By Anjali Ramakrishnan
I knew from the minute I got the email saying I was accepted and invited to join Team Crossover, it would be “good experience”. After all, not many 14 year olds get the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world and try to make a difference. But now that it’s over, it’s clear that “good experience” couldn’t begin to summarize what being a volunteer in such an amazing program gave me.
Being that I go to India every other year, I didn’t think the setting itself would have a large impact on me since I was so used to it. Seeing cows in the middle of the street, eating with hands, and crowds were nothing new to me, even though I was accustomed to living in the states. What I didn’t realize was I was still sheltered. My family had “privileged India” living conditions and was always with me to make sure food and water conditions were okay, getting the cars to stop when crossing the street, and going to places like malls that I was used to.
With Crossover, I was exposed to slums, government run schools, shopping on a crowded T nagar street, and of course, the people. Every one of these things opened my eyes and let me see a place I thought I knew so well in a new light. Going through the slums, we would visit the homes of many of our students to find they have poor living conditions. When talking to teachers of the students, we would learn even more about their home life, some of which included death of loved ones. Yet these kids came to camp as happy as ever, ready to learn and engaging in all activities. It was amazing they could be so positive and willing to learn what we had to share with them. Watching them filled me with great pride myself – when learning about India in school, it would seem like everyone has a tough life and the country isn’t going anywhere. I’d feel secretly outraged and people would ask me racist and stereotypical questions I had to try hard to ignore. All these kids were proving there was so much more to India – they had amazing spirits and dreams, and with the help from our program added on, these kids were definitely going somewhere. Some came in those new nikes you want, others came bearfoot, but it didn’t matter: all that mattered was that we were able to create hope in every one of these students.
Anjali helps lead a classroom session
It’s amazing how happy you feel when you watch a kid make a basket or give you an example of leadership. You watch them gain confidence, leave camp with a new skill, and best of all, see wide smiles spread across their faces. An important thing to remember as you teach them and feel frustrated when you’re not able to carry out your lesson plan in full detail is that you are not here to make professional athletes, but that you’re using athletic values to open up educational opportunity for these students. As long as they try and have fun on the court, it will transfer to the classroom and their overall attitude.
A bonus I didn’t realize I would have was getting to work with so many amazing people. I wasn’t sure how I would “fit in” with the team since I was the youngest and pretty shy. Not only did I open up, but I would always be laughing and connecting with everyone, enjoying that I got to meet so many people that were truly awesome. I didn’t realize how much time is spent with the team until I got home and realized how weird it was not being around the people I had gotten to know so well.
On so many levels, volunteering with Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy has made a large impact on me I know will leave its mark.
All I can say is thanks Crossover for this amazing opportunity,
and I can’t wait for next summer!