Smiles bring out the love inside

Warm country. Not just the temperature. The people. The smile. The greeting. The “namaste” blessing signal. The story in their eyes.

A father with intellectual disabilities (ID) with one of his three children, a special boy who also has ID. We are just having fun with high fives. He came to me for a huge hug. No language spoken nor needed, just smiles and laughter. Photo by Kate Chen.

We visited a mother who has a physical handicap, a father who has intellectual disabilities (ID) and three children, the youngest of whom also has ID. The mom takes care of the family and goes to Special Olympics to teach children beading necklaces, while the husband works part-time on constructions. The mother also brings the youngest to Special Olympics for a meal every day. When we arrived, we played simple ball sports with them and it was warm to see that his father, sister and even the neighbours joined in. Their living conditions are hard and tough, with only one bedroom for a family of five, but they brought so many sparks in our lives. Seeing them putting in so much effort to get a good education and meal for their children is such a strong and inspiring feeling.

A father and mother on the side watching their children playing sports. After we all finished the activities, we talked with the parents and got to know how proud they are of their kids improving and socialising little by little, and how certain they feel about the Special Olympics programme. Photo by Pei Lu.

When we first arrived, Special Olympics told us about the training, the children and what to be aware of when we were with the children. One thing they said was to not get too emotional with them. Well, I only thought it was going to be fun! But when I first went down and played with one little boy, he was trying to crawl out of a tunnel and had a little struggle because his arm wasn’t so flexible. I gave him a big smile and waved to him waiting to give him a high five from the outside. He smiled back and my heart moved and my eyes were starting to get wet. Just through a simple action, it was so emotive. Though it was difficult for him to do a simple move, he didn’t give up. Such a little thing for us to do, yet the children, family and school gave so much effort to make it happen. It is a positive environment with all the art and sentences on the hallway wall and in classrooms.

Little Angel School is a private school which also contains a department for children with ID. When we visited, I was so blown away by the idealism and variety of activities and full mental and body activities for the children. The school varies the levels for the different abilities, to engage each individual child to go to the next level. Some have made big progress and are able to go into regular schools.

This takes patience from the teachers and the whole system step by step. I am absolutely moved by their enthusiasm and strong passion. They consider how to encourage every child and family in all kinds of situations. Giving in all the heart and making it happen. There are great and positive sentences that motivates every child with different abilities—and even me. One is just in my head: “Today’s sandcastles will be tomorrow’s strong reality.” It means a lot. We are all people in the world and we can all make changes in our world, each in our own way and at our own pace.

A little girl full of enthusiasm and cheerful, just so happy to see us jumping up and down for hugs and so interested with our cameras and phones, wanting to take pictures of us and having selfies. Photo by Kate Chen.

Some people we met are not in such a good condition. But they don’t show it on their faces. They are even happier in the inside, because their eyes light up and cheeks go bouncing up with their warm smile. And in every moment, it’s just us. Pure smiles are the simplest connection between people. The teacher encourages the children to say “hi” and do high fives with us.

Compared to the Little Angel private school, this kind of school is more like a small community, encouraging those living nearby who would like to come. They give opportunities for families to meet their basic living needs, by having a job, and children with ID can get their food and be in activities. The long-term purpose is to compete in Special Olympics. That’s a two-part thing. And for me, both are important.

Through visiting the small community where they do activities, we saw it is the women who provide health and food for the children and do activities for different abilities. I was moved by how rigid the caste system still is, but by how they are trying to make a change, starting with the children. Of course, depending on the level they’re on, they help them learn how to do basic routines in the house and farm.

Women in this lower caste community provide activities for ID children. The women look out for each other and take care of the kids, giving them the fun they need. Photo by Kate Chen.

Playing with the children was very emotional for me in a complicated but good way. It brought out the pure happiness in us by just watching and sharing fun and love with them. I was super touched by their pure joy. Doing meaningful work and spending time is so important.

In India we didn’t use language to communicate, just smiles. And that is the smile effect we use every day with customers and co-workers at work to connect, also with friends and family.