Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Today was a day of celebrations, heartfelt goodbyes with the hopes for a future return to India. Karen, Ricca and George will be leaving and I will be staying on. Our celebrations are for the honor and joy of serving in this community; for the relationships we have established with the children and our peers; for the unique opportunity we each have had in living with and giving care to those we care so much about; for witnessing how each of us has grown in an awareness of the importance of team cohesiveness. We are thankful especially to the SEAMS children who celebrated our coming and going with festive song and dance. We are thankful to the sisters and novices of St. Josephs who celebrated with our tam our last meal together.

Tearful goodbyes because those leaving will be making their way back to their respective country seemingly leaving the children but knowing that the most important aspect of this relationship will always be within our hearts.

Our hope for the future is to return to India to once again serve in this special community guided by our group leader Stephen, who we all admire and respect for making our experience one ff the most memorable of our lives.

Kathy Dedrick

Thursday August 7, 2008

Everyone had a productive day at work and I had a chance to go to Grace School and meet the junior and senior kindergarten classes. We sang songs, read, worked on the alphabet and of course, recited Five Little Monkeys loudly.

At SEAMs, we gave the children a hygiene lesson in the courtyard. The big boys brought basins of watere and everyone cleaned up with soap and water and brushed their teeth. We distributed new toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels, nail brushes, soap and shampoo, and the kids had a good time. Among ourselves, the team later expressed concern about headlice that we hope can be addressed by later teams.

Then a final shopping excursion to the Spencer Mall downtown where we got cookies for Ronnie and her family and other final purchases. We returned for a late dinner at ten.

Quote: There is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all. Disney.

Ricca Slone

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

This will be my last journal entry as team 68 winds to a close in 3 days. Today, the teachers and I took the children of Grace School on an excursion to Mamallapurum. This was an exceptional day. We left the school at 9:30 in two vans loaded with giddy children. Many of the parents were on hand to see us off. Before we were a few blocks from the school, the children began singing our top 40 hits which of course includes “Five Little Monkeys” and “The Wheels on the Bus”. Along the way we stopped at the Madras Crocodile Park and the Tiger Cave which dates to the 7th century. After a lunch on the vans, we arrived in Mamallapurum and climbed over and through the magnificent carvings. Some of the kids were familiar with the carvings which includes Arjuna’s Penence, the world’s largest known bas relief sculpture, complete with life size elephants. After our climb which included an encounter with some real monkeys, we headed to the beach. The waves on the shore of the Bay of Bengal were very strong and I had my hands full keeping the children from venturing out too far. They were dressed in their plaid uniforms and all were soaked when we retreated to the beach for ice cream then on to the vans. We were tired and wet on the trip home but not too tired to watch a DVD of Tamil music videos. The kids knew most of the words and danced in the aisle along with their favorite singers. The van dropped me off at the guesthouse around eight and I soon fell into bed exhausted and happy. I am so grateful to Stephen and the teachers of Grace school for making this day possible and to the students for their enthusiasm, joy, and open hearts for a day I’ll always remember with love.

Today’s quote:

“There’s far too much to take in here,
more to see than can ever be seen,
but the sun rolling high, on a sapphire sky,
keeps great and small on the endless ride,
In the Circle of Life” from The Lion King

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What a day! My day began at St. Joseph’s School where I gave out candy to students and teachers as it is traditional to do so on one’s birthday. In India it is customary that on one’s birthday, that person give to others as opposed to the Western custom of the birthday person receiving gifts. It was a welcome and refreshing change. I went around to each of the classes handing out candy and when I did, each student would shake my hand and say something like, “many, many pleasant birthdays to come Miss.” It took me a while to go through the entire school because in each class I entered the class would sing a different version of the Happy Birthday song.
Today my seventh graders really stood out. India’s Independence Day is August 15th and earlier today I watched the students perform marches and dances in preparation for the upcoming celebration. The topic of discussion for seventh grade was therefore how India gained independence from British rule. The students conversed with me about the different leaders of India and their influence on this country. The students also recited the Indian Pledge which is included at the bottom of this entry. The class then sang their national anthem, which was written in, and therefore sang in Bengali. They pressed me to sing America’s national anthem for them in return, luckily there were no windows or video cameras in the room.
Following Stephen’s suggestion, I celebrated my birthday in the evening with the children of Seam’s orphanage. We brought cake, fruits, and their favorite dish (Chicken Briyanni) to share with them. The children performed dances, sang songs, and popped balloons filled with confetti over our heads. It was wonderful. I was deeply touched by the efforts of the children to make this time so special for me and they truly succeeded at doing so. After all of the dancing and celebration we sat down together for a meal. It was fascinating to watch the older children feed the others and a silence came over all of us as we focused on our full plates of food. I am profoundly humbled by the childrens’ generosity and love.
Thank you so much (Nandri!!!) Stephen, George, Kathy, and Rica and I am also especially thankful to the children of Seam’s. I will cherish the memory always.


“Liberty is fantastic.”-Naren Dranath (a 7th grader at St. Joseph’s school)

Indian Pledge:
India is my country, all Indians are brothers and sisters, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it. I shall give my parents, teachers, and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy. To my country and my people I pledge my devotion, in their well being and prosperity alone lies my happiness.

Monday, August 4, 2008

We arrived back in Chennai at 7 am having taken an overnight train from Mysore. We knew we were home as the temperature was no longer cool but hot and humid. By days end we agreed we all had experienced another good day at our respective work sites – Ricca at Assisi, Karen at St.Josephs, George at Grace School and myself at SEAMS and St.Josephs. George had an eventful moment in one of his classes when he tried to sit in one of the children’s small chairs and accidently fell off the small chair causing the children first concern and then much laughter. I had the joy of accompanying Rebecca from SEAMS to buy an outfit at the dress shop It was fun for her especially because she got to see her best friend who works at the shop. Stephen videotaped my and Karen’s afternoon teaching sessions at St. Josephs. My novices were practicing English tongue twisters so it made for an entertaining movie in which they were attempting to perfect Betty’s Bitter Butter! During our evening dinner we agreed that it was good to be back after a wonderful weekend once again working with the children.

Love is a fruit in season and all times and within the reach of everyone. Mother Teresa

Kathy Dedrick

August 2-3, 2008 - Weekend

Saturday morning, 6:30 a.m., on the Chennai-Mysore train. The countryside is lush with palm trees and rice paddies and dirt roads. Men are out in the fields and villages. Women wash clothes below rocky rapids. An immense granite boulder several stories high rises abruptly from the flat land. Oxen pull a blue cart with murals on the sides, driven by a grey-haired man with a switch. Stephen says they speak Kannada here, a completely different language than Tamil or Hindi. Oxcarts line up at the rail crossings, then kids in school uniforms on bikes, then oxcarts again. We pass agave, fields of sunflowers, pools with egrets and ibis.

We arrived in Mysore, a pretty colonial looking city, met our driver, had breakfast and left town for the uplands. We climbed into the foothills of the Nilgiri mountains to a high plateau and into Bandipur National Park. The park is in Karnataka, while Mudumalai Tiger Reserve is adjacent, but back in Tamil Nadu. We were greeted by monkeys at the entrance bridge and warned to shut the windows. We saw many spotted deer; the stags have huge antlers. We saw langurs, a different species of monkey with black faces. And peacocks!

Our lodgings are called “chalets”, little brick buildings with red tile roofs. Karen’s has solar panels and cisterns on top. We walked to the river, admiring the majestic mountain views and bright green valley. After lunch at the chalet’s outdoor pavilion, we took a Jeep safari and saw bison, sambar and spotted deer, a bear and 2 elephants from a distance. After a rest and dinner we took another Jeep safari in search of elephants. We saw civet cats and several huge buffalo near the road, but no elephants. We ran out of gas in the pitch dark, but our guide managed to coax a few more kilometers from the engine and coast down the last unpaved pot-holed grade to a petrol station far from home. All were ready for bed long before we arrived after 11:30.

