An epic journey with impact is hard to share. I've been home from India for a few weeks now, and I am still finding it hard to summarize my 12-day trip with Tirzah International. Friends and family ask, "How was India?" A simple and casual question, that doesn't have a simple and casual answer. It's hard to summarize a million memorable moments in a quick conversation.
This challenge isn't just my experience with India. I have had similar feelings with travel to Uganda and Guatemala. There is something meaningful about traveling abroad, immersing oneself in the local culture, sharing deep conversations with the people you meet, and learning about the impact that changemakers are bringing about to help people in need.
I recently got some advice that I found helpful. Don't over-think it, and tell your story in six photos. So, I decided to give it a try. Although I have about 1500 photos to choose from, I've chosen just six that attempt to share the most meaningful moments of this journey and the lessons I learned through their experiences.
1 >> Old Delhi
This photo was captured near the end of our first full day in India. We had spent the entire day visiting a spice market, shopping, trying out tasty street food, touring temples and doing our best to take it all in. While this is not a particularly flattering picture of me, I love it because it reminds me of the million emotions I was feeling at that very moment. Stuck in a rickshaw traffic jam, I was hanging on for dear life! I was feeling exhaustion from 24 hours of travel and jetlag. I had a sense of wonder for being in a new place and experiencing new things. I was feeling sadness because of brokenness, pollution and poverty I saw. And yet, there was also joy in meeting leaders who are loving their community in beautiful ways. I was reminded of a quote I had recently read from Mother Teresa, "Everyone deserves love and dignity because everyone is made in the image of God." In a country of 1.4 billion people, everyone means a whole lot of people. And it's every bit true.
2 >> New Delhi
From opposite sides of the world, with very different life experiences, it's a beautiful discovery to know that we are sisters who share similar dreams for our families and hope for the future.
On day two, we took a deep dive into the world of Tirzah International. We visited a partner organization in New Delhi where women living in extreme poverty are receiving skills training and earning a fair wage for dignified work. We got to take a language lesson in Hindi and learn a few phrases, try our hand at the traditional block printing, and shop their beautiful inventory of purses, tote bags, and napkins.
But the best part of the visit was when we divided into small groups and went home with one of the seamstresses. I was in the group that went to Rauni's house. She lives a few minutes away in an old apartment building. We climbed the four flights of stairs, removed our shoes and went inside her humble apartment. Rauni was so pleased to have us as guests. She welcomed us with joy. She taught us how to make marsala chai tea and served us in small paper cups. Her two-room apartment had just a couch and a bed. So we divided up and got cozy over tea and conversation. We asked questions about the photos of her sons on her walls. She asked questions about our families. We laughed, shed a few tears, prayed with each other and bonded in a way that's hard to put words to. Sister-to-sister, we shared a special time of connecting. When I walked into Rauni's apartment I saw the material poverty. But when I walked out, I only saw the joy in knowing her, and the beautiful life she is living with purpose and belonging.
3 >> Agra
If Old Delhi felt like sensory overload, Agra was multiplied. This impoverished city, built up around the construction of the Taj Mahal, today has little to show for it's 400+ years. Poor infrastructure, broken down buildings, heaps of garbage, and forsaken cows pervade the city surrounding the majestic temple. Artisans and laborers (22,000 of them) arrived in Agra in 1632 to build the marble structure for the emperor's beloved wife, who had died in childbirth. While the Taj Mahal stands in glory, with marble inlayed with precious stones, outside the gates is a leftover town that was once the homes and workshops of its laborers.
Most travelers who visit Agra, tip-toe through the muck, just to get a glimpse of the reason they came. But thanks to Tirzah and the intentional planning of immersive travel, we also got to see the embedded beauty of the people of Agra. We took a walking tour with resident guides who are proud of their city, its culture and history, the craftsmanship and the people. We visited women who do intricate bead work to create ornaments and tapestries. We stopped by a woman's house who sells flowers. We visited a workshop where skilled men continue in the intricate craft of marble inlay, creating beauty with great skill. Finally, we went to the home of our guide and met his mother, who prepared a traditional lunch for us. Agra reminds me that beauty and sorrow often co-exist, and if we don't take the time to see the unexpected parts, they're easy to miss.
The small village of Bagru was one of my favorite places. Located just outside of Jaipur, this is the birthplace of block printing in India. Established more than 500 years ago, this village remains small yet mighty. We met skilled artisans who each contribute to the creation of beautiful fabrics. Some specialize in the natural dyes (including indigo), some in the creation of wooden blocks for stamping, some in fabric sourcing, and some in printing. Each family or workshop does their part with excellence. And the result of incredible collaboration are the textiles. It turns out that many of the fabrics that we enjoy around the world, originate from this small village with purpose. The visit to Bagru reminds me that beautiful things can have small beginnings.
5... Dera Amer
This photo is one of many that reminds me of the community that we experienced as a group. At the conclusion of our visit to the Dera Amer Elephant Refuge, we gathered around an outdoor camp to enjoy a beautiful dinner under the stars. Deep in conversation, we sat long into the night sharing our stories and listening to each other. Strangers just days before, we now felt like longtime friends. Traveling with people who are different and yet share common interests, is a beautiful thing. I continue to be reminded that there is no replacement for belonging and sharing the stories that bring us together.
Over the course of 12 days, we visited multiple partner organizations in Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. I've selected this one to represent the work that Tirzah International engages in to provide opportunities for women. Coming alongside well-vetted and established non-profits, Tirzah equips and sources programs that are working to provide opportunities for women. Micro-enterprise, local sustainability and leadership development are the areas they do this in.
The beautiful women shown here are part of a two year microenterprise program in Mumbai. These hard-working women have launched their businesses (clothing, cosmetics and a snack bar) and are realizing their God-given potential. They were thrilled to share their success and dreams for a better future for themselves and their families.
Over the course of our time in India we met with many marginalized women (some who are HIV positive and some who have escaped a life of sex trafficking). With each encounter, I was amazed at the tenacity and will to forge a way forward. I was reminded that women like this don't lack ability, but rather opportunity. And what a joy to see how Tirzah is helping to deliver that opportunity.
Sharing such an important trip in only six photos was no easy task. From all the experiences in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Mumbai, I am grateful for it all! A thousand moments, big and small, some like a shout and some like a whisper, will stay with me forever.
If you find yourself like me, unable to share a big story in a few words, try choosing just six photos!