Small things

February 21, 2007

So, turns out that most of what I’m writing here is about my off-time, as opposed to my work here in India. If you didn’t know better, it might sound and like I’m just on vacation, flitting around Delhi looking for interesting people and lovely photos. The truth is, I’m up before the sun every morning and working the longest days of my flatmates. The work is hard; it’s physically and emotionally demanding and draining. And it’s the sort of steady, hour-by-hour-by-every-hour kind of work that is tough and necessary, and that doesn’t always lend itself to fun tales or inspirational stories. (For sure, there is the heartbreaking stuff, but I’m not wholly comfortable sharing the private pain of others when it really doesn’t seem to serve any purpose beyond my own travel narrative.)

That said, the work is my primary activity, my main responsibility and the reason I’m here, so it stands to reason that if you’re reading this site, you might be interested in the work itself. What can be done in the here and now… this month, this day, this instant to improve the circumstances of the person holding my hand? What can be achieved that might live beyond my time here, gradually improving things, even if at tiny intervals? When it comes to this stuff, I’ll try to do better at sharing bits and pieces of small things when I feel I can.

There’s a profoundly disabled teen girl at Mother Teresa’s who spends her days either curled up on her cot, or folded over at the waist, secured in a wheel chair. She can’t weigh more than 90 lbs. and seems to barely function at the level of a listless infant. In the time I’ve been working at the Home, her posture and immobilization were such that I never saw her face.

It’s true that the other residents take careful care of this young girl, washing her, feeding her, giving her medication, and generally making sure that she’s not lacking anything, but she’s often left behind. Late last week, I happened to be crossing the dormitory while some ladies were bathing her, and noticed serious bedsores. I spoke to the doctor about the way they were being treated, and how we might be able to have better results. He agreed, and I began searching for a way to intervene.

(We spend so much time trying to tiptoe through the systems set in place so as not to offend or disrespect those who are here permanently. But we’re also committed to driving change where change is needed, and wound care is area we wish to improve. We’re not here for the long haul, so it’s never quite clear if the help goes beyond today.)

I asked to assist with the young girl’s bathing yesterday. After re-attending to the bedsores and trying to coach another resident through their proper care in Hindi and pantomime, I trudged home depressed. The messages weren’t getting through, and this girl’s considerable challenges made it unlikely that her care would change or even make much of a difference at all.

Happily, I was wrong. Today, when I arrived, the girl was wearing a clean dress. She was cushioned in her chair on all sides by the pillows I had recommended, which had the added benefit of supporting her torso in a way she is unable to do on her own. Once sitting more or less upright, her eyes were occasionally able to find something or someone to focus on, and she became engaged with the group throughout the day. The others fussed over her, because they were able to see her face and make eye contact. She smiled and laughed. She clapped one hand against mine. I took her outside for a long walk in the garden, and she yelled at the top of her lungs. Small things. Great things.



  1. So freaking proud of you – and those “little accomplishments” as you call them are the stuff that life’s made of and what makes it all worth while. AMAZING!! Proud of you and proud of the girl and proud of the health care team – GO KARA!!!

  2. Just thinking of you today as I was planning our March get-together. Miss you, hope your trip is all you hoped it would be and that your safe.


  3. I don’t know what to say, that was such a beautiful story. So, I’ll just say thank you for the beautiful story.

  4. What a beautiful success! I can’t even begin to imagine what your intervention did for that young lady’s day…and hopefully future. Thanks for sharing such a sweet story.

  5. Thank you for sharing, Kara. What a difference you have made already. If that girl only has that one day because of your suggestions and your caring, then your trip would be worth it. But I believe that she will have more because now she is engaging those around her and they can see her responding. Caring begets caring. What a wonderful gift you have given her.

  6. Small things. Great things. Miraculous things. Your account made me think of a comment from that Whedon fella about encouraging change: “One is to whisper in the ear of the masses, try subtlely and gradually to change the… expectations and mythic structures. The other is to step up and confront the thousands of atrocities that are taking place around the world on an immediate, one-by-one basis. That’s a great deal harder… It’s not about politics; it’s about basic human decency.”

  7. Kayre, Love hearing your stories and the difference that you are making in many people’s lives. You are an inspiration. We are so proud of you and you are in our thoughts constantly. Please be safe. I got so nervous when I heard about the bombing on the news. I loved your pic of your mendhi. Brought back happy memories of our time at Elemental Embrace. Love, Nell

  8. ( Not feeling charitable to the flatmates yet, huh?)

    I belive, as you seem to do, it is the the steady, hour-by-hour-by-every-hour kind of work that is the important and generous kind of help. And given in a respectful and conscientious way. There are so many that feel embarrassed and humiliated when they need real basic help, and still more feel embarassed at the thought of giving it. It is a great gift when someone is able to. The pitying, or cool hand on forhead thing, is not very helpful when one has soiled oneself or has bedsores from bad hygiene for example.
    You are not visiting. You are taking part of their real world, just as I thought you would. I am so very proud of you!

  9. That is what real love is: seeing a problem and making a difference, instead of just walking away or being afraid to try. No one can ever accuse you of that. We are all saying that we wish you were home, but once you leave India, they will wish they were home with you!

  10. K,
    Words cannot explain my feelings as I read your posts. My heart swells, my eyes well, & I dare not speak but through my thoughts. I hurt, I’m proud, I miss, & I am most humbled. You are not alone, as at times, it must seem. So many are living in and through you as you walk this path. Find the good, work for smiles, & know that you are bettering lives with each passing hour. Thank you for representing your family and friends with a passion that you solely possess.
    ( prIti ApaKA baDA ba.ndhu )=( Love Your Big brother)

  11. …you are doing your work!
    i want to be on a plane to pick-up where you leave off.
    doubtful i could ever fill your shoes.
    you are beautiful…
    love you + love you some more!
    a + b

  12. Kara,
    Thank you for reminding me that there are things much bigger than my own little struggles. I am fascinated, appalled, yet filled with joy each time I log on to read your posts.
    PS: Saw a child named Rylee Jayne (an unfortunate spelling) on the news yesterday!

  13. Wow. Your gift with words paints such a beautiful and inspiring picture. Thank you.

    My friends laugh at me for having a “buffy relay” in my brain, but your story made me think of the line from Angel –

    “if nothing we do matters… then all that matters is what we do.”

    So true. Take care.

  14. Kara,

    Thank you for putting things in perspective! Small things? What you’ve done for that girl probably meant the world to her. You’re amazing! Take care

  15. To quote a certain Captain Forehead, “if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world”.

    You just did one of those great things and did it well enough to persuade others that it was worthwhile! You made a difference. That’s the best anyone can do in this time around.

  16. Must agree with catalyst2, wonderful thing you’re doing in the world. Wow!

  17. Kara – I know I’m about the millionth person to say it, but thanks for sharing this story, and for making a difference in that girl’s life. I am proud of you, and proud of the effort we’re all making here to try to enact some meaningful change, no matter how big or small.


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