To be Thankful

Perhaps you've seen it, the "30 days of Gratitude" thing. I couldn't do it. Too much. First, you really don't want to see 30 posts from me about little things that I'm thankful for. I'm "loquacious" and would have had a hard time keeping it short and sweet. I have a lot of respect for those who can carry off such a thing (both the 30 days posts and the non-loquacious thing), but I guess, it's just not me. But GRATITUDE, dude (can I say dude? Yes, yes I can), honestly, that's a big deal in my life. It's something that I can't live without and is a part of my daily reality.

My life hasn't always been easy. I know, none of us necessarily has it easy. But I've been put through the ringer in life. I've been knocked down, I've been put in my place (often rightfully so), and I've struggled to get through those days when there is no hope and little happiness. And the thing that helped me to get through it all - gratitude. Every night, before I went to sleep, I would think of something, one LITTLE thing that I was grateful for. There's always something. And it doesn't have to be big, as a matter of fact, I think it's better if it's not big. Because it's when we pay attention to the little things in life that we are really and truly present.

When I was a girl, I used to have a bookmark, I probably still have it in a box somewhere. I got this bookmark at a stationary and gift store in my home town. I remember they had cards and gifts with beautifully written slogans on them along with artwork that was of the cute and sentimental variety, kind of like "Precious Memories" before there was such a thing. Anyway, the bookmark. I remember finding it on a rack, white satin attached to a firm plastic back and had the words of a poem embroidered on it in blue. There were lots of bookmarks there, all of which had inspirational quotes, pictures and poems on them, but it was this one that spoke to me and I purchased it. Of course I used the bookmark, a lot because I was a reader, and that poem has stuck with me to this day. Today, in honor of Thanksgiving, I offer it here to you, as a reminder of the little gratitudes in life that are important.

Little things

Oh, it’s just the little, homely things,
The unobtrusive, friendly things,
The “Won’t-you-let-me-help-you” things
That make the pathway light.
And it’s just the jolly, joking things,
The “Laugh-with-me-it’s-funny” things,
The “Never-mind-the-trouble” things
That make our world seem bright.

For all the countless, famous things,
The wondrous, record-breaking things,
Those never-can-be-equaled things
That all the papers cite,
Can’t match the little, human things,
The “Just-because-I-like-you” things,
Those “Oh-it’s-simply-nothing” things,
That make us happy, quite.

So here’s to all the little things,
The everyday encountered things,
The “Smile-and-face-your-trouble” things,
“Trust God to put it right,”
The done-and-then-forgotten things,
The “Can’t-you-see-I-love-you!” things,
The hearty “I-am-with-you!” things
That make life worth the fight.—Grace Haines

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

-Cindy

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1000 Words | 1. Coorgi Girl

1000 words. A picture is worth a thousand words "they" say.
Whoever they are, I think what they meant was is that behind every picture, there is a story, and that at least is true. For almost a decade I have been traveling the world taking photos with a camera or a phone. You may have seen some of the images, but there is so much more to tell of the places I have been, the things I have seen and people I have met. What I want to do is select images and tell their story with my thousand-ish words about why the image is memorable to me. What is the story? Will it be true? Sometimes there is greater truth in fiction so we shall see what the image reveals…

We were living in India, in Bangalore. A mostly lovely city whose streets are filled with buses, trucks, and minivans, "autos" (the buzzing 3-wheeled vehicles known elsewhere as auto rickshaws or tuk-tuks), two-wheelers (motorcycles), and yes - the cows, goats, and occasional donkey carts that make the city both lively and overwhelming. The streets, every square inch of them, are filled with all of this; an undulating slow-motion, dance drama of chaos that drains the senses. A lovely city. But sometimes, it is necessary, you have to get away.