Sunday we rose at 6:15 for coffee and a final Jeep safari. Still no wild elephants but we got to ride a tame one through the jungle on a quiet sunny morning. The driver sat on the elephant’s head and used his feet on the ears to direct the elephant’s turns and speed. We sat in a metal frame up top, and the ride was more comfortable than the Jeep on unpaved back roads. After breakfast we trekked through the forest from the lodge for a couple of hours. Following the sounds, our guide almost got within sight of an elephant a couple of times. The first time it was a male in a brushy thicket – hard to see, not safe to go in. The second time we had circled our way around a female and young to their downwind side in a more open area. Suddenly a herd of goats and three goatherds appeared, bawling and hollering and beating the bushes with sticks. So long, elephants. We did see a herd of spotted deer, water buffalo and a rat snake.

After cleaning up and having a great lunch in the outdoor pavilion, we headed back through the park and down into the valley to Mysore. We visited the raja’s palace, a huge late Victorian exuberantly ornate structure set in formal gardens. It replaced one that burned down. Amazing columns, staircases, a whole Moorish palazzo with turquoise arches and columns, a wedding hall with a stained glass ceiling with a peacock feather theme, and silver doors with ten panels depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu.

We met up with Jim at his hotel and had a group reunion over Stephen’s idea of snacks, courtesy of George. We shopped at the Karnataka government store before going back to the palace for the Sunday evening light show. Despite the packed crowds straining to funnel in to the metal detectors and the aggressive street vendors, it was great. The palace and all the temples on the grounds are covered in golden lights, and the result is breathtaking. With fountains playing, balloon vendors, a live band and the huge crowd of people strolling around, the Disneyland in India effect was complete. Finally, we said our farewells to Jim and headed for our train back home to Chennai.

Quote of the day: Before me peaceful, behind me peaceful. Above me peaceful, below me peaceful. All around me peaceful. Native American song lyric.

Ricca Slone

Friday, August 1,2008

This was the last day for the complete team 68, as the “two weekers” will be leaving tomorrow. Ricca and Phyllis were witness to a display of government pomp on their way to Assisi Illam this morning. The main road was cleared as the motorcade of visiting dignitaries made its way through Porur. Ricca said that the procession contained huge paintings of politicians heads surrounded by stars. Ricca used her artistic skills to make a poster of a bus. Her objective was to teach the Assisi children the words to “The Wheels on the Bus” but the children soon realized they could have much more fun simply destroying the poster. Karen and Deanne were surprised to find out that the first Friday of each month, a high mass is held at Saint Joseph’s School. Both were impressed by the angelic singing of the students. They were asked to be a part of the procession. Karen continues to enjoy her 9th grade class. She was quite impressed with the depth of knowledge of history the students posses. She also remarked that as the students ease with the English language increases, she learns more from them each day. Jim completed his final day of demolition/construction at SEAMS Children’s Home. The new toilets and showers look great and will sure be an improvement for the children. Jim and Kathy’s assignment at SEAM is by far, the most physical of all of all our tasks and they have certainly been up to the challenge. They are an inspiration to the rest of us.
The day ended with a moving farewell to Jim, Deanne, and Phyllis from the Seam’s children. We returned to the guesthouse for a quick shower, dinner, and goodbyes then we headed off into the Porur night to begin our weekend adventures.


Today’s quote:
“Many hands make light work”. Sister Mary Genevive, my 7th grade teacher at St. Monica’s School.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Our day began with breakfast and a review of the days schedule with Stephen. We went to our work sites – Karen & Deanne at St. Josephs, Ricca & Phyliss at Assis; George at Grace and myself & Jim at SEAMS. During my afternoon class with the novices the rest of the team went to the store to purchase fabric for school uniforms for the SEAMS children. The Pastor from SEAMS was part of the entourage & was very pleased and grateful that the children will now have new uniforms needed at school.

Our evening meal was hosted by the sisters at Assisi Illam. Sisters Rose & Carolyn graciously served us and then joined us for delicious food and conversation. We were humbled by the care and attention they gave to us as a thank you for the service provided by Global Volunteers and Stephen.

The highlight of the evening was playing many games and singing songs with the children, full of smiles and laughter. For me it was a time to see the children who I came to know last year…babies were now toddlers and the older children were taller. All have grown in beauty under the care and guidance of the sisters.

Kathy Dedrick

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A day or two ago Steven reminded us of the objectives we had developed at the outset and queried how we were doing. We were all agreed that we were directing our efforts toward achieving set goals and were working as a team.

This review and recap, I believe, served to refocus, perhaps re-invigorate us all because today all members of the team report their day in sterling terms.

George’s students, after a reading of Cat In The Hat, drew magical Cats; also George is assisting in planning a student’s field trip to Mahabalipuram.

Karen had a great day with her charges as did Deanne with her kindergarteners. Deanne’s drawings of clouds sun, trees, depicting elements in a Cloud story she read to class, was a big hit.

Kathie and Jim had a very productive day at Seams construction site. The pile of bricks they have removed and which will be re-used grows ever larger. Tonight the children were measured for uniforms and we agreed that new pillows were an essential purchase, very much needed. Kathie sees continuous improvement in the novices’ English comprehension and expression.

Ricca and I were determined to achieve a more structured learning session in addition to regular playing time. We had some success with this by dividing the little ones into two groups of six and alternating instruction and play. I was puzzled that one of my little charges, the most adept at puzzles, was completely unable or unwilling to repeat English words. Jessie, the teacher, enlightened me as to why. Turns out that for this little girl English is a third language, her first Megalese, second Tamil. Proving again one cannot assume anything.

A satisfying work day having ended at Seams, we set off from there by van and rickshaw to Chennai Silks and the jewellery store where we were bowled over by the amount of merchandise on display. Plastic was liberally swiped. A nice buffet followed at Quality Inn.

Quotation: from a poster at Assis Illam – “ Give the world the best that you have, and the best will come back to you”.

Phyllis Donnelly

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Today was Indian business lesson day for me. First I tried to buy postage stamps to send postcards home. I followed someone up to the second floor through the round door and stood in line for awhile. When I finally reached the front, and said “stamps”, the woman pursed her lips disapprovingly and waved me away in Tamil. Finally someone directed me downstairs to an open doorway. Inside were 15 people sorting mail. Eventually one of them looked up and pointed next door to the postage window hidden behind the stairs. The lady took out a sheet of exactly the right stamps, but her supervisor refused to let her sell them to me without “the article”. Since I didn’t bring along a postcard, I left empty-handed.

Next I tried the ATM. Another long line and another tussle, this time with a machine. At least I finally got some money.

Everyone had a productive day at work. All the kids are eager to learn. Deanne taught three children to write their names. Karen got a gift from her students and a compliment from the staff. At SEAMs the children greeted us with their usual enthusiasm, and visible progress had been made on the construction. Yay, Kathy & Jim. Phyllis and I discovered that timing the SEAMs kids’ lessons increases their competitive edge.

After a brief stop at home to change and a stop at St. Joseph to pick up the sisters, we headed off to the highlight of the day: dinner with Steven’s parents and a chance to meet his wife Sheba, their new baby son and also his brother Steven’s wife and baby Robinson. Sheba is lovely. The baby slept contentedly in her arms as we stood around admiring him and taking photos with no flash. Sister Bala offered a prayer and a blessing for his well being. Then we left for Steven’s parents’ house. They are as warm and welcoming as he is. Cousin Robinson, 3 months old, is very cute. The dinner was amazing – wonderful south Indian cuisine, all lovingly home made and spiced for Western palates. Delicious biryani, fish, vegetable dishes including a great cabbage and coconut one, yogurt, breads, mango, and a fabulous rice pudding for dessert. Pleasantly full and very grateful for the delightful hospitality, we headed home through the warm night.


