vignette.

"I could have been out on the street too," she said.

At 18, Harris is a proud and accomplished person, but she is also honest and not-so-proud that she won't admit there was a time when she was homeless herself.

"I lived in a shelter for a time," she said.

The shelter serving people in downtown Minneapolis was where she stayed with her mother and brother, but it was crowded and noisy. Even so, she learned to stay focus and stay positive.

"I was embarrassed a little," Harris admitted. "You have to get through things in order to move on with your life."

Move on she did. She was determined to go to a good school like her older sister had. Her grandparents took her in, but they lived too far from DeLaSalle High School. Then, a family friend took her in.

"A person helped me and it was really, really a blessing," Harris said.

Some people talk about giving back, but Harris really knows the true meaning and lives it.

"I have to go in there with a mind that I am going to be helping others," she said. "I am going to do what other people did to me."

Harris could be called one of Minnesota's invisible homeless. It's likely that people she knows will watch her story and learn for the first time how desperate her circumstances had become -- but there is nothing invisible about the homeless in India. Two thirds of the people in Kolkata have no or temporary housing.

"In India, it was more out there, and you can see it pretty well," Harris confirmed.

Ask anyone in Minnesota who is struggling, and it's easy for people to ignore what they don't see. In Kolkata, however, there is no ignoring the problem.

"It was very sad. It was hard t pretend you didn't see it -- to ignore it, because it was there every day," Harris said. "It felt really sad."

Yet, Harris knows her future is much brighter than the homeless she met in India because she got the support she needed just when she needed it -- and that makes her feel blessed.

That gratitude makes her believe that even in a few days, a bunch of teenagers could make a difference for a few -- although, there were times when the students wondered if they were doing enough.

"I decided today I was going to go sit with two children in the handicapped room," Emily Doerner said. "I sat with them all day."

Fourteen of the 16 students got at least partial scholarships from Pathways to Children for the trip, and two others and two teachers got full scholarships for a trip that taught them all how to love one another.

"I was speaking to a college student who came in and was able to speak Bengali," Doerner recalled. "The boy -- the whole time -- was doing a hand motion. I didn't know what he said. She told me later it was, 'I love you.'"


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