My time in Chennai, India | University of Portland

My time in Chennai, India

by Emily Holguin '19

Emily went to Chennai, India to visit Agape Rehabilitation Centre. Agape was founded and is managed by Daniel and Avitha Victor, a married couple, who have spent their entire lives serving disabled teens and adults – a community of people who are often discarded in the Indian culture. 

Emily created a video journal and wrote a reflection on the places she visited and the amazing people she met. 

"I am blessed beyond belief to have been in the presence of these unreal people.”

Our time spent with Daniel and Avitha, as well as with their staff, daughter, graduates, and current students was undoubtedly a remarkable experience. From day one, our team witnessed their story of struggle and triumph as they navigated how to align their daily work with their values of human dignity and appraisal. Their mission towards serving those who are dismissed in their society appeared like it was made for them, as if God lit up the most perfect path for them to follow, and they never turned back. I remember coming back to our lodging after the first day of hearing their story, crying and thinking to myself: How do they not give up? I cried and cried, not because I was upset about the situation, but because I was so remarkably moved by their motivation to serve. For Daniel and Avitha, it was a natural undertaking to care for students, nonetheless for the disabled. Their work was relentlessly compassionate; not diminished by defeat or rejection, but rather consistently uplifted by faith and joy in the care of their students. Within just 4 days of our time spent with them, we saw the obstacles and sacrifices that are made on a daily basis for the sake of their students, and yet they do not fall into grand impatience or inevitable tiredness as some of us fear we would feel if we were in their positions.

For 23 years, Daniel and Avitha have worked selflessly to be a transformative aspect in these students’ lives. They expressed to us their dream of expanding their work to be exceptionally more accommodating for the different types of students that walk, crawl, and get dropped at their doors. As a team, we were deeply moved by this dream; that even in their laborious and unpopular presence in society these past 2 decades, they are still motivated to be better advocates and changemakers for the differently-abled. And for that, they are everything the Opus Prize stands for and more. From transformational leadership that provides confidence and self-worth within their students, leading to sustainable change that allows the students to gain purpose in life when others, even family, defined them as merely useless.

Daniel and Avitha are one with the marginalized - living, eating, and participating just as they do. We recognized that every single one of these aspects were lived out and witnessed through their actions and motives; there was no sense of a desire to be known by all, or a lack of genuineness in their care, or over-talking of what they do. They have actively and patiently transformed these students so that they can live productive, meaningful lives, gain self-confidence in whatever their talent may be, and more importantly teach them that they are loved, needed, and supported by a community. Students who came in crawling, lacking a wheelchair and lacking self-worth from their immediate surroundings, later left Agape with new skills, new resources, a new support system, and for most, a job to make a living for themselves. In essence, Agape turned these students lives upside down and right side up. While some may say one needs to focus on their problems in order to fix them, Daniel and Avitha focus on their potential; what gifts they already have and how they can continue to grow in these.

As a college student and speaking amongst my peers, we are inspired by this great work to help guide us on what our missions may be in life. Daniel and Avitha teach us that if there is a tug at your heart, a call from God, or anything in between, to chase it and have faith in what we do. When a student comes into their center, their home, Daniel and Avitha seek potential and opportunity rather than focus on their faults or limits. This motivates us to open our hearts to use our education, talents, and creativity to create transformational change amongst those in need in our different communities, as well as gain the courage to even do an inch of the mileage they have succeeded in. They teach us that we are more than capable of unconditional love and care towards the marginalized; let’s take it upon ourselves to learn from their exceptional and humbling work and consider it in our own lives. We are made with the same hands and feet to serve like they do, let’s strive to do so generously.