“God is sooooo great!” 11-year-old Ramya Sri said with assurance as we sat together, swinging our legs off the edge of the cement wall, looking out onto the park. “When I am feel sad, when I am crying…God will speak to my heart and say, Why are you crying? Don’t feel sad.” Although she is only in 3rd class, brilliant girl has strong faith in the Lord. As Ramya and I talked together, I was in awe of her intelligence and exuberant personality. Throughout the year, I’ve seen her confidence grow as her friendships blossomed. Just like Ramya, each child at Riverside School has touched my heart in a special way.
Every day, Carly and my office gets bombarded with sticky hands, smiling faces, and choruses of “How are you, Miss?” during the break period. Earlier in the school year (and sometimes on my bad days), I would get annoyed by the children intruding uninvited. However, the both of us have been happily welcoming in the mob. I realized that even when the students come in and have the same conversation with us that they always do, these precious little souls are just desiring to have a connection with us. “Hi, Miss!” “What curry, Miss?” “What is that, Miss?” Sometimes, the shy ones will come in and stare at me, or look to see what I’m doing on my laptop without saying anything. Their curious to find out who I am and what I do.
I’ve received gifts, flowers, and snacks directly from their dirty hands into my mouth. The students don’t treat us the same way as they treat the other teachers, which I eventually came to accept. To them, Carly and I are different. We’re special to them. They ask us about our likes and dislikes, our friends, and our families. I have a picture of my mom and I underneath the glass of my desk, and the kids ask about her every time. Despite the challenges in communication, they share their affection with small gifts and notes. I received some beautiful oil pastel paintings of an ocean and a sunset from Yeshwini, Ganeshwari, and Hema Mani. These beautiful, artistic souls just fill me with joy!
The students who lived in the on-campus hostel have a special place in my heart. Being away from parents can be difficult, especially for our young ones (our smallest boy was in Kindergarten). Because of this, the kids are their own little family. They are all each others’ brothers and sisters. I brought them up to my room a few times, and they were ecstatic to see my twinkle lights and tapestry–my own cozy little sanctuary. The girls searched through my nail polish, makeup, and sarees. They put on lipstick and asked me to drape one of my sarees on them. Fascinated by my instruments, the kids explored the ukulele and rain stick and Native American flute that I kept on my shelf. My quiet, peaceful room soon exploded with cacophony. By the end of the school year, the hostel kids started calling me “Annela Akka” (big sister) rather than “Annela Miss…” It melted my heart knowing that they saw me as a sister–someone they can love and trust.
Check out some of the madness here: https://youtu.be/TmqrIAZ6SQo
The past few months have been filled with memorable moments with friends and Riverside students. We melted in the warm, springtime, February sun cheering on students competing in various sports and games. From 1st grade to 10th grade, all the children were in friendly competition with each other. I loved hearing the high-pitched cheers of the small kids cheering on their friends… “Ru-pas! Ru-pas! Ru-pas!” …and watching the fierce look of the faces of the 8th grade girls during the kabbadi match. As we distributed certificates and medals to all the Sports Day winners on the last day of school, the children were beaming with pride. They showed off their prizes to all their friends and teachers!
Right:Two of my piano students: Nitish and Rupas, proudly wearing their sports-day medals.
In March, our 10th class students completed their final exams and left the campus. When I look at these exuberant, smart, fun, and beautiful young adults, I am so happy and grateful to be a small part of their journey at Riverside school. I have developed special relationships with a few of them– some of the girls call me their “big sister” and “best friend.” Christina is loving and comedic, Rajesh is kind and driven, Reena is caring and compassionate, Akhila is loud and confident… Each one of them has developed a vibrant personality with which I pray will be used to serve God. The farewell celebration and send-off was filled with tears. Many of these kids have spent their entire schooling within the walls of this campus, and they consider it their home. As we said our goodbyes, I was given many warm embraces and words of affection. I can’t wait to hear about what endeavors they will embark upon in their new phase of life!
Throughout the school year, these brief interactions in between classes have led to the development of sweet relationships between me and the students. I’ve witnessed their growth in English and I’ve watched their personalities bloom. Now, we are taking our summer holidays, so school is not in session until June 14. These days, I’m missing my students like crazy, and thinking about how difficult it will be to say goodbye when I leave India. I love the friendships I have with my students! They are my small brothers and sisters, students, children, and friends. Daily, they remind me of the Kingdom of God.