Happy Friday Everyone!
If good things come in small packages, today’s F(Ph)enomenal person is, um, phenomenally good! Meet beautiful Sana Mulla, 21, 85 pounds (5 stone) of concentrated feisty!
Sana was one of two Children Walking Tall teachers when I volunteered there last year. The kids adored Sana and she gave all that love and more back to them. This young, independent, self-assured, multi-lingual 21 year old female was a fabulous role model for the children, but for the girls especially.
Possibly the cutest video in the world! Days of the week practice in Morning School.
Sana taught English, Gujurati and basic math to the 3-6 year olds (and occasional 1 and 2 year olds who tottered in for nursery rhymes!) at morning school in the Karaswada slum.
In the afternoons, she helped the older kids with their homework and mucked in on the crazy, messy, sticky, glittery craft projects the volunteers organized.
While us volunteers unattractively melted in the heat and humidity of the slums, Sana floated around, cool and elegant in a rainbow cloud of sari silk! She retained that composure, whether teaching ABCs to squirming kids, or breaking up an argument or episode of domestic violence that frequently broke out just outside the Morning School classroom. It was incredible to watch this waif-like girl fearlessly mediating fights by people literally twice her size! She would do anything to protect those kids.
Sana was born in Goa, but her family now live in Khanapur, a small village in the neighboring state of Karnataka. Her studies began at a government primary school in Urdu medium (classes were taught in Urdu) but she moved to an English medium school (Lady of Lourdes high school) from 5th grade. She studied for her B.A. and went on to gain her B.Ed, then taught at a Goa high school. Some of the girls at that high school attended Children Walking Tall and pleaded with Rob to recruit her. She started at CWT in Feb 2010.
Watching her dedication to the kids, I already recognized that Sana was a phenomenal person. As I learnt more about her and her background, my admiration for her grew immensely. Despite being old enough to be her mother (yikes, her mum is 2 years younger than me!!), Sana and I became great friends and she invited me to visit her family. I am unable to adequately express to you what an extraordinary honor that was. Some of my most incredible travel experiences and insights into foreign culture have been when I have been privileged to stay with locals. My memories from that trip and the feelings of warmth and love will stay with me always.
It took 5 hours and a couple of very jerky buses through the mountains to get to Khanapur. I dressed modestly as Sana’s family are devout Muslims, but I received a red carpet welcome by what seemed like the entire village!
Some had never seen a ‘foreigner’ (white girl!) in the flesh before! They were fascinated!! I was proudly paraded around the village and visited many families who rushed to bring me sweet, sticky, heavenly chai tea and Indian snacks (seriously, I was floating in that sugary, spicy goodness!). It was obvious that the villagers were of very modest means, but they showered me with generous hospitality and warmth.
Most of the villagers spoke little or no English. However, language provided little barrier for our communication – human kind in the truest sense of the word, is displayed by touch, gesture, smile and laughter.
Whilst on a walking tour of the village Sana’s friends drove by and insisted on driving us to some local beauty spots. On the way, they suddenly stopped and one of the boys mysteriously hopped out and disappeared into a shop. He came back with chocolate for all of us!
The food I ate over the weekend was wonderful! Sana’s mum made endless flavorsome curries and chapatis, and worried that I hadn’t had enough to eat! Her uncle and aunt begged that we return to their house on Sunday night and made a huge beef biryani feast! We all sat on the floor together to eat. It was fabulous!
In a quiet moment, Sana showed me some of the dry food that her mum prepared during good times so that if ever food was in short supply, she could still feed her sons. Despite this, the night before I left, Sana’s mum shyly presented me with a sari. I was so moved by the generous gesture.
Sana’s dad is around my age (40 – although when Sana’s family guessed that I was 18, I almost picked up sticks and moved to Khanapur and married her brother;-) ). Sana’s dad is a highly intelligent man with a kind face and dancing eyes. His English is excellent. He adored learning and was immensely proud of his daughter. The loving bond between them was obvious. Sana told me that he had to leave school when he was very young in order to earn money for the wedding dowries of his 3 sisters. Can you imagine being in a similar situation? Her dad ran a wedding lighting and decoration company (Christmas lights in California have nothing on the lights at Indian weddings!!!) but he suffers from very ill health (from dry gangrene) and so relies on his son to do this now.
The family house was multigenerational. Grandparents, sons, daughters, wives, nephews, nieces, cousins and grandchildren lived together. Infants to elderly slept side-by-side on the floor in the front room – the family bond was like nothing I have ever seen. I felt so privileged to witness it.
I watched the women prepare food together. They chatted, laughed and sang together.
Singing was something that brought me closer to the local girls. Dressed in modest Muslim clothing (generally salwar kameez with headscarves), the little girls, at first shyly, moved closer to me, to take a look at this strange intruder to their village. Sana and I decided to teach them a few of the English nursery rhymes we taught the 3-6 year olds in morning school. We attracted quite the multi-generational audience as we worked our way through the classics (Kumar the camel, 5 little ducks, walking through the jungle, 5 little monkeys, twinkle twinkle little star, down in the forest, London bridge is falling down) all with ACTIONS!! Never blessed with a great voice, my 4 months in India with kids made me belt out the songs with little self-conscience anyway!! The girls lapped it up. We had a rollicking sing-song (they learnt the English words so fast!!) and the fun and laughter just filled me with joy and made me realize how incredibly fortunate I was to be able to have this experience.
Going to the bathroom was quite the adventure. Having spent most of the year hovering over holes in the ground, this did not phase me. However, I have to say that the time I was asked, in front of the entire family if I wanted ‘a number 1 or number 2?’ and then was earnestly paraded down the street accompanied by Sana and her cousins to a house with an interior toilet, was one of the more cringeworthy/giggleworthy moments of that trip!!
The memories of the weekend trip to Khanapur will stay with me always. To see the modest background from which Sana comes, makes it even more F(Ph)enomenal to me that she has achieved so much in her short life. She constantly worries about being able to support her family (she is the major breadwinner in the family), particularly with her dad’s ill health. I know how much she adores her family and hates being even 5 hours away from them, but she would do anything (including changing career) if she thought it would help her family. Sana may be little, but she makes a colossal impact on a lot of lives, including mine. I hope she gets all the opportunities she deserves.
Next week: the real stars of CWT – the KIDS!!!