By Jon Metzgar (@JonnyMet1)
On Day One of my journey to Chennai, I wrote about what I was leaving behind in order to come here for two weeks. Now, on my last day before the flight home to Boston, I’m writing about what I am taking home with me.
The first thing I’m taking home with me is a new gratefulness. Although I am already a grateful kid, there’s always room for improvement in this characteristic, and my gratefulness will be shown for everything I am blessed to have. What makes me want to bring home this gratefulness is the idea of how grateful the kids I coached here are for everything they receive. These kids are so grateful for each thing they receive, no matter how big or how small the thing is. For example, when Xavier, a 17 year-old kid who has one of the greatest hearts a kid can have, rolled his ankle while playing 1-on-1 with me after camp one day, he looked like he needed to stop playing for a little bit. When I noticed this right away, I did the easy task of getting him two chairs; one to sit on, and one to elevate his ankle on. Thinking this was no hard favor to do for Xavier, I couldn’t believe what his reply to my action was. With his thankful heart, he said “God Bless You”. This was an amazing thing to hear from a kid, especially when all I did was get him chairs to help heal his ankle.
The second thing I’m taking home with me is a no-taking-for-granted attitude. I never liked taking anything for granted before I left for my trip here to Chennai, but after seeing how grateful the kids were for each thing they received, I knew that taking things for granted in my own life was coming to an end. This is part of my make-up to not take shortcuts with things, but seeing the kids make the most of their limited gym time for these two weeks really helped me change my attitude on how I will try my hardest to not take anything for granted anymore.
The last thing I’m taking home with me is my improved view on the sport I love, basketball. As I have been playing basketball literally my whole life, I have come to love it more than almost anything. However, like many other passions, there may be times where the ‘taking-for-granted’ of something comes into effect. Unfortunately, I have experienced times of this during my lifetime career playing basketball, but I know that my love for the best sport in the world is going to guide me to keep working hard all the time while playing the game, and it will also keep me watching basketball for the rest of my life.
I can’t even begin to go on about how influential these kids (especially the Teach For India kids) are to my own life, an idea that I didn’t think would happen during this trip. It’s unbelievable to think about how I am a hero to them, but really, these kids are the ones who are changing my life forever.
Thanks again Coach,
By Maggie Brown (@MagsOnWags)
The eager anticipation began to rise rapidly among our group of foreign travelers as the rickety school bus climbed through the bumpy dirt roads smushed between rows of cracked concrete storefronts, woven straw homes, and mounds of piling trash. From the comfort of our air-conditioned vehicles, our eyes gazed out into the surrounding world, picking up glances of manual laborers hard at work, women lugging large water basins overhead, and children scrambling through the streets en route to school. Everywhere we looked, the physical structure of homes crumbled, flies swarmed, and the eyes of people store solemnly back in our direction, as if crying for aid. With so much to observe in the blocks leading to the primary school, our minds were left wandering as to what joys and sorrows sat behind the metal school gate that separated the heartbreak of the Chennai city slums from the hope and promise of a quality education.
The school in which our arrival was expected behind the gate altered greatly from the luxurious American International School marked by prestige and extreme wealth that we have grown accustomed to visiting in Chennai. Instead, today’s visits brought us to the land of a public government school, a place generally reserved for girls and extremely low income families, where class sizes can stretch into the triple digits and resources are extremely scarce. Within this local government school, our group was arranged to meet with a unique section of India’s education system called Teach for India, a fellowship that places accomplished college graduates into the reigns of urban education across the globe, for the pure benefit of children’s access to proper education through tenth grade.
After a brisk walk through a dark, open air hallway marked by the stench of raw sewage and filth, our group arrived into a second standard classroom taught by a Teach for India fellow that had only been on the job for a single month. Abandoning the comfort of the corporate world to explore the world of teaching for the first time, Yashas was responsible for shaping the minds of thirty-eight children around age eight, for over six hours of the day. Upon our immediate entrance onto school grounds, Yashas greeted us with a warm smile and open arms, willingly taking time out of his hectic schedule to welcome our group into his class, which he has appropriately named, “United Universe”. Following a brief introduction, he lead us directly into his world as a Teach for India fellow, diving right into his stance on education, and showing us the beaming faces of the lives that he works so diligently to change each and everyday.
