A Volunteer’s Perspective: Tito West
Tito West is a repeat visitor to Grace House. He is a photographer and storyteller that documents life in challenged areas around the world. It is his work you see throughout all our communication and even inside our office building. His photography has helped us tell the story of Grace House more fully and impactfully. Learn more about Tito and his work at www.titowest.com.
What was your initial feeling and impression when you first arrived at Grace House?
Driving through the gate at Grace House, you get the sense that this place takes pride in its appearance. Here you’ve just driven through some of the poorest villages in the world, and then you turn into the gate at Grace House, and immediately, you can see the care and attention that goes into creating a true home for the girls. The landscaping, how clean it is, especially when you take into account the ubiquitous littering in India, and then you begin to notice the classrooms, the dining hall, and the library. It almost feels like a summer camp in America, and you can see that everything here, every aspect of the grounds, is devoted to raising children in the environment that they deserve to be raised in. As soon as you get off the bus, you’re greeted with a sea of smiling faces and hugs, and you know that there is real love here. It’s tangible, and it’s contagious almost immediately.
Was there a particular girl that stood out to you?
It’s hard to narrow down first impressions to just one girl because you’re greeted with a swarm of smiling faces and hugs from all of them. But, one of the great things about these Grace House visits is that you have so much time to get to know each of the girls, and after a while, their differences and their uniqueness really start to shine through. I feel like I have different relationships with so many of the girls and, like I said, it’s really hard to narrow it down to one, but if I had to pick a few I’d say that Shital, Mancholi, Achal B. and Shalini really stand out in my mind.
Shital because she and I have this unique bond of taking literally hundreds of selfies together.
Mancholi the most genuine smile and zest for life that I’ve ever seen. There’s an innocence in her eyes, and when she smiles, you can sense that her happiness is real and contagious.
Achal B. seems to be the most complex of the girls. There are times when she seems more like a mother or much older sister to the younger girls and other times when it’s so obvious that she’s still just a child herself. But, she undoubtedly is a giver and a nurturer. She truly cares for all of the girls at Grace House, and her love for them is so evident.
Lastly, there’s Shalini, who is the tiniest little 8-year-old I’ve ever seen. She’s so sweet and so quiet and reminds me of my daughter when she was much younger.
What impressed you most about the operation as a whole?
What impressed me most is the devotion of the people involved. To see this is to understand what it means to be selfless.
In what ways do you think Grace House is affecting these girls’ lives positively?
There are a lot of things that Grace House does for these girls that have informed my thinking about how I want to raise my own children. Foremost among these is the notion of putting others first. There is a culture at Grace House that, if you’re privileged enough to visit, you’ll see right away. The girls are taught to care for each other, to look out for each other, and to put the needs of others before their own. Older girls take care of younger girls, and that gets passed down. It’s incredible, and it’s an impact that will grow with them as they continue on in life. That’s how you truly make a difference, and I believe that is where Grace House will affect real change on a cultural and global scale.
If you could gift any single thing to Grace House, what would it be?
If I could gift anything to Grace House right now, it would have to be helping with the security fence that they are building around the property. There are obviously a ton of different needs at any given time, but the security of the girls and the staff is an absolute priority.
Overall, how did your trip make you feel? What thoughts did you leave with that still sit with you today?
Every time I leave Grace House, I see the world, and my role in it, a bit differently. I realize how wrapped up in our own lives we become when we’re surrounded with comfort and first world luxuries. It makes me want to help others and to stop being so self-centered and focused on me, me, me. One thing that Craig said when were in India really stuck with me. He said he views GameGuard as God’s wallet. That blew me away. He and Stacey have devoted themselves to helping others. They know they can’t save everyone, but that’s not their mission. Their mission is to save the ones they can, and what they’re doing will radiate through successive generations. That’s how you affect real change.
If there is one thing you’d want people that have not visited Grace House to know, what is it?
You cannot possibly begin to understand the impact that Grace House is having in these girls’ lives without physically being on the ground and spending time with the girls. Arrange a trip. It will change your life and could change the lives of the girls as well.