By Varun Ram
As we head into week two of Crossover India basketball camp, I wanted to share four thoughts about our trip. First, let’s talk about the adjustment to living in Chennai. The bustling streets of Chennai rival those of New York City while the heat and humidity levels have been higher than anything I have ever experienced back home in Maryland. This is my third time in Chennai, yet every time I return I am still shocked by the pungent aroma of the streets and the sheer number of people walking around at any hour. Chennai is an easy city to fall in love with. The people are great, the food is spectacular, and the city’s energy is captivating. My only difficulty in adjusting to Chennai was the jet lag, as Maryland is about 10 hours behind Chennai. After a solid eight hours sleep the first night, however, I was back on track and ready to take on the first week of camp with my Crossover teammates.
That brings me to my second point—how amazing our Crossover team is. From the moment I met them, I felt like I fit in. Fast forward one week and it feels like we’ve all known each other for years. I credit Shaun for assembling such a talented and wonderful group of people. Everyone has a unique skill set yet we are unified by our mission to teach basketball and life skills to underprivileged children in Tamil Nadu. Everyone’s selflessness and eagerness to make an impact on these children’s lives has truly inspired me. The looks on the faces of returning campers as they saw my Crossover teammates again for the first time since last year was priceless. It was an ineffable sight. I think that is a true testament to the impact that this Crossover team has had and will continue to have on these young kids.
My third thought is about the children, who have made this one of the most memorable weeks of my life. We have had about 350 kids show up to camp each day. Their consistent energy and enthusiasm is like nothing I have ever seen. They come directly to camp after a full day of school and still show up with a huge smile and endless amount of energy. These kids are all unbelievably grateful to be at camp and come with a willingness to learn whatever basketball drill or life skill we have to teach them. Despite the language barrier, the children seemed to have picked up most of the basketball skills and life lessons taught by our Crossover team. They have been pleasantly surprised with my Tamil speaking ability, which has made connecting with kids that only speak Tamil much easier. I find it funny that I have learned just as much Tamil from the kids as they have learned English from me.
That brings me to my last thought. I came to India thinking that I was here to make an impact on these childrens’ lives. What I failed to realize was the impact that these kids were going to make on me. They’ve helped me with much more than just my Tamil. They’re all exceptionally happy despite having so little. Some of them don’t even have shoes but I never heard one complaint as we did basketball drills on the blistering-hot cement.
In one week, these kids have changed my outlook on life and happiness. As I prepare my lessons and drills for the children this upcoming week, I can’t help but wonder what they have in store to teach me.