Immediately upon walking into Yashas’ classroom, the faces of his thrifty-eight students went from being engrained in school work, to giggling in joy and smiling in uncontrollable excitement. Instantaneously, their liveliness lightened the classroom, and a wave of happiness crashed through the room, ringing through everyone’s souls, and warming the heart beyond belief. As Yashas softly spoke commands the students listened and obeyed with ease, singing and dancing when told, and sitting quietly when the time for games commenced. The students graciously welcomed us into their space, scooting over on their straw mats to make room for us, showing us their drawings, and allowing us to play puzzles and games with them, all while keeping a smile that stretched from ear to ear across their face.
What especially amazed me about the atmosphere of the Teach for India classroom was Yashas’ hard work and dedication to formulating an environment that makes his students want to stay in school, and have fun while simultaneously learning. Despite having a month of experience, Yashas was extremely passionate about motivating his students towards education, and lighting a fire within them that makes them want to learn about the world around them and how to live in it. He explained his efforts to raise funds for the class, the books he has gotten them, and the games that he uses to keep them interested. He discussed the emphasis on having fun, being excited for school, and gaining support from the community.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the morning was when Yashas told us how his heart sometimes broke when looking into his students eyes, knowing their stomachs are empty, their homes are flooded with raw sewage, and their parents live on less than $2 US per day. He admitted it could be hard to come to work each day with a lump of sorrow in his throat, yet how rewarding it was to change lives, even if in a minimal way. He also discussed his willingness to hold class on Saturday, to keep kids in the classroom for another day out of the week, and out of the neighborhoods that can so easily break them down.
As incredible as Yashas was, it is quite possible that his students were far more incredible. Despite their thin and fragile bodies, empty stomachs, and dirt-caked skin, the students were overjoyed to be in school, learning new things, and bringing hope into their young lives. For the entirety of our visit they could not stop smiling, and their eyes could not stop lighting with joy. To think that they have no shoes, have not eaten since the previous night, and walked through the hot Indian sun just to get here was utterly incredible, an idea that as travelers we can hardly comprehend.
To put the experience in the Teach for India classroom into words is essentially impossible, as there are no words that can describe the feeling of utter amazement. What Yashas is doing for these kids is beyond belief, and I know that their futures are far brighter because of his will to promote learning. For now they are simply learning addition and subtraction, but before long, they could be India’s next generation of leaders, all thanks to the diligent efforts of their jumpstart in the Teach for India program
By Akshay Mundra
Xavier came up to me and not only thanked me for playing a game against him, but also asked me how he could improve as a player. Xavier is going into his twelfth grade at St. Patrick’s, and participated in the program last year as well. Not only is he deeply devoted to the game of basketball (making him a very good player), but alsoworks harder than anyone and is unbelievably kind to everyone. Leading up to this moment he had challenged me to a game of three on three with some other kids his age that had stuck around after camp was over. After a very close game with Xavier’s team ultimately ending up victorious, he came up to me and asked me what he could work on.
Later at night, as I thought more and more about those 30 seconds when Xavier had came up to me I began to realize how significant this simple gesture was, and see deeper into the kind of person Xavier really is. First, after winning the game, he was still looking for ways to improve. Second, he sought the advice of a thirteen year old, someone who is four years younger than him. Finally, he came to me and asked me when no one else was watching. He was not worried about impressing the coaches or anything of those sorts, he just wanted advice. As I was thinking about this moment, another question arose; why wasn’t I asking him how I could improve? I was younger, and I had just lost the game so why was it him that was asking me how improve? This just demonstrates how Xavier has no arrogance or ego at all. I could just tell from the way he was speaking to me and listening so intently to every word that came out of my mouth, that he was genuinely asking me. These 30 seconds allowed me to realize the amazing non arrogance, drive for excellence and overall kindness Xavier truly possesses.
By Maggie Brown (@MagsOnWags)
Their feet are bare and their clothes are tattered,
And yet they show up at Crossover like nothing is the matter.
As four o’clock passes the gym fills up as the children gather,
And laughter fills the room as their smiles grow fatter.
The students come from far and wide, perhaps enduring a twelve hour ride,
They’re here to learn the lessons that money cannot buy,
And to see all that the Hoops Creating Hope message can provide.
With each shot their joy and passion come alive,
And happiness fills their tiny bodies with each slapping of a high five.
