Many Americans might picture scenes from the Academy Award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire,” which was set in the slums of Mumbai. But Hendrix said the areas he works in are even more impoverished.
“It’s much lower than that,” Hendrix said. “The (movie’s) kids were in the city, where there is some money to be had from begging and stuff like that. In (northeast India), there is no tourism whatsoever, so there would be no begging or tourist money whatsoever.
“The first time we went, we landed in Calcutta and the airport was just infested with mosquitoes,” Hendrix said. “The inside of the building was just covered in mosquitoes. So my first impression was, ‘Why don’t the mosquitoes live outside the building?’ We got into the taxi and went downtown, and everything was closed. And there were people sleeping everywhere outside. The streets were just covered with people sleeping in the dirt and the rubble. It was like a nuclear war has happened, and we just hadn’t been informed in North America.”
While the insects and surroundings didn’t make the best first impression, Hendrix found the people he met to be very warm indeed.
“All the Indians are very friendly, so you’re engulfed in a whole family of some kind instantly,” Hendrix said. “You’re not alone by any means. They’re super-friendly, and any type of voluntary work from North America, they practically bow down and grab you and start feeding you. They are so happy to see you.”
Hendrix spent his first trip touring and cataloging what services were available for the deaf, which he said was easy since there were very little. The surveying continued in the second year, when Hendrix branched out to orphanages in Sikkim and Nepal.
“Deafness here is such an important thing, but in India, it’s low on the radar as far as importance,” Hendrix said. “So to get an awareness built up was pretty hard to do. Eyes always seem to have a little bit more importance to the general public. To be able to help blind people just rings a little bit louder than to be able to help deaf people. Everybody had bigger topics on their mind than the deaf.”