Quote of the day: What is there more kindly than the feeling between host and guest? Aeschylus.
The bonus quote is an Indian proverb: The first day a guest, the second day a guest, the third day a calamity.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Exhaustion has made me terse, so here goes:

Kathy and I (Jim, here) began our construction work at SEAMS this morning, helping to build the temporary toilets that will be necessary once the old ones are demolished (there’s a new dormitory in the offing, with new toilets). We both were humbled by the strength and economy of motion our Indian co-workers displayed, and they were intrigued by our cumbersome work clothes. They suggested, through Stephen, that I consider wearing a lungi for greater flexibility, but I don’t think India (or I, for that matter) is ready for the inevitable unraveling that would occur. Kathy and I laughed and sweated and were pleased with our progress.

Deanne joined Karen over at St. Joseph’s, taking Jim’s place in the lower kindergarten. She reports that the children loved making crowns and writing their names on them; she was beaming at lunch and says that this is a perfect fit. Karen, too, had a great day and continues to come up with innovative ways to teach English. She prefers the new orange syrup at break-time, but I think she says this just to make me envious. I am.

I got the chance, again, to watch George at Grace School. We dropped George off on our way to SEAMS and got to see all the children march by and greet us to the tune “Bridge over the River Kwai.” I’ve said it before: George is much loved by the students and staff. Ricca and Phyllis taught the kids to race around the room on their plastic chairs at Assisi Illam. They are full of good stories.

Stephen arranged for all of us to go to Spencer Mall after SEAMS. He is the best. Books, balls, cookies, and silks were purchased. Dinner can only be described using every positive adjective we can find.

(Ricca bought a mask that looked nothing like the heavy bronze one she liked, but it was cheaper and intriguing nonetheless).

And now for the quote, and it’s one that challenges the false dichotomy between the spiritual and the practical. I invite each of you to find spiritual significance in this simple advice: Lift with your knees, not with your back.

Jim Robinson

Sunday, July 28, 2008

Today we awoke in Pondicherry and enjoyed a walk on the beach and some chai. We then took the bus to the burial site of Aurobindo. A devotee of Aurobindo, called “The Mother,” fulfilled his dream of creating a place where people could live together in a utopian society as equals, regardless of their race, class, color, or creed. The realized vision is called Auroville, our next destination. Auroville had a peaceful and green vibration. (Please see brochure for more information). While there we did some shopping and had a delicious lunch of foods farmed on the grounds. Kathy befriended a handsome group of Keralans who were studying English in Chennai. They were interested in who we supported for the next US president and why.

Next, it was a fun bus ride to the rock carvings. Once again, Stephen explained with detail the symbolism behind the Hindu reliefs, and in doing so, gave the experience a depth and perspective that made the artwork come to life for us.

Side Note: Monkeys LOVE orange soda.

The sky opened up and a heavy rain fell. As fortune would have it the humidity greatly increased after the rainfall. The day ended over diner which was ample in both food and laughter.

“Go ahead, see the world, you will never regret it.”- from the Namesake


Monday, August 4, 2008

Saturday - July 26, 2008.

At 7:30 a.m., the team eagerly set off for our much looked-forward-to weekend down the coast. Destination: Pondicherry and several ancient temples along the way.

It was soon discovered that we had an uninvited passenger along and a first stop was made to evict the small green lizard. Shortly thereafter a major traffic jam was encountered caused by a jack knifed jackknifed tractor trailer completely blocking two lanes. Traffic diverted well of the highway in to and through an adjacent field to bypass the scene. On the outskirts of Chennai we passed an impressive number of institutes of engineering.

Everyone was grateful that the day was sufficiently cool that socks were not necessary and we could walk barefoot, shoes being forbidden on temple grounds. We did, however, have to step gingerly around sharp pebbles and some cow patties at the first temple, Kamakshi. This temple, dedicated to the warrior goddess Parvati, wife of Shiva, covered a large site where many pilgrims were in attendance seeking blessings of the goddess. At this temple the adventurers among us: Ricca, Karen, Deeanne and Jim, hoisted themselves onto the back of a ceremonial elephant. All agreed that their elephant ride would rank as a major highlight of time spent in India.

The Ekambranatha temple dedicated to the destroyer god Shiva was our next stop. Here, Steven told us, there had been a mango tree which grew for 3500 years, dying only 2 or 3 years ago. A beautiful wall painting in the entryway depicted the many myths related to this tree. Seedlings from the tree have given rise to its replacement.

The next temple, Kailashnatha, also dedicated to Shiva, is constructed of sandstone and dates from the eighth century.

The last temple, Varadarajasavry, dedicated to Vishnu, featured two massive linked chains one on each side of the temple entrance. Remarkably, each chain was carved from a single piece of granite.

An amazing luncheon buffet at the GRT Regency Hotel in Kanchipuram followed the temple visits, then a stop at the Silk House where the shoppers among us found lovely saris and scarves we just had to have.

Approximately one hour south of Kanchipuram we began to make better time on a 4-lane highway, the median of which was beautified by red flowers, yellow flowering bushes, and every so often a contented cow. Here, due to slipstreams of wind created by passing traffic in opposite directions, flies cannot pursue and harass the cows.

Indian cows, goats and dogs are much smarter than their North American counterparts. Without fencing, cows and goats graze alongside the roads, never darting out into traffic and the wonder is whether it is DNA embedded or learned behavior.

Along the way were statues of Ambedkar and we learned that in
India there are more status of him than of any other man including Gandhi. This remarkable man spent his entire life fighting the caste system and is revered. After check-in at our hotel in Pondicherry we enjoyed a stroll along the waterfront on the way to dinner at the Rendezvous Restaurant. This wrapped up a very full day, on emphasizing again that India is truly a feast for all the senses.

Phyllis Donnelly

Friday - July 25, 2008

As the first week comes to an end there’s a feeling within us all of how much we truly appreciate and cherish working with the children, young adults and the elderly here in Porur. At the beginning off the week we wondered how we’d be able to contribute and as each journal entry captured our daily reflections throughout the week we began to see the tangible contributions we’ve made in the lives of those we have been privileged to work, teach, and play with.

Capturing seven tales of celebrations begins with what was a highlight of the day and week…watching our team give each of the SEAMS boys shirts brought from the U.S by all of us. The boys lined up in order of size – short to tallest, to receive their new shirt. This kind and generous act reflects our Teams guiding spirit and deep feeling for these children. Ricca and Phylis enjoyed their day at Assisi blowing bubbles and making necklaces with the children out of fruit loops. Once the children discovered that eating the fruit loops was more fun than making necklaces the activity became truly a ‘treat.’ Thy had a surprise vist from Stephen, our group leader, whose devotion to the children is so admirable.

Karen and Jim had another good day at St. Joseph’s this being Jim’s last day with the kindergartners he received a special card and gift of thanks… we’re not sure if this gift was a book of rhymes as the children taught Jim many rhymes throughout the week.. Karen got her 4th and 5th classes mixed up but easily navigated her way to the children who always eagerly await her presence in the classroom. Both Karen and Jim had a tour of the convent where the sisters and novices live in a privacy surrounded by the beauty of trees, flowers, and love birds.

As for my own experience today was a continuation of my love affair with India and the children and adults…the magic never ends. The morning at St.Thomas hospital was filled with conversations visiting patients, discussing medical resources for the nursing library, and meeting with some doctors. Near the end of the shift during lunch Dr. Sister Rexiline took me to another school to hear Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s speech to the students at Montfort Matriculation School. Dr. Kalam is one of the most admired leaders in India, having served as President of India. His speech to the children was about courage to learn and to help the country. I was able to share some of his thoughts with the young adults in my next class in which we discussed how he ignites the minds of students across the country. This was also one of the student’s birthdays so we had chocolate cake and sang happy birthday in English.

There is so much we each experience every moment here that we would need several lifetimes to capture it all. Thank you Stephen for your guidance, patience and friendship to our Team .


Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s great modern writers said: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.” .

Monday, July 28, 2008

24 July — Thursday

In the opening narration of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the now-grown Scout says that although the days of her childhood were comprised of 24 hours, just like any other day, they were naturally contained so, so much more. That is what a day here in Chennai working with the kids, thinking of working with the kids and preparing to work with the kids feels like—each day is 24 hours, yes, and yet they are so much fuller and richer and they stretch to encompass so much more than just “a day..”

