Of all the countries in the world, Frances Kinzle never imagined she’d be traveling to India, let alone to battle the ravages of polio as a part of Rotary International.
Yet that’s exactly the journey from which she and her husband Steve recently returned.
“It just really struck me as something I wanted to do,” Kinzle said. “I’m real people-oriented.”
Although they visited traditional tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal, and shook hands with the Dalai Lama, a significant amount of their time was spent on the dangerous dirt streets of Delhi with fellow Rotarians.
They found themselves surrounded by honking motorcycles, dilapidated shanties, roaming animals and rampant poverty.
“I could sit here all day and talk about it,” Kinzle said, “but you can’t explain it to where you get the true visual: the smell of the trash, the smog.”
It was an experience that changed her forever and made her incredibly grateful.
“I would encourage anybody to go,” she said.
Kinzle recalled being amazed at how little people are able to survive on in the areas they visited, and felt guilty at night when returning to her comfortable hotel.
She’s therefore passionate about convincing people to shift their attitudes towards those who live in harsh conditions with basically no money.
“Just because they live in poverty doesn’t mean they’re stupid … [Our lives here,] that’s a privilege. We’ve been blessed with what we have but we don’t even recognize it,” she added.
She further argued: “No matter how rich or how poor people are, they deserve respect.”
Perhaps Kinzle’s attitudes were informed by her own struggles early in life, since as she mentioned, “I didn’t have running water in my house until I was a senior in high school.”
Throughout her travels, Kinzle said she was most deeply affected by the people of India themselves, especially the toddlers and infants to whom she and Steve administered polio vaccinations by placing drops in their mouths.
“You could listen to what I’m saying, but it just doesn’t jerk your heart unless you’re there and look in their eyes.”
She explained how the children followed them through the streets before being vaccinated, joining her and Steve’s National Polio Immunization Day group as they paraded through the winding streets along with drummers and the Indian military.
“What we contributed to the most was public awareness,” Kinzle said.
After being inoculated for polio, the children would dip their fingers in purple ink as a symbol to others.
KINZLE was likewise struck by how excited the children were to see them, and how it was customary for kids to carry around siblings of nearly the same age.
“They’re equally intrigued by us” as we are of them, she said of the Indian people.
Along with administering polio vaccinations, Rotary International provides funds to build working toilets as well as prosthetic limbs for amputees, many of whom have lost a foot or leg in an automotive accident.
While in Delhi, Frances and Steve visited the factory in Jaipur where prostheses are made.
She remembered being stunned by the piles of feet stacked on tables, and by those who entered the facility on crutches but left under their own power.
Kinzle also mentioned she was part of a Rotary supported coat-drive in India, saying “I don’t think of India as a country where it’s cold,” but noted how often she had to dress in layers and could see her breath on many days.
When asked what advice she’d give to others after her return from India, Kinzle said: “Get out of your comfort zone and go learn first-hand about other cultures.”
And indeed, India is a place of great cultural diversity, with people of numerous races and social castes, religions and beliefs.
For instance, due to the Hindu belief in reincarnation, “they treat their animals with great respect,” Kinzle explained, even going so far as to partially clothe dogs or goats who live on the streets.
“They’re very compassionate people,” she said.
Kinzle further suggested that such loving care for other beings and people is a larger lesson she internalized while on the trip.
“Be compassionate and respect people for the way they live, not the way you think they should be living,” she said.
“You can’t live in a box with your preconceived ideas and judge other people.”
And caring for others less fortunate is something that begins at home, Kinzle contended, mentioning Humanity House and its poverty-fighting mission in Iola.
We can devote ourselves to bettering the lives of others every day, no matter where we are.