Monday, February 23, 2009

Millinium Development Goals

Achieved by this team from February 9 - 13;

60 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 5 volunteers and 60 Hours of preparation time.

50 Hours of childcare by 2 volunteers

50 Hours of construction labor at SEAM Children's Home by 2 volunteers

2 Schools, 2 Children's Home and over 500 students impacted

Saturday, 2/7/09 (Ginny Weber)

“The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed”.- J. Krishnamurti

It’s Saturday but we’re off to our first work day of the third week. Georgie and Linda M. are taking the overnight train to Mysore so we changed our schedule a bit and we’ll have our weekend holiday on Sunday and Monday.

Linda M. and Georgie worked construction today at SEAMS. The dormitory is coming along beautifully and we hope to have it completed on time. Georgie learned some Tamil words from the mason.

Linda W. continued her math teaching at Grace School, determined to get a few math equations in to their sleepy heads. Children here go to school on Saturdays and are a little tired of the whole thing by then.

And Ann and I went back to Assisi to work with the children. Those kids are non-stop and it takes every ounce of energy to keep up with them. They are adorable and Ann and I love being with them. We thought we might escape Sister Rose pushing food on us at lunch time as we were planning going back to the guest house for lunch – but as we left Assisi she insisted that we take 3 boxes of food to share. She makes me laugh and is truly a delight.

After lunch we prepped for our next classes. During our break I walked down to the bangle shop. While there I chatted with the cutest girls coming from St. John’s High School. Kids go to school on Saturday and they all must wear uniforms (not a bad idea for the U.S.). They spoke beautiful English and were lively and vivacious like typical teenage girls. In the afternoon we all went to SEAMS for our one on one teaching with special kids. We ended the day at SEAMS with a wild and rollicking play time with all the kids.

After dinner (another wonderful vegetarian meal prepared by Rani) Georgie and Linda M. headed to the train station for their weekend adventure in Mysore.

Tuesday, 2/10/09 (Georgie)

The journey is difficult, immense…We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know. –Loren Eiseley

While we have all traveled a long distance to help the community of Chennai, many, if not each of us, also came here to test and learn about ourselves. Our time in India is coming to an end where we no longer count the days we have been here, but instead, we acknowledge the remaining days of this journey. Now that today is behind us, we have three glorious days left.

Now that we are fully immersed in week 3, our routine is on autopilot where we make only slight adjustments based on the specific needs of those we are helping. Gone is the need to figure out how to adapt to the culture. Linda W. is getting closer to preparing here SEAM students for their upcoming math exam while her Grace School kids fully understand her routine of how each day’s lesson will progress. Linda M. graduated to both lifting cement to the rooftop to also handing it down from the rooftop giving her upper body and lower back quite the workout. Ginny helped Sister Caroline type her first letter on a computer. Ann is able to balance more and more children on her lap while at the same time teaching them their colors, shapes, and how to use a glue stick. I am getting the hang of teaching multiple kids at once how to use a computer even though they don’t fully comprehend English. Linda M. and I finally wore our saris to St. Joseph’s – the novices were so excited.

We ended our evening with a team dinner on the rooftop of our guesthouse. A near full moon peaked over the trees while candles lit our table. The cool breeze seemed to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay. What a great way to spend one of the last few days here with an amazing group of people. Their support and generosity is something I won’t forget.

Wednesday, 2/11/09 (Linda M.)

Only two days left on our journey. I think we are all trying to find a way to say good-bye to the children we have become attached to.

Ginny spent the day teaching Sister Caroline the computer, and Ann spent her time with the children of Assisi crawling all over her.

Linda W’s boys at SEAM are away until 8 pm studying for their exam so she spent her evening helping the girls prepare.

Georgie and I worked construction at SEAM were the work is progressing smoothly. The building is almost totally cemented over.

Linda W. bought samosas for all the children at SEAM as a treat for our evening visit. They enjoyed them immensely…so did we!

Thursday, 2/12/09 (Ginny Weber)

“The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall …. Freedom and slavery are mental states” Mohandas Gandhi

The yoga team (Linda M., Georgie, and Linda W.) started their day on the roof with a downward dog. The sleeping team (Ann and Ginny) did their best to get out of bed. After a nutritious breakfast we went off to our assignments: Georgie and Linda M. back to construction at SEAMS, Linda W. back to teaching math at Grace School, and Ginny and Ann to Assisi to take care of the little ones and teach Sr. Caroline some computer skills.