So, we planned a long weekend in Coorg. An area west of Bangalore, it is filled with coffee plantations, rich red soil and deep shades of green as far as the eye can see. It is a place one goes to to breathe, to relax and to enjoy the gracious offerings of the environment. While there, we decided to take a walk in the local area. We began by passing through the coffee plantation among the blooming bushes. (Have you ever smelled coffee flowers? The scent is beyond description. It reaches into your soul and caresses you in places you are shy to reveal. Even today, as I am sipping on an espresso, I long for that scent!) After this we continued on and came to a village. As fairly new expats from the “modern” world, village life was fascinating to us. It represented a romanticized view of India, an India that was still quaint to us. Perhaps it was a naive view, but my experience has been that the villages of India are filled with incredibly gracious and friendly people. This village was no exception and even today when I am asked what I thought of living in India, I always say that I loved it because of the lovely, warm-hearted nature of the people.

Anyway, back to the village - most of the homes were laid out along one lane, I believe there was a small river behind the houses to the west and fields behind the houses to the east. We walked to the end of this narrow dirt road and saw a school, and when the children spotted us through the barred windows (no glass being necessary), their attention was quickly diverted and distracted by these foreigners in their midst. They called to us and waved hello. We returned the greeting but didn’t stop for long, not wanting to disturb them. Since this was near the end of the village, we turned around and started walking the reverse direction, returning the way we had come.

We were most of the way through the village, almost at the other end, when I heard this voice calling to us. If we had been speaking to each other I probably wouldn’t have heard it, but I turned my head, and there was this young girl. She seemed curious about us, as she moved slowly out from between two buildings, taking a few steps towards us. She shared the barest glimpse of a smile before turning her head and glancing over her shoulder. When she turned back towards us the smile was gone and instead there was… something else. A gaze that flickered from amusement to fear to intensity. I raised my camera and asked the question with my eyes, can I take your picture? She nodded ascent and looked directly at me while I snapped a few images. Her gaze bored into mine without hesitation or reserve.  Then she turned and was gone.

We called goodbye to her already vanished back and continued on towards our lodging. Later, I was excited to review the images, hoping in my gut that I had managed to capture her powerful gaze. (Seeing it with your eye and capturing it with your camera are not always one and the same.) Well, there is something about anticipation that sometimes makes destiny want to mess with you. So, as I was reviewing the images I caught a brief glimpse of the image and then POOF, it was gone. I shut the camera on and off, but it was no use, the card was corrupted. The image of her gaze, so powerful, so fleeting, was gone.

But I didn't give up hope. I held on to that card for years, trying different image retrieval programs, and eventually, some years later, it worked. I was able to get the images off the card and I saw her eyes staring back at me.

But what about the girl. What is her story? I often wonder about her. Her gaze is so strong, there is resolve but also perhaps a touch of fear hiding behind it. Village life is hard, and can be particularly so for young girls. And actually, this is true everywhere in the world. Let’s face it, young girls are often preyed upon no matter where they are. It's possible that this may have been the case for her. Why wasn’t she in school? The other children we saw there appeared to be clean, well kept, and happy. She was a bit different. Not dirty, but a bit grubby, as if the earth were painting her with remnants of itself as a means of armor. Her hair was slightly disheveled, but that gaze. It gave me hope because it looked to me like she had strength, she was a survivor. To myself, I called her my little lion. I felt she would survive and would preserve her inner kernel of truth. She would take that truth and strength out into the world. She would make a life for herself that was free and build a future that allowed her to be happy. This is what I hoped for her.

I don’t know where this girl is today. She is likely reaching adulthood soon. But, I pray that the strength that was gazing back at me is still intact and that she is happy wherever she may be. And I will always be grateful for that little whisper that called to me. My little lion, thank you. You have taught me more than you know and I wish you well.

 

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Hope and Scholarship

During my time living in Asia, I worked with many NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations) and charities to capture photos documenting their projects. One of these, Sambat Trust, in the Philippines, made excellent use of my images to promote their work in creating school libraries, offering workshops for teachers, as well as their Scholars program - a program that covers the expense of school necessities for students in need. One of my first assignments was to tell the story of a young man named Mark. He was a Sambat Scholar, in high school at the time, and was one of the highest performing students at his school. The scholarship stipend that his family received enabled Mark to stay in school rather than work to contribute to the family's income, child labor being a common and necessary reality for many young people of the Philippines.