My Thursday began with and ended with an auto rickshaw ride. I’m addicted to their crazy speed, their seemingly reckless weaving through the traffic and open-air capacity to really see and feel a part of the city. When we go somewhere as a group, like this evening’s dance performance, half take the van and half get the fun of the rickshaw and then on the return we switch…those in the van feeling like grown-ups (more or less) and those in the rickshaw feeling like lucky kids.

And about this evening’s outing: In response to someone’s question about whether we could, in the coming days see an Indian dance performance (sorry, I don’t know who to credit here, but it was a brilliant suggestion), Stephen turned to the newspaper and quickly arranged for us to go into Chennai and attend an evening of Baratanatyam performed by students of Humaltha Ramchandra. It was perfect! The colors, the traditional costumes, the music and the choreography brought rhythm and image to the legends and myths that for countless years have been a big part of shaping and informing India’s world view. We had driven into the city straight from SEAMS, so I think we were all feeling a big grimy and sweaty (at least I was!) and certainly not dressed for an evening in a theater, but it didn’t matter. We sat in the darkened audience of local Chennai-ans feeling happily transported by the dancers on the stage.

And now a quick re-cap of each member’s day:

Karen stayed later at St. Joseph to teach still more classes because some of the school’s teachers were absent. Her dedication to the students is beautiful. More than once, as Karen and I have walked the streets here of our immediate neighborhood, a student in one of her classes has rushed up to her to say “hi” and they are all the more pleased when she really knows who they are,

George had another productive and happy day w/ the kids at Grace—the kids were especially thrilled and enervated by today’s rain. For the younger students, George reachd into the recesses of his brain and found still more songs to teach them. The older kids continue to thrive on doing improve.

Kathy spent her morning keeping calm and caring company with patients at the hospital

Phyllis and Ricca enjoyed an especially calm and fun day at Assisi Illum. The little kids now happily greet them even more excitement (if that’s possible!) because they are no longer “guests,” but rather “regulars” who have hugged and praised and played with them throughout the past week. Today’s bubble session on the front patio was a BIG hit.

Jim, w/ his usual wry and sweet wit, said that if the chaos of today’s kindergarten class at St. Joseph had occurred on the first day he would have though “Good lord, what have I gotten myself into??” (I think I actually do remember him saying something like this on Monday…) He said he’s just decided to give himself over to the mayhem and to be the witness, not the judge. A very wise and very deeply thoughtful approach—also, probably colored by knowing he will soon pass the “class baton” on to Deanne when he begins his demolition stint at SEAMS next week.

As for me (Deanne), the kids have entered my dreams. I will miss the little ones at Assisi Illum, but look forward to working with the new-to-me students at St. Joseph.

For the day’s quote, I turn to the final paragraph of the book I read today to my sweet quartet of little girls at SEAMS (“The Three Questions,” based on a story by Leo Tolstoy): “Remember that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear ones, are the answers to what is most important in this world. This is why we are here.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our morning route takes us past some of Chennai’s contrasts. We brave the crazy traffic as we pass large corporate buildings, a roadside pottery market, a brilliantly painted shrine, people drawing up wooden buckets of water from a community well just outside the entrance to St. Thomas Hospital, a group of thatched huts by a river valley with people’s laundry drying on the ground, and then back lanes with cows ambling around. Assisi Illam is in a quiet neighborhood behind a blue gate. Across the street is a construction site where workers are plastering the second story from a rickety wooden scaffold with an effigy dangling by its neck nearby. As we enter the patio, the children call “auntie, auntie” from the doorway. Deanne, Phyllis and I (Ricca) work with 15 of the thirty-some children in the second floor playroom. Yesterday the children were remarkably well behaved and we were congratulating ourselves on our competence; today it was all downhill from good morning. The little ones were in an ornery mood, fighting over toys, chasing and pushing each other, screaming, even biting. They didn’t want to do the projects we had planned or anything quiet. By 11:20 when Sister Rose came up to get them for snack time and told us to take a 10-minute break, we were ready for one. Deanne observed: “we have now officially lost control”. The day got better after that. In the afternoon Phyllis and Deanne gave their cameras a workout as the sisters dressed up the five resident children –Sylvia, Sophia, John, George and Jasmine - with hats and parasols so they could pose for us. After the children have their lunch, they nap. We sit on the floor with the sisters sharing an Indian meal from our big thermos and their kitchen, playing with the babies, and visiting with one another-- which is English practice for Sister Rose. Kathy had a productive day visiting hospital patients and teaching the novices. She also visited a patient at her home. Karen is impressed with the English skills and focus of her older students, who are interested to learn about the training they will need to prepare for professional careers in law or medicine. George had a good day with his students, and Jim continues his daily quest to manage 45 preschoolers. After our early evening visit with the Seams kids, the group went out for a wonderful dinner. The highlight was a wild ride downtown and back in a motorized rickshaw. Today’s quote: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in….to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 1865. Bonus quote: “It’s all to do with the training; you can do a lot if you’re properly trained.” Queen Elizabeth II. (If you are the first to locate this quote in the guest house, you will win a prize!) --Ricca Slone

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The team continues to grow in interesting, unexpected, and fulfilling ways. Kathy thoroughly enjoys working with the novices at St. Joseph’s, noting that their penchant to speak with passion about their faith and their role models “makes their English soar!”
Phyllis, Ricca, and Deanne had great success at Assisi Illam; Deanne suggested they make crowns for the children out of construction paper and Ricca and Phyllis photographed the young princes and princesses. Everybody felt like royalty and I promise not to strain for metaphor after this. Jim (that’s me) and Karen had productive days at St. Joseph’s. Karen’s work with the older children was rewarding (she is undeniably popular as we walk about the campus and has helped me wrestle with my fledgling Tamil) and we both had a tour of the computer center from Sister Bala. I learned to slow down and make animal noises for the three-year-olds in the lower kindergarten. Many songs were sung. I got the chance to watch George in action at Grace School with his fourth-graders. It is obvious why he is much beloved; the children don’t want to see him go home at the end of the day and he, in turn, gives them his undivided and creative attention.
During our afternoon break, Stephen arranged for us to go shopping at the Government Store in Chennai. Karen proclaimed herself to be a “shopping expert” and made good on her claim. Her luggage arrived this morning, which may be a mixed blessing because she seems very much at home in her beautiful Indian clothing.
In the late afternoon we went to SEAMS and worked with the children before coming home to another delicious meal in our cool and jasmine-scented dining room (courtesy of Deanne). We talked at dinner about how inspiring and humbling it is to work with our students and then we dispersed into the muggy night.
It is good to be here.


Today’s quote: “We do not see the world as it is; rather, we see the world as we are.” Anais Nin

Monday, July 21, 2008

Today was initiation. I am happy to say that everyone survived the first day and enjoyed working with the children and teachers. Stephen skillfully coordinated our various pick-ups and drop-offs at the different locations.
Deanne, Phyllis, and Rica spent time at Assisi Illam. They explained to the rest of us that the kids were full of energy but also well behaved. A three-year-old they met there had been sent home with homework that would be comparable to what a first grader in the US or Canada might receive. Academic discipline starts at an early age here and it shows.
George returned to Grace School and I can only imagine how excited the children must have been about his return. When the children at Seam’s saw him again their reaction was priceless. They ran to him and beaming, they shouted every word to five little monkeys. Kathy reports that she is excited about working with the novices who will in turn be teaching the children English. She is waiting to see if her services at the hospital will be required.
Jim and I are knee deep in St. Joseph’s. Jim is working with a large group of little Kindergarteners, and they have already taught him that in India Okra is called Lady Finger. I was very impressed with the composure and English skills of the sixth graders I met today. The younger grades also impressed me and one can’t help but feel welcomed by their smiles and interest in everything.
In the evening together we all went to Seams. We were assigned to different groups of children and will be working with the same ones during our stay. Ricca’s idea of bringing a bag of colorful balls was a hit and the kids were really excited to play catch with us. Today was challenging and inspiring all in one.