At noon we all gathered at St. Thomas Hospital to meet Sr. Rexline. Sr. Rexline is one of these incredible human beings who have moved mountains. From a one room clinic she created a large well known hospital, an orthopedic wing, a nursing school, and a convent.
Sr. Rexline is tiny and soft spoken, but when in her presence you feel her intelligence, strength, and determination. She is quite a woman and we were all in awe. She and her nuns fixed us lunch and showered us with gifts – the Indian way of having guests.

In the afternoon we continued with our assignments then all went to SEAMS for our one-on-one training with selected kids. At the end of that the kids gave a rousing and tearful send off to Linda M.

We drove to the Ambica Hotel for a fantastic dinner (I had ice cream of course) then home to the guest house for the next day prep and bed. Another exhausting but fulfilling day.

Friday, 2/13/09 (Ann Cheng)

“Love is something eternal.” Vincent Van Gogh
Today was the last day of our program. Every one seemed sad to leave though looking forward to our journey back home.

We had our lunch at Assisi with Sister Rose. It was enjoyable as usual. We ended our lunch with the babies handing each one of us a gorgeous blanket as a present and the cutest kiss goodbye ever.

The hardest part of the day was saying goodbye to the kids at Seam. They gave each one of us a hand-made thank you card with their names written inside. We were all amazed by their beautiful dances. I am sure their images will stay in our hearts every single day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Millinium Development Goals

Achieved by this team from February 2 - 6;

82 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 6 volunteers and 82 Hours of preparation time.

20 Hours of childcare by 2 volunteers

50 Hours of construction labor at SEAM Children's Home by 2 volunteers

2 Schools, 2 Children's Home and over 500 students impacted

Monday, 2/2/09 (Ann Cheng)

“Your only duty is to do the best you can.” David Seabury

Today is our first day of the second week. Ginny and I were switched to the construction work while Georgie and Linda were going to Assisi. Linda and Katie were continuing the teaching in St. Joseph School and Grace School.

Today was a hard day for Katie because the teacher in kindergarten was sick, so she had to take over the whole class on her own. Linda had a very fun experience with those little kids in Grace School. To prevent them from copying the math problem, she had two types of sheets. After they found out there were differences between the sheets, they tried to switch it but unsuccessfully. Linda and Georgie had a very good time with those babies in Assisi and they went to St. Joseph school to teach English to the nuns in the afternoon. Ginny and I were falling in love with the construction. With Ginny’s help, they built up two sides of the wall. And I finally mastered the head-loading thing. This simply made the day to be my greatest day ever.

We all went to Seam at 5 p.m. and enjoyed our time with the children there while teaching them English and computer skills. After we came home from Seam, we had our own cooking class taught by Sheeba. We learned how to make Puri, and I bet that is the best Puri we ever had.

Tuesday, 2/3/09 (Linda W.)

“Prayer in action is love. Love in action is service. Mother Teresa”

By Tuesday our “tourist” frame of mind of the weekend had very much been replaced by our “worker” frame of mind. We are back in the thick of teaching, head loading and sand sifting.

The day had great moments. It started off with Sheeba decorating our hair with jasmine and our foreheads with bindis. Thus adorned we set off for work in the little white van. Linda M. and Georgie brought silence to the children of Assissi by introducing them to glue sticks and construction paper. Each child had a sheet of paper. To this paper she could attach a variety of shapes … circle, rectangle, square, triangle, heart. The child had to request by shape and color; so she was learning on many levels. Katie had good responses from her computer students. And today’s construction work was similar to Monday’s. Linda W.’s joy of the day was Pradesh, a first grader. During the past week when asked what 1 + 2 was, he would happily say 5. He would just as happily say that 2 + 3 = 1. Today he got everyone of his written problems correct. The secret … the number line!!!!!

We finished our day with a super dinner at Grand Residence where Ginny had strawberry ice cream for medicinal purposes. Over dinner Ann informed us that the men do wear shorts under their skirts. And Stephen shared lots of anecdotes about Indian culture and life.

So another day of service-learning ends!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 (Georgie Kovacs)

“There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, whithers rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”-Josiah Gilbert Holland

This quote accurately and effectively depicts our world. I believe this is why we are calmly able to handle each day of volunteering. Today started off with a few changes as Ginny’s cold was too much to handle construction. While she rested and took medicine, Ann continued off to the construction site with Linda M. in tow. They were greeted by arguing construction workers which Stephan, our calm, even-toned leader dealt with.

The remainder of us went on with our usual schedule. Linda W. headed off to Grace School and had a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of day with the kids. It is both her patience and persistence that we admire as she handles the ups and downs.

