Gina writes:

Yesterday was SPREAD Foundation Day. 22 years ago, Bidyut signed the papers (or something) and the dream that he and his friends had to start an organization to help Koraput's rural poor was realized. To celebrate this day, SPREAD invites all of the staff to a celebration.

In the afternoon, staff began arriving. The office was filled with chatter and commotion, which in all honesty, just made me feel lonely, working in my office, wishing I could speak better Oriya. I wanted to join in and help, but my presence sometimes makes the field staff, who speak no English, uncomfortable. Eventually, all the staff gathered in a circle and started peeling garlic and onions and cutting gargantuan amounts of vegetables.

I joined in and kinda sorta mixed in with the group. My pitiful Oriya is always a good ice-breaker.

A few hours later (notice how our sense of time has changed? a few hours of waiting around is no big deal...), pretty much everyone was there. We gathered in a tight circle around a bright pink cake and talked about SPREAD.

I only caught the gist of the conversation, but the long-time workers were recognized for their service and people shared their memories of their first day at SPREAD. Even though I couldn't understand the specific words, it was cool to know that the whole room was thinking about SPREAD as an organization and what it means to them.

After story time, the cake was cut. In accordance with Indian tradition, certain people (the kids, in this case) fed cake to each other. I was wondering how they were going to efficiently distribute cake to the 50+ people crowded in the room, but I shouldn't have worried. Hands dived in from all sides, pieces were passed around to those standing on the outskirts (me), and the cake was demolished in under a minute!

Then there was the obligatory cake fight, which I did not participate in. :)

After finishing the cake, we sat down again and Bidyut discussed SPREAD's proud accomplishment from last week. Almost a year ago, 9 boys aged 11-16 were lured to migration work in Pune. After working 16-20 hours per day for many months, the contractor stopped feeding the boys and was killed as a result. After 1 boy escaped and travelled back to Koraput, SPREAD worked with other NGOs and officials to locate the boys, get them a fair sentence, and transport them back to Orissa. As of last week, all 9 boys are safe at home!

Then I was invited to speak about my experience at SPREAD. I was not prepared to speak and am not used to speaking with an interpreter, so it was awkward. But I managed to convey my gratitude to SPREAD for treating me as one of their own rather than a VIP, express my belief that I've gained more from them than they have from me, and invite them to contact me for any help via email in the future. It was sweet and sad at the same time, sort of a good-bye for me.

Soon after that, dinner was ready. It was as delicious as expected, complete with kheer (Indian rice pudding)! When I finished eating, I realized that it was after 10 p.m.! My landlord was upset that I hadn't called him to let him know that I'd be late (oh India), so I hopped a ride home on a co-workers motorbike right away.

Happy birthday, SPREAD! Here's to 22 more years!