“What is to give light must endure burning” –Victor Frankel

Sunday, July 20, 2008

This was orientation day for team 68. Stephen guided us through the orientation process with ease. We began at 10 am as seven individuals from various parts of North America. By the time we were finished, at 4:30, we had become a team with shared goals. Each of us brings our unique talents and we are committed to working enthusiastically with the children and adults in this community. Jim and Karen will be working at St. Joseph’s School. Jim with the kindergarteners and Karen with grades 1 through 9. Phyllis, Ricca and Deanne will be at Assisi Illam with Sister Rose and the babies. Kathy will be at St. Thomas Hospital and will teach English to the Novices. This is Kathy’s second stint as a volunteer in Porur. I am also returning and I’m happy to say that I’ll be back at Grace School teaching the primary grades, 1-5. We will all go to Seams children’s home at 5:30 each day
It is wonderful to be back in India. I missed the sights, sounds, and faces of Porur. Jim and I got up before 6 and took a long walk, dodging a few early-rising cows.
The biggest news is that our team leader Stephen and his lovely wife Sheeba gave birth Monday to a healthy, beautiful son. A few summers from now, I plan to teach him the words to “Five Little Monkeys”.
George Hayes

Today’s quote:
“A man kid, you’ll be kid, whatever the song.
Sing for yourself as you march along”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008 - Leslie Parsons

This morning I began teaching grade 4. We started with basic yoga and stretching then it turned into running on the spot, climbing... A whole whack of different physical activities to get them going. They loved it and it was hysterical to watch them all running on the spot, pretending to climb a mountain, reaching for the stars… we were all laughing. Then we played basic word games which they enjoyed as well. At the end of class, they all ran up to me asking for my autograph. A lot of the kids do this everyday and it cracks me up. They are just adorable.

In the afternoon after lunch a was with grade nine and we played 20 questions – boys against the girls. They loved it because it is competitive – I have them boys against girls and even the teacher gets in on it. We have fun playing it and had a lot of laughs today. It got very loud with the competition that other children were popping their heads in to se what all the commotion was about.

I feel a little sad this afternoon knowing that the two other volunteers, who are father and daughter –Aron and Sonali are leaving first thing tomorrow. I have had a wonderful time with them and enjoyed getting to know them, hearing their stories and sharing our experiences together. Next week I am on my own. I don’t mind this during the day, but at dinner and after dinner I am sure I will be lonely.

Thursday July 3, 2008 - Sonali Sastry

Quote: It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity

Preparing for the novices and kids tired me out last night but it has definitely paid off. As the week comes to an end, I find that my time in Chennai was too short. The day started out at Assisi Illam where a new group of kids were at the gate waiting to greet me. I was told that I would be teaching four kids math and English. It was a new experience and I was amazed at how much energy the kids had towards learning.

At lunch, Stephen, my dad and I went home and enjoyed, once again, an amazing lunch Rani had prepared. After lunch, I prepared even more for the novices. As usual, upon my arrival, the girls all were there waiting to greet me. As we started the lesson, I was so happy on how much they have learned in this extremely short week. We had a discussion on the differences between America and India and it has definitely helped me to realize how much I take for granted.

At Seam, as the balloons were introduced to the kids, they went crazy. And to add to it all, it started raining and we were all forced inside into the main hall. Unfortunately, one boy went around popping the innocent kids’ balloons which caused chaos, tears and laughter at the same time. Today, I spent more time with the older kids, which was a different experience and it was an enjoyable one. I am really going to miss the children at Seam and wish I could be there for just one more week.

Even though we were only here for one week, I feel like I have gotten to know the whole team very well. It was definitely a good experience and I’m hoping to come back to Chennai and volunteer some more.

Wednesday, June 2nd – Arun Sastry

We seem to be very well settled into a routine now. I get up at 07:30, get ready and then wake up the other girls. Rani has figured out how I like my coffee, so as soon as she sees my face in the morning, she gets me a cup, just the way I like it!

The day at Grace Elementary School was better than it was yesterday. I had taken some coloring material today, so the younger kids (and therefore I) were much happier. I used their textbooks today for guidance on what to teach, and that made the session much more useful for them as well. Looking at the kids, I was saddened to think of the fact that I’d have to leave these happy children and head home soon.

SEAM, as always, evokes a different set of emotions. It’s amazing how the kids work, play, cook and sleep within the compound, and how they all get along so well together. Today, the kids all welcomed us wearing the clothes that Leslie had donated yesterday. As always, I spent time with the oldest of the kids (Rajesh, Suresh, and Suganya), going over English grammar. Rajesh looked a little tired, but in spite of that, he showed his usual enthusiasm in the subject matter at hand. I guess these kids get up early, and do a lot of chores in addition to their school work, and in this stifling heat, it is amazing that they don’t collapse by the time we show up. It’s sad to see the kids at times, but on the other hand, I think that these kids are relatively more privileged (compared to other kids around here), since they not only have people like us to help wherever possible, but also they also have a good shelter, food, and place to play.

After SEAM, we went to Stephen’s home and met with his family. We were treated to the most delightful feast. Soon after dinner, we lost power (good timing!). It was hot, so we all went outside and we all joined the community block party. Just imagine – a huge chat session with several neighbors, all in darkness! That is what India is all about!!!

Tuesday July 1st, 2008 - Sonali Sastry

Quote: If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children

As I walked to the car feeling queasy, lightheaded and tired, my thoughts were that my body was failing me on the thought of volunteering again. However, a strange thing happened as I started working with the 1st group of kids at Assisi Illam. My problems were gone and I was excited to work with the young ones.

At lunch, I came and enjoyed a delicious meal which I relished. With a smile on my face, Stephen (Stephen’s brother) drove me to Bethlamite Sister where I was ready to teach the novices some English grammar. Being younger than the four girls is a bit hard for me, however I was hoping that they didn’t think I was 23 or 24. After what seemed like a long grammar lesson, the girls insisted on me staying for 5 minutes to enjoy a snack they themselves had prepared. Finally I decided to go with Stephen to pick up my dad at the Grace school.

While I was there, I encountered many eager and curious kids waiting to greet me while I laughed enjoying the sight. Afterwards, we rested and headed off to a store followed by Seam. At Seam, four bags of toys, clothes and other things for the kids were brought out and laid out in multiple lines. The expressions on the kids’ faces were priceless. The joy, happiness and laughter definitely made my day. I enjoyed talking to each kid, playing jump rope and seeing the older boy on the pink cell phone. So far, I have enjoyed volunteering and love all the people I am working with. I only wish I could stay longer but right now I’m just hoping I can do the most I can for the children and the novices.

Monday, June 30th - Leslie Parsons

Inspirational quote: Go with the flow.

This morning was my first day teaching at St.Joseph’s school. It was very challenging in the morning because I did not know what to expect and wasn’t quite prepared for what I was in for. I was unsure as to what to teach Grade 1 and UKG. Best to just sing with them, have them draw you pictures of different things like apples, sun and have them spell out each one. So by staying with games, stories and drawing and colouring it was much easier. They are so young so they just want to have fun and sing songs and play.

Grade 6 was totally different and much easier. We played my ‘favorite’ things where they had to write three sentences telling me of their favorite things and then point out the nouns from the sentence to the class. They were all excited and very engaged. I much prefer teaching the older children.
In the evening we went to SEAM and I thought I knew what to expect. they are full of love, eager to learn and give back. At least, they have each other which is important. It was the basic things that we take for granted that they do not have: pen, pencils, shoes, paper, notebooks, a table to eat on, beds to sleep in. They sleep on the concrete floor. Had I known that before I left, I would of brought more educational stuff for them and more necessities as opposed to so many toys. The older boys look after the young kids plus have the chores leaving less time for study. I want to really help them – provide them with an opportunity to have a chance at a career because they are so smart, responsible, driven and eager. In any event, I am looking forward to us bringing all the gifts to them: clothes, toys, games, shoes tomorrow.
The one big thing I thought about to day is, at least the children at St. Jopsh go home to love, at SEAM on the other hand, it is up to them and the volunteers to give and show love because that is all they have.