I had a quiet ride to Assisi where I helped Sister Rose and Sister Caroline on the computer. Since they know little English and virtually never interacted with a computer, I had to use extreme patience to make sure they got the most out of it. They are wonderful to work with as they see the outcome of the learning process and show great appreciation for my assistance. Just as my one-on-one lesson with Sister Carolin came to an end, she had to rush downstairs because one of the little boy’s finger was slammed into the gate resulting in a visit to the hospital for stitches and a splint.

Katie’s voice is coming back thanks to the many cups of ginger tea made by Sheeba and Rani. Thus, she is better able to speak over the 50 kids in her morning classes. I am sure that her new salwar kamis helps her feel refreshed, too!

Linda M. and I are doing well with the novices at St. Joseph’s. They bought us a small package of bindi. Given that they are given 300 Rs (~6 USD) per month as “play money,” this was quite the generous gesture.
The highlight of the day was having dinner with Stephen’s family. We were each handed a large plate of briyani rice, chicken, fish, potatoes, veggies, two kinds of Indian bread, and for dessert – bananas. Ann was the only one who was able to fit a second helping of rice into her tummy – and she is the smallest one of us all!

Stephen’s family is wonderful. His parents are kind, always smiling, and love their grandchildren. They spoke enough English that we were able to communicate with ease. I know I can speak for us all when I say how much we appreciated their generosity and delicious cooking!

Thursday, 2/05/09 (Katie Ohotto)

“Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in actions; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny.” –Tryon Edwards

By day thirteen all was down to habit starting with 7:30am yoga on the rooftop. “Take five breathing” was now a familiar resting posture although our teacher threw us off with a wheel pose at the end of class. Breakfast and morning assignments were habit as well with the exception of the newborn kitten that Ann took from a child at the SEAMS’s construction site. Animalitarian efforts were aborted when the kitten couldn’t take milk on her own and had to bee returned to SEAMS by Barnabus. Lunch was habit with the exception of the cake and cookies from Kumar’s Sweet Shop that Stephen brought home for a surprise. Even the work assignment van reports were becoming a bit habit. In Linda’s words, “There were some good things that happened today.” Perhaps after two weeks we were becoming a bit accustomed to the culture? Or perhaps not as Katie was shocked to receive the kind letters of gratitude from the computer students at Grace School since during the education process they didn’t appear interested in maintaining the positive and calm disposition of the teacher. In the end, they were truly sweethearts. In the same fashion, the SEAMS children said goodbye to Katie, and they were truly sweethearts too.

Stephen treated the whole team to a last full team supper at the Green Park Hotel’s Tulip Restaurant. The buffet was the best yet- it was a very special treat. Katie’s the first to depart and wishes everyone a safe and pleasant final journey.

Friday Feb 6th ( Linda McCamic)

The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well!

It’s Friday and the end of our second full week volunteering.
Katie left today for her next adventure in India, 2 weeks in Goa at a yoga retreat. She seemed excited to be going and we will miss her but I am sure her students will miss her more.

Ginny and Ann were back at SEAMS on the construction crew where work is progressing nicely. They were quite happy to find out that the kitten they found the day before is still alive and well.

Linda W. is slowly taking a few steps forward at Grace School.
Georgie made some progress teaching Sr. Caroline the computer and I made progress with Vinayagam at SEAMS to read English. He read a 4 page book by himself today and was as proud as could be but no as proud as I was of him.

So all and all even though it sometimes is frustrating because it seems that progress is slow in coming, it is coming! We are beginning to see the fruits of our labor if it is in the completion of a wall, the understanding of a math equation, the recognition of a word or just a smile on a child’s face at the end of the day we have accomplished something and made our time here worthwhile!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Millinium Development Goals

Achieved by this team from January 26 -30;

84 Hours of class room instruction in conversational English and computer skills by 6 volunteers and 84 Hours of preparation time.