Before we arrived we could only envision,
What life would be like in a still developing world on a mission.
We wondered how the people would live,
And what exactly it was that we could give.
We wanted to help but weren’t sure how,
But only knew that we were here to make an impact right now.
The problem was we didn’t know,
If the children’s reception to Crossover Basketball would greatly grow.
Luckily, the attention of our service did not come slow,
As we began work and the love of basketball began to glow.
With our simple acts of service the children have learned,
All that it is that the lessons of sport can earn.
Beyond basketball is our concern,
As we work in Chennai to make a social turn.
Even though it is only day four,
With these kids major points have already been scored.
But what is still to be done is much more,
This is our journey but it can also be yours,
For there are many more students in India who Crossover can lure.
We have already touched countless children’s hearts,
But more importantly they have touched ours,
Opening doors of opportunity that cannot be matched.
An emotional connection we have already attached,
As our love of Crossover Basketball our hearts have already snatched.
Without service this connection would not be possible,
As learning without serving is simply not plausible.
We have much to learn and few days to do it,
So back to the court we go to keep Chennai’s passion for basketball lit.
The first day of the 2013 Hoops Creating Hope camp is in the books! At the day’s finish, we had over 170 kids, and over 110 of them were girls! The Crossover volunteer team took a few minutes to reflect on the day’s experience, sharing moments and photos with each other after dinner.
We all agree we could go on and on about how much the campers are touching us with their enthusiasm and smiles, but here are just a few moments that stood out.
Maggie Brown takes in the children of Chennai learning and smiling with Jonah Travis.
“Basketball never stops, and neither does learning…campers learning from one of the best destined to empower change #hoopscreatinghope” Maggie Brown, College student-athlete, Crossover Volunteer
Kasey Hartung was floored by the distance some campers traveled.
“The first day of Hoops Creating Hope was beyond memorable in countless aspects and certainly surpassed my already high expectations. Numerous extraordinary and remarkable things took place in the AISC gym today, but the most noteworthy was without a doubt when a man and the eight boys that accompanied him checked in and casually brought up in conversation that they had driven an astonishing 400 miles and were staying with friends for the next two weeks just to attend our camp. I felt honored and it warmed my heart to see such a deep dedication to the game and to our camp. I’m looking forward to showing them my similar dedication to the game and to the kids as well within the next two eventful and fun-filled weeks with Crossover.”
-Kasey Hartung, High school student-athlete. Crossover Volunteer
Raj Mundra observed numbers of girls eagerly waiting for registration.
“I was at the registration desk today and I saw so many girls smiling in line patiently waiting to register for the camp. At one point, I counted 22 girls in a row who were eager to participate in Crossover! The layers of significance of that moment were a bit overwhelming and brought deeper meaning to our work here.”
– Rajesh Mundra, Crossover Volunteer Experience Coordinator
Carie Small overwhelmed by the number of female participants.
“I was beyond impressed to see more than 100 young girls show up to the first day of camp. Well over half the participants were female and each and every one of them was excited to play ball and learn. To see this in a culture where girls aren’t necessarily supported or encouraged to play sports shows how much times are changing and reinforces the importance of this program to keep the momentum. My favorite part of the day was observing the interactions between the high school and college students who traveled here with Crossover and the campers. Different ages, different backgrounds, all connecting over their love of basketball, not one without a smile on their face. It was touching because these moments live well beyond the court. I’m so proud of them all. ” – Carie Small, Crossover Volunteer
Zach Fitzgerald describes his first day in a poem.
The Starting Block (Haiku)
Day one, where it starts
The kids pour into the gym
All display large grins
Zachary Fitzgerald, 13, Crossover Volunteer
Akshay Mundra touched by the excitement of the children.
“My favorite moment of the first day of Crossover was the excitement of the kids when they were leaving the gym to go home. Every child demanded high five or fist bump before they left to go home. Although they were all drenched in sweat after working hard for three hours, every single kid had a huge smile on their face. Even one girl whose feet must have been exhausted after not wearing any shoes for the whole time, showed no signs of fatigue, just joy. Seeing the eyes of the children light up and be so excited to come back was definitely my favorite moment of the day.” -Akshay Mundra, 13, Crossover Volunteer
Neha Soneji Contractor, Girl Power!
George Baldini amazed how basketball brings people together, makes change.
