Friday, February 24th, 2023. It was 5:07 p.m., and the children were still in the examination hall. A group of us, children and staff alike, paced the PT field anxiously, wondering what was taking so long. Ajit and I looked at each other, concerned that the delay was caused by a tough examination paper, trying not to spiral the drain.
Finally, the children exited, some smiling, others on the verge of tears. They said the economics exam was hard, but they were happy to have put it behind them. Some cried. Ajit and I listened carefully, hugged them, and told them to prepare for the exams yet to come.
After debriefing, the children looked forward to ice cream sundaes and getting to bed early after agonizing over their National Board exams all week. On our walk to the dining hall to demolish our ice cream, Themozhi grabbed my hand.
“Miss, I thought about you the whole time I was writing my exam.” I glanced at her, perplexed. She looked back at me with her charming smile and continued, “Every time you came into class this week, you told us to ask questions now so we wouldn’t regret anything at five p.m. on Friday. Well, it’s five p.m., and I don’t regret anything.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. She was being cheeky and sincere at the same time. Indeed, that week I was frantically running to the senior class every chance I got to ensure they had everything they needed to prepare for their exams. I urged them to question everything. If they had even the slightest doubt, I dropped everything to help them find a solution before their exam. I felt like the world’s naggiest mother, but I didn’t care. Not only is it normal for a teenager to think their caretakers are crazed maniacs, but I would stop at nothing to ensure the kids scored well on their board exams.
The class of 2023 has tremendous potential. The students possess not only academic strength but also a collective strength of character that permeates throughout the rest of the school community. I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll go on to do great things, and the board exams are just one of the hurdles they’ll have to overcome to position themselves as competitive college applicants.
Later that night, exhausted and with a million little tasks to complete before leaving for the US early the following day, the 12th graders summoned Ajit and me to our office. They lined up in front of us, similar to what they do when they’re about to be reprimanded for some mischief, but this time they led the conversation.
Megala started on behalf of the whole class, explaining that they each wanted to take the opportunity to thank us individually for our support and guidance in the build-up to their board exams. After her introduction, each child spoke, addressing Ajit and then me, expressing genuine gratitude for our belief in them, our commitment to them, and, ultimately, our love for them. Emotions were high yet soft, and their words unadulterated. They were speaking from the heart for no reason but to express gratitude.
Moreover, the 12th-grade girls shared that they think I have a great sense of humor. I do wish I had recorded that part.
At that moment, it truly dawned on me the power of the work done on the Shanti Bhavan campus. Working in administration at a nonprofit can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, each day with new challenges, some that require little oversight to course correct, others that keep us awake for weeks. With all the items that come up throughout the day (and night) on campus, it is very easy to mentally wander away from the more significant impact of the mission. The conversation with the kids brought me back to what drew me to work with Shanti Bhavan in the first place; the opportunity to play a small role in transforming the lives of the children, their families, communities, and the larger society by doing what comes naturally to me: caring for children.
I’ve filed this night in my core memories.