56 Hours of childcare by 2 volunteers

28 Hours of construction labor at SEAM Children's Home by 2 volunteers

2 Schools, 2 Children's Home and over 500 students impacted

Sunday, 1/25/09 (Katie Ohotto)

“Courage is the capacity to confront what can be imagined.” -Leo Rosten

Our team, the 76th to Chennai, India, officially united this Sunday morning for a 9am breakfast of flat eggs with onions and white puffs with a mystery green coconut sauce all prepared by our house cook, Rani. Tea and coffee complimented the meal. The team consisted of six women:
• Ginny, an admirable woman who paved the way for the rest of us women as a retired Vice President of Xerox now residing in San Francisco
• Georgie, an inquisitive and talkative woman from NYC in an interesting transient period in her life
• Ann, a brave and independent Taiwanese woman who waited two years to turn eighteen before being accepted into this India program
• Linda and Linda, two women, the last to arrive to the Global Volunteer house, who arrived from other parts of India with great insights to share with the rest
• Katie, a frequent Global Volunteer with an eagerness to experience India

From there our team leader, Stephen, began orientation with introductions to include his wife, Sheeba, and his six-month old son, Roshan. The anticipation grew as the projects were described and assigned. I was quite suprised when four of the six women raised their hands for the dirty, hot, buggy, and heavy construction work, but this was perhaps just an indication of their admirable strength and independence. Linda and I took primary post in schools, and all Global Volunteers were to assist at SEAM in the early evenings. I omit the program details for now as following journal entries will supplement this initial text. Our team collaborated to create five team goals:
1. to experience Indian culture
2. to build community
3. to help children
4. to understand how Indian spirituality impacts daily life
5. to have a fun adventure

To coincide with these goals, the team compiled a list of effective team characteristics. Next, we reviewed the Global Volunteers’ policies, guidelines, and the philosophies of service. The session ended with Nandri (among other Tamil words taught to us by Stephen) - yes, that is also Nandri to Stephen and his team for hosting such a remarkable program.

I am already getting all the unique dish options confused and cannot recall the details of lunch except for a potato curry that was fantastic. Following, we tasted our last free time break until the weekend knowing we had upcoming: journals to write, lessons to prepare, dishes to wash, children to teach, dormitories to build, and inquisitive minds to wonder.

We walked to the SEAM home to meet the children at 5:30pm and were a bit unprepared for their kind and overwhelming welcome. Yes, about forty children of all ages rushed to greet us shaking our hands and asking our names. The official greeting was moved indoors where each child was given an opportunity to shake each of the volunteers’ hands and exchange their names and personal welcomes. A group song was performed followed by a brave soloist’s performance. Stephan shared a card with photos from a previous volunteer before handing out the candy that Linda generously brought. Goodbyes were shared in the same fashion as the welcomes, and the team walked to the Grand Residence for dinner with questions of these children’s future racing through the heads. The buffet dinner was incredible in variety and flavor: soup, tandoori chicken, fried cauliflower, naan, curries with rice, desserts… so much food and service.

The walk home was not quite a peaceful reflection of the day as roads had to be crossed, dogs had to be avoided, and correct streets had to be navigated all the while dodging racing cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, and pedestrians. However, all made it home for a peaceful night’s rest before the real work starts the following morning.

Monday, 1/26/09 (Ginny Weber)

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory” –Mohandas Ghandi

Today was our official day of work and what a day it was. We all marched off to our assignments with enthusiasm and some apprehension – the heavy lifting construction crew felt more apprehension than enthusiasm. We taught English to toddlers and high schoolers, prepared students for critical math exams, and introduced students to computer technology (thanks to the laptops Georgie brought). And then there was the super-human construction team that moved a mountain of bricks to complete the new dormitory. All in a days work for the Global Volunteers.

Back at the guest house we settled in to the rhythm of the Indian lifestyle. Eating delicious food at every meal, sleeping under mosquito nets, and chasing mosquitoes with our favorite new toy – the “tennis racket” mosquito zapper. The racket is such a hit there’s been some talk of importing them back to the U.S.

Tuesday, January 28, 2009 (Ann Cheng)

“A work well begun is half ended.” Plato

We started our day with great smiles on our face because we all knew that we were going to beautify this world with love pouring out from our hearts.

Today was officially our first day to work, so we were all prepared with all kinds of stuff that we might need. The teaching in St. Joseph school went pretty smooth. The children in Grace school were doing their best to learn math. With their hard work and talent, they are going to master it soon. And we had a great day in Assisii with all those sweet little children waving their panties waiting for someone to help them. The construction team was becoming familiar with carrying stuff on their head.

We went to seam in the afternoon as usual. The most exciting thing was that we finally found out how to get their interest in learning computer technology. It’s always good to know they are learning.

We really enjoyed our day today, and we are going to love our life here a little bit more each day for sure.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 (Linda W.)

“Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve.” Howard Thurman

Amazingly, we have been here just 4 days. It seems like so much longer. We have been presented with many challenges (opportunities) and I have had to “keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve.”

