As shallow as it may sound, I was never one for social service. Sure, I sympathised with people less fortunate than me, and I supported my parents when they decided to donate to charity, but I was never the kind of person who would do hands-on work and help. So it did not exactly make me jump with joy when I found out in the 11th grade that every Sunday we would make a trip to a centre called Shining Star which housed and educated children born to parents with HIV/AIDS who could not afford to look after them.
When we went to Shining Star on the first weekend, I was simply amazed. The children at the centre Â had no idea who we were or where we were from. Half of them could not even pronounce our names. And yet, they were so delighted to see us there. They were fascinated by our uniforms and our shoes and they could barely conceal their happiness about having people around. We learnt later from the centre supervisor that these children had never known what a home was. Most of them had been cast out of their villages because their parents were discriminated against for being affected by AIDS. When they found their way to the city, however, they were still shunned, and finding that they were unable to provide for their children, left them in the care of Shining Star.
Even though we first went to Shining Star to complete our course requirement, I can say without hesitation that each one of us grew to love the children at the centre. It was a delight to see them every Sunday, flinging open the gates and running up to us every time they heard our bus arrive. Even better to see was the way these children who were no more than eleven years old stick together and stand upÂ for each other.
On our last day at Shining Star, I would never have thought this charity experience would ever mean so much to me. We were saying our goodbyes like we did every week, when one little boy who was five, grabbed my friend’s hand and asked if we were coming back again the next Sunday. It just showed how much we had grown to love these children and how much they had become a part of our lives that my friend who is otherwise a very impassive person, burst into tears. When we had to fill in our social service forms in school, including a short write up about what we did, I think all of us were lost about what to write, simply because there was so much we wanted to say about the children at Shining Star, but there was no way we could fit all of that in. Now, every Sunday, when we have the three-hour “free time” that we so bitterly complained about losing at first because we had to go visit Shining Star, I sit and wonder how did IÂ while away that time before I met those kids — Chaitan with his “inventions” that he made from leaves and twigs, and Ranjan with his dance steps to Kannada numbers, and Priyanka who would pick pink and yellow flowers to put in her hair. It would not be an exaggeration if I said that those children have truly changed my life and my view point about social service.
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