Side Note: My family would have preferred that I had been a little more serious and a lot more brief. Sorry family ily.
Last November I was sitting on my bedroom floor with my moms laptop, lots of coffee and a million questions. I was searching for gap year programs and swiftly exiting out of tabs when my parents came into the room because I thought a gap year was out of the question. College first. Then adventure. That is the Barnes family code. But I could not help myself; for every tab open about Top Ten Universities in Cities, Universities with the Best Food, Campusus with the best Rock Climbing/Snowboarding (yes that's a catagory), I had three more about Tanzania, Backpacking in Australia and Trekking in Peru.
As senior year continued, I went through the motions of applying to college, taking the SAT, watching Netflix until 2am instead of studying, taking the SAT again, deleting Netflix and reading instead, taking the SAT again, retreating from highschool and all its dramatic glory and paying more attention to my little brothers and solo sunrise hikes. I made a powerpoint to convince my parents to let me take a gap year. (That is not a joke. I actually did make a powerpoint. Lots of pictures. Cool slide transitions and everything.) I answered some of those millions of questions. I stopped looking into backpacking and started looking into volunteering. To my frustration, every program I found seemed as though it was solely for the benefit of the volunteer. "We will bus you in to the village where you will volunteer for 4 hours and then we will take you back to your hotel for a spa and a safari trip", (okay maybe there was not a spa option but you get the idea) was how most of them read. The options I found seemed like ideal programs for me to join, take a picture with an orphan, make it my Facebook profile picture and feel good about my contribution to humanity. I was starting to give up on finding anything that was simply full immersion volunteering.
At this point, my parents knew about my secret plans for a gap year. Turns out there is this little thing called "Search History" and my parents are very good at checking it. I was all ready to blow them out of the water with my PowerPoint, but before I could even show it to them, my dad just said that as long as I can plan and fund it, (and he supplied me with a taser and army style defense training and pepper spray) he will allow it. My mom suggested I look into Kolkata. After months of searching my mom gave me the perfect idea. It was almost as bad as when she finds my shoes the first place she looks after I've declared that I've searched everywhere and yes I looked in the closet, nope apparently I didn't because there they are in her hands (gets me every time).
I was reading an article on Mother Teresa and her work in Kolkata and came across a quote by her- "Love is not patronizing and charity is not about pity. Charity and love are the same - with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead". These words said by this little nun solidified my resolve to go to Kolkata. As I continued to read, an itinerary for a typical day of volunteering was listed, and at the top of the list it mentioned that every morning a breakfast of bananas and chi was provided. I was sold. From there I deffered from the universities I was accepted into and everything started to become a reality. I kept it a secret from everyone but my closest friends because I wanted to make sure that I was doing it for the right reasons, not the attention, and to ensure that I could find those reasons myself. All those months of panic and research and teen angst and low key soul searching all boiled down to a couple of bullet points.
1) I think my generation is a selfish generation and that I have, without a doubt, fully contributed to that characterization.
2) I think that we can owe that generalization to the fact that we have been made to grow up too fast in a world in which if you do not take the right math class in middle school, or do not participate in 10 clubs, but also take 5 AP's, but also make varsity as a freshman, but also get 200 likes on your FaceBook profile picture, but also donate a building or two, you will no longer be a competetive college applicant and that we feel the pressure and weight of the worlds future is resting very heavily on our shoulders.
3) I'm tired of doing things for the instagram or the vine or the tweet.
4) Paul Farmer.
5) I believe that everyone should experience true poverty, whether in Brooklyn or in Kolkata, and I've been blessed with the opportunity to be immersed in it for 8 months.
6) We are growing up in a world that is riddled with suffering and so much of it stems from a complete misunderstanding of the anthropology of cultures. I want to be aware of the world outside of America and western philosophy.
7) “Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual.” - Ernest Hemingway
The motto. India is going to be cRazY.
When I arrive in Kolkata I will be staying with several other volunteers, mainly European, all of whom will be staying for days, weeks or months at a time. I will be waking up at 5am and volunteering every day with the Missionaries of Charity starting at 6am. There is a home for the dying, for both woman and girls and men and boys who have been abused, for young mentally and physically disabled children, for the sick, and for the destitute. I am prepared for this to be the hardest 8 months of my life, but also the most gratifying and fulfilling. My guardian angel will be working overtime, but I will also have many experienced volunteers to show me the ropes and ensure a safe and rewarding experience.
So there's my story. I probably could have made that a lot shorter, my apologies. And now here's the pitch. I waitress at Travinia, but even with every tip I take home going into my "For India" jar, I am still short a couple thousand. The flight, the living arrangements, the vaccinations, the VISA, the food, the malaria pills etc. all add up to about $7000. I am on track to reach my goal of $3,500 through working, but unless I manage to sell a couple bottles of our $700 bottle of wine, I will need your help. Everyone always says it, but truly anything helps. Think about it this way; 2 dollars can buy me 8 mangoes. Think about all the mangoes you could buy for me with a 20 dollar donation.
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