Since my trip last week, I can’t stop thinking about my experience in India: my encounter with kind-hearted-simple people, enthusiastic children who come from the lowest social caste system who go to Connie’s school to learn, and dedicated volunteers and teachers who are relentless in their effort in bringing top education to these kids… all the way as to be reminded of the dire level of poverty, chaotic traffic and air pollution in India that reminded me of what I had in my hometown in Indonesia. 


If you ask me one thing I learned from what I observed there, I would say one word: “options”. When I was there, Connie, the principal of the school in India, asked me to help paint two 9X8 feet backdrops for the school play. The school is going to have a festival in March and one of many fun things they will do is for the kids to perform a play. Connie gave me this task about a month before my trip to India. She told me the storyline of the play and she asked if I could come up with a heaven and a living room scene. I have done this backdrop project many times so I didn’t give it too much thought. I did a rough sketch in my head and told myself that the rest was going to be easy peasy. I assumed that I would get all the materials from the school.


When I arrived in India and it was time for me to begin painting the backdrops, Connie handed me two pieces of big fabric. The first thing I did was to feel the texture of the fabric. I found out right away, that it was not the kind of fabric I always use when I am working on a backdrop here, back in the U.S. The fabric in my hand was so thin that I could see through what’s behind the fabric (I was expecting a canvas-like fabric) and it looked a bit shiny. I felt that the fabric had some kind of coating (later I found out that the fabric had a starch coating). I knew right away that it was going to be a challenge to paint over this kind of fabric that doesn’t really absorb paint. 


Next, finding paints. Connie told me to go to this old-run-down art shelves in a storage room to find the kind of paints I wanted. I went there and couldn’t find much. I found old tempera powder paints in all kinds of colors that have been mixed with sand and some glittery stuff and dried acrylic paints in used mineral water bottles. It was quite like working on a puzzle. I had to adjust and re-adjust the scenes I have imagined in my head to fit the kind of colors and material that I had. At the same time, I had to do some paint hacking so that I could work with these unusual art materials. In my mind at the time, I thought, “Boy, if I were in America, I could go to Michaels’ or art stores and find all kinds of art supplies for this kind of project!” I had no heart to tell Connie that I want her to buy new acrylic paints because that’s the kind of medium I am used to working with. In my mind, the kids in this school have to use these simple materials, since they simply have no option. So, who am I asking for a privilege to get what I wanted? Even though in the end, I had to ask Connie to buy me an acrylic yellow paint since I couldn’t find any yellow from the few that they had. I wouldn’t ask for this luxury if I didn’t have to but how could I paint heaven if I don’t have a yellow color in my palette? 


Having an option for these poor kids is a luxury. Perhaps in so many cases, having an option is not even an option. I often think about it. First, being born from the lowest caste system in a society that teaches you to abide and live within your caste, you would feel like you’re kind of stuck within fate. You won’t even dare to dream about a life that’s not your current life. Second, having to live in a slum area all your life where all kinds of access to better your life are limited or non-existent at all, how can you see that there’s something better beyond your own miserable life? Even though you know that there’s a better life, how could you even know how or where to begin? 


I can see with clarity now that Connie’s ministry with the school, among many other things, is to give these children an option. Wise people say: “We know only what we know.” These children may not know that there is a better life outside this kind of life. Perhaps they only know the kind of life they are living now. By giving an education, Connie and her army of teachers are expanding the horizon of these kids. They are showing these kids that there is another way in living this life: you don’t have to be poor, you don’t have to be street cleaner like your ancestor if you don’t choose to be that way, and you don’t have to be stuck in the life that gives you no options. I am grateful that I am living in this land of the free because I have so many options and these options are not just utopia. I believe you would agree with me. These options are within our reach: from a simple art supply to what we can make this life to be. Here in the U.S., I am watching some of my high school students applying for more than three different colleges to go to after they graduate. What a stark contrast I am witnessing the life of my students here and Connie’s students in India. Yes, we do have options and that’s a blessing! Sometimes we do not know how fortunate we are with these options until we are faced with no more options. 


Friends, if you think life is hard and filled with sorrow, but if you still have an opportunity to choose, consider that a blessing. When we are still able to choose what we are going to eat for dinner and when we are still able to ditch our family doctor and go to another doctor who is more competent, or when we’re still able to make a choice of what we are going to do for our vacation, consider these things a blessing. Because not everybody has this privilege to choose within all the options available. Our prayer is that with this kind of awareness, may God use us to be the channel of His blessings to others. 


Love and prayers, 

Vincent Arishvara 02202020