Lessons in love

Rachel Ruder, a volunteer at Prema Vasam   | Photo Credit: gmail

The first time I set foot in Prema Vasam, I knew I was setting foot into an experience I would never forget. My head buzzed with the excitement of starting something new and at the same time, that uncomfortable uncertainty that often accompanies starting something new. And as a swarm of children surrounded me, welcoming me to their home with smiles, a song, and, a lei of jasmine flowers, I was overwhelmed. How could my gifts compare to such a warm greeting? How would I even begin to remember all of these names? Though these questions and several others bombarded my racing thoughts, one thing I did not question was the loving warmth I would encounter during my stay.

And so far, that is what I have encountered. Respect and consideration exist in every corner. When I walk down the hall, I know a smile will soon greet me. So the doubts that do cross me from time to time are not about Prema Vasam, but about me. Am I providing these children with the affection I hope to give them? Try as I might, I cannot change the work.

A wise friend told me it is not always about the bigger picture, but the moments you can change. With that mindset, I suppose I set it; the way John laughs when I walk him during Physical Therapy or how Vimal's face brightens when we play with a toy. I see it in the hand clap games I play with the girls or when Indumathi teaches me Tamil while I teach her Spanish. While these moments kindle my heart even during those intense times of homesickness, I only hope that I reciprocate my appreciation for the kindness I have received through the small acts I do each day.

After all, if Prema Vasam is where love resides, I want to contribute as much love as I have received. And in the weeks to come I am eager to solidify the relationships that will make my hopes and wants a reality.

SARAH BONAWITZ, 21, Literature Student, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Between the shades of black and white that border the surface of our lives, lay the distinctions which define our humanity. In a country far from my own I was able to find my true colours. Love is a word often used in the western world yet little meant. In the small section of Gerugambakkam, love is in the smiles of children and caretakers; love is in the heat sweat of a hard day; love is in the dreams of the serving.

While I arrived at Prema Vasam to serve I found myself served. My focus became Bharath, a three-year-old special child. As he breathes I can hear the rattling in his lungs but his dark deep eyes gleamed up at me from my lap and between drooling and swallowing he beards his teeth to smile. Often I wondered the difference I could make in his life, if any at all, and realised the difference was in his tears when I put him to bed and left the difference was in his outstretched arms when I came to see him during physical therapy. The differences may not last forever or even be remembered in the long run but they have been made.

Prema Vasam is home to many special children besides Bharath. Some of the special children suffer from physical deformalities that render them unable to feed themselves. However no child suffers the inability to smile. Often for supper I fed either Vimal, a boy of 15 years though the appearance of one four years younger or Mani, a boy with plump lips and sweet eyes. Vimal often choked on his food as I fed him because of the hearty laughter that got in the way. His dark bright eyes always looked up at me, also smiling, with eyelashes that curled to the ceiling. Even when bitten during feeding it was easy to forgive and forget the innocent laughing face that drooled rice onto my skirt.

Although the barrier between English and Tamil is strong, far stronger is the barrier between English and Mani's “Rarara's”. Often distracted, Mani pulled at anything and turned his head every which way but with his hand pressed against mine when he was finally ready to pay attention and eat it was always with a smile and glowing face.

Often I can smell the children on me. Mani or Vimal's breath on my right hand, Santhosh on my shirt, Bharath on my lap. It is these smells I wish to bottle and bring home with me. Whether in feeding or playing I am never alone. Chores are delegated even to the children who clean the younger ones, feed, play and then complete their won homework assignments. Nothing is wasted here, be it time, food, or most essential of all, love and caring

Prema Vasam is more than a home where love resides, it is where magic happens because dreams come true. The stories of the children, both special because of their abilities broke my heart but the optimism of these children pieced it back together. My four weeks at Prema Vasam have been filled with sounds of playing children, calls of “akka akka” and many hugs. Upon the eve of my depature I take home with me a new heart, one that is melted with the hearts of 200 loving children and infinite memories. Home has become the hall where I held Bharath, the bedroom where I fed Vimal or Mani and all the spaces I have walked in between to get from one to the other. Home is in the smile and outstretched arms of the children and workers at Prema Vasam

YELENA KOZACHKOVA, 20, Bachelor degree in English and Chemistry, Brooklyn, New York


Who knew that in Prema Vasam, half way around the world, I would discover the true meaning of love? But that is exactly what happened in India at Prema Vasam. Over the past four weeks, Prema Vasam has become my home and all the children and workers have become my family.

I wake up every morning eager to see a new day filled with smiles and laughs. It only took one second for me to decide that I want to take all of the children back with me to America in my suitcase when I depart.

This is especially the case with Mahendra, one of the special children. I first discovered him sitting in a special seat with his leg braces on during physical therapy. My first impression was what a cute little boy. He must be so lonely in the seat all by himself away from the other children. So I sat with him and brought him a stuffed animal to play with. That was the first time I saw his adorable one toothed smile that instantly stole my heart.

Everyday since, it has been my personal goal to make him smile and laugh as much as possible. Now, when I pick him up from his room it takes him a moment to register who I am and then his little arms outstretch toward me and he smiles. One of our favourite activities is looking into the mirror. When he sees his reflection he puts on the biggest grin and it warms my heart.

Over time I have learned that although Mahendran is 10 years old he looks half his age. I have also discovered from his physical therapist that with time he should be able to walk one day. I hope I am lucky enough to come back and see it!

In two weeks I will be leaving Prema Vasam and heading back to America. Although I joke around a lot and say I am bringing the kids home with me in my suitcase I know that would not be possible, but I do know that al the children are coming home with me in my heart.

RACHEL RUDER, 20, student of biology, Cherry Hill, New Jersey

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 11:30:06 AM |

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