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3: In January of 2010 I applied for a non-profit group called "Youth Making A Difference" (YMAD.) This service organization was started in 2005 by Robert and JoDee Baird who live in Sugarhouse, Utah. Each year, the Bairds take 25 high school seniors from around the state to India for a 2-3 week humanitarian expedition. I heard about the program several years earlier and I knew it was something I had to do. After I was accepted, we started meeting every Sunday night to learn leadership skills, fundraising tips, and cultural information to prepare for our trip. We also had several overnight retreats at different camp sites and churches and such. Most of the students in YMAD were from Highland or East but there was one other girl from Olympus named Samantha Collins.

5: The total cost of the trip to India was $3,500.00 which we were supposed to fundraise on our own. I sent out letters to friends and family asking for donations, and I played the harp and spoke at the Kiwanis club. In September, all of YMAD held a carnival fundraiser called "Hum For the Slums" at Sugarhouse Park. There was dinner, music, games, and a silent auction all night long. I manned a fishing booth with Warren Porter where little kids could get prizes. This event helped me raise more than $4,000.00 total and helped our entire team raise more than $120,000.00. Everyone was so generous. Even those who didn't donate money helped in other ways. My young womens group put together file folder games, my grandmother knitted hats for newborn babies, and my family donated lots of time and support to my cause.

6: On November 15th, everyone met at a church and packed the supplies we had been gathering all year. Every person was to have two duffle bags of 50 pounds each. One was full of personal items and the other held the things we planned to give away. This included 200 hygiene kits, 200 clean delivery kits, 200 newborn kits, chalkboards, pencils, erasers, markers, scissors, hats, gloves, blankets, vitamins, and million other things we might need.

7: On November 19th, 2010, at 5:00 in the morning, we met at the Salt Lake Airport and we were off!

9: From Salt Lake we flew to San Francisco which wasn’t bad because it was only a two hour flight. In San Francisco we had a five hour layover, and from there we flew to Singapore. That flight was awful. It was about 22 hours but we stopped to refuel in Seoul, South Korea so there was really one flight of fourteen hours and one flight of eight hours. The flight from Singapore to New Delhi was only six hours so that wasn’t too bad. Flying internationally was really fun. The seats were big and the flight attendants brought us food every three hours. We spent a lot of time watching movies (I remember I watched Despicable Me almost four times) and we did lunges in the aisle so our legs wouldn’t swell up. Because of our path, we flew with the sun, so I didn’t sleep at all, and when I finally got to India, I had been awake for nearly 36 hours and it was nine o’clock in the morning.

11: When we landed in New Dehli, we found only 28 of our 72 bags had made it on the original flight from Salt Lake to San Francisco, which meant that they were more than 24 hours behind us. I discovered that I had my duffle bag full of supplies to give away, but all my personal items were sitting in Salt Lake. We picked up the luggage that did make it, piled onto a bus (of sorts,) and began our ride through the streets of India.

12: I remember we had driven maybe 30 seconds away from the airport when we saw two little girls, one of them carrying a baby, run up to the bus. She was making some sort of hand gesture, and we all thought she was blowing us kisses, so we began waving and blowing kisses back. Then we realized that she wasn’t blowing kisses, she was begging for food. I had seen adult beggars before but I’d never seen a child this young asking for help. It was completely overwhelming. We continued to drive through miles and miles of markets and houses and slums. The amount of people and garbage and animals was just incredible.

16: The bus ride should have only been about four hours but we stopped for dinner at Dominos (which was weird gross goat cheese and olives on bread) and then everything started falling apart. First, the bus broke down and so the boys in our group had to push start it. Second, there was a wedding party so traffic was completely stopped for about three hours. Third, as we were stopped for the wedding party, the Indian people in the bus next to us began banging on our windows and trying to get on our bus. I was half asleep when this happened but I’m told it was really scary.

17: Because it was getting so late and we had all been awake for more than 48 hours, we decided to find a hotel/lodge/house to stay in for the night. In the morning we loaded into SUVs and headed through the markets to the mountains.

20: We finally reached the village of Shillai . We were the first white people to ever come there so the people treated us like celebrities. We were staying at a government hostel. There was one big room for the boys and two little rooms for the girls, and some other rooms for the leaders. We met in a tent outside the hostel to have a late dinner, talk about our plans, and meet our translators.

22: The next day, we divided into three groups and set off for our elementary schools. My school was called Daya, and there were 27 children enrolled between ages four to eleven. We walked into the school and I was overwhelmed. 27 kids sat silently in three rows on the hard ground, waiting for us. The school was a two room cement building, with only one light bulb and no heating. It was cold and dark and I wanted to open the windows, but I later learned that was a bad idea because all the flies would come in. Communicating with the kids without using English was hard, but they quickly understood things like high-fives, hugs, and thumbs up, and even simple phrases like “hello” and “thank-you.” After we had been given some time to greet our kids, we made name tags and played games. When I showed them how to make name tags, I wrote “REBECCA” in English, on a white index card with a marker and showed it to the class. Each student promptly wrote “REBECCA” on their card as well, and we had to have the translator explain that they were supposed to write their own name. Some of them wrote their names in Hindi and in English and I remember thinking how beautiful it was.

