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Kathryn Dizon, 13, and Anne Bacay, 13, practice saying Indian names of some of the 50 orphans with whom Yokosuka Middle School students plan to strike up friendships in the “Backpacks for India” program.
Kathryn Dizon, 13, and Anne Bacay, 13, practice saying Indian names of some of the 50 orphans with whom Yokosuka Middle School students plan to strike up friendships in the “Backpacks for India” program. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — “Salome.” “Kumar.” “Lakshmi.”

The names sound exotic to the three American teenagers squinting at Yokosuka Middle School’s bulletin board.

“Rajeshwari is ours,” says Hannah MacIsaac. “I learned how to pronounce her name.”

Besides how to say it, Hannah, 13, knows only a few things about Rajeshwari.

She’s 14 years old. She lives in New Delhi, India. And she’s an orphan whose parents were killed in the 2004 tsunami disaster.

Although Hannah’s life at Yokosuka Naval Base is much different than Rajeshwari’s, she feels “connected” to her, she said.

“I lost my grandfather,” Hannah said. “And we’re both in middle school and in the middle of hormones. We’re both trying to grow up.”

She hopes to learn more about Rajeshwari through Backpacks for India, a YMS Student Council, Cultural Heritage Committee, and National Junior Honor Society project that kicked off March 17. YMS students are preparing care packages in backpacks for 50 orphans in the Shalom House outside of New Delhi.

Some of the orphans don’t have names — like the 5-year-old twins called “Big Pinky” and “Little Pinky.”

All will receive a backpack full of pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners, notebooks, toiletries, and fun items like playing cards and barrettes.

“But nothing that can melt,” explained Kathryn Dizon, 13. “And nothing too heavy. It’s really hot where they are.”

A letter will be inside each backpack explaining about the project and asking their recipient to write back, if they wish. All the packs will be mailed April 2.

So far, student response has been “amazing,” said Chey Hickey, YMS’s Student Council sponsor.

“The kids are so excited about it. Some classes already have their backpack finished,” Hickey said.

The students are in charge of the project, and are buying or donating the items on their own, she said. This is important, she added.

“If we’re going to build a sense of charity in these kids, now is the time,” said Hickey. “This is when you learn the empathy that stays with you. We’re also trying to build a sense of charity and a feeling of being a part of a larger community school-wide.”

Hannah hopes Rajeshwari will put her new pen to paper and write her class a letter, she said.

“I want to know her, and become friends,” MacIsaac said. “Maybe we’ll be pen pals.”

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