New Team Begins - IND0806A2

Sunday, 29 June - Arun Sastry

Quote: We must become the change we want to see in the world.

This was our first morning in Madras. We got together at 09:00 today for a wonderful breakfast of idlis, chutney and omelets, prepared by our cook, Rani. After the meal, Stephen conducted the orientation session, which was started off with each of us listing three goals that we wanted to achieve on this visit, and also what we thought were characteristics of a good team. Following this, Stephen went over some of the guidelines to follow during our sessions. Some of these were real eye-openers, e.g. meeting with the host before and after every session.

Following the orientation, we had another of Rani’s sumptuous meals, and took off in an air-conditioned Chevy to Mahabalipuram. Just outside Mahabalipuram, we stopped at Tiger Cave, a wonderful picnic spot close to the ocean. The main attraction there was a cave whose temple was surrounded by a crown of tiger heads.

In Mahabalipuram itself, we saw several kinds of rock carvings, including a huge bas-relief sculpture that is supposed to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Before we left Mahabalipuram, we stopped by at a crowded beach. It was interesting to see a large sea of humanity engaged in all kinds of endeavors, from frying fish to selling pony rides.

On our way back, we stopped by at IIT. It was nice to visit the campus and reminisce about the wonderful time I’d had there 25 years ago! We came home (wow, this place in Porur already feels like a home, after barely a day!)

We are all looking forward to what Monday brings.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Thursday, June 26

Today it has finally hit me that this trip is ending. I had a really great day with the novices. We read a biography on Gandhi. That they really seam to enjoy. Towards the end of our session, I picked up one of their bibles and began to read it and they insisted I take it with me. I have noticed throughout the past week that when I go to see them they are extremely tired and they told me today. We meet during their normal nap time. So I suggested we have nap time tomorrow. And they laughed.

After work Dalton and I went on a walk to spend every last rupee we had left, before leaving and later we met up with Stephen at Seams, where we watched King kong. For the last dinner in India. We went to a restaurant with the sisters from Dalton’s school. The most popular entree was fried rice. Dalton and I came back to the house to a black out. So we went upstairs and ate mangos under flashlight.

Wednesday, June 25

On Wednesday we got to attend Sheba’s baby shower! Well, they don’t call it a “baby shower.” Stephen said that the Tamil words used translate as, “putting on the bangles” (it makes sense, trust me). On the ride there we rode with two of the nuns from my school, and Stephen’s priest. The talk was mostly mangos. When we arrived, we were greeted by Stephen’s mother who was glowing for the occasion. In the first room of the house was an epic spread of fresh foods (and Stephen had said that this was going to be a small meal). We made small talk while the rest of the guests arrived, and Stephen put Lucy and me in charge of the camera. At one point Stephens father beckoned me outside. I had assumed that it was to take a picture of something, but he led me on to the neighbors’ roof, where a stage and rows of chairs had been set up. I didn’t expect this. The priest, the nuns, Lucy and I were all seated in the front row. Next some close members of Sheba’s family began lighting candles and oil lamps. Lucy was very excited when she was asked to join in. After a blessing from the priest, the putting on of the bangles began. From what I remember each female guest was asked to come up and place some makeup on Sheba’s face and hands, swish a bowl of holly water around Sheba, and then place two bangles on each wrist. Lucy was one of the first who was asked to do this. After the first row was finished we were taken back down to Stephens house and fed a fantastic dinner on banana leaves. No silverware was allowed because it would puncture the leaf. Sheba came down after dinner covered in bangles and with make-up globed on her face. Lucy and I wanted to say good night to Stephens infant nephew, and then it was back to the guest house after the most authentic night of our trip. We cannot thank Stephen and Sheba enough for asking us to participate in this special occasion.


Tuesday, June 24

Instead of my regular schedule, today I will be going to school with Dalton to see what his day consists of. The first class of the day was 2nd graders. They were fun and I enjoyed that class a lot. Next were the kindergarteners. They bit difficult, but it was ok, their teacher seemed very happy to get a break. As we were headed up to the third floor for the 7th grade class I found 2 puppies so I brought them to class. Half way through the class period I realized Stephen would not be pleased if I brought puppies back to the guest house so I went off to search for a safe place for them. And on my journey I found two more so I put them all together in a corner and gave them some cookies. Later that day I brought a biography of Mother Teresa for the novices to read which they really enjoyed. After work Dalton and I still had a few gifts we wanted to buy before we went home so we went back to the emporium and got back just in time to go to Seams, where today was haircut day. To end the day Sheeba and I went to the corner store to get some bangles and after dinner we even got ice cream!


Monday, June 23

Monday morning we wake up on the night train. The morning before, we had woken up in the jungle. We make a quick stop at the guest house to shower, eat, and pack for school. In my haste to pack, I forgot my flash cards. This left me a little strapped for material when I got to school. Furthermore today I had mostly younger kids. Any lull in the action and they might get distracted. And if I lose them, they’re always hard to get back. Things were bumpy. But I think that I had productive classes. It appears that some of the first grades have memorized the complete text of “Brown Bear.” The book is short and formulaic, but this is still impressive considering that some of the kids who’ve memorized it don’t speak hardly any English. Sixth grade was my best class of the day. 5th grade and up are easier because if I get in to a pinch, “Simon Says” is both what they all actually want to be doing, and a good time filler.
Today was also our first day back at Seams. There are only three of us now (Stephen, Lucy, and me). This makes teaching considerably more difficult. Even small groups (of either gender) quickly become too violent with each other for us to be very effective. My objective is to teach the alphabet to the only two boys and the school that don’t know them yet. This sounds simple enough. But this means that they have to learn the names and relative order of 26 unfamiliar symbols. Lucy is doing the same with the only girl in the children’s’ home who is still unfamiliar with the language. We‘re both progressing, but slower than we’d like.


Sunday, June 22

Our Sunday started off bright and early with an elephant safari. Probably the highlight of my trip so far, we rode through the jungle of an elephants back and came face to face with a couple peacocks. Then it was back to the resort for breakfast which was bread, toasted bread, and fried bread. After this meal and many other similar meals we all contemplate going on a diet. Next we went on a trek through the jungle. During our trek Dalton climbed to the top of the mountain where he met what he liked to call a “hermitted monk”. Then we made our way back to the resort where we had lunch and it seemed I was the only one sticking to our proposed diet. After that we headed into the city where we visited the palace, which was breathtaking. We finished just in time to miss the downpour of rain. Later we went to the food market where Dalton bought some of the tiniest bananas I have ever seen. We had some time to kill so we went for a early Dinner before heading back to the palace for the lighting. This was something I will never forget. The pictures we took don’t do it any justice. As our vacation came to an end we went back to the train station. I couldn’t wait to get home to finally eat a mango.


Saturday, June 21

The Night Train

After a drive to the train station that was terrifying only to the same degree that all drives are around Chennai, we boarded our sleeper car for the overnight ride in to the neighboring state. Lucy’s relief upon arriving at our seats was quite a thing to see. She had been dreading this weekend because it would involve this train ride. The train was roughly what I expected. There were three levels of bunk beds. With the middle folded down all three of the passengers assigned to that area could sit comfortably. If you were sitting on the bottom of our three bunks, on your left would be a window. There would be an identical set of three bunks facing you straight ahead. To your right is the walkway (which runs the length of the car). Beyond that is another set of bunks arranged perpendicular to the first two sets. The car was well lit and air conditioned. Once we got settled Lucy was having a blast. She moved into her top bunk even before the train stated moving. With the exception of a period of time in which a man was screaming about the coffee that he was peddling (6AM-ish), we all slept well. I was the first up. When Stephen got up I was watching the scenery fly by through our heavily tinted windows. He told me that there was a better view and showed me to the door through which we had boarded, which he promptly opened for me. It was a much better view. Shortly after Stephen opened the door I became acutely aware of my mortality and moved back toward our bunks.
The scenery was nice, but it was more rural and less jungle than I was expecting to see. I became privately disheartened when we detrained in a setting nearly as urban as the one that we had just left. I wondered why we had taken a 12 hour train ride from one urban venue to another. At breakfast Stephen explained that next came a 2 hour drive to the “resort.” This made me feel worse. I was certain that 2 hours would not be a sufficient amount of time to reach the kind of deep jungle I was hoping for; and a “resort” (as I understood it) could not exist where I was hoping to be. I should have known better. In a country with cows and monkeys are a staple in the cities, the jungle isn’t as far as a foolish American would think. And Stephen, it would turn out, was using the word “resort” in a fashion that I was less familiar with.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Friday, June 20

My final day in country – the novices wish me a series of well wishes and prayers for my journey and also ask me to send along copies of some photos. I am also presented with a lovely bit of fabric. All that, and we still managed to finish a lengthy lesson full of public speaking and writing!

