Poverty shocks student on India Trip

Mary Musilek

A three night stay on a house boat in Kerala, a night on the beach at the Arabian Sea, and a visit to the Taj Mahal are only a few of the experiences that seven BSM students had while traveling to India over Spring Break. However, doing service work at an elementary school and an elderly home, as well as seeing the enormous poverty in the country, were among the more shocking and memorable moments of the trip.

When asked what moment of the trip really struck them, the students overwhelmingly said seeing the poverty, even over going to a tiger preserve, riding elephants, touring a marble factory, and helping house wives make baskets. “For sure the most shocking thing we saw there was the extreme poverty. It is something that was so hard to comprehend, so many people just live as beggars on the streets and have nothing to their name,” said sophomore Sarah Silvestri.

After learning that one third of the population lives below the poverty line, the group saw more poverty than they ever expected. “We saw villages where every house, if you can even call them that, was made out of torn cloth and rocks piled on top of one another,” said Silvestri.

Students were exposed to even more poverty when they visited an elderly home. “This was not a home as you probably picture, it was a shed and a yard where 150 people live. There were no beds and only a couple of benches, so most people sleep outside on the dirt,” said Silvestri. Students described that the people that lived at the home sat around all day and didn’t even have proper bathrooms. “Their shower was a hose and their bathroom was a bucket filled with urine and feces because no one wanted to empty it,” said Luther.

The yard is home to many mentally challenged adults that a monk took in off the street, and this really had an impact on some of the BSM students. “It was sad because all of those people were on the street because their families didn’t want them anymore and so one monk went around and helped them all,” said Luther.

For many, traveling to a third world country is a new experience and provides a new view of the world. “It opened my eyes to see the level of poverty in the world, and it made me more grateful for what I have,” said sophomore Melissa Luther.

This trip was more than a vacation for these students, many of them came home with a new perspective. “It made me realize that people say ‘I want…,’ here when there, they don’t even say, ‘I need…,’ they just live with what they have,” said Luther. Silvestri also felt a shift in the way she viewed her life after visiting India. “This trip made me realize that for some reason I was born into a life of extreme blessing and luxury while these people, who I am no better than, are born into a life of poverty and challenge that is nothing like what I have to deal with,” said Silvestri, “yet everyone there seemed so happy with what they had and content. It was humbling and made me realize how selfish my life is.”

Coming from a country where population and pollution aren’t that big of a problem, students were shocked by what they saw of both of these in India. “There is garbage everywhere, just piled along the sides of the streets or filling up open fields,” said Silvestri, “literally the only garbage can I saw was at the Taj Mahal.” Coming home made students realize the extent of the pollution even more so. “It was a little weird coming back to Minnesota because of the temperature difference and the cleanness of our air,” said junior Allie Ison, “their air is so dirty because of all the pollution.” And in regards to overcrowding, Silvestri commented on the amount of traffic in India. “The driving there was crazy. If there was a three lane street, there would be five cars going across it,” said Silvestri.

Not all of what the BSM students saw was sad or shocking, though. “The school was a much more uplifting and joyous experience. These children have limited resources, however they were full of laughter and very smart,” said Silvestri, “it gives you hope for the next generation, however you realize many of these kids will not be able to afford college so breaking their cycle of poverty will be extremely difficult.”

After an experience like the one these seven students went on, it doesn’t seem shocking that the students hope to continue doing service and learning more about third world countries in the future. “I saw how much they were in need of the help and so I would easily go to another third world country,” said Luther.

Silvestri even feels that there was a deeper reason to her going on this trip than just experiencing a different culture for herself. “I know there was a reason I went on the trip and that I need to share my experience with others and continue to use my multiply resources to help improve the poverty and the living conditions of the people we were exposed too,” said Silvestri.