We are finding the groove of our daily routine. Perhaps a special in India is the 7:30 arrival of a yoga teacher. Four of us make our way to the roof terrace of our guest house to awaken our bodies in early morning Chennai. (Although the crows are our constant companions, we have not yet tried to emulate them by doing a crow pose.)

We participate in a variety of service projects which are often tweaked due to circumstances. Today there was no work at the Seams work project since the tiles had not yet arrived. So Georgie and Linda M. (our laborers) lent out a helping hand in the morning at Assisi. Katie and Linda W. were very pleased with the increased attention span of the students at Grace English School. Katie’s teaching at St. Joseph’s is smooth; she does notice the effect the different classroom teachers have on the students. Ann and Ginny continue to delight in the children at Assisi. Today was hokey-pokey day. All the 2-5 year olds participated with gusto moving those little arms and legs in and out in hokey-pokey fashion. And they had a special guest … a REALLY BIG monkey paid a visit. Ginny and Ann took pictures and what a monkey!!! The children’s parents were not all that concerned about this afternoon visitor however.

Other highlights of the day included:
• poori for lunch;
• Linda M.’s Seams student learning the alphabet both the Indian and American way;
• A late afternoon shopping trip to the government Emporium which carries items from cottage industries from around the country; and
• Really good math comprehension by Rajesh and Suresh in the Seams program.

So, indeed, it was a full day filled with service and learning experiences.

Thursday, January 29, 2009 (Georgie Kovacs)

“Harmony is on phase of the great law whose spiritual expression is love.” -James Allen

Imagine getting a group of six women together who have never met in order to work together for three weeks (or in Katie’s case, two). Now imagine them working together in order to improve the community of Chennai, India. That is what we are doing and in some cases, we are already seeing the fruits of our labor.

Each day has its ups and downs but we have a great process in place to handle them. Over breakfast, lunch, dinner and during our rides to each of our assignments, we discuss the events of the day and pass along any wisdom to incorporate the next day. Having this harmonious relationship among us ( and with the local people) helps us be more effective at accomplishing our goal – loving and helping the community.

Thursday was the first day each of us settled into our “official” schedule. Although, we know this could always change tomorrow. Ann and Ginny are continuing to develop their relationships with the children at Assisi. Linda W. is getting into the groove teaching her five classes a day. Although, today, she realized that some of her students don’t understand her. Time for Plan B. Or is it Plan C we are on now? Linda M. and Georgie are on half-day assignments: 1) construction work, meaning helping masons (in India, this is called a tender); and 2) teaching conversational English to the novices at St. Joseph’s. Katie is the resident computer expert who has great overall insights given her multiple mission trips prior to this one in India.

The two Linda’s and Georgie watched an Indian dance performance – Bharata Natyam, which was developed in 1200 AD.

The trip to see the dance performance was interesting. As we drove along, we asked our country manager, Stephen, how the driver knows where to go as we did not see any street signs. First, the streets do have names but there are two – one in Tamil and the other in British English. Second, one cannot always find a map of how to get to the destination, which was the case for us. As a result, one must drive in the general vicinity of his destination and pull over, asking multiple people where to go.

During the ride, Stephen mentioned that he was in New York City for three days in 2007. While we are fascinated by the cows on the streets and in people’s backyards, Stephen is fascinated by the dogs with sweaters! Imagine his reaction to this when in India, dogs tend to be unwanted homeless animals that walk the streets. In contrast, in the US, we take them to doggie daycare.

It’s nice to see the harmony developing among us as we continue to do our great work. That’s what I call a successful and well-oiled “team machine!”

Friday, January 30th, 2009 ( Linda McCamic)

“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.”

Our first full week of work and all seems to be going smoothly.
Georgie and I have finished our week of construction and are moving over to Assisi Illam to work at the day care/orphanage next week and are looking forward to it. We will continue to teach conversational English to the novices at St. Joseph’s every afternoon which we enjoy immensely.
Ginny and Ann will take our places as the construction crew with a bit of apprehension.
I think they will miss the children at Assisi immensely as they seem to have really bonded with them.
Katie will continue teaching at St Joseph’s And Grace School and is making good progress teaching computers at Seams.
Linda W. the math wiz will continue to teach at Grace School and Seams.
After a week of Indian food Stephen offered us pizza from Pizza Hut and with some coaxing we gave in and tried it, I must say it wasn’t bad and there was none left so I guess everyone agreed.
Tomorrow we are all off to Pondicherri and Mamallapuram for the weekend. It sounds like it will be a wonderful trip and we are all looking forward to some well deserved R&R!