Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Let Us Begin

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin." 

— Mother Teresa

"There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won't go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beautiful and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated, intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds...I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor."
-Keith Bellows

So I know that I haven't posted since getting home from India, but these past few weeks India has really been on my mind. Having now been home for a few months I've been able to truly step back and look at all the things I've learned and the lasting ways I've really changed. I believe that it's easier to understand the importance of service and the love that comes from it while it is your whole focus; each day in India was completely and totally devoted, but now that I'm home it's time for real life again and that was a very, very hard change for me.
finally home after hours and hours of flying!

It is a much harder challenge to serve those around you here at home. There are many in need, but sometimes their struggles are not as obvious as a bleeding ulcer or missing limb. However, their plight is just as important.

Bandaging a man's foot.
This day taught me so much about my own strength when I put others before myself.
In India I learned about love. I learned that it is possible to look past outward appearances and see beauty. I learned to be slower to judge, and how to be patient. I've noticed that since I've been home I have more of an awareness of the simple beauties around me, the sunsets, fall leaves, etc., and even though it may sound silly, those things truly enrich my life. I have no reason to be upset, with all of this beauty around me.
boats on the Gange river

This past semester in college has been incredibly challenging with all the competition for the nursing program and moving away from home to a whole new state I'd never stepped foot in before. But when times got tough I found myself turning to those experiences from this past summer in order to rearrange my priorities. I have been so much more motivated with my schoolwork than I ever have in the past. I want so badly to finish my schooling so that I can use the knowledge I will gain to touch the lives of others and to hopefully return to India and be more useful to Rising Star.

I remember coming home and just crying because I wanted so badly to return to India and continue working. I told my mom that I was terrified of forgetting the things I learned and felt. I wanted to stay holed up in my room reading and rereading my blog with henna on my hands and wearing my chudidar, but I realized that was not the true purpose of my trip.  India was an amazing place, but it was really the work I did there that changed me, and it would always be a part of me. In my heart I knew that trapping everything I learned inside myself was not the purpose of my experience. I am meant to turn outward not inward, to share what I've learned not only through words but through actions. I'm no longer afraid of forgetting what I learned, it is impossible to forget something that so profoundly changes your life.

And even though I still hope in my heart that I will one day be able to return to India, and hear the children whom I learned to love call me auntie again, and once again wash the feet of another person and show them that they are loved, I know that if I can remember what I've learned and continue in service in my own country I will be doing my part. India is forever in my heart, it is a part of me, the people I met changed my life, and I know that I will carry these experiences with me always.

If you are interested in volunteering for Rising Star and changing your own life please, please feel free to get more information at:

I promise you you are stronger then you think. You, yes you, can do amazing things whether they be through Rising Star or any other organization, or even come from your own ideas.

Life is not easy, but life is beautiful.

You are a unique person with unique talents;

there are lives that only you can touch.

Don't keep those lives waiting one more minute.

What can you do to change the world?

