I can officially say this: Many people go to India to find themselves. But us? We found others. My oh my, do I love the kids that are featured in many of the following images. They are super close to my heart.

During the second part of our trip to India back in November, (read about the first part here) a small group of us took the journey from Jaipur to Andhra Pradesh, a state in the Southeast part of the continent. Our friends Caroline and Jayden have an awesome charity down there which empowers women in rural villages by helping them gain life skills which enable them to support their families financially. That organization is called Elephant Landing, and you, dear reader, should go watch the video on their website right now to learn more. Once you've done that, come on back here and I'll talk your ear off about the rest of our trip. :)

Welcome back! Okay, so now that you know about the training center, which teaches women to sew and embroider and ultimately gives them the skills to earn a living & care for their families, I want to tell you about the orphanage in Rajahmundry that left all of us totally reeling. There is a connection here. As you may have heard, India has many, many orphans and street children... we're talking millions. Something I learned during my travels is that many kids who are considered orphans in India actually have a parent or family member who should be able to care for them, but sadly, due to financial reasons, the adults are not able to make it work. This is where Elephant Landing connects to the orphanage that we visited: when mothers are empowered to earn money for their families, then the idea is that more of these kids (hopefully) will be brought back into their homes, where they should be. It was so inconceivable to realize that many of these absolutely brilliant little guys and gals maybe had a family somewhere that should be tucking them in at night.

When we first arrived at the orphanage, taking deep breaths to control the anxiety that happens when you walk into an unknown and potentially emotionally taxing situation, the kids, seated politely on the tarp-covered floor, greeted our group with song. We were invited to sit in chairs at the front of the room and listen. Within minutes of meeting, the floodgates were opened to a riot of fun: we played games and laughed and took a million pictures together. They taught us their special handshake, and how to count to ten in Telugu. Neither side let the language barrier get in the way of playing. Some of the adults in our group taught the kids how to make shadow puppets. There was a conga line. Jayden played guitar and we sang them an American song. Music became a big part of communicating with one another.india travel photos

We learned how to say "little brothers" and "little sisters" in their language, and they giggled excitedly, surprised, when we addressed them as such. We had a dance party. A couple, actually! I remember being surprised by their joy, which, once unleashed, was wild. They were brilliant and smart and sweet and funny. Kind. And such a joy to get to know.

At any time, the 8 of us who attended the second half of the trip could be found with a couple kids on each arm. Many of them held onto us when we sat down, when we stood up; no matter which direction we went, some small arms would encircle ours and tag along beside us. While that was overwhelming at first, I quickly realized that, while these kiddos appeared to be well cared-for, they probably don't get a ton of personal attention. When you're caring so well for hundreds of children, personal attention likely falls through the cracks at times. It makes you want to squeeze them tighter.

I wondered what their lives were like before they shared their days and nights with dozens upon dozens of other children. Each one had a single suitcase full of personal belongings lining the walls of rooms where they slept. And yet, they were FUN. It sounds weird to say that some of the most fun I've ever had in my life was at an orphanage in India, but that is the honest truth. It was so hard to leave them when the time came. Our new friends.

This is what your face might look like when your heart is so full that you may or may not be choking back tears a little bit. I wouldn't know from experience or anything... cough, cough! ;) This is Laura, Amanda, Wyn, and Aga, at the very moment they may have realized they were officially in for something heart-expanding.

That's Whitney, making friends like a champ.

(I can't even.)

This is Aga: Dancing queen. Photographer extraordinaire. Keeper of the music. (Look at the way the girls are checking out her dance moves! I can't get enough. Don't worry, they came around to, say, the same excitement level of the kid below.)

Our group got to visit a sewing center and a very rural village in Rajahmundry. We met some of the sewing center's past and current participants, ladies who were very proud to show us the stitches they had mastered, or had just begun to. We caused a stir in the village that doesn't see many foreigners at all... We were welcomed with open arms and coconut milk, drinking with a straw straight from the fruit itself.

This trip gave me so many things; one of them was the clarity to see that a big part of my heart is in enriching the lives of young people. And because I'm a big believer in the idea that love is a verb, my friends and I are teaming up to raise some funds for our new little buddies. We want to make sure they have everything they need, and more. To learn more about that, please VISIT THIS LINK and donate a few bucks to the cause. We'd really love it if you joined us in enriching their lives, as they have enriched ours.

So I guess this is how photography can be a powerful force for change and the betterment of humanity. Huh. I think I get it now. :)