Carolyn Hope Smeltzer, RN, Ed.D, FACHE, FAAN, traveled to India as part of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s Volunteer Immersion Program in 2014. She became close to the children being cared for at Asha Kiran during her time as a volunteer there. She shares the following reflection.
“In November of 2014, the journey of a ‘life changing experience’ took place at an SCN home for girls about two hours outside of Delhi, India. There were many amazing moments from this time as a volunteer, but not the magnificent sights of India as one might expect, but rather the mission work of the Sisters and the ‘hearty’ welcome by the girls. The lessons from this journey are implanted in my memory along with the girls’ faces, laughter and warmth.
Carolyn Hope Smeltzer wrote a book about her volunteer experience.
“The first most significant lesson is this experience did not end when I returned to the states in 2014. Today, my connection with the girls continues, and I have a true relationship and friendship miles away in distance yet close in heart. When I got married for the first time last October, I received an email from the girls excited about my new life. I also received a beautiful hand drawn large card with every girl’s signature on it, wishing me happiness. It is framed and hangs in my new home.
“When I was in India, the girls knew I authored books and asked me to write a book about them. A year ago I thought, how impossible it might be to fully capture the experience in a book about them at this time, but an article came pouring out, ‘Sixty Girls, Three Sisters and One Home.’
“Now, a book has been produced with the lessons I learned during this journey. I thought this experience was a lifetime opportunity to meet and work with the girls. Today I know it is a life-long journey that is ongoing with the girls. Here are just some of the lessons I learned.
“Bonding happens much faster than expected. From the moment entering the home, the girls welcomed us, followed us and wanted to hear our life stories. They called us Auntie.
“The young learn skills from the older girls and are accountable at a much younger age than girls in the states.
“If a child receives love, they give love. The love the girls receive from the Sisters was transferred to us as volunteers. They cared about us and were concerned for our safety when we went to Delhi. I cried during one of the prayer services and about 10 of the girls came up and said, ‘Are you okay Auntie Carolyn? Please do not cry.’
“They are so proud of their culture. The children wanted us to look Indian in dress and to speak some Hindi.
“Giving makes the older girls happy. As they made bracelets, they gave them away to the younger children or to us, the volunteers. One of the girls insisted on giving me one of her two family photos, since I was now part of her family. She told me she would remember me.
“Material remembrances of a trip are not necessary. I went to India with the intention of returning home with jewelry. But on the trip, I could not bear to buy any material things since I witnessed so many having little.
“All religions can pray together peacefully as the girls did. And hospitality is abundant in India. We were welcomed everywhere.
“Out of ‘hard times’ the girls share common values and learn to appreciate the life and opportunities they have. They know they are ‘cared for and cared about’ by the Sisters. They now can dream of possibilities.
“All of the lessons learned while on this journey were life impacting. I will be forever grateful to the the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth for granting me this experience and opportunity for giving and growth.