24: For the next ten days we spent from nine in the morning to four o’clock at night at Daya elementary school. We taught lessons and played games and practiced talking and sang songs and just fell in love with every single child. Because our group was so young their progress was slow, but there were times when we could see they were really learning. They all understood basic greetings and vocabulary words, and they always told us to “Be happy” in English.

25: At noon we would separate for lunch. The YMAD kids went up onto the roof and the Indian children ate down below. They stood single file in a line heading for the cooking room and each one got a scoop of rice in a pie tin. After lunch we would teach more lessons and we always ended the day with a song and a game. They loved “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “The Roller Coaster. " The boys especially loved to sing a song about whiskey that we thought was especially funny.

28: We spent one day giving basic medical exams to the kids at the school and distributing hygiene kits. Besides being malnourished, many suffered from cataracts and lazy eyes which we paid to have fixed by the local doctor. Later in the week we took them to the village market to buy each child a new school uniform and new shoes since most of them came to school barefoot. They loved riding in the cars and trying on sweaters to find the right size. Many of them tried to give us their money and we got to explain that the clothes were a gift.

34: At four o’clock each day we would leave the elementary school and head for a nearby Ashram (Girls’ Orphanage.) The Ashram was built on the side of a cliff and visitors weren’t allowed inside, so we spent most of our time on the roof. Even though the girls were much older than the children at our elementary school, their English was poor so we taught them the same lessons we taught at Daya. It was fun to play games like “Mingle” and “Musical Chairs,” and the girls really got competitive! Everyone loved taking pictures, and they always wanted a picture of them by themselves. It was hard to get them to smile for pictures because it is considered inappropriate in India for women to show their teeth. The YMAD boys weren’t allowed to stay after sun down, so around five o’clock they would hike down and play cricket while the rest of us stayed on the roof with the girls.

37: We also spent one day giving medical exams and distributing hygiene kits at the Ashram. Several of the girls had pink eye.

40: On our last day in Shillai, we visited the local secondary school for a "cultural exchange." When we arrived at about 9nine o'clock, the students were lined up in the dirt outside, meditating. The school director welcomed YMAD and asked us to wait while the students finished. After meditating, they did some yoga, sang the national anthem, and recited something. When they were done, YMAD was invited to the stage to sing and dance. We were all hesitant, but once we began, the students loved us. They stood up and clapped and cheered and as we ran to the back of the field to sit down, they showered us with hugs and kisses. I saw one boy with a cell phone, and his wallpaper was a picture of one of the YMAD girls. It was fun to be a celebrity, and it really made me grateful for my school and my education.

43: The High School exchange was our last day in Shillai, and we drove down into Rishikesh that night. Nobody spoke on the way down. It was too sad. Rishikesh was beautiful. It’s a city near the mouth of the Ganges River so people from all over India travel there to see the holy water. We stayed at a religious hotel called an Ashram and awoke at five o'clock in the morning to the sound of Hindu priests chanting. At about seven we went to a smaller building in the Ashram and learned yoga and meditation from two Shwamis. When we finished we piled into tiny rickshaws and sped off for the city where we were going river rafting. The Ganges River was huge and the people gathered there were using the water for all sorts of things, bathing, laundry, toilet, drinking, etc. After we stopped for lunch everyone jumped in the river despite all the garbage we knew we were swimming with. The rapids were great and the whole trip took the better part of the day.

46: That night we ate dinner at a local restaraunt and then went down to the shore of the river and watched a religious arti. Monks who were still teenagers sang and chanted songs in Hindi and then everyone had the chance to float a candle down the river which symbolized their journey through life.

49: The next day, we drove to Dehli and spent the night at a very luxurious villa. In the morning, we saw some Hindu temples, went shopping in the markets, and packed our things for the trip home. We gave away most of our clothes , money, and American food, exchanged addresses with our guides and translators, and packed our bags for the trip home.

51: On Saturday, December seventh, we flew home. The flight was long and difficult.

53: Going to India was the best thing I have ever done. It changed my life, totally and completely. I think about the things I saw and learned every day. The children I served had absolutely nothing. And yet they were the happiest people I’ve ever met. I like to remember India because I like the person I became when I was there. I was patient and flexible and gracious and unselfish and happy. And I want to be like that all the time. People always ask me if what I did for two and a half weeks really made a difference. I can honestly say that it did. The things we taught and the gifts we gave were important, but the true service was in the relationships we made with the students and the hope that came with that. Because Youth Making A Difference came to India, the city of Shillai has a chance to survive. They have the clothes and the money and the resources and the perspective they need to take care of themselves. And that’s what the trip was all about. I am so grateful for the experience I had in India because it made me a happier, healthier, more valuable person, and because it instilled in me a permanent desire to help others.

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