Crimson Concludes Service Trip to India, Reflects on Experience

Photo of Katherine O'Donnell (left) and children of Chandigarh courtesy of Chris Smith.

The top-ranked Harvard women's squash team traveled to India for an 11-day training and service trip. Members of the team posted regular blog entries on during their trip over the past few weeks.

Blog Post by Vidya Rajan ’13 on Jan. 5
Blog Post by Alexandra Zindman '11 on Jan. 8
Blog Post by Cece Cortes '12 on Jan. 9
Blog Post by Vidya Rajan '13 on Jan. 10
Blog Post by Katherine O'Donnell '10 on Jan. 11
Blog Post by Johanna Snyder '10 on Jan. 12
Blog Post by Bethan Williams '11 on Jan. 14
Blog Post by Johanna Snyder '10 and Katherine O'Donnell '10 on Jan. 14
Blog Post by Sarah Mumanachit '13 on Jan. 15 Feature on Bringing Hope Through Squash
Map of Harvard Destinations During Trip to India
Photo Gallery of Harvard Women's Squash in India

Blog post by Sandra Mumanachit '10

Today was the final full day the Harvard women’s squash team would spend in Chandigarh. The plan for the day was the same as the past few days, a solid morning practice at coach (Satinder) Bajwa’s club of skill sharpening, weight training, sprinting and cardio work and then an afternoon session with the children from the Khelsala Kids’ Squash Program. The team has had an incredible time with the young boys and girls of the local sector, teaching them proper techniques and a little bit of American culture. Everyday each court is filled with smiles from ear to ear on each member of the women’s team as well as every child in the program.

Each day of the trip, starting from Mumbai, the women’s team has seen new types of lifestyles about which we read, hear, or see pictures. Bus rides from our hotels to the local clubs and nearby attractions unveiled a life we have never imagined. We sympathize and appreciate what we have perhaps taken for granted however we struggle to fully fathom what lies right in front of us. We have admired the colors of India, the pinks, faded blues, greens and yellows that hang across wires outside of buildings; this is their laundry. We laugh, smile and adore the children running up and down the streets; this is where they play. Feelings are jumbled as we have traveled from city to city, experiencing and seeing the best of India and observing the difficulties of people striving to make it each day.

Photo courtesy of Chris Smith.

The plan for today was the same as the past few days, however today everything we have seen became more of a reality. Despite a little bit of exhaustion from the past few days of training, we were rejuvenated as soon as we saw the kids from the program. We jumped off the bus eager to high five and fist-pound the boys and girls we have gotten to know and love from the past two days. Everyone immediately got on court with the kids, to teach them as much as we could about squash.

After wrapping up today’s session, we removed our squash shoes and took a walk with a group of the kids to see their neighborhood. Prior to this, what we had seen was simply something we could only empathize about however today after getting to know the kids, seeing what they came from each day was an experience the Harvard Women’s Squash team will keep with them forever. We walked alongside the kids, through alleys divided by a narrow stream of dark cloudy water--aka their sewer line. We stopped at a few of the kids’ homes, where their families stood in the doorways with dimly lit rooms behind them. Each home was perhaps the same or even smaller than the dorm rooms of the Harvard Yard. A room that perhaps two students shared was the space for a single family. We passed a school, an older woman writing letters of the alphabet surrounded by a group of fifteen boys and girls on a blanket outside the homes. What the women’s team saw today is something that is indescribable in words. It is difficult to understand how the children of the program, ranging from the ages of six to fifteen, arrive to the program smiling so big with such happiness when each day they return to a home, a life that required so much effort.

Photo courtesy of Chris Smith.

Perhaps it is cliché to say that we hope that the kids learned as much as we have from them. The children find joy in the smallest things; we hope we can embody the same attitude hereafter. Today and each day we have spent with the kids and our entire time in India thus far has been transformed by what we have seen today. The experience was eye-opening to say the least.

This entire season, coach Bajwa has been emphasizing the idea of personal accountability, the idea that each player is responsible from themselves for the greater good of the team. We are a team of young, dedicated, hardworking women who love a sport so much we spend each day striving to become the best. As a team, we have embraced the principle that a championship is reached if we stop making excuses. Sometimes this becomes difficult, sometimes we forget this. What the kids learned from us the past few days was squash. What we hoped to have instilled in them was that they were capable of great things that squash was something they could look forward to in their lives. What we learned from them was even more powerful; it was that each day in the lives they live, they have to do it no matter how difficult. For them, there are no excuses in the lives they live.

The Harvard Women’s Squash team walks away from today’s experience with not only a greater appreciation for their own lives but a new strength, a new fire that will inspire us to achieve all we can as individuals and as a team.