Wankhede Stadium February 19, 2006

World’s Largest Love Letter, Mumbai

The first two boys in uniform arrived with an adult at 8:10am. WHAT!!! Kids weren’t supposed to arrive until at least 9am! And we’d actually planned for most of the children to get there by 10. What happened to Indian Standard Time? At 8:15, another stream of students arrived, then another, and pretty soon, there were 5 lines of students in the parking lot, waiting to be registered. In the mad scramble for tables (the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) only had 6 tables for us), we didn’t have our registration area set up.

The law of the jungle was in full force, as volunteer coordinators for registration, coffee/tea, water, markers, takeaways, and juice vied with product representatives for biscuits and newspapers and the sound guys for non-existent tables. We basically begged and “borrowed” from the various private clubs and vendors operating at the MCA so that we eventually had the bare minimum. Even John made off with three tables that had been used for a function the day before. So that explains the inconsistent numbers floating around in the media for the number of children that participated in the Friends Without Borders Unveiling of the World’s Largest Love Letter at Wankhede Stadium on February 19, 2006. 2,000, 3,500, 4000…

Saalam Baalak Trust Girls with TarpTwo Boys Signing the LetterRyan International Boy Painting

The clowns and jugglers, three bands, and “the celebrity” were all no-shows, but the kids didn’t notice – they had a great time. No one complained about the sun or the heat. In fact, the kids hardly paused to drink water as they signed their school tarps and painted hearts and messages on the Letter.

St. Lawrence Girls

The schools from Navi-Mumbai (New Bombay) showed up in force, which is amazing, since most Mumbaikers believe Navi-Mumbai to be the end of the world. One school rented an SUV to bring 10 students to the event because their buses did not have the permits to leave Navi-Mumbai. Another school came with their own local TV reporter and crew. St. Lawrence school had their monitors wear their dark navy jackets.

Aditya Puri Charitable Trust was able to bring 10 children from the slums of Jogeshwari to the event, and delivered over 600 letters the next day from letter-writing events they had organized in 7 slum areas in Jogeshwari, Andheri and Vile Parle west, 100 of which were in Urdu. A volunteer for iVolunteer went and picked up three street kids from near Victoria Terminus to bring to the stadium. And a number of other NGOs working with street children brought contingents of 30 to 50 kids.

One of the guards at Anjuman i Islam Allana High School, where Maria supervised the painting of the school tarps over a period of three days, was able to come with the students and art teacher.

Girl with Painted Cheek

Peace is eventually what we hope this is all about. For now, it’s about friendship.

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