Monday May 26. Assisi Illum
I can’t speak for the others, but I know that I missed the children over the weekend. We were only gone to Pondicherry for two days, but I was so happy to see them again this morning. Today, the big hit was stickers! They loved all the stickers, but especially the ones with soccer balls, footballs and basketballs. I brought along a soccer ball early last week and left it for the children. It is obvious that this new toy is getting a lot of use! I’m glad that they are enjoying it. We will bring back more stickers tomorrow, as even the older girls requested them! Today I also mastered picking up two of the little kids at once. They love to be bounced around together in my arms. It is an incredibly easy form of entertainment, but it gets some of the best reactions. Their high pitched little laughs are absolutely priceless. Tomorrow we will have to also work some more with the flash cards. The children are very good with some English words and are getting better with a few new ones. However, it is often difficult to teach them the words that go with objects that they have never seen before. I do my best to explain what each is like or what an object’s purpose is. Some children also confuse the letter ‘G’ and ‘K’, ‘I’ and ‘L’ or ‘S’ and ‘C’. I am doing my best to help them with this! Sarah
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Sunday May 25
Today was our last day in Pondicherry, and we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Lotus hotel before we took off. We drove for about an hour and a haft before arriving at Mamallapuram, where the ancient stone carvings are. I don’t think any of us were expecting them to be so huge! They were several stories high and impossibly long, and most of them carved out of a single rock. Sarah and I share a delight for elephants, and were happy to see that they were very prominent in the carvings.
After walking around taking pictures for a while, we went over to a sea-side restaurant for lunch and a walk on the beach. It felt so nice to dip our feet in the water! The rest of the day was spent traveling to various temples in the area and taking a look. They were awe-inspiring. All were too high to see the top, and beautifully ornate. Sarah and I were treated once again by more amazing elephants! She was adventurous enough to climb up one for a picture, while I was content with handing the other coins for a blessing.
The weekend was a total success for me, and I’m sure the others would agree. This volunteer vacation is turning out to be so much more than I expected.
Saturday May 24
While in Pondicherry, we took a short ride out of town to Auroville, the sectarian commune started by the former Indian Freedom Fighter Aurobindo. It is a pretty and serene setting, the highlight being Matri mandir, a huge gold golf ball-looking sphere in which the 2000 odd devotees of the commune practice their meditation. As visitors used to overcrowd the ball, the entrance rules have changed, and thus we were only able to view it from afar.
After Auroville, and after lunch @ Pizza Hut, we split off and I went to the Promenade for a couple of frozen cocktails, a hotel on the beach strip which appears to be the safest, cleanest and most western of all places in Pondicherry. Afterwards, the girls went to go find an elephant, and I stayed in the room to watch the Chennai Super Kings play the Rajasthan Royals in India Premier League cricket action. I guess it is due to the when in Rome theory, b/c I have found myself watching, understanding and paying attention to this otherwise seemingly boring to tears game. For dinner, still solo, I went to the roof deck of the Promenade, which had a lovely view of the now crowded beach strip and tasty food to match.
Friday May 23
Today was Sylvia’s 4th birthday, so the children had already had some cake by the time we arrived in the morning. Because of this they were super hyper and it was some time before we were able to settle them down to work on some math or English. I worked with one of the older children and was very impressed by her subtraction skills. Some other nuns were visiting Assisi Illam today because they all need to decide to which homes they would like to transfer. They were all very friendly and sat with us for lunch. A priest also stopped by to wish Sylvia a happy birthday. Tonight we drove to Pondicherry, which used to be a French settlement. Stephen told us that the French left peacefully in 1954. But it will be interesting to see the differences between the French and Indian sides of the city.
Thursday May 22
As today was our fourth day with the children at Assisi Illam, there is a wonderful sense of family with everyone there. They all call us Auntie or Uncle, and in turn we know most of their names.
Today was special for me personally, because John played with me a little and let me hold him. He is very serious and shy, so it was a big deal for me. Jasmine is becoming more and more outgoing as well, which is nice because the first day all she would do is cry when we went near her.
The people here are so friendly and curious, we get them coming up to us to say hi everywhere we go. Someone is always willing to stop and chat, especially to ask us where we are from. Tomorrow is Sylvia’s fourth birthday, and Sarah and I are both looking forward to seeing what the nuns have planned. We also said that we would choreograph a dance to teach the kids, so we’re going to get on that!
Wednesday May 21
I don’t know if I can fully explain the smile and laughter that emanates from my face when I walk into St Josephs and 25 little kids run up to me to say good morning while saluting me with their right hands pressed to their foreheads. As hot as it is, and apparently we are here in the depths of their hot season, and despite the consistent, albeit brief blackouts, it is clearly a meaningful endeavor we are engaged in.
As neither a teacher nor a parent, I am kind of feeling my way through this, as I basically have anywhere from 5-40 kids in my face at all times, though I have been trying to keep it on the smaller side, which I think will allow better interaction. I have been teaching the older kids (8-12) how to use the computer, simple functions like emailing and painting. I haven’t come across anyone with any natural artistic talent yet, but one girl seemed to show some promise on the chalkboard, so tomorrow we will see what she can do on the computer. I have also been playing a geography game with them when they are not using the computer, and also have been teaching the younger ones the ABCs and 123s.
“100 years from now, it will not matter how much money you had in the bank or how big your house was, but whether you made a difference in a child’s life”.
Tuesday May 20
Today was or second day at Assisi Illam with the children. We didn’t bring balloons today so the children were not quite as hyper as yesterday. We had planned to do bubbles, but didn’t get around to it because the foam alphabet pads were so popular! That was a good activity because both the youngest and the oldest children enjoyed it. It is amazing to see how the simplest things bring so much joy for these children. Seeing their little smiles makes the long plane ride and the 40+ degree heat entirely worth it. It is nice that I am getting to know the personalities of some of the children. Little John is very serious, so I am extra happy when I can get him to smile or laugh. Sophie is the most outgoing of the youngest children, whereas George can be quite shy. I know I will be incredibly sad to leave all of them and be left to wonder how they will grow up. I will have to be sure to enjoy these few weeks with them as much as I can.
“Be the change that you want to see in the world” – Gandhi
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Monday, May 19
Our first day with the children was pretty overwhelming, in a good way. They are so energetic and excited about everything, you can’t help but be overcome by it. They are obviously intelligent, doing math and identifying colors and numbers in English with ease. Even when they struggle with some English, some things are beyond words, such as their beautiful smiles and eagerness.
Sarah and I started the first day off with a band, deciding to bring out the balloons right away. The kids blew us away with their energy! They seemed to never tire of running around ecstatically, tossing the balloons in the air and passing them to one another. We then moved to a more low key activity, drawing with the crayons Sarah so ingeniously brought.
By the end of the day, everyone was pretty tired. But the smiles never left their faces or ours, and overall the first main experience in India was a total success.
Sunday, May 18
There are only 3 of us on this Program, so for sure we will be getting lots of hands-on experience and training. From my ride to the guesthouse from the airport to just walking around the neighborhood, Chennai is going to be a pretty full-on experience.
Since Sara and Chantal are both of like age and from Canada, they will be going to one school together, and I will be going to the other by myself, though Stephen will be there as well to help assimilate me. I hope I don’t get too overwhelmed.
The girls are very enthused about the experience, and certainly based upon their youth, this will be a tremendous learning and possibly eye-opening experience for them, and I expect to get a lot out of the trip as well. Hopefully we will get around Chennai as much as possible as well as the surrounding areas so that we can truly experience what India has to offer.