The young girl with thick, curly black hair in the pink and yellow sari draped the fragrant flowers around Kerbi Key’s neck, before shyly watching the other girls play with the Americans at the new orphanage in India.
She and 24 other girls at the orphanage shared the name Vesya Beti, or daughter of a prostitute.
Key, ’15, was there as part of a team to change that. They would rename the girls. She traveled with a mission organization that opened 14 Indian orphanages in 2014.
She chose to call the shy girl: Prema, or love in their language of Telugu. Tears filled Prema’s eyes when she heard her name. On her name certificate was written the Bible verse from Isaiah 62, “you will be called by a new name.”
Key understands about names and beginnings. She was the first in her family to graduate from college and now teaches math at Fort Smith’s Northside High School. Call her teacher. She discovered a passion for helping others through her church. Call her missionary.
“It doesn’t matter what your past was, you have a new beginning,” Key said.
Key grew up in a small town in southern Arkansas before her family moved to Fort Smith. At times the family struggled. Yet her family pushed her to do well in school. Her efforts earned her the UAFS Academic Distinction Scholarship and the Mona Fuller Alonzo Scholarship.
“I was so blessed by scholarships that there was no question that I was going here,” Key said. “It’s so inspirational to me that people would be so passionate about something to help others. That’s how I feel about India.”
She began experiencing the world through mission trips, first to Honduras where she worked in schools. Then she traveled with a mission organization to India. At each orphanage they threw a birthday party for the children, giving them shoes, notebooks and candy.
“Honduras was amazing, but India hit a different level with me,” she said. “I never had anything impact me like that did. I don’t think I realized how good I have it.”
One afternoon as the Indian Ocean lapped against her feet and carried trash from the shore, Key knew she would return to India. Weeks after graduating from UAFS, Key again boarded a plane to India and its orphans. She came back with a new dream – to raise $31,500 to sponsor a home for 25 children.
Call her difference maker.