Standing Tall

Sandeep’s palms began to sweat as a friend approached him, cricket ball in hand. Sandeep wiped his brow and tightened the grip on his bat as he waited for the pitch. As his bat connected, adrenaline pumped through his veins and he felt exhilarated, playing this game was when he felt most alive.

Only recently had Sandeep decided to devote his time to developing his cricket skills, spending hours each day perfecting his hitting. Last year was difficult. His father passed away from a liver condition on Sandeep’s 14th birthday. When his father died, an intense pressure fell on Sandeep’s thin shoulders. In his culture, boys are expected to provide for the family. When a family has a son, they know their future is secure. Sandeep took this responsibility seriously, diving into his studies to prepare himself for a stable job. He was determined not to let his family, or his father, down.

Then, Sandeep met Jake, who visited the Samuel Suzuki India Hope Campus on a Back2Back mission trip this past spring. Jake and Sandeep quickly connected. They spent a lot of time together playing cricket, sharing stories and cracking jokes. Sandeep found a trustworthy friendship by confiding in Jake, and he allowed himself to show glimmers of vulnerability. At the end of the week, Jake and his wife Shannon decided to continue the relationship by sponsoring Sandeep through Back2Back’s Child Sponsorship Program. Sandeep was ecstatic.

Soon after Jake’s visit, Back2Back introduced a concept called nurture groups, a safe space where children with difficult pasts learn to process their feelings under the care of trained and trusted staff. Sandeep and two other boys his age meet regularly. Back2Back staff, Courtney and Michael, foster growth and progress by leading them through guided exercises, gently encouraging them to give voice to their emotions. Sandeep has found a way to express his emotions and process the pain of his father’s death. In a recent group, Sandeep surprised himself when he began to quietly cry, an uncommon expression of emotion in his culture. He felt a sense of relief, as months of built-up pressure began to dissipate.

Sandeep is becoming more at ease with himself and his emotions due in large part to the healing he has experienced from Jake’s investment in his life and Sandeep’s participation in the nurture group. Lately, Back2Back staff noticed a change in the way he carries himself and how he interacts with his friends.

Sandeep finishes his cricket game and sits in his usual spot on the porch of his home. He casually talks with roommates, siblings and staff, smiling and laughing as his friends share about their day. Sandeep is friendly, approachable and inquisitive, intentionally including everyone in the conversation. Confidence growing, he stands taller and makes eye contact, listening intently. As Sandeep pursues emotional freedom, he’s encouraging others to do the same. The same boy who once struggled to find words to express his own inner pain is now reaching out to his friends, drawing them out, helping them find their voices. Sandeep continues to take his studies seriously, but he has also learned to give himself the freedom to explore his interests, discover new passions and even dream about a future as a professional cricket player.