Sunday, November 15, 2009

67 Years Old?

Anne Bruce is a remarkable woman.

Who does this? A retired pediatric speech therapist, with years of experience working with children just exactly like ours, and still much in demand in her native Scotland, decides to leave it all and set out for India, where she knows no one, and work for over five months as a volunteer in the Latika Roy Foundation.

That was almost two years ago. But the experience was so good - on both sides - that she agreed to come back again, which she did in August, staying until the end of October.

Those are the bare-bones facts. But how to describe the energy, the passion, the love for what she does and the children she does it for?

Try this: after her first stint with us in 2008, Anne returned to Edinburgh and started fund-raising. She was absolutely determined that we would have a computer and a range of communication technology which would allow children to play with and use computers to express their needs, desires and choices. Along with a band of loyal and devoted friends, she organized a Ceilidh (a musical evening with dancing and food) in her town and managed to collect over 2000 pounds. She then bought scads of equipment (including a talking, singing monkey) and shipped it all to us in advance of her arrival.

"Goodness Brings A Downpour" is the name of a very odd little children's book we had when our kids were small. The title has always stayed with me because, as odd as it sounds, it's true. Anne's generosity and determination created its own ripple effect: when I told a friend in Mumbai about the amazing software she had brought for us, that friend went out and raised the money for three more computers so that each center could have its own!

There is really no end to the stories of Anne's presence here, of her wisdom and compassion and warmth, of her concern for children and staff alike, of her sense of humor and her sense of the absurd and over all, her keen intelligence and her passion for helping children to communicate.

This trip, in spite of my being fifty times as busy as I was on her last visit, I felt as if we spent much more time together and got to know each other on a deeper level. Maybe it was just that we had two long drives together (and car rides - even on India's chaotic roads - are my favorite place for conversation). Maybe it was because of all the emailing we had done in the time she was away (she is a gifted writer, on top of all her other talents, and an excellent correspondent). Maybe it was because now I knew what a talent she has for friendship (both times she was here friends and family made the journey all the way out to visit her; one friend, worried she wouldn't have enough to read, sent her a book every single week of her stay).

Maybe I just don't know why. But I think it's true.

The day before she left, we finally made it out to a beautiful place in the mountains to visit a women's group which makes patchwork quilts. Anne wanted to buy one for her little grand-daughter to be and we were both dazzled by the beauty of the place, the loveliness of the women and the amazing quality of the quilts they made.

We had a wonderful time looking at and choosing between the glorious designs they had on display and we amused them and ourselves by agreeing on an extremely girly-girl pink hearts and bows quilt for the baby only to decide, right at the last moment, to ditch it and go for a much quirkier, original and interesting one with roosters and chickens in a range of colors and poses we found fetching and delightful.

The image that will stay with me from Anne's most recent visit (for she has promised she will return again!) is this one:

Calm, thoughtful and a little bit "I lift up mine eyes to the hills." From whence cometh our help? My money is on Anne.

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