Kenzie Coe

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
-Mother Teresa
My time at Rising Star has ended and I don’t even know where to begin for this last post. Sitting in the Chicago airport is almost surreal. 5 flights down and only one more to go. I've been working on this post for the past week on and off as me and three other volunteers completed our extra touring in India, but everytime I sit down to write I become absolutely overwhelmed. Even though I am heading home it still feels like I'm leaving another home behind.
How do you summarize 4 weeks that have changed your life for good? How do you explain the feelings and the sounds and the beauty of such a magical place full of incredible, strong people. I hope that my blog has helped you to feel as though you were there with me the whole way, a part of the journey, but at the same time there is absolutely no way to get the entire impact through using simply words. It is colors and feelings and sounds and smells that you don't ever fully understand until you have experienced them and I am so grateful for even having the opportunity to experience them for these 4 short weeks.
It's hard to imagine that girl who left the U.S. just four short weeks ago. I'm obviously the same Kenzie but so many things have changed and happened that I hope will help me to be a better person in the future and for the rest of my life. I have been changed for good, and I hope to be able to keep my experiences close to me and always keep their impact in the back of my mind.
I have sung and danced with people who live with a crippling disease and became blind to the differences. I have washed the feet of people shunned from their own communities and sometimes even families. I have carried bowls and bowls of rocks on my head in order to create a place where marriages can be performed that otherwise would not be possible. I have hugged and read to children who will change the future of an entire country.
I have visited huge forts and palaces. I have visited dirty homes surrounded by trash but filled with the most amazing people I have ever met. I have seen corruption, I have seen beauty. I have cried and I have laughed to many times to count.
I have walked through crowded cities full of people and down quiet empty dirt pathways underneath shining stars. I have learned to love without judging, and how to put others before myself. I have learned the importance of family and work and friendships. I have learned that it isn’t all about me, and no matter how much I try to help other people they always end up teaching and helping me more then I could have ever imagined.
I still can't tell you why certain people are given certain trials, or why some people are born into hardship they did not ask for, however, I can tell you that all of the people I met with hardships were some of the strongest most loving people I've ever met. Sometimes I wonder if the best people are put in hard situations. I wonder if I would be strong enough to handle being shunned or deformed, I am bessed to have grown up in a happy home in a beautiful country, but I wonder how I would be different if I had not.
It's impossible to say "alright okay well thats all the end." because that is the last thing I want to say. The experiences and feelings I've recorded here are simply the beginning. the beginning of a way of life. A life full of service, a lifetime of learning about myself. It is true that you find yourself through losing youself.
So please consider this blog anything but finished, I hope to update it someday soon with new experiences and moments whether they be across the world or across the street!
It's official India has stolen my heart;
and I wouldn't have it any other way.

with great love,

RSO summer 2010
"Change the World"
session 4
"Crossing borders to break down gaps"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rising Star has been such an amazing experience, and I promise I'm in the process of getting my final two posts done about my last day and my feelings about the trip as a whole. They will be up soon; it's just very hard to put into words, and I really want to get it right.

However, this post I think is slightly different then anything so far, and kind of a funny one if I may say so myself.

While we were in New Delhi, we all noticed something interesting. Everywhere we went people would simply stare. It's kind of awkward because even if you look back at them, it doesn't faze anyone. I think it's just different then in America. Not only do we get stared at but people are constantly pulling out camera phones and taking pictures. Although as a group of 17 girls and 1 boy, we were a pretty entertaining bunch in New Delhi, we're like the entertainment. So, for your enjoyment and just to give you a taste, I have a few pictures that I've taken all over of the crowds that gather. I'm not going to lie, it's almost like having our own paparazzi (although I'm not really sure what they do with the pictures they take, and not to mention I'm probably talking or blinking in most of them:))

This first picture is from our point of view. That's our tour guide taking a group picture (the guy in the black shirt) of us in front of the Taj. Please note the crowd gathered and the guy on the far right with his camera out.
Another group watching Chelsea get her picture taken.
The group that followed us all through Agra fort.
Another picture from our point of view -- yupp that camera is pointed at us too.
and a few more
It's hard to tell but these guys were watching us get our elephant rides. They were calling up friends that came on their motorcycles. The crowd just kept growing!
And last but not least at the hotel pool!
But hey, who can blame them when this is our mode of transportation:
"Nothing screams tourist like a big orange bus with 'tourist' written across the front!"

And you may be thinking, "Kenzie, how did you entertain yourself in the back of the bus on the 6-hour bus ride to the hotel while everyone else was exhausted and staring out the windows like zombies?"
Funny you should ask, let me show you:

the front of the bus
the middle of the bus
the back of the bus
Yes, yes that is me with my face pressed up against the glass, slightly embarrassing, but definitely worth watching the expressions of the people staring change from  blank, almost angry-looking stares, to looks of pure shock once they spotted me at the back as we zoomed by.

Once the other volunteers rejoined the living and realized what had been going on, they all joined in and laughed so hard at the reactions and laughs we got. I will miss all of the people here; we have so much fun together just being ridiculous.
(and thank you to Jenny for having us recreate this moment in pictures for the full effect after hearing how I had entertained myself)

with great love,

Saturday, July 31, 2010


An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.
-Mohandas Gandhi

Today my group was assigned to construction at the same colony where we are working on the community center. Today was different though because our group has been slowly getting smaller and smaller. After the Bertha family left we were down to only 5 people and today two of those five people were too sick to work so we were down to 3 people. Our coordinator was sick as well so we didn't even have that one extra person with us.

