Imagine this: You are Ratna.
As Ratna, you’re a gorgeous Indian woman in your early twenties. You have long, shiny hair, which you part in the middle, and braid down your back. Your eyes are large almonds, the color of dark-chocolate, and your smile is as brilliant as the purest diamond, which is what your coastal home of Surat is known for.
As a married woman, you wear silver ankle bracelets that trill as you walk, along with polished rings which wrap about your petite toes. Around your neck is a sparkling blue and white scarf, which matches your long, sequined tunic, and the tears in your eyes. The tears in my eyes. Tears of joy and gratitude.
You see, you live in a slum, where life is a challenge. Thousands of people live as your neighbors in patchwork homes, where an annual migration occurs as a result of flooding, mosquitoes, disease. Within the entire slum, there is not a single toilet, which means that your ankle bells trill in darkness toward a nearby field, either before dawn or after dusk, so that you, Ratna, can maintain your dignity.
You have a natural spirit, a zest that radiates, but life is painful – an existential crisis always. There is discrimination in schools, in the community, in the workplace. Rarely, the government provides technical trainings, but your spirit is too tired, too occupied with maintaining food and water and shelter, to learn mechanical skills. You walk the dusty paths of your makeshift community and see the vacant eyes of men who are told they are less than men, of women born as “untouchables”, of children whose vitalities are stressed with each passing day.
And then, one day, something changes. You have visitors, teachers, and they hold up a mirror of words so you can see what you have forgotten about yourself. Perhaps, what you have never known. These teachers are amazed by you, by your resiliency, by your strength. By what you have to teach them. They teach Attitudinal Healing, Positive Psychology, Restorative Practices. They value your ability to make a difference in the lives of children in your community, and they respect your natural caretaker’s preference for emotional versus mechanical training.
Before, you felt numb, unaware of pain, because life is what it is and that’s that. But today, when you wake, you feel a new hope, a feeling that you can play a vital role in your community, a determination to change the lives of the young girls who do not have to accept the shame that has been cast upon you for so many of your days.
On this third day of training, though an interpreter will need to translate your heartfelt words, you make direct eye contact with Corstone’s Executive Director, Steve Leventhal. You tell him, “No one comes to our slums. You are the first to come, and through your visit you have dignified our village. You have brought training of human touch, human love, and my family and community will benefit greatly. I feel empowered because this is the first time I am hearing about the power of equality, of dignity, of love. Before, we felt we were poor at heart, but this training is adding love to our hearts. Now, we want to work tirelessly from morning to night to bring hope, open hearts, and joy to our children. To teach them the meaning of life.”
In The Art of Resilience, Carol Orsborn writes, “Mastering the art of resilience does much more than restore you to who you once thought you were. Rather, you emerge from the experience transformed into a truer expression of who you are really meant to be. Prepare to be surprised.”
I believe in you, Ratna. Spread your wings. Fly.
– Brandi Dawn Henderson, CorStone Volunteer