In the afternoon at Grace School, the kids put the finishing touches on their autobiographies and we’re treated to a series of emotional good-byes. The principal presents us with a lovely thank-you letter.

At SEAM we have a half productive class session, followed by a touching talent show of sorts – lots of kids singing as a group and ending with several soloists. Finally we’re presented with cards, and bid farewell to each of the kids.

And then we head back to the house, to eat, write this journal entry and to frantically pack – and it’s not just me and JP - Lucy and Dalton are packing for an 11-hour train trip that will take them off to be trampled by elephants (or maybe just to go on safari).

But wait! The day’s not over yet! Stephen arrives with Ice Cream! There is much singing and rejoicing in response!

And thus ends the 2 week program.


Thursday, June 19

I woke up early again to make some worksheets for grades 1-3. Jenny is feeling sick and we make her sit at the end of the table to avoid getting infected. I ended up teaching only grade one and two this morning. After lunch the grade 4s made me read from their new English textbook so I obliged even though I had a worksheet planned. For grade five we worked through a worksheet on proper sentence structure and the use of a versus an. Everyone got the a versus an wrong except one student. They begged for a second chance and I happened to have duplicates, so I handed new copies out. This time everyone got most of the questions right, however no except one aside from the girl who got perfect the first time around, put their name on the paper! They then begged for a third chance. What nerve.

After a break we head to SEAMs where we continue doing APs and GPs. Rajesh and the girls seem to understand the material but I am not sure about Suresh.

We head to dinner afterwards in a fancy air conditioned car. I seemed to get the front seat all the time for having sponsored the vehicle. It was a nice ride. Dinner was at the Green Park hotel restaurant called Tulip which featured South Indian cuisine. It offered a spicy selection and many desserts including Gulab jaman. We have a pleasant conversation and we witnessed Stephen tell Lucy and Dalton that their weekend in the jungle (where elephants and giant bugs could attack) is at their own risk.

We headed back and yet another power failure ensued. Jenny and I fill out our questionnaire by flashlight.

“…A full understanding of the elephant (or India) comes with the perception of the whole beast as the unity of its disparate elements.” (From the Elephant Story, Culture Shock, Page 2).


Wednesday, June 18

We all woke up this morning still full from dinner at Stephen’s parents house, and headed off to work. At the daycare three of the toddlers were sick and had to go to the doctor so I was quite lonely during nap time. Although the sisters taught me how to cut a jackfruit during nap time and we ate most of it. I coincidentally came home to a jackfruit party, but decided to be a party pooper, I had enough jackfruit for one day. Later we all packed in to the van like sardines and took an unforgettable ride to the mall where I was very excited to learn that there would be a subway there. Unfortunately it was not very similar to the subway I was use to and it left me with a yearning for more American food.


Tuesday, June 17

Tuesday – We follow the normal routine of breakfast, class, lunch, class, break, SEAM… but mixing it up this evening we attend a full-out *feast* hosted by Stephen’s parents. We are treated to a brief tour of the house and given the opportunity to peruse the wedding albums of the brothers before getting to the business of the evening – the food! When the first enormous platter is carried out I imagine that it’s meant for sharing – but no – these giant plates are, in fact, our individual servings! And not only that, but we’re then offered seconds, and thirds and more beyond that! Not to mention the pudding! We leave the house awed by the generosity and cooking skills of our hosts (as well as utterly and completely stuffed)!


Monday, June 16

Monday was our first day back on the job after our weekend trips to the south. And I got to the second graders room, I was surprised to see the 5th grade teacher leading the class. I suppose she had been reassigned. I was a bit in awe of the level of order she had been able to achieve with these students. I was able to teach the entire period with little interruption caused by any group of students. They were all exuberant and playful during the songs, but quieted quickly when it was time to move on.

After dinner we had an episode of show and tell, where we took turns displaying our treasures from the weekend getaway.


Sunday, June 15

It is day eight as I wake up in Pondicherry or is it Puducherry. It is funny how the government here changes the names of its cities at will. Jen and I have breakfast on an elevated platform in the centre of the court yard of our French Colonial hotel. The breakfast is five courses long and our miscommunication with the non English speaking waiter results in Dosa instead of eggs. We get a knock on the door and it is time to leave. I am not sure I want to leave Pondicherry.

We head to a weird Utopia place called Auroville. This is a international community like project started sometime in the sixties where people donated their land to live and work in this community. They make us watch a five minute introductory video before granting us access to the property. Dalton seems eager to join.

After this we head to Mamallapurham where we view several stone carvings. The heat is blistering and none of us are feeling well. We get to practice our negotiating skills as Dalton purchases a Budda Head and I purchase a marble elephant.

We drive back to the guesthouse. The power is out when we return so I shower by candlelight. We head up for dinner. I do not mind it being vegetarian today as we ate all the meat we could on the weekend.

“The buildings in the USA are standing up while the buildings in India are sleeping.”


Saturday, June 14

This morning we all woke up early to start our weekend getaway. Our first stop of the day was Kanchipuram , which is one of the seven holy Hindu cities of India. There we saw all the different kinds of temples and also got to ride elephants! I was surprised to discover elephants have hair that is very sharp. Our next destination was Ponducherry. As soon as wee arrived we went to lunch in a beautiful roof top restaurant with a roof made out of palm leaves and bamboo sticks. Then we all checked into out hotels. Dalton and I had some time to kill so we went on a walk through the shopping district, where I bought what I like to call my “old lady ring”. We all met up later and went on a walk on the boardwalk. Then we ended our day with dinnr at a beach front hotel, where we stuffed ourselves with all the buffet desserts we could get our hands on!

Quote “Vacation all I ever wanted, Vacation have to get away.”

Friday, June 13

Friday: The end of our first week of teaching.

The novices are excited to share stories of the Feast of St. Anthony, which works its way into naming favourite saints, which in turn morphs into a discussion of rudeness, politeness and finally spelling and culture – why don’t Americans use the letter “u” in words where the rest of the English-speaking world do (colour, favour, etc), and why do Indians love the present continuous with such passion?

Perhaps because of that earlier discussion I found myself thinking about some of the failings of the English language during our “play time” at SEAM in the evening. The children call us “brother” and “sister”, and it would follow that there should be some term for the relationship in the other direction, and yet their isn’t – or at least none that would be natural. And isn’t that strange, given that so many of English’s closely related tongues *do* have such words - “petit(e)” (“little”, used as a name) in French, or “boetie” (“little brother”) in Afrikaans. Of course Victorian (and earlier) literature is full of people saying “Oh, little one”, so perhaps it’s a relationship that’s simply evolved out of being and the acceptability of the term has gone with it. Something to ponder in any case!