So Melissa, Kim, and I headed down to the colony, taking a short stop at the art school so Kim could buy her paintings and then heading down to the construction site. We weren't sure how much we would be able to get done, but we all agreed that we would do our best because in the end that was all we could do. We started off moving dirt in an assembly line; next we carried bowls of sand to cover the foundation for the front porch, and then carried another layer of large rocks to cover the sand.
After we had finished the two layers, we moved an entire pile of rocks. It was huge and we just kept making the same rounds -- walk over, pick up a bowl of rocks that the other workers filled and carry them to where we were dropping them off, dump out the rocks and repeat! The men who were working with us were so sweet; when we walked over with our empty bowls to get a new one they would help us lift the heavy bowls of rocks onto our heads because it was hard for us to lift them that high, but once we had them on our heads it made them much easier to carry, taking pressure off our backs and arms.
It was so awesome to have all of their help and to know that they were grateful for us being there even if it was just for a few hours. I think that the image of us truly working with our own to hands and serving them meant a lot. I also know that I learned a lot about my own strength when I'm doing something for a group of people I admire, respect, and love.

After we finished working we were all exhausted and I'll admit my head and neck were very sore (Tessa, I could have used your hairography neck muscles:)) but we were all amazed at how much we had accomplished. I honestly think we did more in that hour and a half with three people then we've ever done in more hours and with more people!

There is just so much love here, everyone looks out for everyone else and our drivers are always so careful and protective of us, they always pull over when they need to talk on their phones, help us cross the street, and even at one point when I was taking my malaria pill in the car, one of the drivers warned me to wait for a second because we were coming up on a bump and made sure to drive extra carefully while I drank.

I love these people that are so welcoming and always wave and smile, it's just so different back home. I hope I can carry this little bit of India with me forever.
Playtime was so much fun, and dinner tasted so good, as always:)
After dinner we had family time, during which Rajakumari did henna for me, she did an amazing job and it was only her first time!

oh and one last note, my mom has been asking me to blog about the hostel and shower/bathroom situation, so here it goes.

We take what are called bucket showers. In each stall is one large bucket and a small bucket, you fill the large bucket and use the small bucket to get yourself wet and rinse yourself off. Its actually not too bad and the cold showers usually feel pretty good after a very hot and sweaty day. They also save an incredible amount of water.

The toilets here are called "squaters" and they're actually pretty nice as well. I think the name is kind of self explanatory, but the hostel is still so new that they were very clean and flushed and they also save a lot of water which is important when your main water source is a well and drinking water is so important.

with great love,

Friday, July 30, 2010


"Each relationship between two persons is absolutely unique. That is why you cannot love two people the same. It simply is not possible. You love each person differently because of who they are and the uniqueness that they draw out of you."
— William P. Young
Today my group was assigned to tutoring. We started the morning off by writing in the children's memory books. The memory books have pictures of the children and they ask the volunteers to write in them, kind of like a baby book that they will recieve when they graduate from the school. Afterwards we went and worked with the children helping them to write letters to their sponsors. The children were so sweet and always wrote how much they loved their sponsors.
This meant even more because my family and I are now sponsoring a little boy, Aravind Raj. It's funny to me because in the past I've always seen those commercials on tv about sponsoring children around the world and I've always just changed the channel and thought it was a scam. But being here it is so different, I love being able to see exactly where the money is going and knowing that it is truly going to the children and their education. It's amazing to think that I'll always have a connection to India and one of it's future leaders. These children have seen so much and they will be the ones to break the stigma. They will be the leaders of the future.