“Slowly starting to fit in and understand our schedule, I’ve grown to really like this camp. I really didn’t know what to expect or even what we were even going to do before we left. Now I can truly appreciate the positive impact of basketball both on and off the court as it is changing lives. In school, they are discouraged to ask questions to their teachers if they don’t understand the material. Successfully getting them to actively participate and become engaged warms my heart. We’re changing the culture. On the court, I was amazed about how basketball can bring people together. Teaching and coaching are both aspects I’d like to pursue in my future and witnessing the success and positive impact on them makes me that much more eager to get to that part of my life. I can’t wait for the upcoming days and see what they have in store for us.” – George Baldini, high school student-athlete, Crossover Volunteer
Jonah Travis overwhelmed by eager campers.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, I mean this picture pretty much says it all for me. This is what I came here for.” – Jonah Travis, Harvard Student-athlete, Crossover Volunteer
John Gillespie enjoyed watching campers try new things and improve skills.
“During the first day of camp, I was assigned to the individual skill station. One of the most memorable moments for me was when we were running basic form shooting drills. We had the players line up at different baskets and take turns putting up shots within close range of the hoop using only their dominant hand, while really accentuating the wrist flip to put that nice backspin on the ball. At first the kids were really skeptical of it because it’s something completely different from what they had been doing. It’s also somewhat awkward at first and doesn’t feel right so I think some of them didn’t necessarily understand it. However, after several attempts, most of them started to get the hang of it. As the campers would make shots with this new form, the look on some of their faces was priceless.” – John Gillespie, Student, Crossover Volunteer
Jon Metzgar touched by smiles before camp even began.
“With the first day of the Crossover Basketball Hoops For Hope basketball camp being over, all the counselors as a group reflected on this very special day by sharing their favorite moments from day one. My favorite moment was a great one that I’ll always remember. When I was assigned to the registration counter with Kasey, I didn’t think that that task would be a part of my favorite day-one moment: but it was. The great part of the moment was watching the kids make their way over to Kasey and me, with extremely, genuinely excited looks on their faces. As an empathetic person, I understand why this opportunity is such a great thing for the kids, due to their backgrounds and tough life situations. Seeing the looks on these kids’ faces made both of us really happy, and we couldn’t wait to give the kids the opportunity they deserve: a chance to play basketball, and use the greatest game to shape their futures.” – Jon Metzgar, high school student-athlete, Crossover Volunteer
By Jon Metzgar (@JonnyMet1)
As my first day in India is over, I have learned and seen many things that I couldnt believe were real. The animals in the streets (including cows) are one of the things I thought was funny, but it was sad to see how poverty plagues the city. While driving with my group, I saw families of two, three, and even four packed on to one single motorcycle, or “two-wheeler” as they call it here. The fact that you can’t drink the faucet water or let the shower water get into your mouth is another tough part of the daily lifestyle here, and it’s something I know I have to be responsible enough to remember or I can get sick. It’s a great wake-up call for me to see all of these things in person, because at home, where I’m fortunate and lucky enough to live a life that not many people are blessed to live, I get a nice refresher of how fortunate I am, and how the things I left behind in Natick, MA will be even sweeter when I get to use and experience them again, but more importantly, I will appreciate and be even more grateful for these things, especially my family, than I did and was before.
By George Baldini (@GBaldini)
As crazy as it might sound, I’m pretty much comfortable here and all settled in, but I think that’s mostly due to our unbelievable living conditions. I thought they’d be worse. Much worse. We have fans and ac so I’m not hot. We have wifi which greatly lessens my feelings of homesickness and isolation. I’m rooming with my best friend which reduces my loneliness as well. Our houses are stalked with American food which rids me of my fears of spicy Indian food. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to work with which ensures my feeling of comfortability and fitting in. However, as this trip progresses and I start to become exposed to more of the culture here, I know I’ll realize how spoiled I am and how much I take for granted.
My only fear still left is the lack of security, which I’m sure with time will gradually go away, but with each meal there’s always the probing question of what can and can’t I eat. I know I’ll always worry about eating the wrong foods and experiencing whatever nasty conditions will follow. In addition to the food, the bugs, the heat, the dirtiness, the smell, the claustrophobia and vulnerability in big crowds, and my safety still haunt me every day.
