The sun ferociously beat down on the Alexander family as they wandered through Chennai, India. The Huntington, Ind. family was lost in a foreign area with foreign weather.
“We tried to take a shortcut through a slum,” David Alexander, Ph.D., said. “As we walked through this slum-dwelling, we got lost in there. We had no idea how to get back to our original spot. We were kind of freaking out a little bit.”
Hundreds of villagers popped out of their homes and analyzed the family of four as they continued their trek through the village. A child ran up to Alexander’s daughter Angel and offered a high-five. She responded.
“As soon as that happened, all the kids and people from the village surrounded us,” Alexander said. “All of them introduced themselves to us, handed us their babies for us to hold. We were invited into all their homes … That was an incredible experience. We went from fear to total peace and joy and love.”
This is just one story of many that the Alexanders have after living in Chennai for two months this past summer. Alexander was offered a visiting faculty position at Madras Christian College to teach philosophy for the summer in India.
According to its website, Madras is one of the largest landmass universities in Asia and has more than 5,000 students and over 220 faculty members.
“They’re a little more on the British system of education,” Alexander said. “The student is doing much more of everything. It’s less formal.”
The family also reconnected with the Home of Love orphanage. They have led a January-term trip for students to help out at the orphanage the past two years.
“We wanted to continue to build and deepen the relationship with the girls at the Home of Love,” Alexander said. “We wanted to reconfigure the J-term trip for India. Going back to India made that much easier to do.”
He said they want to do less sightseeing and more service for this upcoming J-term trip. Before, the group would spend several days in Delhi to visit major tourist sites before going to the orphanage.
“We’re trying to cut down on cost,” Alexander said. “We want to enhance the charitable work we’re doing. We want to do that more and better.”
While in India, the Alexanders made ties with other charitable organizations in the Chennai area. They will work with them as well as the Home of Love during J-term.
In Chennai, the Alexanders lived in a cheap hotel rather than the university’s housing. In the morning, Alexander traveled to the campus by train. In the evening, the family explored the city.
“One of the things we wanted to do was learn to get around in the city on our own,” he said. “That way, we’re not having to rely as much on expensive modes of transportation.”
Senior Chris Morrical, junior Kaitlyn Troyer, senior Hannah Hochstetler and senior Jeff Babbs visited the Alexanders near the end of the trip. Together, they served at the orphanage.
“I was excited to be in India with a much more relaxed schedule,” Troyer, who went on the 2013 J-term trip, said. “Being able to hug, laugh, talk and just be with each of those girls again was incredible.”
Alexander said there are places all over the world that need help.
“Sometimes I think we know people have needs, yet we’re afraid to do something about it,” he said. “Our time in India is helping me get over some of that stupid stuff.”
But properly helping an area of need requires an understanding of the culture, Alexander said.
“You can’t have love without knowledge,” he said. “Otherwise, you will likely screw it up and screw them up.”
Alexander said India is “oddly absorbing and addicting.”
“Where we stayed is trashy, and it smells,” he said. “It’s so polluted you can hardly breathe. Yet I’d return there tomorrow. You can’t go there and not return and fall in love with the place.”