Friday, June 13, 2008

Thursday, June 12

My Third and Fourth Day of School

Wednesday is the first day at school that I’d say went “well.” For the first time, I never scrambled for extra materials, I was on time to every class, and most of the students understood me most of the time. I’ve also started using the head-slither during my lessons. I still don’t like the idea behind it (the indecisive “i-don’t-know-I’ll-try”) but I don’t think that I can break them of it. It’s very difficult to understand who understands what. I will ask, “Do you understand?” And all I’ll ever get back is a head slither. This can be either a modest “yes” or a “no-not-really-but I’ll try.” This modesty/lack of confidence comes across in other ways too. One of the students asked me, “what sports are you good at.” Later I asked the class “who is good at cricket?” (or a number of other sports) and no one would confess to being good at anything. Now that I’m on to the upper level classes, communication is less hampered by general rowdiness. And that’s nice. I still have the kindergartners every day, and they’re a handful. Wednesday was mostly coloring and today was mostly singing and this made things easier. The teacher chose these activities. I think she did so because she could tell I was somewhat overwhelmed. I’ve noticed that, thought the younger kids are extremely shy about speaking individually; they make up for it in there singing. The singing is very animated and very VERY loud. Dalton

Tuesday, June 10

Topic: The Head Slither

For my first day of school Stephen’s brother drove me to the head office behind the church. There I met the parish priest and the head nun (school principle). This is where I was first introduced to what I’m going to call “the head slither.” At various points during the conversation the nun’s head would begin to bob from side to side. I’m going to try to describe this motion.
It’s not a simple back and forth motion like shaking your head “no.” Think about the motion of a snake’s body. Now imagine if you could do that motion with just your head. Or alternatively, try to draw a figure 8 with your nose, while tilting you head left and right as you go. That’s the best I can do to describe it.
At first I thought that that this was a nervous twitch. But later I saw some of the other nun’s doing it when talking to a student . So my next theory was that this was some kind of comforting nun motion. I’ve never had much contact with nuns, so I thought that it was possible that I just never noticed it (or maybe it was an Indian nun thing). It is very soothing to watch. It’s hypnotic like watching a slithering snake or a taffy puller.
However, later that day, after making some notes on the board, I turned to that class and said, “Understand?” while cocking my head to the right. When I did this the head of every student in the room began to slither. Not only that, but all of the slithering was in phase. I got a little dizzy both the motion and from general surprise. I didn’t think about it at the moment but later I remembered being told that in some countries people shake their left and right to mean “yes” when Americans do this to mean “no.” It’s one of those things that they tell you when you’re young to make you realize that many of our behaviors are just arbitrary cultural norms. The more I thought about it, the more that this seemed right. Though, after talking about this with Stephen and a few of the nuns I don’t think that that’s quite right. It seems that Indians use the simple head-nod and head-shake the same way that we do. This pervasive head slither is something else. It is now my understanding that this head slither is a physical incarnation of the spirit of the Indian people. It means something like, “OK - I don’t know – maybe – I can try.” It is used when an Indian cannot quite summon the self confidence for a “yes” or “no.” This head motion is used much more frequently then both the simple nod and shake combined. It seems to me that the teachers use them more liberally than English speakers might use a head-nod, but that might just be because I’m more acutely aware of when they use the head slither. Further study is needed.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Monday, June 9

Day 2 as a team, Day 1 as teachers

5:45am – birds sing, hounds bark, people shout, horns honk…

8:00am – food and chat, planning for the day and planning for drop-offs, followed by drop-offs, followed by the driving and waiting before finally arriving at…

10:00 – The morning placement, assignment number 1. For me, chatting with the novices in a great hall with a stage flanked on the one side by a courtyard with a dozen brightly-coloured, caged birds and on the other by a treed and shaded square with a well. The novices are shy at first, but warm up once given some guidelines along which they can speak.

12:30 and beyond: back to the house for lunch and de-briefing, followed by assignment #2 in a small school. And that is followed by walking back to the house and watching the movements of the neighbourhood as we do.

Evening: back to the children’s home, no group performances this time, instead they are split into groups according to age. My group is off in a separate space working and playing with the laptop. After an hour with those children we return to eat and chat and decompress and pass out for the night.

Sunday, June 8

Today is our first day as a team. After breakfast we stated orientation and assigned ourselves to different worksites.
I’ve been freaking out a little bit about getting my lesson plans together. I’ve got 4 levels to teach tomorrow: KG, 1st, 2nd, and 6th. I think that 6th will be the hardest, but I really have no idea.
Just before dinner wee went to a local orphamage that we will be visiting daily from now on. The kids were extremely enthusiastic about our visit. Though the English lessons that we will be giving will be important, I think that just having positive adult role models around will be even more important, especially for the women.
We had dinner out tonight at a local hotel restaurant on one of the main drags. It was fantastic. We came back to the guest house afterwards to go to bed. There seem to be more cows out at night.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Friday June 6

Like Sarah, I am having trouble finding the right words to describe the three weeks I have been here. My parents have me an empty journal to write in before I left, and I haven’t been able to write in it at all since I left Germany on May 16th. After I leave Chennai I am on my way to Paris, and I have no doubt that I will find something to write about while I’m there. I think India is just the kind of place that you have to experience. When people tell you that it’s hot, there are going to be a lot more people, that this is the journey of a lifetime, it sounds like something you might take with a grain of salt. The food, smells, sounds and sights may have been some things that I would have expected, but I never thought I would meet so many amazing people here. Everyone was so vibrant and intelligent and seemed genuinely excited to have us here, even though many volunteers have been here before.

I know that Keith will be shocked to hear that Sarah and I did not cry when we left Assisi Illam this afternoon. I am a little surprised myself, but no doubt if we had stayed another two minutes we would have. I think we didn’t cry because we both knew it really wasn’t goodbye, since how could anyone come here and be with these kids and not come back? Every single one of them will be in my heart forever. Sarah and I have fallen asleep countless nights wondering aloud what each child will grow up to be, and re-living every adorable moment we spent with them.

Obviously none of these incredibly memorable experiences would ever have happened without Global Volunteers, the staff at Assisi Illam and Seam’s Children’s Home, Keith, Sarah, Sheeba and of course Stephen. I wish I could give them all what they have given me, but all I can do is say thank you. I doubt I will ever look at life the same again. This place has opened my eyes and there is no way they will ever close.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Thursday June 5

This being my final journal entry, I am finding it near impossible to write. It is incredibly difficult to find the right words to describe my past three weeks in Chennai. As cliché as it may sound, it is indescribable. When I landed at the airport on May 16th, I had no idea what to expect. I have traveled before, but never past Europe. Also, as odd as it may sound, I didn’t really look up any photos of India or Chennai before I decided to come here or after I had made my decision. So when I say that I had no idea, I mean NO idea! When I walked out the arrivals gate at the airport, I found a mob of people waiting for loved ones and was absolutely terrified. I tried to hide it, but the drive from the airport to the guest house made me even more nervous. While making conversation, I was thinking, “What are you doing here Sarah? You can’t handle this!” But now, as my journey is coming to an end and I find myself headed for the departure gates, I know that I was wrong. I did handle this. And having had this experience I feel that I can go into most situations with much more confidence than I otherwise would have. My experience here has left me feeling empowered. And for that I am truly grateful to Global Volunteers.

Another thing that I have learned from this trip is how easy it is to fall in love with children. The children here are incredible and I will forever remember each of them. I will never forget Radhika’s smile, Isaac’s laugh or the way that John says “Ma”. I will never forget their little outstretched arms. Saying my goodbyes to these kids has been beyond difficult.

I have also gained a new understanding of the diversity of the human experience. Studying political science at McGill University in Montreal Quebec, I spend much of my time learning about people, issues and events around the world. However, my three weeks here in Chennai have taught me more about the world than two years of post secondary education. (No offense to McGill. It is impossible to learn from a book the things that I have learned from being here). There is another very important lesson that goes along with my newfound understanding of diversity. This is also something that could not possibly be learned from reading a book or looking at a picture. I have found that, despite our differences, people are basically the same. I see my own family and friends in the people that I have met here. The opportunity to meet these people is a priceless one. It is important to respect diversity but also to remember that people are people. Toronto Canada or Chennai India, people are people.

I would again like to thank Global Volunteers for giving me the opportunity to learn these lessons about the world and about myself. And especially to Stephen and Sheeba for making this trip what it has been. And Chantal, with whom I have found what I hope will be a lasting friendship. I will truly miss this place.