By Carie Small (@CarieIsSoVery)
After a very long flight my body is exhausted, achy, swollen (reminders that I’m not getting any younger) but it’s easy to keep going running on the excitement of being in a new place, with people I’ve just met for the first time only a day ago.
We’ve settled into what will be our home for the next couple weeks and I’ve had a chance to contact my loved ones. The general consensus is that it’s HOT. Having left Southwest Florida behind to get here, it doesn’t feel overly hot or humid to me. As a web-based business owner, I have the luxury to work from anywhere and I often choose to make the beach or pool patio my “office” so heat is definitely something I can handle. But that choice I make leads me to think about the luxuries I’m leaving behind for this experience. Flexibility, the ability to spend a lot of time with my son as he enjoys his summer vacation (now I’m on the other side of the world!) being constantly connected and plugged in. I’ve even thought about safety as a bit of a sacrifice. I’m never a fan of bugs but this is the first place I’ve traveled where I’ve had to take daily malaria medication in case I get bit (which I have been assured, I will). Early this morning when we were walking out of the airport I became very aware that the rules of the road are very different here when I got bumped by a car. Even though I’m an adult, my mother will freak out when she reads this so I will clarify, I was barely nudged, it felt like someone has stepped on the back of my foot, causing my shoe to come off…but when I looked back, I saw it was a tire rolling up on me. WHAT? My very first experience in India was getting hit by a car! So, traffic rules and safety, those both stayed in the United States too.
We’re about to venture into Chennai for our first day-time look around. I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to soaking in as much of the local culture as I can. But what I most look forward to is meeting the campers tomorrow morning. Specifically the girls. I’m very excited to be able to participate in these young ladies being introduced to a sport that means so much to me and has so much to offer. We come from completely different places in the world, but through the sport of basketball, we can find commonality. I can’t wait to learn more about them and share their stories. Through basketball, we are presented opportunities that help us grow as individuals in all areas of our life. I feel extremely blessed to have met Shaun and the Crossover program and to be able to join them on this journey to change the lives of these young people, and our own in the process. Hoops Creating Hope. It’s going to be an amazing two weeks. I hope you’ll follow our journey and share our cause.
By Jonah Travis (@dreamchsr)
As far as living arrangments there doesn’t seem to be too much I’ve left behind. Besides a few minor adjustments like not being able to drink faucet water and having to leave my shoes at the door everything seems relatively normal. We have WIFI and the house is really nice so what more could you ask for?
As far as big picture goes, I’d say I’ve left a large sense of security behind. There aren’t too many times, situations, and people that I don’t feel comfortable around at home but here it feels as though the potential for something to go wrong based on your lack of understanding of customs is at a high. This was one of my biggest fears coming here was how much my lack of understanding of their day-to-day norms would affect me in a negative way.
Being back home or even at school if I am in a situation that is unfamiliar it takes but five seconds for me to remove myself. Here almost the entire situation is uncomfortable and it would take almost 24 hours of travel time to completely remove myself.
I’m excited to learn and interact though. I guess the lack of security sense and uncomfortable feelings are simply brought on by a lack of understanding, which I am eager to change.
By Kasey Hartung (@Kasey_Hartung)
As I think about the upcoming weeks that I will spend in Chennai, I look forward to and embrace this incredible opportunity, but I also can’t help but think about what I left behind to embark on this amazing journey. I leave behind family and friends that will continue on their normal routines while I get to come to India and step out of the perfunctory summer days of Haverhill, Mass. I am now immersed in a peculiar, but immensely fascinating land as I make new friends who will soon become my “family away from family”. Although the reasons to go on the trip heavily outweigh the reasons to stay at home for the summer, I leave behind my protection. This sense of protection is one that can only exist in my own hometown—my comfort zone. Getting on a plane to fly across the globe resulted in me losing what constantly set me at ease, but the flight also forced me to quickly adapt to a new comfort zone in a foreign land. Adapting and constituting change is what life is all about—moving forward to improve oneself. But this trip isn’t all about me; it’s about the children and community in Chennai that I will be assisting and positively affecting for the next few weeks. I hope to make them comfortable and leave their cares behind when they step onto the court, which is exactly what I had to previously struggle with. Sometimes leaving the protective armor behind is just what you have to do. I’m proud to say that my previous border between the old and the new is officially broken down as I leave the “old” behind and it blends into this fresh experience full of possibility, reflection, and change.