My driver got a little lost on the way to the school near the labor village about three hours away. . . and I was at the mercy of my kind car buddy because I didn't speak a lick of Hindi, Deccani or Urdu nor knew where in the world I was at that point. It was one of the furthest places I had been taken yet on the 16-day photojournalism project in India.
We stopped once for directions at an outdoor cafe sitting on the side of the road which was only occupied by men. I'm sure the white girl in the front seat was not an everyday sight for these coffee drinkers. Sure enough, we seemed to be going the right direction and finally arrived at our final destination.
I had already visited a couple schools in the country, but was surprised to be told by the headmaster that the entire student body waited for me to arrive before starting their morning presentation. It is quite a daily ceremony. Every class lines up outside as they listen to a few students briefly talk, play drums, and recite sayings in unison. And low and behold . . . this school wanted me to say a few words as well. Ummm . . . okay. Public speaking wasn't a new thing for me, but greeting hundreds of kids in a third-world country with only a moments notice was quite a task . . . and an honor. Nothing like being taken out of your comfort zone quickly. I even had one teacher ask me to teach her class (which I did) and another one asked me to sing (which I nervously did).
After taking the outdoor stage and saying a few words of thankfulness for being there, the kids filed out of the courtyard and into their classrooms. Then my normal work began. The headmaster of each school would typically give me a tour, but this time, the kind gentlemen (pictured below in the red long-sleeved shirt in 100 degree temperature) stopped each class and actually introduced me to every single classroom.
That wasn't the only remarkable thing . . . what followed was even more memorable. Once I was introduced to the students and teacher, every student stood up and said hello in unison. EVERY SINGLE ROOM. What an incredible greeting of kindness and respect!!!! Now, some of the little kindergarteners were frightened by the foreigner, but for the most part, I saw huge smiles and waves and heard welcoming and giggles.
I realize that my presence was not a common happening in that remote village, but they showed me such gratitude for simply being there that it made a lasting impression. And, it reinforced the need and importance of showing that same value to everyone I meet - no matter where they live, what they are wearing, what language they speak or what they look like.
We are all equal. We all bleed the same. We all desire to love and be loved. We all are valuable. We are all unique. We are all human.
So, before you quickly judge someone, remember that they are more like you than you think. Greet them with a smile . . . it breaks barriers and makes a difference.
Be that memorable greeting for someone. You never know . . . it could change a life and ultimately, make a world of a difference.