Aravind Raj A.
The rest of my day I was not feeling very well, but I think out of all the places to be sick, being here is really okay. There is no way to blow anything out of proportion or feel bad for yourself when you can see so many people who have worse afflictions and are still happy and full of love!
At dinner we saw the most beautiful sunset.
India is truly a magical place, it's so hard to explain in words all of the beauty around me and the happiness. India has stolen my heart and I never want to leave.
with great love,


"The world is a great mirror. It reflects back to you what you are. If you are loving, if you are friendly, if you are helpful, the world will prove loving and friendly and helpful to you. The world is what you are."
-Thomas Drier
Today my group was assigned construction. We were working at the same colony working on the community center. When we first arrived we took a detour at the Bindu School of Art. This is an art school in the colony where leprosy affected people learn about art and create painings that are then sold. Each painting is about 40 dollars and the majority of the money from the sale goes back to the colony to help with the costs of things like the community center or the old folks home that was built a few years ago. It is a truly amazing place where you can really see the effects of microloans. It is practically impossible to see the difference between the different villages and this beautiful colony full of life that even has its own barbershop.
Another cool thing about this art school is that after you purchase a painting you get the opportunity to take a picture with the artist and his creation. Some have no fingers, others' eyesight or feet are crippled, but they paint these beautiful pieces of art. It's just a very meaningful souvenir, and when we arrived I was very excited to have the opportunity to look through them.
At first as I looked through the paintings, one truly began to stand out to me, in fact it basically smacked me in the face. In the center of the painting is an old man painted in black and white, he is painting a picture and has no fingers on either of his hands. He is skinny and has a very deep expression on his face. Around him, however, are beautiful patterns made up of brilliant colors and in front of him is a brightly colored painting he is working on. I wasn't sure if I should get it because it really was so different from anything else I had been looking at. I just felt so drawn to it. As soon as I pulled it out of the stack one of the artists who spoke fairly good english came and picked it up and began to explain it to me. He said that the man in the painting had been a painter at the art school and had passed away a year ago. He explained that one of his friends at the school had made the painting in his honor. The man in the painting would tie a paintbrush to his hand and use that to work with. Learning the background story and seeing how much love and respect they had for this man truly touched me and the painting gained even more significance. I ended up buying the painting and another that was painted by the man in my painting before her passed away (ahah sorry, that sentence is kind of confusing).
Afterwards we carried cement at the construction site. It was awesome to serve these people and help build their community.

I have one other absolutely amazing story I would like to share with you. This story is one that another volunteer, Kim, told me and has given me permission to post here.

There was a man last summer who had leprosy and was hit by a car. He had a horrible break in his hip and needed surgery but no hospital would take him in because he was a leprosy patient. Finally Dr. Kumar was able to get him into a hospital, and his colony, with the help of Rising Star, came up with the money to pay for his surgery. When it came time to take the money to the hospital, one of the coordinators that was going asked Kim if she would come with because she felt strongly that she needed to be there. When they arrived they found that he had been placed in a room at the end of a hallway and that any other patients along that hallway had been moved. He had a horrible infection and was covered in filth -- they had not washed him and he had laid like that in incredible pain. Kim said she just sat and held his hand and cried wishing there was some way she could communicate with him and let him know that she loved him and he meant something to her.

Later that day the coordinator came down to talk to Kim and told her that the hospital refused to do the surgery because he needed blood and they would not give it to him because he was "dirty". Kim immediately realized that she is O positive and offered her own blood, the hospital agreed and she was able to give her blood to this man. She found out a few weeks later that the man had passed away. The hospital refused to do the surgery because no one but other leprosy patients would be able to sit with him and help him during recovery. His infection grew too bad and so RSO took him home to his colony so he could pass away in peace surrounded by his friends.

Even though the man had passed away, Kim was grateful for the opportunity to show him and the hospital that she loved this man and that he was worthy of her sacrifice. The gesture was huge and the story truly touched me.

When I returned to the hostel with my painting Kim came into my room to see what I had gotten, she immediately said "Is that, is that Arumagam?" and when we realized the man from her story was the man in my painting we both burst into tears. This painting embodies everything we've been working for, and how important it is that we break through the stigma so that no more lives are lost unnecesarily.

It was amazing how a painting that I wasn't sure about at first, gained so much significance in my eyes. When I hang it up I know that no one will be able to walk by it with out asking about it and I am happy to tell the story. I know that each time I see that painting on my wall, all of the feelings will come back and I hope I can keep them close to me.

Afterwards we had playtime with the kids and I had a great time with the little boys digging up clay from the field making little balls and shapes.

Dinner was amazing and family time was so much fun. The boys are all so good and Ragu, one of the older boys, helps me get them all to bed early. He is so helpful and such a dedicated student.