Mark washes dishes in the family kitchen. -2011

Mark washes dishes in the family kitchen. -2011

The first time I met Mark, I was struck by his initial shyness. He was tall and quiet, very polite, offering to hold my hand as we crossed a muddy patch on the dirt path that led to his home - an offer I should have accepted as I soon slipped and landed on my backside! Once we reached his home (and I cleaned up a bit) I asked about his daily life and quickly realized that this young man was dedicated not only to his studies, but to his family as well, rising early and staying up late so that he had the necessary time for household chores and tasks he took on in addition to his schoolwork. This was a hard working young man whose quiet demeanor hid a deep passion for helping others.

The following day we met at his school, a nearby campus focused on math and science education, where I joined him in the classroom. Around his classmates, he had a lively teenage spirit that revealed a sweet smile, but it was also clear that he had the focus and drive to take his schooling goals to the next level. These goals were to complete high school, to go to college and to become a teacher. The aim of the photo story was to get him the support he needed to meet these ambitious goals, something he deeply hoped for.

Now, almost 6 years later, Mark has just graduated from university, Magna Cum Laude, and is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of being a mathematics teacher. I took this opportunity to ask him a few questions about his experiences with and feelings about Sambat Trust.

Can you give an example of what expenses are involved in going to school in the Philippines?

My elementary and high school studies were both free of tuition fees. When I reached college, tuition fees were collected before examination days. We also needed to make down payments during enrollment. Some of my expenses as a student included: food, transportation, uniforms, books, school materials, computer rental and projects.

How did help from Sambat Trust allow you to continue your education?

For ten years, I was able to go to school with the help of Sambat Trust. They are the one who provided for my needs as a student such as uniforms, school materials and tuition fees.

Why do you want to be a teacher?

Looking back on my elementary days, I remember how excited I was to go to school every day and to learn how read and write. Having good grades made my parents very happy. And some of the happiest moments in my life have taken place at school. My alma maters became very special places for me. I chose to become a teacher maybe because I was so attached to my alma maters and with the idea of learning and teaching.

What do you enjoy about math and why do you want to teach it?

Many people believe that Mathematics is a difficult subject, but based on my own perspective and experiences Mathematics is indeed the best, and an easy subject. For me, to learn and teach it was a bittersweet process. You need to have determination and courage in order to love and study this subject,  then you can discover its wonders. With efforts and patience, Mathematics became easy.

What do you think you would be doing now if it weren't for Sambat Trust?

With their kindness and generosity in supporting my studies for ten years, I was able to earn a degree. Now, I will be able to uplift my family’s way of living and provide them a comfortable life. Without Sambat Trust, I could have never come to reach this moment. Maybe without them, I might now be working in a factory or junkshop. I’m very thankful to God that Sambat Trust came into my life.

Do you feel organizations like Sambat Trust are important &/or needed in the Philippines? Why?

Yes, organizations like Sambat Trust are very important in the Philippines. My country is one of the third world countries. Our government’s funds are limited and are not able to provide for all of the needs of its constituents. Education is one of the major problems in my country right now. With the aid of NGOs like Sambat Trust, students like me are able to attend school and earn a degree. We know how essential education is in an individual. It also serves as the foundation for a strong economy. I believe that NGO's play a vital role in providing for needs and a sustainable life for the third world country.

What are your next steps and future dreams?

I’m planning to take the Teacher's Licensure Examination next year so that I can transfer to teaching at the public school*. Furthermore, I also want to continue my studies and pursue a Masters and Doctorate degree in the coming years. I also want to save money so I can buy land for my family where our own home can be built in the future. Moreover, I want to help my co-scholars and other students who need my help and advice in their studies.

* (Mark currently works as a teacher at a private school.)

You can read Mark's heartfelt thank you letter to Sambat Trust, here.

Working with NGO's and charitable organizations is hard work but also incredibly rewarding. Here you can see a portfolio of some of the NGO's that I have provided images for over the years. If you have or know of an NGO that needs help telling its story, I'd love to work with them to help. Have camera, will travel!  

(Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)